BodyPositive: Plus size model Naomi Shimada on Body Positivity and Bikinis

Naomi Shimada
Naomi Shimada poses on the beach in her bikini

Plus-size model Naomi Shimada hit the headlines when she took to the beaches of Brazil in her bikini. She says there's too much pressure to conform - and we all have a social responsibility to pay each other more compliments. BodyPositive caught up with the presenter, healthy body image activist and columnist for InstyleUK.

You're a successful size 16 model. Getting young women to feel confident in their bodies is complex - how much of the lack of confidence is down to external expectations?

It's hard. I totally understand and see why everyone is struggling. Look at the world we live in, the shows we watch, every ad we're fed, the magazines we read, every Instagram post we come across. Thin still rules our visual periphery all the time. It's frustrating, sad and boring to be honest!

There is just so much pressure to conform. But I feel like there is a whiff of change in the air and women (and men!) want to see a change. We're talking about it more than we ever have before. Support each other. If someone looks great, tell them. We all have a social responsibility to ourselves and others. If we want to see real change we all have a role to play.

Naomi Shimada
Naomi Shimada is BodyPositive!

The shots of you in your bikini are taken in Brazil. What differences did you notice about how body image is perceived on your travels?

Travelling really is such an interesting way to gain perspective on other countries' and cultures' attitudes towards body image. Thanks to almost every Victoria Secret Angel being Brazilian, I just assumed that was the aspirational female body type here. Going to the beach is always a quick way to find out what the real deal is and it was so refreshing to see that in Brazil anything goes. Girls and women seem to let their bodies just be here. No matter what size you are everyone sports a teeny weeny bikini - no tankini or full swimsuit in sight! All the girls just look super comfortable.

Men seem to be the ones who are super image conscious. All muscles and super sculpted. It's so interesting to see the roles reversed. I also spent a month in Japan over the summer and not being anything other than super petite and skinny still has a lot of stigma attached to it. The shame girls feel there is so intense. I hope it really starts to comb out over the next generation.

Have you always felt BodyPositive or is it something you've taught yourself over time?

I've definitely taught myself over time. I was pretty thin until reached my 20's but then my body totally changed. Initially I struggled with it but then realised I actually like the way I looked. It was just my job and our society that made me feel bad about my new body. So I decided to just roll with it and use it as a strength. I'm still evolving though. Until I got to Brazil I would only ever wear high-waisted bikini bottoms to hide my tummy but then I got there and I was like 'why bother? It gives me bad tan lines and I sit around in a wet cossie for longer and no one cares about my tummy!' So, you know, we're all still learning!

Who is your role model for embracing a happy and healthy body image?

I definitely think there is a lack of size diversity being championed in the public eye. I still struggle to get my head around why the need to be thin, whether you're a TV presenter, actress, singer, is still a topic. I went to a Frida Kahlo exhibition and it reminded me of how much inner confidence rules all. She had a broken back and eventually her leg from the knee down was amputated but she owned that, rocked it and made it work for her and is still one of our most beloved fashion icons. Serena Williams also always comes to mind. She's the ultimate image of female strength - how strong we can teach the body to be - and true source of inspiration to me.

Follow Naomi on Twitter and Instagram.