“I don’t ever feel any pressure to be a role model, because by being myself I am a role model,” says Nyome Nicholas-Williams, one of a new wave of models taking the mic to shape the future of fashion imagery, changing policy in the process. As the old adage goes, she’s more than just a pretty face – though having excellent cheekbones has been a major advantage on her chosen career path. A photographer by trade, she began modelling in 2016 at the insistence of friends who felt she was wasting her good looks by staying behind the camera. But when she was confronted by a dispiriting lack of plus-size models of colour, she found a new purpose: to “carve a space” for herself, and others like her, in the industry.
It was a hard journey, and Nyome admits that getting signed required “networking my arse off”, but she has now modelled for Adidas, Boots and Dove, scored a Glamour cover and grown an Instagram following of more than 80,000. And as well as providing much needed visibility for plus-size women of colour in fashion, she’s advocating for them behind the scenes, too. “I want plus-size bodies to be present in conversations all the time and to have body [types] that aren’t represented to be represented,” she says. “I’m never going to stop until I’ve made the changes I want to make.”
And when Nyome tells you she’s going to do something, you’d better believe her. Last year, when images of her from a shoot with Alex Cameron were being unfairly flagged for nudity and removed by Instagram, Nyome, supported by Alex and the feminist campaigner Gina Martin, rallied her followers to share the pictures using the hashtag #iwanttoseenyome. It caught the attention of Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri, who not only emailed her to apologise but posted on the platform acknowledging IG policies’ failings and committing to alter them so it wouldn’t happen again. “That was very hard work,” Nyome says, a grin widening across her face. “But we did it.”
Below, we catch up with Nyome about the importance of self-love, her work combatting Instagram censorship and inspiring others to make their dreams a reality.
When did you first know you wanted to work in fashion and what was your journey into modelling like after that?
I studied Media Studies and Photography at University of the Arts London and I always knew that I wanted to do something in media. I didn’t necessarily want to model but I wanted to be a fashion designer when I was younger. I kind of fell into becoming a model because a lot of people around me were like, “Nyome, your face, [you should] model!” And I was like, “Okay, l’ll model”. I really started modelling after entering a competition for a big brand and looking around and seeing that there were plus-size women there but no Black plus-size women there. I wanted to carve a space and from there I networked my arse off before I got signed.
It’s so interesting that you stepped from behind the camera to in front of the camera. Does your background in photography influence your approach to modelling?
When I first started modelling I had to get comfortable with not being able to see the final image and I had to work on the angles for being in front of [rather than behind] the camera. Now, it doesn’t bother me as much.
What does your presence in the modelling industry and on social media offer to your followers?
I’d like to think it offers a new perspective and that [through my example] little Black girls growing up, Black women and women in general know that you can obtain your goals. I like to show through my work that when you are relentless with pushing forward for what you want and making the world better, then you can obtain it.
Your work spreads a message of self love — what was your journey to feeling confident in your own skin?
A lot of positive self-talk, a lot of therapy and the support of my friends and my family. I’m very grateful for my cousins and I have a solid group of friends around me who always lift me up and remind me how amazing I am, but most importantly I have to tell myself that and say positive affirmations in the mirror and speak to myself every day like, “Nyome you’ve got this.” The opinion of myself is the only one that matters because I’m with me for my whole entire life, I have to have confidence.
2020 and 2021 so far have been big adjustments for most people — whether that’s creatively or with mental health. What’s one thing you’ve learned over the past year?
I’ve learned there’s different ways for me to deal with my anxiety and there’s other ways for me to work through it. Yes, I sometimes fall back into old habits but there’s other moments when I can pinpoint when [a thought] is anxiety and talk myself off of a mental ledge and prevent myself from spiralling into negative self talk. I’ve turned that around and can sense things that trigger my anxiety.
Outside of your modelling work, you’re known for your campaigning against censorship on Instagram. Can you tell our readers a bit more about this?
I’ve been on Instagram since around 2015, I can’t remember when I started to be very vocal about different bodies being seen but I’d never had anything being taken down or reported. Then, I did a shoot with the photographer Alex Cameron in 2020 and we got the most beautiful pictures out of it but when [I posted] them [on Instagram], they were taken down. We had to question Instagram about why these images came down and what the reason was. Alex got [the feminist campaigner] Gina Martin on board and we were working tirelessly, constantly asking for change and made an open letter with different activists putting their name to the cause. That got the attention of Adam Mosseri, the CEO of Instagram and then he said he was going to change the policy on how semi-nude images are reviewed and we got a change in regards to breast coverage. It’s very specific but the fact that we were able to change the policy is huge.
Love a success story! So, let’s talk about the sandals you’re wearing: the Dr. Martens Voss Quad. What makes them special?
I love them, I’ve actually got another pair of Voss sandals but with this pair, I love that they’re in white and have a platform sole — I love a good sandal.
As someone that’s busy pounding the pavement making positive change, is the sandal’s wearability and practicality important to you?
Yeah, I can literally do anything in them! They’re very comfortable.
Loved getting to know Nyome? Catch her here on Dr. Martens Talking Tough Podcast, where she discusses body positivity, mental health awareness and healthy coping mechanisms.
Shop Dr. Martens Sandals at drmartens.com.