Adaora Akubilo on Sports Illustrated and Being a Black Model

Adaora Akubilo is a Nigerian American model and has appeared in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition for two years in a row now, 2012 and 2013. She was born in the United States to two Nigerian parents and lived in Nigeria for six years from when she was 10 till she was 16. Soon after returning to the States, she began to get coaching to become a model. She combined modelling with her education, before going into the career fully after college. She spoke to Culture Shock Nigerians on her experience.

When did you begin modeling?
I started modeling probably around 17. I was a sophomore in high school when I was approached by a scout. And it really wasn’t anything I thought about. I think my mom mentioned it to me when I was younger but you know, my father always drilled in my head to go to school so I was always academically oriented. It was all about school, school, school so I just didn’t see where the modeling thing fit in, but I talked to my mom about it and she was like sure. So, it was actually a modeling school.

 I’m sure people have heard about those and they’re like a little leery about them but my experience was actually a positive one. I went to the school, I took classes, and kind of got myself familiar with what modeling was and stuff like that. I got placed in the city and got placed with an agency and I would kind of go in the city in the summer time to kind of model because I was in college. I eventually went to college and stuff like that, but it wasn’t until after I graduated college that I decided to pursue it full time.

You’re a Sports Illustrated model. That is huge for any model, first of all. Then for model of color that’s even bigger. How did you land the gig?
Sports Illustrated it was a dream of mine. I always looked to models like, the black models in the past who’ve done it: Shakira, Tyra Banks, Noemie Lenoir, I believe Naomi Campbell did it one time, and Jessica White. So I looked to these women, you know it’s like the trailblazers, the ones who did it before me, Roshumba Williams. You know, these are all beautiful black women and they’re all different.

 Some are lighter, some are darker, and Sports Illustrated seemed to embrace all kinds of black girls, so I was like, there’s room for me there. I think there’s a good chance that I can really get this. I wasn’t sure how they would embrace me with my hair natural, because I was wearing my hair natural at the time. A lot of girls don’t wear their hair natural, but they were like yeah, we love it, we love you so, so I was like, this is great.

I was excited my first year doing it so I was very excited. I couldn’t believe it. It was like a dream come true. I shot in Australia my first time so my second time going back, it was really nice going back to Africa, even though it was southern Africa. It was so nice to go back to Africa.

Your photos are beautiful and sexy. But I noticed on a few Nigerian blogs, people make comments like, what would her father think of her posing topless. So I wanted to know what you would have to say to those people and how you feel about nudity.
Well, what I would say about the blog posts and the nudity thing, my father is very proud of me, first and foremost. I am a well rounded individual. I did everything he wanted me to do, and kind of like what I wanted to do, like going to school, getting my education, and this is just something that I’m adding to my resume and my life achievements and accomplishments so he’s very proud of me. And as long as I’m happy that’s all he cares about.

[My photos] are done in a tasteful way. I’m not out there, boobs all out {laughs}. Like I’m being a little coy with it, you know, I’m kind of like hiding it a little bit. I’m hiding my boob, it’s not all out there like hello {laughs]. No one knows what my nipples look like {laughs}. It’s not all out there. It’s done in a very tasteful way and I would never compromise myself. If I wasn’t comfortable doing it and if I felt like I was in some way doing something that would embarrass my family, I would never do anything that would embarrass my family or myself for that matter.

So nudity done in a tasteful way, and if you’re comfortable, God created these bodies of ours, you know, I’m just celebrating it. And getting paid at the same time so that’s a good thing.

They say being a black supermodel in the industry can be really tough. What kinds of obstacles have you faced?
Yeah, it is a little challenging being a black model. They try to base it on what the public wants and what the majority is. And I understand that a lot of the consumers and the people out there buying these things are white, but there are also black people selling things and buying, and what not.

 So I feel like people in the industry, they’re a little hesitant. Because I don’t know if they’re nervous thinking that the black models won’t be well received if they’re put in the forefront all the time. And I just think that it’s a misconception because there are a lot of people black or white who I think would embrace the fact that more black models are higher profile and being used more.

 So I think that’s the biggest challenge. I feel like if we can just overlook that, if we just let go of this stigma that oh, a black model won’t sell a product as much as a white person would, it’s kind of like, I don’t know, it’s a backwards way of thinking and I feel like it’s a lot of fear and not knowing, and things like that.

Read the complete interview on Culture Shock Nigeria