Follow Vogue Arabia

How This Arab Model Got Her Big Break Supporting Body Positivity

Nour Guiga, Arab Model

Photographer: Matt Sayles

Inclusivity in the world of fashion and beauty is moving ever more into the spotlight, and rightly so. Across the globe, women are breaking down walls and promoting body diversity like never before. Tunisian model Nour Guiga shares her story on how she learned to embrace her body and instead of changing herself, she’s now helping to change the industry instead.

What is your story?

I was born in Hammamet in Tunisia. I grew up in a mix of two cultures. My mother is French and my dad is Tunisian. I would learn everything about the French language and European history at school, then hang out with my Tunisian friends and learn about my home country’s culture and ways. At 18 years old, I left Tunisia to move to Paris where I first took acting lessons before studying journalism. In 2014, I decided to start modeling full time and joined agencies in Paris, Milan, and Munich.

What drew you to the world of modeling?

My mother was a model and her mother was too. It was only natural that I would keep that legacy alive!

What was your initial experience when modeling?

From the beginning, I was often asked to lose weight, especially around my hips. I could never understand how a centimeter could make such a huge difference, but somehow I was convinced that losing an extra kilo would make me a better model. It became an obsession. In 2016, after months of struggling with my body shape, I decided to rely on what I considered to be my last recourse, liposuction, which my agency applauded. I had finally met the standards of a standard size model. A few months later, I was in an accident and broke my foot. The outcome was two months of bed rest and, not surprisingly, I gained three kilos.

My agencies offered me a chance to work hard to lose the extra weight again, but I refused and so they ended our contract. I needed a break from the industry and in 2018 when I moved to the US I decided to try again but on my own terms, as an in-between model (US8-10 dress size). I was now facing a new challenge: not being big enough to be considered in the more sought after plus-size or curvy divisions. I decided to turn to social media to express my frustration and share my beliefs that all women should be represented in the industry.

Why do you think diversity in the industry is so important?

Younger generations not only need to see both ends of the size spectrum when it comes to models in the industry (dress sizes 0-4 and 16-24) but also everything in between, in order to grow up with a more accurate image of women. This same principle applies when it comes to ethnicity, age, and height. I believe that diversity in the industry will help redefine beauty in a way that represents more individuals and makes them feel like they have what it takes to be regarded as beautiful.

What advice do you have for young girls when it comes to body positivity?

Getting to a place where you feel comfortable in your own skin and confident enough to wear what you want, such as a bikini or a pair of shorts, will take time. Because self-love is a journey, not a destination, just as life is.

Why did you decide to enter the Si Swimsuit model search?

When I was working in Paris and going through difficult times battling my eating disorder, I remember seeing Sports Illustrated Swimsuit pictures, videos, model interviews and finding SI Swimsuit’s messages of diversity and self-acceptance very comforting. When I decided to get back to modeling, my goal wasn’t to be just a model anymore, but to inspire and encourage younger generations of women and men to learn how to appreciate, love, and respect their bodies as they are.

What was the process like?

I submitted a video on Instagram in 2018 for the first time. I wasn’t selected, but I wasn’t discouraged. I thought to myself, “I’ll wait for next year”. In February 2019, I told myself that I’d submit another video, and if it didn’t work out, that I would go to Miami for the in person casting call. Despite my efforts, I did not receive an email from the SI team. I decided there was no use in going all the way to Miami just to get rejected again. Thankfully, my husband strongly disagreed and pushed me to take a leap of faith and fly out for the in person casting call, so I did.

As I was waiting in line, I saw Olivia Culpo and a camera crew make her way towards the group of girls I was standing with. She then stopped and asked the following question: “If you are selected by Sports Illustrated Swimsuit to be part of the magazine, how would you use the platform?” Seeing no one react, I took a step forward and told my story. Olivia thanked me and walked away. She came back a few minutes later with her army of cameras, grabbed me by the hand and said that my story really resonated with her and she wanted me to know that I am enough. She then offered me the Golden Ticket, a fast track to the interview room with no time restriction!

From that moment on, time flew by.  I entered the interview room, filled out a form and sat down with Hillary, an editor at SI. We spoke for what felt like five minutes but was probably 15. I then left the room shaking from nervousness, happiness, and still not being able to believe what had just happened. A few hours later, I got a call from the SI team inviting me to come back the next day for the second part of the contest. Sixty girls had been called back. We were asked questions, spoke to established SI models, such as Jasmine Sanders, Winnie Harlow, Olivia Culpo, Halima Aden and more. We also had more interviews on camera and a short photo shoot with Yu Tsai.

They printed our best pictures and started deliberating which girls would be part of the 17 finalists. We waited for over two hours before we were invited back inside the large room and asked to sit in front of the stage. Previous winners of the SI Swim Search contest were standing on the small stage in front of us, holding what we soon found out were the pictures of the Sweet 17 finalists. It was such an emotional moment when they started to call out the names and reveal the pictures of the girls that made it into the Sweet 17. I could not believe it when I heard mine!

How does it feel to be one of the few Arab models to have made it this far in the SI Swimsuit model search competition? 

It’s an honor and it’s incredibly exciting! I hope this inspires Arab women to persevere and to see their origins as a strength and an advantage. I feel proud to be one of the few Arab models to have made it this far in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit model search competition, as it demonstrates inclusion and helps challenge beliefs about what an Arab woman can accomplish.

Read Next: Ameni Esseibi’s New Campaign Highlights the Gravity of Words and Self-Acceptance

View All
Vogue Collection