The first thing that draws me in about 35-year-old model and content creator extraordinaire Nikia Phoenix is the striking way freckles paint her face.
Her unconventional beauty, no doubt, is the thing that grabs you first, but it's the quirks and fearlessness of her bold personality that echo enough within to make you stay. I could be biased though. I have been an avid reader of her blog, Model Liberation, for years. She talks style, beauty, hair, advice, and of course model life, and in a way that was very much “no bullshit". She gives it to you straight, no chaser, and it makes her beauty resonate with me more. It's so much more than what you see on the surface, it's skin deep.
“Being a freckled face, natural haired girl isn't easy. I've always felt different," she's said of herself, “Because of faith, I've been able to embrace who I am and prosper."
Phoenix had humble beginnings as a graduate of University of South Carolina, whose first job post-grad was that of a television news producer. She's always valued education and learning as a life long process. Somehow a chance meeting with Greg Alterman of Alternative Apparel led her to venturing off into modeling, which led to commercials, campaigns, and billboards. This, of course, brought about the fruition of her blog Model Liberation, which no doubt gave her the motivation to take her content creation to a new level with her work as Managing Editor for the women's lifestyle brand, Simone Digital and the revamp of her official site, Nikia Phoenix.
On one fine day, she was able to give it to me straight. We talked the modeling industry, self confidence, and what motivates her as a young creative.
On her first taste of modeling:
In the 90s, there were always these model searches held at malls that me and my friends would go to and try out for because we lived in a small town and had nothing else to do. Strangely enough, I always got picked for those. My mom was always like, “no, no, no, not gonna happen." Finally, one time she said it was okay because it was for a modeling school. Because it was just for a modeling school, it seemed so superficial to me, so I decided to go for the acting portion. I knew I wanted to pursue journalism in school and needed some time in front of the camera speaking, so what better way to get the best of both worlds? I did that. I had agencies in Atlanta interested in repping me and the plan was to do that part time while taking classes at Georgia State. I think that scared my mother because it ultimately ended up being a “no" so I had to walk away from it. At that point, I was like, okay well that's not supposed to happen.
On the jumpstart of her career as a working model:
I took the traditional route, went to college, got out of college, and got a job. That didn't really work out, so I went to L.A. While in L.A., I was in a coffee shop and got discovered by the owner of Alternative Apparel. It was funny because we were having this long conversation about community fashion and design. At the time I had reenrolled in school for fashion design. And you know how it is when you go to get coffee in the morning – if you have a scarf on your head you don't care. I had a hat pulled halfway down my face, but from that, he was like, “I want you to be in my campaign." (laughs) I was like, alright! When I went to see it was a legit set, it was a legit shoot. From then on, I took it seriously. This is what I'm supposed to do because modeling was something that kept coming up in my life, so this was what I'm supposed to be doing.
On the conflicts of being dubbed the “edgy girl" in her industry:
Even after having a major campaign running and other campaigns going, I still couldn't get representation. It was very difficult because they kept saying that I was this “edgy" girl – they kept giving me excuses for why I couldn't [model]. I felt like, 'Don't you see that I'm still here because I can?' Even now, I can walk into an agency and probably hear similar things. I've been doing this for 11 years, I'm obviously still good for it. When this dream of mine started in the 90s, that's when models were allowed to be “different". That is when unique beauty was embraced. Stacey McKenzie was the first black model that I really saw landing major campaigns. I was like, oh snap! If she can do it, I'm good, I'm good! (laughs). Then the industry started to change where they wanted more cookie cutter models that looked all the same. I was dubbed the not-so-PC term “exotic". There's nothing exotic about me, I don't know what you're talking about. I'd hear exotic or “edgy". I know I can give a mean side-eye, but I'm approachable (laughs).
On using the modeling industry's obsession with youth to her advantage:
I'm actually glad that my big break was when I was 25. That's the age most models retire, but that was when I got my first foot in the door professionally. I couldn't walk into agencies and be honest about my age. They'd assume that I was washed up if I told them my real age. What I'd like to say is first of all, black don't crack (laughs). I'm glad that I did start when I was 25 because by then, I was coming into my own as a woman and knew what I would and would not do. I knew that I wouldn't stand for a “no". If I was 16 and someone told me “no", I'd probably cry in a corner and be miserable for the rest of my life. When you're 25 and someone tells you “no," you're like really? Watch. So imagine now being 35 when people tell me “no" (laughs).
On her journey to self acceptance through self love:
There are moments when I don't feel beautiful – there are moments when we all don't feel beautiful. We're so critical of ourselves and we nitpick everything. We stand in front of the mirror and find the tiniest little blemish and fixate on it. And I have a lot of them (laughs). I was in a coffee shop the other day and this lady comes up, she's standing beside me, and she has her baby with her. This little boy was staring at me – not looking at all – just staring, like, what in the world? I am assuming he never sees black people with freckles (laughs). When that used to happen, I used to get offended. In the same moment that there was a kid staring at me like I'm from another planet, this woman comes up to me asking if she can take my picture and information because she has a friend that might be interested in using me for a campaign. There's God saying stop looking at things negatively, let me throw you a bone really quick.
On what turns her on:
Photos by: Alexia Lewis
Oh my goodness, am I going to kiss-and-tell? I love a man who anticipates my needs and makes me feel like we are the only two people who exist in that moment. He is my king and I am his queen and with every touch he reaffirms that union. There's no room for selfishness in our universe. I am not attracted to cockiness and I certainly don't want a man who is timid either. If I'm not afraid to let go, he shouldn't be either. Put in work and we'll get each other high.
On when she feels sexiest:
I am loved, confident, and I know who I am. It's not about comparing myself to anyone else or trying to play someone else's game. The ball is in my court. Feeling sexy has so much to do with being appreciated and knowing your value. I've come to realize that I don't necessarily have to seek that approval from the opposite sex. It's within me, I only have to believe it.
On her love of social media:
I love social media and the fact that it allows us to see that yes we're very different but we have so many similarities. Outside of my own family, it took a very long time for me to find other black people who had freckles. When you talk to other black people who have freckles, they say the same thing, “People picked on me", “People said black people don't have freckles", this that and the other. There's strength in knowing that we've all been through it and that we're all still here. I look just like my mom and when my mom and I talked about accepting who we are, she says that I helped her accept who she is because she would see the same struggles that she had with acceptance coming up in me and my sister. In order to be able to tell us how to deal with it, she had to be able to deal with her own issues.
On what she doesn't like about social media:
I read through comments on Instagram and sometimes those comments are not very nice. People love the internet because they can be somewhat anonymous. They aren't going to get approached on the street for the bullshit that they put online. I let it roll off of my back, but I might also say to that person that I am a human being, not an inanimate object. You might not think I'm beautiful, that's your opinion, but I think that I am beautiful. But like my grandmother says, “If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all."
On L.A living:
L.A. has its moments. I love this place, but I also don't love this place. I feel like there's not room for growth. You hit a glass ceiling and I am sure everyone feels like that in the places they live. In L.A., you either have it or you don't – there's not much room for in between. Sometimes I feel like I'm sitting on top of the world, but when you go for months without booking jobs or you still live in an apartment where you have a roommate, you're kind of like, okay, I'm not where I want to be yet. So then I think, relocating could be the answer. It's a gamble. It's definitely a gamble. It's not like those 90s sitcoms you watched (laughs). There's not a whole lot of people of color here. That's a smidge of my reality.
On her creative entrepreneurial endeavors:
Last year, I started writing down all of the things I wanted to do and I called it my "Oprah Plan." I asked myself, why isn't there a black equivalent of Jessica Alba with her Honest company? Why isn't there a black equivalent of Martha Stewart? I said, let me just do it. When you think about the apps that are doing well or the businesses that are doing well, they don't own a storefront. They don't keep products in house, they source you out to over sites that do. You go to them for everything. Why can't I own a marketplace for black businesses to do the same thing? I am working on that with my business partner. Also, being so involved with the beauty business, I am tired of hearing black women go through so many difficulties with finding products that work for them. I am working on a beauty shopping experience where I bring the products to them called Black Girl Beautiful, starting in L.A. with plans to bridge the gap in Atlanta later. In Atlanta, I hope to pull our resources together and understand that there is power in the village and create a networking event called Crème de le Crème where black creatives can come together and create for ourselves by ourselves. I also have a secret dinner club series in the works called Nikia Phoenix presents: Supper. That's just a little taste.
On doing things that ignite her soul:
This is a really exciting time not only for me, but all of us. I am becoming who I am meant to be. Modeling and blogging - It's all evolved into this... what I'm working on now. Are you living your dream or someone else's? That's real talk. I want women to know the power we control and the clout we possess. I want other creatives to understand that every no is an opportunity for a bigger yes. Through various passion projects, I am creating content dedicated to helping you believe in yourself. It's more than group therapy, it's legit motivation. If you're going to talk it, be about it... so let's go for it.