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The American Dream: Natalya Gazha on the path from hostesses to beauty queen

Natasha began her professional career as a model at the age of 17 when she took part in a fashion show by fashion designer Vyacheslav Zaitsev. Photos from the personal archive

Natasha began her professional career as a model at the age of 17 when she took part in a fashion show by fashion designer Vyacheslav Zaitsev. Photos from the personal archive

Natalia Gazha from Odessa was on the covers of L'Officiel, Playboy, Maxim, XXL. Her list of personal achievements is winning Ukrainian beauty contests, half a dozen of these royal crowns, and a contract with a modeling agency in Miami. Here, the Ukrainian won a new victory - the title of "Miss American Dream". Her path to the American dream was not at all easy - America was initially inhospitable. Natalya Gazha told ForumDaily in an exclusive interview about her victories and misadventures, meeting Mel Gibson and her beloved Miami.

How did you discover America?

It was the spring of 2007, I was 20, I studied in the fourth year of Odessa University of Economics and worked as a model at the city’s leading agency, Amazon. My sister at that time had 7 for years lived in America. She introduced me to my first husband, who took me to the States for the first time. Before that, it was a long-running romance, it was difficult for us to maintain relationships at a distance, and I decided to move. Besides, America captivated me, I understood that this is a country of opportunities, where all our dreams come true. Over time, the tumultuous romance ended and, unfortunately, not the best way. Now I remember everything with a smile and ease in my heart.

What were your first impressions after the move?

The first stage was very difficult. I then moved to Dearborn, Michigan. After sunny Odessa there, I unexpectedly had to face Muslim traditions, where female students went to school wearing hijabs and covered their faces. It was a psychological and religious shock for me.

I dreamed of seeing Hollywood, the Statue of Liberty, but at that time it seemed that I had moved to a Muslim country. Therefore, I returned back to Odessa - so ended my first move.

But then you tried your luck in America again.

Yes, after a couple of years I arrived in Miami - and this time everything was completely different, just like in the movies! But that first acquaintance with America began with a difficulty that I could not accept. It turned out that many people here live the same way they used to live in their own countries: not knowing the language, not trying to change themselves, not wanting to accept the local culture. Imagine that you are in Africa, where you don’t wear clothes - I had a feeling somewhere else. Plus the problem of the language barrier. But when you set goals, you force yourself to go forward without looking back, then something happens in this life. It is easy to succumb to weaknesses and then it is difficult to survive in difficult times. I understood that I needed to learn a language first, and I took up this very closely, although it was not easy. But I liked to study the cultures of different countries of the world, so now I am learning Spanish, whose knowledge in Miami is very, very useful.

What was your first job in the States?

I had an exclusive contract with Image, a Miami modeling agency, in which I started working immediately, as I came to America for the second time. But first I had to make a new portfolio and lose weight on 5 kilogram - only after that could I start work. All this costs money, and I worked as a hostess in the restaurant Zuma. But this is still not enough, I went to the second job - also hostesses, only in another restaurant - Baoli.

In Miami, the model has received a license of a beautician, and is now preparing to open its own beauty salon. Photos from the personal archive

In Miami, the model has received a license of a beautician, and is now preparing to open its own beauty salon. Photos from the personal archive

From one job I rushed to another, finished nights at 1, came home tired and hungry, and there an empty refrigerator awaited me, because my roommate used to eat all the food we bought for two, and I went to bed hungry.

I worked a lot, and I had no other chance to eat at home, except in the morning and late at night. But thanks to the roommate, I didn’t have this opportunity, so I lost weight quickly and immediately started working on the model. But I did not give up and the work of hostesses, since the salary from the modeling was not enough to pay all the bills plus you had to spend money on lawyers to make the documents and legalize in this country. Sometimes I had after a fashionable photo shoot in Los Angeles straight from the airport to go to a restaurant to work. Such a contrast is very sobering.

And success was not long in coming. How did winning the Miss American Dream contest change your life?

This competition, of course, significantly raised my ratings as a model. But the World Bikini Model competition made me even more popular, where I received the main title.

Is it harder for our girls to break into modeling business in America?

It is generally very difficult. Even the American model is difficult to succeed if, of course, it is not from a star family, but it is doubly difficult for us. This is a matter of chance, one of millions reaches real success. The competition in the modeling business is colossal. But all the same, you always need to believe in your dreams and realize them. I do not stop, my model career is developing successfully: new photo shoots, magazine covers, contests.

In America and in your homeland, you have come across many stars. What is the difference between our and American celebrities?

The fact that American stars are only stars on the red carpet, and in everyday life they are absolutely ordinary people.

Once I got on a charity evening with Mel Gibson, he modestly introduced himself as simply “Mel.”

It's hard to believe, but he is an absolutely simple person, very friendly and loves to help children, the sick and orphans.

Why did you decide to live in Miami?

I don’t know why I chose Miami, but it became a fateful city: it was here that I met my love, got married and happy in this marriage. At first I lived in the Bay Harbor Islands area, next to my modeling agency, where I started my American modeling career. I still remember the first impression that Miami made on me. I was absolutely delighted! Everything around was so perfect that it seemed like I was in a fairy tale. Then I moved to Brikel - this is the business center of Miami, a lot of people, offices, universities and always terrible traffic jams. But in this city there can not be unloved areas, even Little Havana is such a picturesque place with its own unique flavor. In fact, not only this region, but in general all of America rests on immigrants! Now I live in Aventure - this is a quiet area, here are family people with children, a very good place for family life. Now I am preparing to become a mother and am waiting for my miracle. At the same time I am developing a business plan for my own business.

What will this business be?

Own cosmetic salon. In Miami, I received a license of a beautician, a master of laser technology. Now this industry is developing so rapidly, so many new devices and equipment that it is just necessary to constantly learn and develop in this direction. Plus, I have an idea to add to the salon such a nuance, such as creating an image in an hour. This is very convenient if you need to get somewhere and complete the image, and the time for everything about everything is an hour from strength. This is sometimes unrealistic - until you reach the salon, until you do everything! And we will have a similar service, and a woman will be able to leave in full image, even without running home.

Where do you like to go, your favorite places in the city?

I love theaters, we were lucky - in our city constantly someone performs: concerts, festivals, operas. The cultural program in Miami is always rich and all shows are top notch. For example, I remember the concert of Andrea Bocelli.

What did America teach you?

America taught me first of all to remain a normal person in the soul - and it does not matter what your status is today or who you are at the moment.

You should never forget your neighbor, and in your heart there should always be a place for love. And this is the power - the power of human consciousness.

How do local men differ from Russians?

Our men compare favorably with the local by their special color, rich open soul. Some people think that all Russians are evil and forever dissatisfied with life, therefore they are constantly serious. We just take on a lot of responsibility, we want to do everything, but the Americans do not understand. They do not think about tomorrow and even more so about the distant future, they just live one day, repeating their favorite phrase “have a lot of fun” years before 50.

In 2016, Natalya Gazha took part in the beauty contest “Miss Russian Miami” - this time as a jury member, not a contestant. Photos from the personal archive

In 2016, Natalya Gazha took part in the beauty contest “Miss Russian Miami” - this time as a jury member, not a contestant. Photos from the personal archive

What is dear to you here is most lacking?

Now there is practically no such thing

I live near the Russian area, there is everything the same as at home: food, restaurants, the Orthodox Church - everything is in our Miami.

What goals did you set for yourself in America initially, and which of them have already been fulfilled?

I have a lot of them, already half realized. Dreams Come True! I also want to realize my business. I want to be a completely free man and not think about the future. Take an example from the same Americans - so much easier to live.

You already have US citizenship. But the path to naturalization was certainly not easy?

I only had citizenship last year, my path to this took 7,5 years. All this time, this story with documents, I waited for them for a long time and paid for everything myself. She worked on three jobs to cover all these costs. Now I remember all this as a bad dream, but in fact it made me stronger. Now I know for sure: there is no impossible - the main thing is to go forward, towards your goal.

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