The first thing you notice about Naomi is her smile, followed on cue by her magnetic energy. She has that captivating balance of warmth and strength, a quality only possessed by self-assured women. Naomi was born in Japan, raised in Spain, and has spent the past 10 or so years between London and New York. After shifting from a straight to plus size model in her early 20s, Naomi has since become an advocate for body acceptance, self-love, and why the standards of our world should not dictate either.

“I was a straight size model from age 13, until my body began to change in my early 20s. I would be sent home from shoots because I didn’t fit the clothes. None of my agents offered plus size modeling as an alternative—at the time, bigger girls were simply not featured in media. It’s only a very recent trend. I knew that the way I was being treated was ridiculous, but it’s easy to let something like that take over your life. When you’re worrying about every single thing you eat, that anxiety and stress filters into every aspect of your being. Luckily I’ve always been headstrong, and after a few months, refused to accept that as a way of life. So I stopped modeling for a bit, and took some time out to do other things.

I ended up meeting a makeup artist who also worked as a plus size model. This was around the time Mark Fast used plus girls in his first show—it was all over the papers in the UK, and it was the first time I had really seen anything about it. So I went to see the agent those girls were with, and I was signed immediately. I didn’t realize that I was already that size—the term ‘plus’ starts at a US size 8-10. But there was no shame factor for me. I liked how my body looked, I had just been trying to fit into a mold that didn’t work. Once I was in that position I thought—I can make this cool. There aren’t enough young girls promoting the plus thing. I knew that if I could turn this into something aspirational, there could be a chain reaction. I suddenly saw how powerful that could be: introducing a fresh concept to people and helping to make it acceptable.

I think that self-acceptance comes with age, but for me, it’s also come with being put in the spotlight. With modeling, there are so many insecurities and anxieties due to the weird nature of this job. You never have power over decisions, you never know why agents don’t book you or clients don’t like you. Being signed as plus size allowed me to let go of all of that and embrace the person I wanted to be, and live the lifestyle I wanted to live. Food is such big part of my life, particularly from growing up in different parts of the world. For love nor money would I want to be thin. My whole identity is wrapped up in this, and I like not being small. I feel like it’s important. I believe in taking care of yourself, exercise and healthy food, but bodies will do what bodies will do. They do a lot for us, we can’t hate on them all the time.

Letting go of caring so much is the biggest gift I have ever given myself. It has been the most freeing experience.

I totally agree with how Georgia said that the word curvy is overused. Our lack of imagination is embarrassing. Can’t we be more imaginative? Or even better, why do we have to label things at all? People are so fucking obsessed with compartmentalizing everything, but that’s not how the world is. Why can’t we be real and just let things be? I feel like I’m just coming into that part of my womanhood where I want to own my sexual identity more, and modeling is this weird place where our sexual identity is always someone else’s version, not ours.

While the increased use of plus girls is good, there’s still a lack of diversity in how we’re represented. For example, we’re often nude or portrayed as a 60s pin up girl—it’s never an edgy shoot. It’s true that there’s something exotic about a voluptuous woman, the folds and shadows and skin—it’s pure beauty. But I think a big part of it is that stylists, creative directors and photographers don’t know how to dress us. Which is also part of the never ending sample rigmarole. For my column on InStyle, they let me shoot all my own clothes because I can never pull anything. If I do pull from a store, it will be out of season for the magazine. Please, let’s not allow the sample size problem be the excuse for why we’re not shooting a wider range of bodies. There are so many levels. Usually, money talks. But this is clearly not about money, because there’s so much money to be made. It’s a huge market, billions of dollars are being missed out on. This is a taboo thing. Nobody wants to be associated with dressing bigger people. Most of these brands don’t have plus size items and if they do, like H&M, they’ll shove it to the back of the store. Forever 21 only stocks bigger sizes in one or two of their stores in New York, and it’s in a corner on the top floor. There is so much shame involved. Where does this fear come from? How is it possible that there are only a handful of brands, like ASOS, where you can buy youngish fashion in a US 16? Things are changing slowly, but I wonder where we’ll go from here. How do we make sure this isn’t just a trend?

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So many women are consumed with negative body image—it’s not a fashion problem, it’s a world problem. And to think of how much time is taken up when you could be doing other things, how happy you could be in so many other ways. You lose focus from everything else in your life because you’re living in this shadow of not being good enough. It’s so sad. Life is too short to feel like that. The media plays a huge role in all of this—we’re bombarded with more images than ever before. We have to be conscious of what we absorb on daily basis, or we just end up drowning in shit the whole time.

I don’t think that there’s a lack of role models that exist, I think we’re putting the wrong women on a pedestal.

I don’t want to see a million photos of Kylie Jenner with her face totally fucked up. Is it even legal to have all of those procedures at that age? It is socially irresponsible on so many levels that she’s our current teen icon. There’s a huge need for positive female figures in media, but we’ve gone so far down this different direction, how do we even come back from that? I’m just trying to do my part, and I’m OK with being the person that has to go first and stand up for these conversations. I don’t feel like I’ve had to swallow insecurities to do so, but I have had to be really honest. Not just with myself, but being publicly honest. It took me a while to get there. But when you’re able to be honest and open, you allow others to be the same. There’s so much we can teach each other through our vulnerability. Even with my interview for StyleLikeU, I walked out of there so insecure thinking I said nothing at all, but I have women emailing me daily about how that video helped them.

I stand for self-love.

It will always be a work in progress, but it makes you stronger in every way. You know when people have it. I don’t ever want to place limits or constraints on myself or my happiness—even with clothing, if something gets too small I’ll give it away. Everyone holds on so tightly to the past—what they used to look like, or some idea of themselves—thinking, if I’m thin enough to fit into this I’ll be happy. But life changes, and that’s what makes it exciting. Self-value is the ultimate power, because it’s the only power that’s truly ours. If you own it, nobody can take it away from you.”

Naomi’s #OKREALTALK Tips

  • No one can take away your self-value.
  • Letting go can be the biggest gift.
  • Your appearance does not dictate your worth.
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b. 1987

naomishimada.com

i. @naomishimada

t. @naomishimada

As told to Amy Woodside, July 2015

Photographed by Amy Woodside