This Is How a Vogue Model Balances Burgers With Pilates
Ajak Deng is a rare breed. She's a model, yes, and a crazy-successful one at that, but not once during our 20-minute interview did she so much as whisper an insane diet plan or impossible workout regime. Actually, Deng told me that her go-to pre-flight snack is a juicy burger from Shake Shake at JFK! Refreshingly honest? You bet. Don't get me wrong though, she balances her burgers out with a healthy dose of power walking and Pilates to keep her feeling her best (a must when you're fronting the likes of Vogue and Harper's on the reg).
Deng was recently in Sydney to promote her latest partnership with The Body Shop, in particular the 'Play for Peace' Christmas Campaign. FYI, every gift bought from The Body Shop this festive season will assist in supporting refugee children affected by war in Syria. At a time of year that's so centered around consumerism, it's a great opportunity to give back and help those who are truly in need. Also, Deng grew up as a refugee, meaning the campaign is extra close to her heart.
Back to the interview... it was set in a suite at The Langham (my favourite hotel), where Deng was warm, friendly, and extremely candid. If you're interested in burgers, beauty, or extremely handy products recommendations, keep scrolling for the full Q&A.
Byrdie Australia: Do you think your upbringing and childhood has affected the way that you work, and the way you view the modelling industry as a whole?
Ajak Deng: Absolutely. It’s not like I have any family who were ever involved with modelling. I think because I’ve come from such humble beginnings, I’m learning so many new things, and I’m meeting so many people for the first time. Sometimes I can’t believe the brands that I work with, and I find it crazy that they want to work with me. It’s taken a lot of getting used to, even now that I’ve been modelling for seven years.
B: What beauty products do you buy again and again?
AD: I love The Body Shop Mango Body Butter ($40). I’ll never not buy it. I also love the British Rose Shower Gel ($11). My go-to face mask is a ginseng one that I get from my favourite spa in New York. It’s great after flying. Sometimes I’ll even pop it on while I’m on the plane, so I don’t land with flaky, dehydrated skin. I love Bulgari Goldea perfume ($155), and Dior Addict Mascara ($56), too.
B: What are your best beauty tips when it comes to travelling?
AD: I love going to the gym as soon as I land to give me an energy boost. Sometimes I’ll just run on the treadmill for 15 minutes. Occasionally I’ll even walk for a good hour. I love saunas too. There’s nothing better than a good steam to sweat out toxins from all the travelling, especially if you can’t be bothered to work out. If I can get to a spa, I’ll get a beautiful sea salt scrub, or a mud body mask. It leaves me feeling brand new. Acupuncture is another treatment I love when I’m travelling a lot for work. It realigns my body and resets my system. I love Pilates too, but it can be hard to find the time and a good studio when I’m overseas.
B: What about plane food? Do you avoid it and pack your own snacks?
AD: I wouldn’t say I bring the healthiest snacks! Although it depends where I’m coming from. If I’m in New York and I’m flying out of terminal four, you know I’m getting a triple burger from Shake Shack for the plane. I basically skip down the terminal with excitement when that happens. The whole plane hates me though, because I smell like a burger. Other than that, I love to indulge in a few little Kit Kats. I don’t know what it is about travelling, but I need to have them on me. Maybe it’s the crunch? Otherwise, I’ll bring some healthier options to snack on. I try to avoid plane food when I can.
B: You’re often in bright, Avant Garde makeup looks for shoots. What do you like to wear every day?
AD: I like to keep it as simple as possible. When I have a day off, it’s no makeup at all. If I’m heading somewhere, I’ll pop on a little eye liner or mascara, maybe some blush or highlighter. I like letting my skin breathe.
B: What do you use to take your makeup off after a long day of shooting?
AD: I like anything oil-based, so I carry 100 percent pure, organic coconut oil with me everywhere. I massage it in and take it off with a cloth or even paper towel, if I’m really stuck. I find it gets almost everything off, I’ll still use a cleanser afterwards.
B: Any beauty tips or tricks you’ve learnt while on set you can share?
AD: Learning how to tape my boobs is probably the strangest! You quite literally pull them to the side and tape them pulling towards your back with duct tape. It’s really handy if you’re wearing a strapless dress, actually. I have to say though, it’s painful to remove.
B: So how do you switch off and relax with such a busy lifestyle?
AD: Meditating is my thing now. It’s a struggle, and I find it’s really taught me a lot about myself. When I started, and I couldn’t get into it, I thought, am I really this impatient? I needed to calm down. I like to take a hot bath or shower before, just to set the mood. I light candles and focus on breathing deeply. You can either pop a mat down, but I tend to lie in my bed. I have all white linen and minimal colour in my room, I find this really helps. I close my eyes, and start following my guided meditation. When you become a master, you can sit down anywhere and dive straight into it. I’m not quite there yet, though. If I practice every single day for a few weeks, maybe I can, but that’s rare. I use the mind body soul app, I love the music. I love sound-making apps too. I listen to sounds of the beach, or the rain forest. I find it helps me focus.