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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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.
“Recently I decided I wanted to wear less black. Black has never been my go to wardrobe color but it is a best seller in most cases. Do you think that is because women like the color black or because we have been told it is slimming and that colors and patterns make us look big? I love color, patterns, and I love wearing white. (Even after Labor day) I think what we wear carries an energy with us as well. So I have decided to give my black clothes a rest for a while and be a little brighter and lighter. Don’t be afraid to wear your favorite colors!”
Check out Katie Willcox’s blog here.