Paradym Partner: Naomi Shimada

We spoke to author and model Naomi Shimada about her book Mixed Feelings, challenging unrealistic and narrow beauty ideals and emotional patterns during Covid-19.

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Portrait of Naomi Shimada

Born in Japan to a Japanese father and a European mother, Naomi Shimada is best known for being a model unafraid to challenge unrealistic and narrow beauty ideals. However, as she so aptly tells us she is ‘so much more’ than just a body. Naomi recently co-authored ‘Mixed Feelings – a book which explores our complex emotional relationship with social media. 

We chose to spotlight Naomi because she has the most incredible emotional intelligence and sensibility to the world. We spoke to her about several of the Paradym pillars, Mixed Feelings, her current feelings during Covid-19 lockdown as well as her own emotional journey from negative to positive patterns. As you will read below, Naomi has a beautiful way of understanding and expressing emotion. We hope you enjoy her words.

How are you feeling at the moment?

I have been up and down the last few weeks but all things considered what I feel the most is immense gratitude at the moment, for all my many blessings. My health, my safe home and all the love I feel in my life.

Covid-19 is making me feel very tired, like I am being drained of energy. I am trying to hold space for the complicated juxtaposition of knowing things weren’t right in the world for a long time, grieving for so many who have lost their lives and hoping for a new world to come out of this, a better and more just world that cares for each other and the planet we live on. I don’t feel like I need anything at the moment. I just want to be quiet and respect the moment.

What was the inspiration to write Mixed Feelings?

Mixed Feelings came to life as me and my co-author Sarah Raphael wanted to create an honest space where we could share the impact of social media, not only on our work lives, but the depth of our inner lives too. Social media has had such a huge effect on us yet so much of what is written about it is so data-driven. Sarah and I were both yearning to see something with heart and intimacy. We wanted to make something that forced people to put their phones down, pick up a book to read and then reflect about their own relationships with social media.

What did you learn from writing Mixed Feelings about your own feelings?

Working on the book taught me so much. Before I started I had no faith in myself that I could see this project through. I lacked confidence in my ability and thought I was incapable. I had so much anxiety about being seen as a fraud who didn’t know what they were talking or writing about! The book taught me to believe in myself but also to know that most things are achievable, you just have to commit to them wholeheartedly and stay resilient! I’ve learned the first rule of writing is to simply show up and start writing. That first step can feel so big, it felt giant to me. But we can overcome anything.

We believe everything begins with self-awareness. What does it mean to you? How self-aware are you?

To me, it means paying attention and being able to observe my thoughts and behaviours. I’d like to think I’m fairly self-aware but sometimes I don’t at all. I understand that I will spend the rest of my life learning more about myself, only becoming more aware hopefully!

Self-awareness helps me be able to pull myself out of my downward spirals and observe my negative or unhealthy thought processes . It helps me be able to let myself have moments but then take a deep breath and try to act like a friend to myself.

How does this play into your experience of modelling and later your experience of writing Mixed Feelings?

It comes into modelling by helping me not get too caught up in the idea of me as a model or the nature of the industry itself. I know that it’s not at the core of who I am. Writing helps me see myself in all my nuanced and complicated ways.

We believe mind and body are intrinsically linked. What is your relationship to your body? How has it changed over the years?

I feel like my relationship to my body is healthy. I try to listen to it and take care of it in terms of what I put into it and how I move it. I am kind to my body, I know it shifts and changes with time and experience. There were times earlier in my life, due to cultural landings and the nature of my job that I wanted it to look different but I can honestly say I released those feelings years ago. All I can do is listen to it and try to give it what it needs, how it feels is my priority now. That can look different sometimes, but as a rule, taking care of my body is a priority that adds structure to my life.

How do you feel about mind-body patterns? How do they play out?

I think if we have unhealthy relationships to our bodies that definitely plays out in other areas of our life. I would say almost every area of our lives even! Learning to release judging myself by my body freed me up in so many ways to think and care about other things. Unfriendly voices in your head about your body can be so overpowering and dominant. I’ve been there, it’s not a good feeling but we’re the only ones that hold the key to healing that aspect of ourselves.

What does identity mean to you?

I think there are lots of different ways to define identity: who you are, the way you think about yourself, the way you are viewed by the world and the characteristics that define you. I define my own identity as an amalgamation of all those things but also by who I feel l am at the core of my spirit, the things that haven’t been constructed by society.

How did your sense of identity change as your relationship to your body changed? What did this look and feel like for you?

It changed when I learned and accepted the fact that I am so much more than just a body. It was the most freeing thing I’ve ever felt. I felt such a deep release in my head and in my spirit to be whoever I wanted to be. 

What it really did was give me reason to believe that there was room for everyone in the world but you had to go and make it yourself. It made me sit into the idea that my strengths lay in the fact that I was undefinable, I didn’t fit into any box in any area of my life! I love this Toni Morrison quote: ‘Definitions belong to the definers, not the defined’ and I think about that all the time. Our society is obsessed with labels, what we do, where we’re from, our relationship status. I struggle with labels and don’t enjoy being labelled.

Mixed Feelings explores the role social media plays in our lives and the construction of self online. How does online and offline identity differ or intersect for you?

My online identity is a curated microcosm of who I am as a person. Our humanity is so rich, how could our online profiles ever begin to cover all the ways in which we are human? My online identity is a mix of my work, the things I love and care about and that bring me joy, more like an introductory version of me! I spend a lot less time on social media these days, I pretty much just post something that I feel is what I want to say and share with the world. Then I retreat back into my IRL ecosystem to think. I place less importance on my online self now. It is more like a companion where things I’ve done live, I connect to people and they connect to me. 

Your patterns…

When did you begin understanding the importance of emotions in your own life? 

I am a cancer, I have been super sensitive and empathetic my whole life. I remember being able to feel how other people were feeling even if they weren’t saying anything about it out loud. I feel like I was scared of emotions for a long time, in hindsight they felt like something dangerous to release.

However, over time I have learned to see that sensitivity and being able to tune in, feel and communicate your emotions are a strength. I love spending time alone especially for this reason, just to sit into myself and sit in my feelings.

How would you characterise yourself emotionally?

I would say I’m definitely still getting to know myself. I think it takes a lot of self-awareness to be able to see and understand your thought processes and patterns. Every day is a learning process and I learn about myself through the situations that I live through. 

What I do know about myself is I have a fairly well-grounded sense of my own worth. Not that I don’t have moments that I feel pangs of insecurity but I recognise that so much of what makes us feel less than are social constructs. I know that at base level, I’m a good person with a good heart and I am just enough as I am. That definitely plays a part in my work life and the relationships that I have. I have had to learn how to protect myself and leave situations that aren’t good for me both in work and love. I know that I’m an optimistic person that even in the face of adversity holds and fights through it.

What are some of your negative emotional patterns?

I think my negative spirals are similar to ones so many of us have. Feeling scared, feeling not enough or unworthy, feeling like I’ll always be alone. But they are momentary, I observe them and try to let them just pass through.

The current Covid-19 situation is a challenging time for us all emotionally. What is bringing you joy and pleasure at the moment?

Finding pleasure in the smallest of things. It’s all about retraining the scope of what is joyous to you. For me it can be eating the perfect pear, catching eyes with someone in the street and knowing they’re smiling at you even when covered in a mask. It’s listening to the perfect song at the perfect moment you need to hear it. Because sometimes when things feel like they’re falling apart they are actually coming together. The sun’s golden rays breathe new life into me with every new waking day.