Shambhala Sun | May 2014
For NAIMA MORA, being a fashion model goes beyond striking
a pose. As she tells Andrea Miller, it’s about doing her part to make the world a better place.
with its iconic images of Shakyamuni in simple robes, and then there’s the
fashion industry, with its legion of willowy, airbrushed models and its
plethora of this season’s stuff. Are these two worlds at odds? Not at all, says
Naima Mora, who has modeled for such big-name companies as CoverGirl and Elle
“Buddhism is about
everyday life,” she explains. “The average person here and now—anyone—has the
potential to attain enlightenment. I decided that I wanted to be a model. Then
I had to decide what to do with that. I could be self-absorbed and not do
anything besides book my work and live my own life, but I decided to take my
successes and use them as a platform to encourage people. That can be said
about any career or path. Whatever path we choose is always an opportunity to
reveal our buddhanature.”
Mora got her start
in modeling while working at a coffee shop. Some casting scouts came in and
asked her if she wanted to audition for America’s Next Top Model. It
wasn’t long before she had a place on the internationally syndicated show.
filming, Mora and the other aspiring models were on location in Cape Town,
South Africa, when they visited Robben Island. To Mora, the rows of cells
seemed endless, but finally the group came to the single cramped cell that had
held Nelson Mandela for eighteen years. The guide asked who would like to open
the door, and everyone fell silent.
Knowing she’d never
have this chance again, Mora took the master key to the prison in her hand and
felt the cold, iron weight of it. Then, fingers trembling, she turned the key
in the lock. The door swung open.
Growing up amid the
violence and poverty of Detroit, Mora had struggled to believe that there was
hope for a better future. At age fifteen, she was held up at gunpoint for the
first time on her way home from school. Some of her closest friends were
murdered; others were victims of statutory rape. Yet Mora also had positive
role models, and this made all the difference.
Andrea Miller is deputy editor of the Shambhala Sun. Her new anthology is Buddha’s
Daughters: Teachings from Women Who Are Shaping Buddhism in the West.
Photo by Nia Mora-Moynihan.