Naima Mora Pushing the Limits

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Growing up in Detroit with jazz musicians for parents and five other sisters helped shape Naima Mora into a woman of tenacious character and drive. The 30-year-old high fashion runway model reveals that her upbringing was modest due to the lifestyle of being raised on an artist’s income. But growing up in a fairly violent city only caused her family to be as nurturing as they were protective. “I noticed a lot of hardships between my sisters and [me]. So early on, I felt that I wanted to inspire women with what I chose to do with my career,” Mora said.

She defines having a hustler’s mentality as being able to create the opportunities she wanted for her life and not expecting things to be handed to her. This mindset led to her induction into the Dance Theatre of Harlem. Shortly after, she leaned into her career in modeling after she realized that doors were closing for her in the dance world.

The story of Mora’s introduction into modeling for “America’s Next Top Model” was quite unexpected. She was working as a waitress when she was approached by a few casting scouts to audition for the competition.

She remembers that it was her faith that allowed her to be open-minded to the new opportunity, despite the past decisions to leave ballet school. “My parents are Buddhists and in that community, they are a largely supportive group of people that are all working toward creating causes for world peace,” Mora said. “So I saw the opportunity with ‘America’s Next Top Model’ as a chance to be viewed internationally and really create action that inspires people toward feeling good about themselves. I think that’s one of the first things to do in my efforts toward creating world peace—which is to create happiness within yourself, understanding that you can build up your person, and letting that extend into your environment and the people around you. When people are inspired by feeling good about themselves, that is what happens.”

Her life changed dramatically in less than two years after leaving the dance company. As a result of Mora’s reality TV stardom, she soon influenced viewers far beyond what she had ever imagined. As a prize for winning Season 4, Mora became the leading face for Cover Girl Cosmetics, won a contract with Ford Models, and was part of a fashion spread with Elle Magazine. Since then, she has also stretched her influence to authoring her first literary work entitled Model Behavior, detailing her journey into the elaborate modeling world as showcased under Tyra Bank’s top-rated cable network reality TV show.

Mora has also recently been on tour, giving speeches at colleges and universities, meanwhile gracing runways during fashion week events across the country. She once again reached an international audience when she delivered a TEDx presentation in Sacramento in 2013.

It takes insurmountable humility to maintain this type of lifestyle and remain inspired, which Mora claims she receives daily when she thinks about her family first. “My inspiration stems from the creative sensibility I learned to have from my sisters and parents,” she said. “Having humility and maintaining appreciation for what I have and what I’ve worked hard to accomplish in life also helped.”

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Mora has her hands in a lot of projects, but her advice is to find fulfillment in each step of the process. She may not finish the novel in one day, but if she can just write a few pages, that would be worth her time. In addition to sharing her story through her first published book, speaking publicly, and beginning production on a new reality show, she will also go on tour as a solo pop music artist, beginning with her single as the lead soundtrack for the XOXO Clothing Campaign.

Mora stresses the importance of regenerating discipline and cultivating a healthy lifestyle. She mentions that adding routines for exercise and refocusing eating habits will foster a new mentality about your life as a whole and not just in your career. “You have to improve the whole woman,” she said, “and every piece of her needs to be in functioning order to create the most beautiful outcome and the highest version of herself.”