Cinderella Story

Cinderella Story

To hear Natalia Vodianova’s name is to reckon it with a ray of hope, one that fills you up with immense pride. As a self-made woman who speaks her mind, and is prominently helping the society to become a better place, she is nothing less than a Wonder Woman of sorts. She went from selling fruit in her native city of Nizhny Novgorod in Russia to scaling the heights of the fashion world. A luxury-campaign favourite—she has also become a philanthropist by launching the Naked Heart Foundation, which supports Russian families raising children with special needs.

The drive, force, and passion for her relentless campaigning comes from the values her mother instilled in her during her poverty-stricken childhood. Instead of treating her past like a guilty secret and embracing the five-star luxury life with her beautiful peers, she’s always been determined to help others who are as deprived as she once was.

Springtime of life

“I had a very challenging childhood. One of my two half-sisters, Oksana, has autism and cerebral palsy. My mother was on her own and I was the only one able to help. At one point in time, I remember having to live off one packet of powdered soup a day. That is where I come from, and it is, a very different reality to the one that I have now. Not just in terms of my family conditions, but also from a cultural point of view. Russia can be a tough place to learn about yourself and your body as a young girl. This itself is tricky, but when it comes to your health, it could be a real problem. Can you imagine, that as a young girl, I never once went to see a gynaecologist. It only happened later on, for my first pregnancy. One of the reasons I have embraced the cause of raising the standard of women’s health comes from thinking of the several girls in rural Russia or India, and in many other places in the world who struggle with it because the services are not available or there is a cultural taboo around accessing them,” says Natalia.

Stepping into the limelight

She was 17 when she got her big break in modelling, and before she knew it, she was whisked away to the bright lights of the fashion capital of the world—Paris. As a young girl working in the fashion industry, Natalia soon learnt that beauty is nothing without confidence, which is also connected to one’s well-being and physical health. “Modelling is a job where it is essential to care for your mental health, which in turn will make your body feel at ease. Luckily the industry has changed, and it’s much more open to showing acceptance towards this topic, as well as being much more inclusive with people of all body types, genders and ethnicities,” expressed Natalia.

Two sides of a coin

From being a poverty stricken little girl to becoming Russia’s Supernova, Natalia has seen the world, and her lifestyle change in front of her eyes. However, she thinks that her life experiences have made her who she is today. She has been able to use that power  and understanding to expand her work, both as a philanthropist and an investor in social startups, and businesses which can make the world a better place. She ponders back at her childhood, and the time when she knew that she wanted to help people who suffer from what her family suffered with. This played a big part in launching the Naked Heart Foundation for her.

“People would spit at me and say I was dirty like my sister and, that they didn’t want to touch me because I would poison them. I had no choice, but to be strong because I was looking after my family and I had no one to go to. I hate to think that people around the world still have to go through this now. This is what motivates me to help others. My digital platform Elbi India has collaborated with menstrual tracking app Flo, Dharma Life, and P&G’s period brands, such as—Always and Whisper to end period poverty in India. Menstrual hygiene is a cause that I am deeply passionate about and if our initiatives can benefit one million young girls in India who are deprived of access to period products, I believe that our battle is already won,” shares Natalia.

Passing on her legacy

Being a mother of five children, Natalia endeavors to instill a positive outlook and courage into all her children. Like any working mother, life is a juggle — in her case toddlers, teens, tweens, the pressure of two fathers, supporting her family in Russia, charities, modelling, fundraising and philanthropy. But she aims to keep her bond strong and for her — family always comes first. 

“I have a very open and honest relationship with my children, based on good conversations. I like them to speak their mind. I love to listen to their dreams and ideas. I always try to foster the feeling that your family is a place where you can share anything. If we start fighting taboos in the family, we have a chance to tackle the biggest ones in our society, which today are still so prevalent in countries all over the world. I try to teach this to my children, not to be afraid of words and break the silence whenever they feel it is right,” concludes Natalia.

Chitman Kanwar Ahuja

Chitman Kanwar Ahuja is a feature writer at L'Officiel India. She is a silver jewellery hoarder and an aesthete of all arts. You can find her unraveling new stories day in and day out.