Jane Yu: Tell us about your background.
Nicole Simone: So I have always had an interest in modeling. It’s something that runs in my family. I’ve had two successful cousins who are models. But I’ve always been on the curvier, thicker side so…
JY: Where are you from?
NS: I was born in Sunnyvale (California), down south for twelve years and moved back up here to the bay. Pageants were huge in my family. My aunt and uncle were huge players in the Hawaiian Tropics pageants for thirty years. I’ve always been around it but I just never really thought, “Oh, it’s something I can do” because in the fashion industry, you just didn’t really see girls who were curvy like me. So I kind of put that dream aside for a little while and in 2000, I started getting into belly dancing so I’ve been belly dancing off and on for like, fifteen years. And that’s really where I started gaining my confidence within my body and accepting myself, my curves and having the passion to perform and everything. In 2012 I actually stumbled upon Plus Model Magazine. Then I saw that, I was, like, “What is this vibrant world of curvy women?” I felt like I hit a goldmine! I was like, “That’s it. I’m going to pursue it. Because I’ve always wanted to do it and now I’m gonna do it.” And I did. In 2012 I just started booking with photographers and started shooting and building my portfolio and yeah, I just haven’t stopped since. I used to work in corporate sales for, like, twelve years and I decided… I actually knew for a long time that I wasn’t happy in that industry. It just wasn’t my passion and especially being an artist and going to college for art–fine art, photography–I didn’t finish college but I knew since I was young I’ve always been an artist. So I just knew that’s where my passion was. I said to myself, I’m going to take a risk, live a dream. Every year it tends to get a little better for me. I keep getting more opportunities or more people are noticing me. I feel like as long as I keep working towards it, really hard, and not giving up, not giving up on myself, that something will come eventually.
JY: Are you a full-time model right now?
NS: Yes, I work at the Academy of Art as well as a life model so I do that. I also model for designers here and there. One in particular, up in San Francisco: Dark Garden and Unique Corsetry. They’ve been around for over twenty-five years making custom and couture corsets so I was modeling for them as a plus-size.
JY: What’s the experience of being a life model versus a commercial model?
NS: Life modeling work is kind of hard. It’s really taxing on your body. You know, having to hold poses for twenty minutes and then getting a short break, twenty minutes. It’s one of those jobs where you get into a pose and you think the first three minutes, “Oh, this is comfortable. I can hold this.” But then, like, ten minutes into it you’re thinking, “My limbs are going to fall off.”
JY: But you’re allowed to sneeze.
NS: Well, you can fidget a little bit, but for the most part you have to be professional and stay still. I like it. It’s really fun. It’s beautiful to see the work that the artists create of you and then sometimes you don’t want to see the work that they create of you. [laughs] Because you’re like, “Oh no, that’s how you see me…” But it’s fun! It’s a different medium of art.
JY: I think it’s great.
NS: Yeah, I enjoy it. I’m one of their only curvy models at the Academy of Art so…
JY: What about the others?
NS: They’re thinner, they’re older… I think I might be the first younger of the curvier. But all the instructors and students really love me. They’re always, like, “We want Nicole Simone back!” so it’s kind of fun. I enjoy it. It’s good. It’s a good experience and it pays the bills so that’s nice.
JY: What were you like before you discovered dancing and the confidence you gained through it? Did you have another outlet?
NS: Yeah, I just wasn’t sure where I belonged, you know? I was just kind of here, existing, not really feeling a part of anything. I have a background of being an athlete and playing sports and I’ve had knee injuries so I’ve kind of had to let go of that dream ‘cause of the recurring injuries I have on my knees and so, I just wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I loved playing sports so much and it was a great way of keeping me in shape and thick and hot.
JY: What sport were you into?
NS: Softball. Yeah, softball and swimming were my two things. But then in 2000 I stumbled upon belly dancing and thought, “What is this magical performance art? These women–they’re all different shapes and sizes and they’re loving their bodies and it’s like a sisterhood.” I was, like, I get to be a part of this.
JY: Does belly dancing encourage a diversity of people more than other dance forms?
NS: Well, belly dancing is definitely an art form that is accepting of all sizes and shapes. I think what I’ve really enjoyed about doing it is that it didn’t put too much stress on my knee. I could be free to express my emotions through movement and know that I was in a safe place, that no one would judge me. Actually, it’s almost like the curvier you are, the more beautiful the movements are because it’s a lot of hips and shimmying and it’s just really beautiful to see that. It’s just been something… I haven’t been able to do it for a little while because I’ve been focusing a lot of my time on modeling but I’ve slowly started training and taking dance classes again. I’ve been doing it off and on for fifteen years so I feel like it’s always in me, to just come back! [laughs]
JY: How did you discover IGIGI?
NS: I would say about three years ago through Plus Model Magazine actually. I thought, “Wow, these clothes are beautiful.” I needed a dress for a wedding so I was looking and saw the Ambrosia Dress in black. I just was in love with it. I had to buy it. It’s still one of my favorite dresses today. The one thing I did notice is that the clothing sizes run actually big. Generally… right now I’m 18 but I can fit into size 12. So I noticed that they do run a little bigger but I mean, hey, I still fit it. I don’t care. A number’s just a number to me. What I care about is the fit on my body and how I look. I think the quality of the material is fantastic. When I go to spend the money before the outfit, I don’t feel like I’m spending too much on something that isn’t quality. I think the quality matches the price.
JY: How would you describe your own personal style?
NS: I’ve always been drawn to the pin-up style. The very form-fitting pencil skirts, cute tops. It’s still something I always lean towards. I try to step outside of the box and try new things, like half-circle skirts. I’m always afraid… I think, “Isn’t that going to make my hips look bigger?” but then it’s like, you know, I’m going to try new things.
JY: Do you mean the pin-ups of the 1950s?
NS: Like, ‘50s. I like of the era styles. I mean, I really love the ‘20s and ‘30s but the outfits on those eras aren’t very shapely so I tend to go a little more to the ‘50s with the cute cigarette pants, the pencil skirts and the high-waisted belts. I think it’s just a very flattering style for my figure. I feel sexy and confident in it but I also feel I look classy, too. Like, I could go to a corporate job if I was still working and wear that outfit but I could also go out.
JY: Do you follow any style icons? Does belly dancing influence your style at all?
NS: I would say belly dancing influences the jewelry I tend to wear. I love that tribal, bohemian… the heavy jewelry.
JY: You wear it with your pin-up clothes?
NS: Sometimes I do. But the way I’ll style it will look like it just goes. I always have a mix of everything I like infused into my style. But the belly dancing… usually my style comes out on stage, you know, in my costume and my designs. I’m very influenced by old Hollywood actresses like Mae West. She was very curvy for her time. I’ve been kind of getting dubbed as this “Modern Day Mae” with some of my new photos. I did a photoshoot last year and I did an ode to Mae West. I kind of had the whole look of her and everything. I actually did a belly dance performance where I was Mae West on stage. She’s someone I really admire and I love the way she dresses. The dresses she wears–oh my god. She’s quite the saucy woman. But, you know, I follow styles… I’ll get inspired by that show, Mad Men. Christina Hendrix. I love the way she dresses and I always look outside of the show to see what she wears on a daily basis. I always tend to look at women who shaped like me because my waist is so small and my hips are so much larger. I’m always looking for women who have a figure like mine that I can see how they wear clothes and how their clothes look on them.
JY: Do you have any tips for other women with your body shape?
NS: I would say for me, I always dress in what is form-fitting. What I try to never do is hide my waist because I feel like my waist is the highlight on my figure. It’s small in comparison to my chest and hips. I tend to wear form-fitted shirts and skirts that are high-waisted that I can bring up or maybe accentuate with a belt. I tend to wear just a lot of pencil skirts or cigarette pants or dresses like the Ambrosia (that I wore for the #MODELIGIGI contest) that are just super elegant, sexy, and form-fitting. But it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try new things. I’m still trying new things–full skirts, half-circle skirts to play. I think half-circle skirts would look really nice, too, because when you look up it’ll still make your waist look smaller.
JY: What else would you like to share with our IGIGI audience?
NS: Confidence is key no matter what size you are. I think if you just own who you are and continue to work on yourself, whatever that may be… Confidence is the number-one thing to keep you happy. I think balance for me is really key in life. To keep my ego in check, to be compassionate, to stay balanced and I think being just well-rounded in all those areas–self-love comes naturally. I don’t fight that. I really try to live this “Zen” motto, I guess. That keeps me away from a lot of the negativity that the world wants to, like, shoot at me all the time and I think that way I’m just constantly working on myself. If you have self-love you have confidence, you know? It kind of comes hand-in-hand. I’m at a point in my life where I’m actually the heaviest I’ve ever been and that’s fine, but it doesn’t mean I’m not beautiful. It doesn’t mean that I can’t still model or pursue my dreams. Someone out there is going to appreciate me. So I just continue to work on myself and work on my path but continue to have the confidence all the way through. Keeps me happy.