Name: Maureen Nicol
Agency: We Speak Models
Claim to Fame: Nicol has appeared in campaigns for Verb haircare and Billie razors.
Maureen Nicol stumbled into the modeling industry after a brief stint in beauty pageants. The former contestant was contacted by nearby brands in her native Texas when she stood out on stage. “It just kind of happened,” she told HelloBeautiful while soothing her daughter in a supermarket aisle. “I was one of the few black people there and they probably wanted some crazy diversity quota.”
Her career might have been kicked off by landing boutique jobs through happenstance but she quickly moved on to larger gigs with companies like Verb hair care and Billie razors. “They asked me my day rates and at that point I didn’t have an agent. So I was like, I’m just gonna, I’m going to go with what I think I’m worth,” she admitted. “They confirmed it and it worked out really well. And it was wonderful to be on set with professional people and feel confident.”
Nicol wasn’t particularly enchanted by her other experiences, as a curvy Black woman in the industry. “There has been a time when I was on set and the person didn’t know how to do my hair and didn’t have the right colors for my makeup and none of the clothes fit. So I just felt super othered and uncomfortable.” She was the only Black or plus-size model booked for the shoot. She highlighted how the lack of deliberate inclusion negatively affected the work produced that day. “I think it was very clear in the photos,” she said.
She found representation by searching social media for “agencies that seem like they represented a diverse group of people.”
Her studies always came first, she’s currently a doctoral student at Columbia University where she’s focused on transforming the educational experience. She was inspired to continue her studies after some of her experiences in the classroom led her to notice deficiencies. “I’ve taught for eight years. And when I was teaching in New Orleans, I felt like there were many things that were not right, but I guess I just didn’t have the words or the theory. I’m just like, something’s happening here. I know what’s going on and then I decided to go back to school.”
She considered modeling an extracurricular activity that was interesting at best and taxing at worst though she appreciated the fact that modeling challenged the “very conservative ideas of what l being ladylike is,” upheld by the pageant world. “I think the work I’m doing now is definitely more in tune with my ideas of how womanhood can look,” she said.
After becoming a mom she considered abandoning modeling. Instead of walking away Nicol found a way to make it more meaningful to her. “I have so many roles now, a mom, model, student creative, and they all intersect and touch,” she said. “For every paid partnership or collaboration, I do. I ask them to match my pay to an organization I’m passionate about.”
The organizations she has chosen as beneficiaries of these agreements in the past include, “For Your Birth a Black owned doula service and childcare training service in New York,” “Mocha moms is a service that supports breastfeeding,” “Girls Rock, a camp in New Orleans that supports young girls with music,” and more. “These brands have a lot of money and it’s important to know that if they really believe in like the work they’re saying,” she said. She believes hiring diverse models to signal commitment to inclusion is not enough.
“They also have to support people who need services. And I am one of those people because I’m a single mom.”
Nicol wants the photographs that allow her to help create change to be accessible instead of aspirational. She hopes children flipping through magazines and scrolling through social media will see her as a normal person.
“I want them to know that when they see me, they’re seeing someone who’s committed to taking the crazy road and the hard road of accepting themselves and also using their body as art to hopefully propel people to accept themselves as well.”