The model-turned-author talks social media, self-awareness, and leaning into stillness.
– KEYS SOULCARE
Naomi Shimada might be known as a fashion model, but it’s her life off the camera that’s fueling her fire. Not only is she studying gender and feminism in grad school, but she also published a book about social media last year called Mixed Feelings. Since then, she has significantly curbed her scrolling habit. (Yes, even during a pandemic.) We caught up with the author to find out more about achieving self-awareness both on and off of the screen.
Your book, Mixed Feelings, features a series of conversations. Why did you and co-author Sarah Raphael decide to explore social media through this format?
Whenever Sarah and I would see each other, social media was all we would talk about. She had been a digital editor at all different kinds of big publications for a long time, and I’m someone who had built a career on social media. [We wanted to explore the] feelings that we had on social media, how our work was so aligned with the internet, and the ways that we weren’t really comfortable with it. But, we felt like everything we were reading about social media was kind of stat-based, cold, and not really human. We [focused our book on conversations] for a softer, more human, tender, and honest [approach].
We both agreed that social media was, so often, a place of pretense, projection, and performance. What would it look like for us to examine our own relationships to it, understand why we use it, and how it makes us feel a little bit better? Naturally, I wanted the book to include other voices, because that’s what social media is, right? It’s many different voices, experiences, and backgrounds. I wanted [the book] to be reflective of the people who I’ve learned from, who meant a lot to me, or who I thought had interesting perspectives.
Social media has had a huge presence in recent years, for better or worse. How has your own relationship with social media evolved?
My relationship to social media really started to change while working on the book. It made me really reflect on how and why I used social media. I am so grateful that I went through that process. It’s been a kind of a continuation and evolution. [Now,] I don’t spend that much time on social media at all. As it stands, my work is still often aligned to having a social media presence, but that won’t always be the way. I’m happy to exist on social media, but it’s not something I want to put my energy into. I’m thinking about other ways to be online, like launching a newsletter next year.
You’ve been a model for over a decade now. In what ways do you think the modeling industry has changed — or hasn’t changed — over the years?
I think things have really changed in terms of casting, but I question it. Visible representation is only one step. It’s not enough. I also think diversity has become profitable, and I worry sometimes that we’re just changing faces, but nothing else changes. The industry profits off the faces of Black and Brown people, but the shareholders stay the same — it’s for profit. These are the questions I sit with and wonder about all the time. I think there’s a lot of exciting talent all across the creative industries who wouldn’t have been able to take up space because of the gatekeepers that have existed and still continue to exist. So, I feel like it’s a tricky negotiation.
What are your tips on staying connected with your mind and body during a moment when so much feels out of our control?
This year has helped me with the practice of presence. Walks make a difference, dancing in my house makes a difference. My mindfulness practice when I walk is trying to name the trees and the different plants that I see. I’ve been learning a lot about the things that grow around me. I’ve been seeing them change from spring, to summer, to autumn, to winter. Noticing things disappear or grow or burst or change in color is one of the things I’ve been doing.
You started grad school this fall! Can you tell us about what you’re studying and what inspired you to pursue it?
I am doing a Masters in gender, which is something I’ve wanted to do for a really long time. I’m enjoying my program so much, but the first month was really hard because I actually have never been to university. I’ve gotten this far in my life without having any formal education, but I wanted to nourish myself and my brain. I assumed that I wouldn’t [get into grad school], but I chanced it and somehow got in. Publishing Mixed Feelings last year felt like a personal triumph. I had deep fears that I wouldn’t be able to go through with it, and when I finished it, it set me on a whole new path to doing so many things. I probably wouldn’t have applied to school or taken up writing more seriously. [Writing the book has] allowed me to express myself in ways that I haven’t been able to in modeling and in other aspects of my career.
What are new things you’ve learned about yourself over the past year?
Learning to be really good on my own has been a joy. I unintentionally have spent most of this year alone in my apartment, not really going anywhere. [I sat] in the stillness I found myself in. It’s so easy to lose ourselves when we are constantly on to the next thing, whether it’s a place, a project, or however we try to fill our time. [I’ve been] thinking about the lens of work and why we work, [finding purpose in the things] that we feel passionate about. I think a lot of us have become out of touch with that purpose, and we’re still finding our way. Being alone has allowed me to investigate that with curiosity and love and softness.
Do you have any new intentions you’re looking forward to in 2021?
I don’t want to make any projections. I just want to live and be in the moment: to see people I love, meet new people. I want to dance, be in nature, swim in the ocean. I want to see where life will take me. I’m just excited to see what’s out there.
How do you stay present and in the moment? Share your secrets in the comments below.