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The Role Models: Naomi Shimada

In this new series, we interview the up-and-coming stars of the modelling world who are using their voices to say something important – whether they are passionate activists for women’s rights or politically active on Instagram – these are girls we want to be friends with and who we want you to follow. Meet the Role Models. First up, it’s plus-size model Naomi Shimada.

How long have you been modelling?

I’ve been modelling for over ten years, but for the last six years of it I’ve been working the rounds of what they call in the industry the ‘plus-size world’. In my early twenties, my body just changed and there was nothing I could do to stop it. I really did try everything, every diet, every specialist. When you pay your rent depending on how thin you’re staying, that’s how you put food on the table. It’s a very unhealthy association. That sense of desperation becomes so real, so I don’t miss that feeling. I signed to a plus size agency, and since then I’ve been busier than ever.

When did you decide that enough was enough?

I took a break for a while, I didn’t even know that being a plus-size model was a career option for me. Being on camera was something that has come naturally to me for most of my life; it’s something I actually love to do. I felt so frustrated as a young woman to watch any movie or TV show and literally everybody was the same size. I was like ‘Wait, how can you be so accomplished and have an array of talents, but if you don’t fit this same measure, that’s it?’ It just started to not make sense to me, how there were no other young women to look at or to see in the public eye that were just dressing how they want to dress and not being put in some smock top and jeggings, you know? Why isn’t there more choice? I feel like I became political without meaning to become political – it was accidental. People started looking to me and telling me how refreshing it was to see someone that dressed how they wanted to dress instead of hiding their body. I’m young, I don’t want to hide in big t-shirts.

Did you have any plus-size models that you looked up to at the time?

At the time, this was kind of Crystal Renn era, before she lost all the weight. She was really crossing boundaries doing really big editorials, walking for really high fashion houses, doing all these things that even now still haven’t actually happened.

What do you think of the term plus-size?

It doesn’t bother me. Because I’m in the industry, I understand that it’s being used as an industry term. I think people get upset when girls who are size 12 are being referred to as plus-size, because it’s obviously a normal size. It’s just plus compared to size two. At least I’m in the industry and I’ve seen it for what it is, but I also think that therein lies the problem on the high street, where clothing sizes are cut two sizes smaller than they are in real life. I’m lucky that I at least have a job where I have levelheadedness and it doesn’t affect me. There’s a whole chain of problematic things, because the shop assistant was like ‘well, you can just go shop in the plus-size section downstairs’. I was like, ‘I don’t have a problem with that terminology, but you say you sell my size and you’re not selling my size.’ That’s a different story. There’s been so much uproar when people on the internet refer to me as one thing or the other. I’m just normal – as a size 14 person, especially in England, that’s the most average size. That’s the reason why I can never find my size because it’s always selling out. I think it’s complicated, but I also feel frustrated that the world always feels like they need to put labels on everything.

This season, there’s been a lot more diversity on the catwalks. Do you ever think that it’s a bit of a gimmick?

There was Christian Siriano in New York, who at least is out there trying to do something. But they always put the girls in that one same dress. I feel like we could be pushing more boundaries. Why do we just have to settle for that? I think it’s really important for people to make statements at the moment.

What do you think of the whole fashion activism thing?

It should be happening. The world is burning. It’s not that I don’t think it should be trendy, but I think it’s important to be trending, if you can distinguish the difference. People do look at these things, the world is watching, but I think that there are different ways to do it - every fragrance commercial right now is white girls protesting. Am I the only person that thinks this is really in bad taste? Like you’re making protesting this fashionable thing, but you’re making no commitment to what this is about and you’re making money off it, commercialising something so ingrained. To me, when it comes to that kind of stuff I don’t think it's cool. I think there’s a social responsibility. If you’re going to do that, do something with it, really work on the casting. [Editor’s note: turns out Naomi totally predicted the whole Kendall/Pepsi gate.]

You’re in the new Nike campaign. What did you think about it? Do you think that it’s a good idea that they’re doing it?

For sure. I feel like it’s taken ages. Why have they marketed exercising for people who already exercise? Exercise is the one thing that we can actually all have access to – rich or poor, you can run in the street. I feel like the fitness industry as a whole has always shamed women into exercising, like ‘you should probably go for a run because you’re fat’ or ‘it’s summer soon, you should probably get back to the gym’. Instead, they should be like ‘it’s really good for your head’ or ‘it’s really good to sweat’. Honestly, before Nike, I didn’t exercise for years. My association with exercise was me having to be super thin and was just a reminder of a really bad time in my life. Now that I exercise all the time, I just couldn’t live without it. You have a bad day and it’s alright, because you can sweat it out and feel better. So that’s what we should be encouraging, because then everything else happens. I especially think that you don’t really lose weight when you think about it all the time. I don’t really lose weight from exercising, but all the other benefits are so much more important to me.

What do you think about the power of social media to influence people as a role model?

Instagram has given a powerful platform to people to be themselves, but the thing is that people aren’t being themselves. I think authenticity within social media is important. People can really see through that. I have so many girls writing to me on a daily basis and I often think that I haven’t really done anything to warrant this. At the same time, it shows how much they are starved of authenticity.

How does your work as a film-making tie in with your modelling?

Everything goes hand in hand. I can’t take away that power of the visibility of modelling either, it’s what’s given me the platform to do all these things. I hope to do a range of different kinds of work and it all kind of come together and embrace the same ethics and ethos. I’m in a research stage now of a new film project and I’m starting to pitch stuff. It’s a whole new learning curve for me too, so it’s scary and exciting for me. It works so differently. I feel like it’s me learning everything new, learning to get up and sit at a computer and take notes.

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