When 16-year-old Natalie Nootenboom got the call that she would be walking in New York Fashion Week this past September, the usually self-assured teenager found herself unusually terrified. “It was insane,” she recounts. “I was like, ‘How in the world am I going to do this?’ I barely know how to walk in heels, let alone walk down a runway in front of hundreds of people.”
Nootenboom took matters into her own hands — and feet. “I decided to walk in heels every day for a week and a half to get used to it,” she says. “I feel like I did pretty well.”
Though she’s still taking her first steps in the modeling industry, the half-Japanese, 5-foot-11 stunner is already making a big impact, both for her racially ambiguous looks and her body-confident style.
This fall, Nootenboom became the first plus-size model to walk for Anna Sui, during the designer’s spring/summer 18 runway show. What is more, the teenager found herself walking in the same show as three of her favorites models — Gigi Hadid, Bella Hadid and Taylor Hill — in her first full season of modeling. That Nootenboom was cast in a major, mainstream show not only illustrated the changing perceptions of plus-size models, but it was also a solid step forward in the fashion industry’s commitment to diversity and inclusion with the casting of an Asian plus-size model – something without a lot of precedent.
Nootenboom says she hasn’t had to gain or lose any weight for modeling. The only aesthetic change she had to make was a necessary one. “I tried to go blonde but it became an orange blond and the agency was like, ‘No way honey,’” she says with a laugh.
As for the “plus-size” label? While other prominent models, like Ashley Graham, have spoken out against the term, Nootenboom says it doesn’t bother her. Still, she’s quick to add, “The biggest barriers we put in our society are labels. Models are models. Women are women. Why can’t we just be who we are?”
Nootenboom’s got a lot she wants to do with her career, and it’s easy to believe that she’ll actually accomplish everything, too. It’s also easy to forget that she’s still just a 16-year-old.
“At the [Anna Sui] show, I was around Gigi, Bella and Taylor, and I was like, ‘Omigosh, this is actually happening,’” Nootenboom says. “I really wanted to take a picture with Gigi but didn’t get a chance to do it and I stressed about it for a minute,” she admits. “But then I thought, ‘it’s okay,’ because I’ll have another show with her. I’ll get my photo then.”
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A plus-size model starring in a plus-size fashion campaign is to be expected. A plus-size model in a non-plus-size fashion campaign, a little less so (though, thanks to the recent movement propelled by mass-market brands and select designers, that may become the norm sooner than we think). But a plus-size model in a beauty campaign? That’s a development so recent it’s overhauled the industry in a very short amount of time.
“Casting non-straight-size models—as in any model over a size 0, 2, or 4—for beauty campaigns is something we started to see come through only in the last six months,” says Amanda Brennan, a model agent at boutique curve agency Natural Model Management. “In the past I would submit my girls for consideration because of the simple fact that they’re beautiful, but now I’m getting casting notices from Sephora and Ulta specifically asking for plus. It’s cool to see because they don’t have to do it—their business isn’t dependent on size—so it speaks a lot to how much things are changing.”
Diverse, yes, but brands have to be authentic about it too, which begins with casting—as in, casting more than one plus model in a campaign. Plus-size model Brianna Marquez, who is one of the five featured in Wet ‘n’ Wild’s #BreakingBeauty campaign, says tokenism is still a major problem. For her, “it sticks out like a sore thumb” when she’s cast as the only curvy model in a beauty campaign with a dozen people. It’s why the Julep foundation campaign she starred in, which featured more than one curvy model out of 18, and Wet ‘n’ Wild’s #BreakingBeauty campaign (where she was given a platform to share her journey to becoming a weight lifter) both really resonated with her. “Brands are trying, there’s a shift happening, but we’re not quite there yet. We will be when it’s more equal.”
Still. That shouldn’t undercut the tremendous strides of progress that have taken place. “I can’t remember a time where I saw a plus-size model in a beauty campaign,” Marquez says. “It makes me feel good for younger girls who are growing up now because that’s something I never saw or felt good about. I grew up with shame surrounding my body, but if I saw more women who looked like me in campaigns, everything would have been different.”
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Yamani Wallace is the newest face of Natural Models LA. The L.A. based model, is not only photogenic but stunning in person. She makes it look effortless as she takes a seat wearing her curly tresses in a top knot bun, yoga pants and a fleece sweater. Did I mention, no make-up? That’s optional. She’s confident, relaxed and in her element. Aside from her aesthetic, I wanted to learn more about Yamani’s intersectionality as a black queer woman and balancing those identities.
Interview by, Javonne Crummby
JC: You are signed to Natural Models LA, an agency whose mission is “to let models be healthy and happy.” What is it like being part of such a body positive agency?
Yamani: It’s GREAT, but it’s also challenging because the stigma in the model world is if you’re a straight size model, you’ve gotta be a [size] 0-4, instead of [sizes] 12-16. I like it personally, because I’m in that awkward not straight size, but not plus size, and not such a curve model. And a lot of people look up to the movement ‘healthy is the new skinny’ because of the body positivity that is somewhat a trend now. You get a positive vibe being on set with a lot of curve models, and plus size models to the point where you don’t have to not eat so much before a shoot. Or, starve yourself before a shoot so, I love it! It’s really comforting knowing that there’s other women and other girls that look up to me. I get DM’s on a daily like “oh my god, I know I’m not this size but do you think I can still fit into the agency?” I’m just starting out and people are already looking up to me, thinking I’m this famous person because I’m on the agency’s website and that’s not the case. But it’s so empowering to speak to a young lady over social media that wants to pursue her dreams even though she’s not a straight sized model. The agency is very becoming of women and body positivity.
JC: Hey Yamani! So your Instagram bio says “Black with a little bit of cream.” What is your racial background?
Yamani Wallace: My dad is Black and my mom is White and Black. Her white side is German and English and my dad is a red tone with green eyes and freckles, so we have a blend of something else. When people ask me I always say Black. I don’t like saying “mixed” because people assume that means just white and black.
JC: Interesting! Did you ever face any challenges growing up being a mix of different races?
Yamani: Definitely. I noticed it more around middle school. I had a best friend she was white. We hung out all the time. It was me, another black girl and our white friend. Her mom told her going into 7th grade, that she hung out with too many black people and she needed to cut it out. We went to a predominately white school. I’m from a predominately white area [San Dimas, CA]. I remember there were like 10 people, I could count on my hands that I graduated with, that were people of color. At lunch one day we were all hanging out around some dancer and the proctor came over and said “there’s too many of you hanging in one area, you need to disperse, because it looks bad.” There’s a lot of stuff like that. Even in sports it’s like “oh you’re gonna be good, because your black.”
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in a really small town in Washington state called Brush Prairie. It’s pretty much just as “country” as it sounds. I was lucky enough to grow up on 2 acres where we had chickens and horses, and too many cats and dogs to count. It’s the kind of town where everyone knows everyone, and I’m still really close with a lot of people I have known since I was in kindergarten!
What was it like growing up in an interracial family?
I never really thought about how I was in an interracial family until about 3rd grade when another student asked me if learning about MLK Jr. made me feel weird because I was black. After that I started noticing things I hadn’t before, like how I look absolutely nothing like my mom and my oldest sister, who has a different Dad than me and our other two sisters. I noticed that my 2 sisters and I who share the same dad were pretty much the only African American students in the school. Even though there was no diversity where I grew up, my mom did an amazing job at raising us to believe that it doesn’t matter what color you are or what you believe in as long as you are kind to other people, treat people with respect, and work hard at whatever it is you want to do in life.
How did that affect your self image as a child?
My self image was great until middle school. Kids would make fun of my big curly hair, and just touch it and grab it without asking. I remember specifically wearing my hair in a bun or braids a lot because it was easy, and boys would hit my bun or pull on my braids just to tease me. I always played it off like I didn’t care but it made me want to straighten my hair, so I started to straighten it a lot in middle school to look like the other girls and so no one would touch it or make fun of me. Kids would also ask me if I was adopted because I don’t look like my mom, and my dad wasn’t really present so it didn’t make sense to kids how she could be my mom. Those types of things made me feel sad and out of place as a kid, especially because I was and am so close to my mom. It would make me angry as well because they had no idea the struggles my family went through when I grew up with a Dad who wasn’t faithful and not present in our lives. Because of this, my mom literally did EVERYTHING for us, and I thought it was so mean for kids to question her ability to be my mom just because we don’t look the same.
What lead you to play competitive sports?
When my sisters and I were younger, my mom let us try EVERYTHING. We took art lessons, piano lesson, nature club, ballet, tap dance, gymnastics, basketball, soccer, etc. Sports was the one thing growing up where my size and strength were not only an asset, but encouraged in many cases. Gymnastics and dance didn’t last long because I felt self conscious in the leotards, and always felt out of place. Soccer and basketball stuck with me and I quickly became pretty good at both sports. I got invited to play on club teams and try out for select teams. I loved not only being part of a team but feeling like I was actually wanted and needed just the way I was. In middle school I decided my next life goal was to play college basketball. Even then, people said I was too short, not fast enough, too big, too small, I heard it all. But the difference this time is that I didn’t listen to anyone who had negative things to say about me, I just worked extremely hard through my middle school and high school years and got recruited to play at a ton of schools, including a few division I schools. Playing a college sport is one of my proudest accomplishments because such a small percentage of people do it, and I stuck with a dream even when people said I couldn’t!
How did you balance playing sports in college and getting your degree?
Playing college basketball and getting a biology degree at the same time was easily the most challenging years of my life. Sometimes we would have conditioning at 5 or 6 am, then you go to class during the day, at some point in the afternoon you’re expected to hit the weight room and get your scheduled lifting session in, sometimes open gym at night for a couple hours, and when our season started we would have 3 hour practices at night. Oh, and if you’re a science major your labs are 3 hours long too during the week. Basically, it’s REALLY difficult to find time to do all that, eat, study, and sleep. I learned to prioritize my time and also the best way for me to study to maximize the time I did have. This is an invaluable skill that I’m glad I learned! It also helps to be studying something you love so that when you study, you actually enjoy what you’re learning.
I know you had a passion for horses when you were younger. Why didn’t you pursue that dream?
I had been obsessed with horses since I was little. Growing up I wanted to be a professional horseback rider, and my mom even sent me to horseback riding camp for a couple summers because I loved it so much! I had gone to Texas to visit my Grandma with my sister when we were young, and she was asking us what we wanted to be when we grew up. I told her I wanted to be a professional horseback rider, and she proceeded to tell me that I could never do that because I was too big and heavy for the horses to carry me. Mind you, I was in 3rd or 4th grade at the time and hadn’t started thinking any negative thoughts about my body until this moment. I was ALWAYS taller and bigger than my sisters and all of my friends but it had never been an “issue” until that day. After that day, I didn’t want to ride horses anymore! It’s a sad story but I think its all too common for girls to be told they can’t do things because of physical attributes which is crazy!!
You call yourself a science nerd. What do you love about science?
I am definitely a self proclaimed science nerd. I love learning about it, I love talking about it, I love reading about it, I could go on!!! When I was a kid (before the internet and smart phones were invented) I would spend hours outside catching bugs (and keeping a collection in my moms freezer, sorry Mom!), climbing trees, catching frogs and salamanders, digging up worms, anything I could get my hands on. Science is such an incredible field because of all it encompasses. From how our body processes food, space exploration, the ecosystem, germs, how our cars work..it’s all science and it’s always working around us and inside us even though most of the time we can’t see it. It’s fascinating and I’ve always been so curious about things I don’t understand.
Why do you feel passionate about young girls and women going into the science field?
We live in a society where women are still judged on their ability to do things by how they look. I remember listening to some of the news coverage on the last election and reporters were literally saying that Hillary Clinton couldn’t be the President because they didn’t like her voice. It sounds so ridiculous to me, but that is the reality for women entering and working in a male dominated field. Because we are still judged heavily based on what we look like and what we wear, there is no focus on our actual skill or intelligence. Being older I fully understand that, but it makes young women and girls subconsciously think that they aren’t as smart as boys. I thought this way too growing up because all of the boys in my math classes could solve problems so much faster. In college I started to really understand that it doesn’t matter how fast or slow you can do a math problem or come up with an answer. Everyone’s minds work differently and that doesn’t make you better or worse that someone else. In fact in the field of science you generally work in teams, and having people that have different perspectives and think about things differently is so much more beneficial! I want young women and girls to not be afraid of a field that is mostly male, and most of all not put the same constraints on themselves that society does when it comes to looks or how to dress.
You took a big risk following your instincts to move to LA. What were your fears?
I was terrified moving to LA. I grew up in Washington my whole life, spent a year on the east coast and hated it, then moved to Portland, OR to finish school. I knew that I wasn’t a city person by any means, and I also knew I would have to put my nursing school goal on the back burner while I chased a modeling dream. This was scary because I didn’t want to fail in LA and think that I wasted my time. I’m also extremely shy when I first meet people so I was worried that I wouldn’t make any friends. But, I had the amazing opportunity to try modeling in LA with Natural Models…I had been following Natural since they began their agency and always felt like it was an agency that shared the same views as me and that I would fit well with. M mom always said that it doesn’t matter what happens in LA, I could always move home if I needed to. Having her support meant everything and I knew I had to place to go if it didn’t work out. It was so hard at first being in LA without everything I was used to and people I was used to, but I have learned so much and grown so much as person pushing myself to do something that made me uncomfortable at first!
Looking back, are you able to have a different perspective?
Now I can look back and appreciate the struggles I had when I moved here. I think going through things or trying new things that scare you and make you uncomfortable help you grow and learn. I also think it’s just an important life skill to learn how to be in a tough situation and stick with it, in any aspect of life. When I moved to the east coast for my first year of college, it was truly the worst and saddest year of my life but I stuck it out for the entire school year. One good thing came from it, and I met my best friend who actually lives in LA now. There is always something good you can take from scary and tough times in your life, regardless of how it turns out and if you focus on those good things, you’ll always know and feel that you learned and grew as a person.
What advice do you have for other girls and women who are feeling that they need to go a different direction in life but struggle to overcome their fear?
Trying something new, especially in going a different direction in life can be really scary. For me, I realized that I would be SO upset with myself if I grew up and didn’t at least TRY to take a new opportunity in LA. For me, I knew I could always enroll in nursing school if LA didn’t work it…my safe option would always be there. Whatever direction you’re going now will always be there and always be something safe you can come back to if you realize going a new direction was the wrong thing to do. Women, and people in general, are scared to try something new because other people project their fears onto them: “Oh you can’t do that, what if you fail?” “But how are you going to pay for rent and school?” “But you already have a good job why would you move and try that?”. All of those are other people’s fears…not yours! Anything you want to do or accomplish in life is up to you, but it’s important to tune the haters out! The only person who is capable of stopping you, is YOU!
You met your amazing boyfriend in LA, how has meeting him changed your view of men and relationships?
Growing up with a dad who was not the best example of what a partner or husband should be affected me in a very negative way. I was not a good partner to my boyfriends in my college years because I thought every guy was like my dad and would just leave me without notice, so I would leave them first even though I dated some incredible guys. I hurt some really great guys, and it wasn’t their fault. I was projecting my fears of men onto them, which is the wrong thing to do. Towards the end of college when I became more confident with myself overall, I was able to voice my opinions and my sadness about my dad to him. For years I let him off the hook for mistreating my mom, sisters, and I because he was my dad. When I started holding him accountable and letting my feelings about it out, my feelings about men began to shift. I understood that just because I encountered one that wasn’t the best, doesn’t mean that every guy I meet is going to be like him. I also understood what to look for and what to avoid because I grew up with a person like my dad. Anyone in LA will tell you how terrible the dating scene is. All anyone wants to know is what you do and where you live, as if that is a sign of how good of a boyfriend/girlfriend you will be. Needless to say, I didn’t last long in the dating scene and just kind of gave up and decided to focus on my own happiness here in a new city. I would take my dog hiking all the time and explore LA by myself at times. This was about the time I met my boyfriend, Ryan. He romantically messaged me on Instagram telling me how awesome my dog is and if I wanted to go find a cool taco spot. I had never really been approached nicely and sincerely on Instagram, so I was taken aback and didn’t message him back for a few days. Finally I was like, well if we go on one date and it’s horrible then we never have to see each other again. So, we met up for brunch one day and just continued to hang out and get to know one another, and here we are today! I would say meeting him hasn’t really changed my views, but more so confirmed that there are really amazing people in the world, but we just need to be in the right mindset and ready for people like that in our lives. If I had they same mindset I had in college, I don’t think I would have found Ryan and built such a great relationship with him. I strongly believe that whatever energy you give off, wether it be negative or positive, greatly influences the types of people you will have in your life. Once I started having a more positive outlook on relationships and people, I met someone incredible!
Click here to see more of Daron Dean
What do you want the little girls who look up to you to know?
I want them to know that I am just like them. I go through the same self confidence struggles, the same life struggles, etc. My life isn’t perfect and they shouldn’t aim for perfection or base their success or self worth off of what they see on my Instagram or any other model’s Instagram. They should aim for growth, pursuing their dreams (whatever they may be), and making a positive impact on the world around them! I also want them to know that I support them and that they can always reach out to me if they need guidance and advice, or even just want to chat!
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Check out our girl Tabria Majors write up in Yahoo Lifestyle.
The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue isn’t stopping with Ashley Graham. While the magazine took a major step in the right direction by crowning their first ever curvy cover girl and rookie of the year in 2016, it’s still making moves towards including more size diverse women. Case in point: the magazine has just added another plus size beauty to its roster.
Tabria Majors was just initiated into Sports Illustrated’s Model Search class for the 2018 Swimsuit Issue. And she can’t contain her excitement.
“A lot of you have been asking me about the @si_swimsuit #swimsearch and I am so proud to say that I will be in next year’s issue along with 5 other amazing ladies!” Majors announced the news in an Instagram caption Wednesday. In the photo, she’s wearing a bright blue bikini. “Words can’t even describe how excited I am about this opportunity, but I want to thank aaaallllll of you guys bc I couldn’t have gotten here without you,” she gushed.
It’s pretty obvious why the publication chose her. Her Instagram is full of stunning swimsuit shots dating back to when an agent discovered her account and signed her two years ago all the way up to her Sports Illustrated casting video, and beyond — and she looks amazing in all of them.
- Alana Smith
- Ali Chanel
- Allexa D'Alessio
- Anna Krylova
- Ashourina Washington
- Ayesha Perry – Iqbal
- Bailey Carr
- Bianca Davies
- Bree Kish
- Brianna Marquez
- Brielle Anyea
- Chelsea Miller
- Danielle van Grondelle
- Daron Dean
- Erica Moala
- Eye Candy
- Faith Bowman
- Germaine Nichols
- Hannah Mavestrand
- Imogen Ker
- Katie H.
- Katie H. Willcox
- Kristina Yeo
- Leslie Sidora
- Lexa Joy
- Macy Alexzandra
- Maddie Savage
- Malia Greiner
- Model Spotlight
- Natalie Alvarado
- Natalie Nootenboom
- Natural TV
- New Face
- Riley Ticotin
- Savannah Di Marco
- Stephanie Viada
- Sydney Ness
- Tabria Majors
- Taylor Greenwood
- Vanessa Romo
- Yamani Wallace
- Yvonne Simone