“The saddest part is that I actually like the campaign and I’d have loved to have been involved with it as a model. But using my image without consent diminishes the whole idea of empowerment,” says Nyome Nicholas-Williams.
Nyome Nicholas-Williams is a model who’s perhaps best known for successfully changing Instagram’s nudity policy. But more recently, her image has been used in a body-positive campaign that she didn’t know about.
The Spanish Ministry of Equality’s All Bodies Are Beach Bodies campaign, designed to encourage everyone to the beach regardless of what they look like, features illustrations of four people on a beach – one of whom is recognisably Nicholas-Williams. Except no one involved in the campaign asked if they could use her image.
Taking to social media, she began sharing her confusion and anger at how this happened. She quickly rallied the support of her followers who have since helped her translate messages from the government and appeared on international news channels to explain what’s happening.
Talking on Euronews, a newscaster made the point that “in the beginning, [the campaign] received a lot of positive feedback for normalising different body shapes and sizes and fighting fatphobia. But in the space of a few hours, the campaign went from universal acclaim to international disdain.”
Here, Nicholas-Williams tells Stylist exactly why having her image used in this way is not just wrong, but undermines so much of the important impact that body-positive campaigns are having.
“At 10.30pm on Wednesday, I was sent a link to a body-positive campaign that was going viral on Twitter. Looking at the image on my screen, I felt furious – perhaps a surprising reaction for a body-positive influencer. It wasn’t that the All Bodies Are Beach Bodies campaign didn’t promote an amazing message about loving your body; I was angry because I was somehow in it.
There I was: a picture of me in a bikini, looking over my shoulder with a huge smile on my face. The image transported me from my bedroom, where the photo was taken, and illustrated me on a beach with four other people underneath the slogan El Verano También Es Nuestro (translating to The Summer Is Ours Too).
While using someone’s image without consent isn’t always illegal, this is not the first time my face and body have been used to promote other people’s work without my consent. The first time, someone put my body on their merch, selling phone cases and bags without me knowing. Now, a government body was using me to promote their message, which feels even more shocking.
The saddest part is that I actually like the campaign and I’d have loved to have been involved with it as a model. But using my image without consent diminishes the whole idea of empowerment. By giving me no choice in how my face and body are used, I have been stripped of my autonomy. I have been left broken by this, wondering when I, as a Black woman, will finally be allowed autonomy over what happens to my body.
Another model, Sian Green-Lord, also had her image used in the illustration without her consent and her prosthetic leg was shockingly edited out. Not only is that dehumanising, but it feels so inauthentic. Because body positivity has become mainstream, it is clear people just want to jump on the wave, saying things that they don’t really believe in. If all bodies aren’t welcome, they should have just said that rather than pretend.
The Spanish Ministry of Equality has issued a statement saying that it was not aware of the fact that real people were used in the campaign and that it will contact all of the models, but I haven’t heard anything from them yet.
Meanwhile, the artist commissioned for the campaign, @ArteMapacheArt, has apologised for being inspired by me and the other models in the illustration, as well as saying she will distribute the profit between the protagonists in the image and pay for the typeface which she used, believing it was in the public domain and didn’t require a licence.
My agent is currently sorting out all correspondence with the artist and the agency, but payments need to be properly worked out in line with what I would usually charge for usage.
Personally, I am exhausted. Not only because I can barely sleep, tossing and turning between sadness and fury while I lie there awake asking, ‘Why is this happening again?’, but also because of how much energy it requires to constantly have to ask for respect. I am so tired of having to advocate for myself to simply be involved in the things people want from me.
I am lucky to have had great support online, including people putting pressure on the ministry and translators who explain messages to me as statements are given to Twitter before me. I never want anyone to spread hate online, so I’d never tell people to pile on anyone in support of me. But re-education is important, and my message is simple: ask for permission before you try to gain from women’s bodies.”
Images: Nyome Nicholas-Williams
Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).