Sports Illustrated: Did you have experience modeling before submitting an IG video or showing up in-person for #SISwimSearch?
Nour Guiga: I have 11 years of modeling experience. I started back in Tunisia when I was 14. In 2014, at the age of 21, I signed with agencies in Europe (Paris, Milan and Munich) as a straight size model. After a motorcycle accident in 2016, I gained weight and my agencies in Paris and Milan dropped me. I flew to New York to take a chance on agencies there, but it didn't work out. So I stopped modeling for 2 years and when I moved to Los Angeles in 2018, I decided to get back into it on my own terms, as an “in-between” model
SI: As a woman from Tunisia, what does this opportunity mean to you? Why did you want to be a part of the SI Swimsuit open casting?
NG: As a woman from Tunisia, I perceive myself and many Tunisian women as naturally strong-willed, free, and possessing a voice that’s capable of creating change. SI Swimsuit shines a light on women from different walks of life, so this opportunity means having the ability to spread a number of shared beliefs, from shattering perceptions about how one looks and where they’re from, to empowering women to be true to themselves. It also means that I have a lot of pressure not to disappoint Tunisians, but I’ll do my best not to!
I wanted to be part of the SI Swimsuit casting because I want to be a role model for younger girls, just like the women in Sports Illustrated were to me. When I entered the modeling industry in Paris at 21, I was never asked to have a great personality or to be smart or to learn how to manage my own career.
In French we say “sois belle et tais-toi,” which translates to “be beautiful and shut up.” But the only way to be beautiful was to be unrealistically skinny. I was frequently asked to lose weight by my agencies and photographers. I had clients telling me that my cheeks weren't hollow enough, or that my body was disproportionate because my breasts were too small for my hips.
When I was battling most with my body shape—pushing myself not to eat for a few hours, a day, two days or eating compulsively and then running to the bathroom to purge–Sports IllustratedSwimsuit represented hope for me. In those difficult times, the pictures from SI were the only ones in the industry to make me feel happy, beautiful and enough.
When I got better, I had no interest in being just a model anymore. I wanted to help and inspire young women to be respectful of their bodies and show there are more ways than one to be beautiful. Being part of the Sweet 17 is a major step in that direction.
SI: What was your casting experience like in Miami?
NG: A few months ago, when SI announced their Swim Search would be back for summer 2019, I made the decision to submit a video, and if that failed I told myself that I would go to Miami and try out in person.
It was the second year in a row that I submitted a video, and when I started seeing other girls reposted and being invited to Miami, I felt so hopeless. I thought there was no point in going to the open casting call, and I couldn't afford it anyway. My husband saw that I was about to quit and gave me a pep talk and offered to pay for my trip to Miami. He believed in me when I didn't.
Once in Miami, my mindset was “You want this so bad and you have nothing to lose.” I got to the W Hotel at 8am and made two friends in line. We were waiting for hours and as we were getting closer to the front door, we became increasingly excited and nervous. I was amazed by the support I received from women who barely knew me. It felt like a competition where women were not trying to bring each other down, but where they genuinely cared for and supported one another. It was unlike any other casting I attended.
SI: What does being a part of the SI Swimsuit model search mean to you? How do you plan to use this platform?
NG: Being part of the SI Swimsuit model search is a reminder that I should never stop fighting for my dreams. I almost gave up when I thought it was pointless to come to Miami, but I pushed through. I also wanted to give up my modeling career so many times, but I didn’t and now I’m being interviewed by Sports Illustrated!
Perseverance is key. I now know more than ever that I can never give up on something simply because I feel scared or I'm told “no” a hundred times, even when it comes from people I dream to work with. I have to come back, try harder, shine brighter.
I plan to use the SI Swimsuit platform to further the conversation about sizes that are largely unrepresented in the modeling industry and empower models who fall in-between the straight and plus size categories. In my modeling career, I was first asked to lose weight, so I would fit into straight size model standards, and later asked to gain weight to fit into a plus size category.
Younger generations not only need to see both ends of the spectrum, but also everything in between in order to grow up with a more diverse and accurate image of women. Ultimately, I wish to create a path for younger girls who want to become models without having to lose or gain weight to be successful.
SI: You were selected Olivia Culpo to win a "golden ticket" and skip the line to go straight into castings in Miami. What did that initial support from a modeling and Instagram superstar?
NG: Getting the golden ticket from Olivia Culpo was awesome, but what I will always remember are her words. She grabbed me by the hand and said that my answer to her question really resonated with her and she wanted me to know that I am “enough.”
Hearing those words from a Miss Universe and Sports Illustrated model–after years of building my self esteem back up and learning to love and respect myself–gave me wings! It gave me the extra confidence I needed to walk into the interview room and share my story with Hillary.
SI: On your website, you mention that seeing your mother’s unedited modeling photos at a young age inspired you to always be true to yourself. Have you struggled with this as an “in-between” model?
NG: Before I became an “in-between” model, I used to be a “never-straight-enough-size” model. So I guess that I failed to be true to myself then, but I learned a great deal from it. Today, and as an “in-between” model, I know I'm on the right track because my current size feels a lot more like me. Since I've started listening to my body, I feel happier and more at peace.
See photos from our unforgettable runway show at Miami Swim Week: