Tell me about yourself.
Naja: My name is Naja and I am half black, half Puerto Rican. I speak fluent Spanish and I’m very connected to that part of my culture. My parents are from Harlem. I was bi-coastal as a kid. I love to read and I like to sing. Currently, I am a yoga instructor, but my full-time job is modeling. I went full time about 4 years ago. I had been doing it on and off in high school because I played volleyball and was really focused on my schoolwork. I realized I had a passion for modeling and also felt like it was my civic duty as a woman of color to represent us in an industry that we are rarely seen in. I want to commit my entire life to increasing diversity and inclusion for models of color. It is still an uphill battle for women of color. Modeling isn't guaranteed work so when you add in being a woman of color, it affects how many companies book you. Luckily, our current political climate has made a lot of companies open to diversity and inclusion because they don’t want to associate with Trump.
How has community been important for you?
Naja: It has been positive! I am 23 years old and have always been really involved in nonprofit work because of my aunt. Seeing her do amazing work has inspired me to advocate for others in my respective industry. I have been blessed to be around strong black women that teach me no matter what I do I can use my position for change and representation. I’ve had negative experiences on set, but standing up for myself has made a difference for not only me but other models who work with these companies. People don’t always know when to speak up. That is why I am starting the first ever model union. I don’t want young girls who are already insecure at 16 or 17 to have to battle with the industry’s hypocrisy. I’m glad I was surrounded by good people because a lot of models develop a drug problem to cope with the industry. I have experienced that I want to change. So people are represented. So many girls get taken advantage of by their agency. Most times compensation comes late if at all. Models are left all on their own. A lot of girls don’t have the confidence or know how to stand up for themselves because it can affect their next booking.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?
Naja: Don’t apologize for anything–the way you feel, what you want, what you’ll tolerate. Half the time I make decisions on the fly. The confidence behind my decisions always makes them work in my favor. Be clear about what you want; you can always change your mind. One of my girlfriends said, “Naja you never ask what to wear. You are always so confident in what you want and what you like.” I am not one who can be swayed. Even when things don’t seem like they are working in your favor, it will all come together. I love this quote by Georgia O’Keefe– “I have already settled it for myself so flattery and criticism go down the same drain and I am quite free.”
What makes you feel unstoppable?
Naja: I am not going to live my life in fear at the expense of knowing I can do something right. There are girls who don’t have a voice and won’t use it if they do. I have always been a conduit. I love being vulnerable. I also recently got involved as a court-appointed special advisor for kids in the foster system who need someone to advocate for them. So many things go wrong in the system. As a special advisor, you sign up and get a certain amount of cases and you get to talk to foster kids. It is hard and scary to stand up to others. It has been so empowering to help advocate for them. Modeling is so self-absorbed, but that is the nature of the work. I want to create a balance. The idea that I can advocate for those who go unheard is so empowering and that supersedes any fear.
Whats your self-care routine?
Naja: I think my first thing is knowing when I need sleep. I’ve comprised what I’ve needed in the past and I am no longer doing that. My friends know me! Some call it flaking but if I need to say no or do something for myself, they understand. People need to learn to identify when they need to say no and not feel guilty about it. In society, there is a lot of shame in letting people down. So many people want to please others and end up not feeling worthy enough. I’ve stopped being apologetic. I don’t say sorry unless it is warranted. I think saying sorry is a worthiness issue. I save "sorry" for when I’m truly apologetic. I’ve been working on it for so long that its second nature. If I know something doesn't feel good, I stop it. I do face masks and use a face de-puffer roll. Small things like brushing my teeth twice a day make me feel my best. And again, I love sleep. Self-care makes me a better person. I also love music. My brain is made of music. I’m big on oldies. I love Edge of Seventeen by Stevie Knicks. My favorite artist right now is Fleetwood Mack.
Keep up with Naja on her journey:
Facebook: Naja Crawford Society and Culture webpage
I post opportunities to give back, beauty and self care tips/regiments, and create space for meaningful conversations through all social platforms.