Naomi Shimada is a successful model working in Europe. She has also been a campaigner for more diversity in the fashion industry and has co-authored a book about social media.
Social Media has changed
how young people communicate
And it has exploded in popularity
over the last 10 years.
In the UK, 86 percent of people
use social media,
with teenagers spending several hours daily
on different social media apps.
But it comes with issues for society –
particularly young women.
Anxiety, depression, and poor body image
is linked to an over-reliance on social media
As a model, author and podcaster,
Naomi Shimada has been a forefront
of a body positive movement
which started on the internet.
As a result of her personal experiences
as a young career woman and model,
she co-authored a book
exploring our relationship with social media.
Direct Talk met her at home in East London,
to hear how she wants to encourage everyone
to celebrate their differences.
Everybody has their struggles,
nobody is perfect
and I think that's the problem with
how social media has mostly been engineered,
it creates hierarchies, right.
We are looking up at people
and like their life looks perfect,
they have everything
and like, yes you know,
the world is an unequal place,
there is truth to that,
but everyone has a bit of a messy life
whether they want to admit it or not.
Modelling in 2022 is a vastly
different world to what it used to be.
In the past the fashion industry
insisted all models were very thin,
and never the size of an average women.
Now 33, Naomi has witnessed
a shift in the global fashion industry.
Beginning her modelling career
at just 13 years old,
Naomi had a few years of success.
But at the age of 18
her body changed shape as she matured.
Suddenly she struggled
to keep her weight down
to the incredibly strict standards
that her model agency demanded.
It led to depression, and stringent dieting.
I started modelling quite frequently
when I was a teenager,
as I grew older my body changed and...
suddenly, I found myself
not being able to work anymore.
I was made to feel...
not good enough all the time,
you know, whether it was through...
model agencies or through the clients.
I was turning up for jobs
where I didn't fit the clothes
or I was sent home or, you know,
I was told to constantly
measure parts of my body.
You know, this job never was my identity.
It has been something
I've been passionate about but
you know, I've always been
a human being first,
I love to laugh, eat,
socialise with my friends,
you know, like live, wholeheartedly,
and, that was a moment
earlier on in my career
where it robbed me of
all of those things, I couldn't be myself.
When I say that my body changed I was just
became what was actually
the average size in the UK
was like a size 14 is
the average size actually.
Even though the fashion industry
has never like really acknowledged that.
So I was the average size,
but the world I was in,
the industry I was in,
that was considered...
far too big.
So, Naomi decided for her own mental health,
to take a break from modelling.
But she returned a few years later,
with more fire and determination than ever.
She wrote a blog in which
she posted pictures about her life.
This time, she embraced her feminine curves.
She was taking control of her own image
This was the very beginning of the internet.
That's where a lot of plus size and
body positive movement started was online,
you know, through specific bloggers
who are just like,
you know what, these magazines...
the media doesn't care about us, you know.
And we're going to create
our own universe, our own world.
The fashion industry has gatekeepers,
a certain body type,
a certain look,
a certain skin tone,
that were paraded to be,
you know, more beautiful,
You know 12 years ago is a long time,
and a lot has happened since,
but at the time it was kind of
who's around, who wants to speak about it,
and I was angry,
you know, I was so passionate about...
But sometimes you can't wait for someone else
to tell you that you're beautiful
or that you deserve to be here,
people have to go and
start doing things by themselves.
Naomi is half Japanese and half Dutch.
And she has lived in
many different countries.
She grew up in Japan,
till she moved to live in Spain.
This mixed heritage has had
a huge influence on her life.
I lived in Tokyo until I was 11 years old
and after that I grew up in Spain,
so I had two completely
different childhood experiences.
Fashion was just a part of our lives,
I'm not even going to say fashion,
my parents are just very stylish people.
And my father especially,
style was his life
because he opened one of the
very first vintage stores in Tokyo.
So I grew up just in that world where
we were taught how to express
ourselves through clothing.
We were encouraged to
dress ourselves, you know, like,
this is your expression, you know,
you choose what you want to wear today.
And they really let me go through
different phases, you know,
sometimes I was really a girlie girl
and very like layered, tulle dresses
and then I would be super androgynous,
and I would wear you know,
just, however I wanted to dress
that was, it was very encouraged in our home.
I think we are so often products of
our upbringing and immediate environment.
For me how I express myself
through clothes is,
it's really an extension of who I am,
how I feel that day,
or sometimes a form of...
pulling yourself out or lifting yourself up
when you don't feel great.
We live in a very hard dark world,
a lot of the time.
And it makes you
experience the world differently.
And I think often people don't wear colour
because in so many societies, you're kind of
socialised to make yourself small,
to disappear or
to be just like everybody else,
and I think there's a beautiful way
to embrace and wear colour
where we are part of a community,
clothes are this way of
and expressing ourselves
in ways that actually connect us.
Today, more than half of the world
uses social media.
And every year, its popularity is growing
and evolving to become
part of working lives too.
For Naomi it has become an
essential part of her modelling career
and she is expected to use it,
whether she likes it or not.
Social media had
such a huge role in my career
and it also really changed the way modelling,
and the fashion industry operates.
Before, my job was going somewhere,
being part of a shoot,
being part of this, being part of that,
and over the years
it's really changed and so much of...
You know, you used to be just the model
that the client booked that day
and now you're the person that people are,
you know, booking you, for your ethics.
Everything you are, your history,
and it's so much more.
It's asking for so much more,
you know, because every time
you have to give this part of yourself
or, perform the version of you
that people want to see.
Social media is deeply embedded
into so many of our lives.
It's changed the way...
we interact with each other,
it's changed the culture of our work,
it's changed the way we spend our free time,
you know, like, it's robbed
the freedom of just being on holiday,
most people are,
you're either on social media
or you're taking photos for social media,
no-one's really on holiday
any more, are they?
From looking at Instagram and Tik Tok,
it can be easy to edit a life
to look perfect and enviable.
In Naomi's book MIXED FEELINGS,
she featured lots of different
interviews with people of all ages
about how social media can be used
both positively and negatively.
I ended up cowriting MIXED FEELINGS
with a friend of mine
I just felt like it was
something we had to do.
There's not been a lot of room for nuance
in the conversations around social media.
It's not just good or bad
or you know, like social media's terrible,
don't use it.
That's not really a reality for a lot of us anymore.
Our work lives are so embedded into it,
and I think especially as someone
who you know, as a model,
Instagram has evolved
over the years to be like our identity.
Most clients now will not go and
request your modelling portfolio, anymore.
They just look on your Instagram,
and so many jobs operate like that now.
So, in a strange way
almost everyone is turning themselves
into some kind of model, right?
Naomi has an ambivalent
relationship with social media
as she expected to share content
about her life and images of herself.
It is this effect upon her mental health
that really interests her.
I feel less and less under pressure
to share when I don't feel like sharing
because the book project
really made me look at my own habits.
Why am I posting this?
A picture is not just a picture.
Often when someone posts a selfie,
you know nothing is just a picture,
there's always a motive
or something behind it.
And Me and my co-author Sarah,
we often joke that you know,
the book process was
almost an exorcism for us.
Because we had to really
deeply look at and think about
you know, when something triggered us,
why does it make us feel that way,
or why do we want to be seen as
dot, dot, dot, dot, dot...
That's the power that of social media.
At the same time as it connects people
it also makes them feel insanely lonely,
because social media is often a place where
only the "Kodak moments" are celebrated.
I don't owe something like
Instagram my whole life.
I don't want people to know where I am or
what I'm doing or who I'm with all the time.
My privacy is sacred.
And we've forgotten that
we don't owe the internet everything.
In 2021, Naomi started a podcast
and she co-created Beauty Fix for the BBC.
She deliberately chose to interview
the widest range of people –
including activists, models, influencers -
as she is keen to
promote diversity in society.
I love the audio world,
I think because I have been in such a
visual trade for so, most of my life, right.
Being on camera,
people seeing me,
you know, like
the performance aspect of that.
I think when we live in
such an over visual world,
especially in the age of the internet,
you know, like how many pictures do we
absorb per day by looking at your phone.
That to be able to just sit down
and hear someone's voice
feels so intimate.
And for me, that's really
when truth can be shared.
It was important to us
that the people we interviewed and spoke to,
you know, were from a wide spectrum
of all walks of life, ages, abilities,
and to be able to,
to kind of stretch how we think of beauty.
Naomi is keen that
the next generation benefits
from what she has learnt from
her own experiences of social media.
And she is keen to
inspire people around the world,
particularly young girls who are struggling
with body image and confidence issues.
What I would say to someone
that is struggling with social media:
Don't take the image as true.
There are so many things
happening in that person's life
that you are not privy to at all.
They are also having issues,
whatever they are,
because they are human,
Social media only magnifies
the human experience, right,
and we all as people want to feel loved,
and connected and seen and appreciated,
those are not just trait on social media,
those are traits in real life.
So when, you know, when people ask me,
can people have healthy
relationships on social media?
yes, you can,
but you have to have
a healthy relationship with yourself.
I think when I go onto set now
I am treated better
because I treat myself better,
and I don't allow people to not treat me well
because I know my worth
and that has been, you know, that's been
my own life journey and trajectory.
After a career of many ups and downs,
today Naomi is more sought after than ever.
And she embraces
the uncertainty of the future,
excited as to what lies ahead.
Well, what excites me the most
about the future is that
I don't know what's going to happen.
I think in the past
I used to really fear that,
you know, I was really somebody who was like
going to write my goals down,
this year I'm doing this
but I'm now really embracing the not knowing,
because like life sometimes
can surprise us in ways
that we do not expect.
It is nice not trying to control
the experience all the time,
For Naomi, her message is:
do not believe everything
you see on social media
and believe in yourself.
You're already wonderful just as you are
You're already wonderful just as you are.