In conversation with Jessica Gomes Surana – the successful model who is also a school principal. How has she balanced (and managed) two seemingly divergent career paths?
Jessica and I were in school together, however, I can’t really say I knew her well since then. Back then, she was this basket-ball champ who was seen more on the fields than in the classroom. And in my own snooty way, I had labeled her as not the “academic type”. I never bothered to know her any further. My association with her developed much after leaving school. And the more I got to know her, the more I realised what an extraordinary woman she is. As a model she has always been confident, elegant, poised and successful without ever displaying a streak of tantrum. I would have admired her for just that but then in a conversation she casually revealed that she is also a high school teacher. And now this lovely lady is the principal of Loreto Convent Entally. What a career graph that is. Jessica is of course, multi-faceted and talented but what stands out about her is her quiet way of slowly and surely debunking stereotypes and charting out her unique journey. Through this little conversation she shares with us a slice of her life.
Jhelum: Tell us a little bit about your family and a strong childhood memory that shaped your life.
Jessica: I am from a Catholic family that was half the size of a cricket team – three brothers and three sisters. I am the third oldest.
My father’s death, when I was in class 7, changed and matured me almost overnight. Prior to this I hated study. The field and concert hall were my areas of expertise. But after this I became responsible and answerable for all that I did.
Jhelum: As a child did you ever think of becoming either an educator or a model?
Jessica: I think I had the streak of both from a very young age. I wore Mum’s sarees and wielded the cane to teach my younger brothers, sister and cousins. Not a model, but an air hostess was what attracted me the most because they looked so prim and proper, and of course, beautiful.
Jhelum: When did you start modelling from?
Jessica: I began my modelling career after I passed Class XII exams (after becoming the school topper). It began with participating in and winning beauty pageants and doing little shows here and there to earn a fast pocket money.
Jhelum: How were you seen in the academic circle being a model?
Jessica: In simple terms an ‘alien’ as most people believed that models were only beauty and no brains.
Jhelum: What or who inspired you to pursue these two divergent careers?
Jessica: To tell you the truth… my inspirations came from my circumstances. Belonging to a middle-class, single-parent family I needed to fend for myself and my younger siblings from a very young age. In fact, my first earning came from academics and not modelling. In class X, I gave tuition to a boy from class VI. Yes, a strong motivation came from people believing that we models are dumb and most often are school drop outs.
Jhelum: How did your teachers and later your students view you as a model? Were there any criticisms?
Jessica: With regards to teachers, earlier they were very sceptical and at times in a state of shock. But as the boundaries melted, they realised that I was much more than only a representative of glamour. Students and I had an instant connect. I think being a model, brought them closer to me because they were very interested to know what I could offer them from the very intriguing world of fashion. Criticisms, if there were any, must have been behind my back never to the face.
Jhelum: What are the challenges that you faced in the fashion industry?
Jessica: I could say I have been very fortunate to have the best of the industry without facing any bad situations. This could be possible for two reasons – One, my older sister was already a successful model, and two, I was always clear with what I wanted. Compromise was never an option and my body language made that very clear from the beginning.
Jhelum: Now that you are a school principal and “seen” with a certain degree of “seriousness”, do you find yourself thinking more about your responsibility?
Jessica: I have always tried to be responsible for my actions but yes now as a school principal, I need to be more careful as I am affecting young lives. I am responsible for over 1250 young girls who look up to me for inspiration and guidance. I cannot let them down.
Jhelum: How has your personal style changed over the decade?
Jessica: A decade is a long time when it comes to fashion. But thankfully the question relates to style. I have always liked very classy, well fitted garments that suit my personality. I am more a power dresser. I have taken from the changing trends over the years but never given my whole self to it. It has been me in my style always mixing and matching to create distinctiveness.
Jhelum: As a role model for young girls, what’s the message on beauty that you would like to share?
Jessica: Firstly, every young girl needs to understand that she is beautiful. A healthy, well-disciplined life is what they need to follow in order to have head to toe beauty. Learn to develop an identity for yourself when it comes to being stylish and fashionable. Eat healthy and do some form of physical exercise as this will bring great results to your hair, skin and body, and of course, mind.
Jhelum: What has kept you moving and breaking one stereotype after another?
Jessica: My will to do the right thing at the time and the right place. Discipline and sincerity coupled with hard work has been my mantra.
Jhelum: What’s your beauty routine?
Jessica: Wow! That’s the best question of the lot! To tell you frankly, nothing special. I guess, I eat well and drink water sufficiently. The only cream I use is a vitamin A night cream (thrice a week). Try to incorporate a little yoga from time to time. I sleep well and stay happy, and I guess my best feature I always carry with me is my SMILE.