The gorgeous model Naomi Shimada is so much more than a pretty face. Shimada has been modeling for years, she started when she was 13, but as women’s bodies do, as she got older her body changed, and her body settled at a healthy size 8-10. She left the industry for awhile, but when she returned it was as a ‘plus size’ model (where most of the models are sizes 12, 14, 16), she had no idea what the new sector of the industry would do for her voice. Shimada has made a living out of exposing other women, especially young women, to a positive body image. She writes about this, fashion, and other topics, in her column for Instyle UK. She will tell you the ‘plus size’ modeling industry isn’t perfect either, but it does allow her a platform to talk about how to make it better.
What is your earliest fashion memory?
Sitting in a giant pile of clothes in a huge warehouse somewhere in America where my dad was sourcing clothing for his vintage store (one of the first ever in Tokyo). I remember almost drowning in the pile!
When did you start modeling?
I modeled a little as a kid then officially got signed to an agency at 13!
How did you make the transition from “straight size model” to “plus size model”? Was it difficult?
I transitioned when my body simply wouldn’t be smaller anymore. I literally tried every diet, trainer, reiki, hypnotherapy you name it. That process was difficult because I felt like a shadow of my former self but once I figured out that ‘plus’ was an option for me it wasn’t a hard choice to make. I was actually happy with my body on a personal level. I only ever wanted to be thin because that’s how I made my living. By changing the box I was in, I could be the person I wanted to be.
What are your thoughts on the modeling industry as a whole? Is there a reason for the division among the size of woman?
The modeling industry is a tricky, hard machine. The divisions exist because the world as a whole is obsessed with categorizing everything. People are screaming out for real diversity to start becoming the norm, just waiting for the industry to stop playing it so called ‘safe’ and catch up. I see a few changes here and there, but the shifts as a whole seem painfully slow. The face of the world is changing faster than ever so I just don’t see what the problem is. We need to creating a new normal.
Why can’t everyone just be a model?
You tell me! I agree with you!! That’s what I’ve been fighting for all these years! Why can’t we be!
The term “plus size” is misleading as you represent far more women than the other set of models – do you feel you a responsibility to the consumer?
I do actually – so that’s why I’m out here doing my thing and talking about it as I think it’s super important to be honest about it for people to understand what it means from an industry standpoint and what it means from a personal perspective.
How did your multicultural childhood influence your decision to work in the fashion industry?
I’m not sure if my background is what influenced me necessarily – modeling was just something I happened to fall into, but if I wasn’t doing ‘plus’ now I definitely wouldn’t be modeling anymore.
What’s it like writing for InStyle UK?
It’s been a great fun experiment! But since no one ever has samples in my size I’ve had to be inventive to keep providing fresh looks for the seasons to come as we always have to shoot a few months ahead.
Do you have a greatest career achievement to date?
The recent Observer cover story to me was definitely a highlight! I’ve been reading The Guardian and Observer most of my life and I’ve learned so much from them over the years, it truly is a personal bible. So getting to be on the cover was a true honor for me.
Any advice you would like to impart on the next generation of models?
Just like any job it has it’s up and downs, but needing to have a think skin is an understatement.
Get used to having a life where things are constantly out of your control. You are always at the mercy of the gatekeepers, the agents, clients etc. and you’ll never know why you didn’t get picked for something as you never know what they’re looking for! So don’t judge yourself based on rejection, which is so hard to do! As hard as it sounds you can’t take it personally!
But I have met so many great people in the business too and got to travel to many places and most importantly for me, be in semi-charge of my schedule. It allows you to have a different kind of day every day and I’m grateful for that!
If you do decide to still pursue modeling make sure you keep educating yourself in other ways (not just the traditional way but keep learning, reading, writing, opening your horizons!) Cause you really never know what happens after so you can naturally phase into something else that triggers your interests.