Modelling in 2021 is a very different world to what it was ten years previously. Just ask Naomi Shimada. Beloved by her 61K Instagram following, adored by the brands that sponsor her and wicked smart, she’s the definition of a full package. If the 1990s ‘Supers’ only had to be Amazonian in height and skeletal in width, today’s models need to have beauty, brains and gumption, which is something Ms Shimada has manifold.
On paper, Shimada is hard to narrow down. At age 30 she signed with Storm, has modelled for H&M, Nike and Monki and she’s worked with brands like Karen Millen and Moncler. However, for the best part of her career (so far) she’s been a vigilant campaigner against tokenism by challenging the notion of ‘plus-size’ (more on that later).
She describes herself a global citizen, which makes sense as her father (a pottery and vintage seller), who died when she was 11, was from Tokyo while her mother is Dutch-Canadian. Multi-lingual Shimada has lived in Japan, the UK, the US and Spain. Her Instagram is an envy-inducing travel log of her vacations in Mexico and her trips to see her respective grandmother’s in Los Angeles and Japan.
‘I don’t even know how to define myself: I feel Japanese but I don’t have a passport anymore, I have a Dutch passport. But I didn’t grow up in Holland: I lived in Spain for 8 years, followed by the UK and US for 10 years, and now there’s Brexit. I almost feel more Hispanic anyway, even though I’m not genetically. I speak English with a slight American twang’, she told The Lost Explorer, adding: ‘Racial fluidity, I definitely fall into that…Being racially unmarked, you can play with ambiguity, but people get upset because it disrupts power dynamics.’
Her introduction to modelling came at age 13 when she was scouted at a local restaurant. At the time she was a size 6 but like most teens, her body changed. She happily shares she’s now a UK size 14-16, though her weight has not always been a straight-forward topic for her. ‘As a model, dieting is what’s always on your mind – it completely takes over your life and it’s all you can talk and think about. You can’t just have breakfast and eat bacon and laugh because you’re hating yourself all the time’, she told the Guardian.
For all its bugbears the ‘plus’ arena has proven fruitful for Shimada. She readily admits that there were fewer girls trying to break into this side of the industry, which meant when she started out she was able to make more money. Nevertheless, she took a break and at age 22 returned to the industry. She told StyleLikeU, ‘I felt so free. I liked having boobs and hips and a butt. I grew up in hip-hop culture and that’s what we all wanted to look like. So now I could be who I wanted to be and it felt good.’
However, the stigma and the judgmental cloud that hangs over the very word ‘plus’ is still here, so many years on. Through her articles and interviews, she’s successful shined a light on the dirtier side of this world, highlighting that models are asked to bring ’pads’ to shoots to make their bodies fit a prescriptive ‘plus’ ideal. She’s talked about brands who have picked her as a poster child when their range starts at a size 18. As she told the Guardian, ‘Even in a section of fashion that is meant to embrace diversity, our bodies still aren’t quite right. Nobody glorifies the regular middle.’
Littered with selfies of her cheeky grin and squat poses, Shimada’s Instagram is the way most of her fanbase first discovered her. Though she had a column in InStyle and became the catalyst for a fevered viral debate on the definition of ‘plus-size’ after an ill thought out caption on an ASOS image, it’s her Instagram, which is an archive of her audacious outfits, that most people know her by. Its also where she showcases her advocacy of supporting independent retailers.
Her personal style as much as her flagrant beauty is part of her personal brand. ‘I really believe that clothing is an extension of our souls, it’s our superpower.’ She told Topshop, ‘I always tell people that clothes are our battle-wear. If you’re tired or having a bad day, then put on a bit of lipstick and a good outfit, and you feel like you can face the world. That’s the power of clothes.’
Shimada’s uniform seems straightforward - Issey Miyake's Pleats Please, Marques’Almeida’s pillowy down coat and a pink Eastpak belt bag under her arm -but it’s a tour de force of unapologetic colour, crop tops and trainers. She dismantles fashion rules with a brassy ease that’s endlessly appealing. She explained to Topshop, ‘You’ll notice that, by wearing even a little bit of colour, it has the power to change your mood. It picks you up and people will react differently to you. When I wear all one colour, everyone wants to be my friend, everyone wants to say “hi”.
‘It’s a really nice way to navigate through the world, especially with everything going on right now. Colour creates a nice reminder that we are supposed to talk to people in our community more. It’s a talking point. It’s something so simple, but it bridges conversation and creates a really beautiful connection between people.’
And speaking of connections, in the last year alone she has co-authored a book during the pandemic, entitled 'Mixed Feelings" Exploring the Emotional Impact of Our Digital Habits'', a look into the of social media in our everyday lives. But what next for Shimada? There are rumours of a documentary video series that she has created and produced, committed to social issues that affect women across the globe; from sexuality to motherhood and health.’ Takeaway: watch this space.
Naomi Shimada’s Instagram highlights:
Naomi Shimada’s Japanese Tour:
Naomi Shimda’s Inspiring Tattoos:
Naomi Shimada’s Bio:
Birthday: July 13, 1987
Height: 5”10 - 178cm
Dress Size: 14-16
Instagram Handle: @naomishimada
Instagram Following: 61.1K
This article originally appeared on The Debrief.