Black History Month: Naomi Ruth Sims


Throughout American history, the same standard of beauty has always been projected. With the modeling industry often failing to be inclusive to people of color, certain figures have risen up to challenge the system. One such figure is Naomi Ruth Sims, frequently credited as the first African-American supermodel. 


Born in Oxford, Mississippi, Sims was the youngest of three daughters born to John and Elizabeth Sims. As a child, Sims, standing at 5’10”, was bullied because of her height. However her height which was the source of teasing from classmates would allow her to excel in her modeling career.


Sims faced many challenges finding jobs due to the racial prejudice rooted in the modeling world. After repeated ridicule regarding her dark skin complexion, Sims would eventually choose to go the fashion photography route. This led to one of her first big successes when photographer Gosta Peterson agreed to put her on the cover of the paper’s August 1967 fashion supplement. 


Coming after this accomplishment, Dutch model Wilhelmina Cooper would reach out and agreed to promote Sims through her agency Wilhemina Models. From here the sky was the limit, Sims would go on to be a trendsetter and would be the model chosen by AT&T in a national campaign, appearing on the cover of Life, making her the first Black model to do so. 


The success Sims would rise to went well beyond just commercial value. With an industry ridden with racism, Naomi Ruth Sims helped challenge and push back against societal barriers and in doing so, became one of the biggest modeling inspirations to this day.