Tomiko Fraser is one of the most recognizable black models in the fashion world. A former Maybelline spokesmodel, she has done both runway and commercial fashion, walking in the Chloe, Chanel, Vera Wang, Vivienne Westwood and Emmanuel Ungaro runway shows and modeling for Gap, Old Navy and Target. Throughout her career, Tomiko has rocked a natural look, often sporting curls in various photoshoots. I got a chance to talk with her about life, modeling and hair. Enjoy!

On her beginnings
I am a New Yorker. A very, very proud New Yorker. I’m born and raised in the Bronx but I’ve lived in Los Angeles for almost 10 years, which I find very hard to believe because I said I’d never live any place but New York (laughs). But the weather sucked me in and I found my husband and I just found a space here to be creative.

On how she got into modeling

I’ve been modeling for about 15 years. I’m a pro (laughs). I’ve been 5’ 9” since I was 12 years old, so I’ve had friends and family suggest that I get into modeling. But I’m pretty practical and I didn’t think, at the time, that modeling was a practical enough career.

The cliché of being discovered in a restaurant actually is true for me. I was working as a hostess at a restaurant in the Flat Iron District in New York when a patron, who was also an agent, told me, “Hey, you should really think about modeling.” She pursued me so I decided to give it a shot. I stayed with her for 6 months or so. She was a very small agency, but she believed in me and my career took off from there.

When I walked the Chanel runway for the first time you couldn’t tell me anything. This was in Paris, and I’d done shows before but I’d never had family or close friends in the audience. This time my sister, who had never been to Paris, was there in the audience. I probably started crying on the runway.

On being an older model
I am 42 years old. I had a whole other life before I started modeling. And when I got into modeling I was told immediately to lie, because I started when I was 25 years old, which is geriatric for models, at least at that time. And for years I was always, like, 6 to 10 years younger than my real age (It’s a joke that model years are like dog years). I found myself not speaking up at jobs even though I had an opinion because, oops, I can’t have an opinion if I’m supposed to be 19.

It wasn’t until a year and a half ago I was talking to a group of young black women aged 9 to 13 about being empowered when one little girl innocently asked me, ‘Miss Tomiko how old are you?’ And I looked at her and I was going to go into my very learned, very ingrained lie. Then I said, ‘Sweetie, you know what, I’m not going to lie to you. I’m 40.’ I decided then that I was going to stop lying about my age. We as women need to embrace our years because we’ve earned them and they’ve made us who we are.

On being the first black woman to sign an exclusive contract with Maybelline

Being signed to a contract is like winning the Super Bowl. It’s what all models aspire to — getting a cosmetic campaign. So I was very honored and flattered to be chosen for this and it’s just been life changing. I personally feel after Maybelline opened the door we began to see more darker-complexioned women being represented in cosmetics, like Kiara (for CoverGirl) and Liya, who is doing Estee Lauder. A lot of girls that we wouldn’t normally see are being represented with these high-end and highly visible cosmetic companies.

Kiara Kabukuru
Liya Kebede

On how natural hair is received in the modeling industry
It’s still not an easy time for some hairstylists to have to work with natural hair. And that’s on the stylist, that is not on the model. I always go to jobs with my hair pretty much done so that they don’t really have to do much to it. Or I’ll work with wigs and/or weaves because the majority of the time, they don’t know what to do with my hair. They love that I come prepared but I really shouldn’t have to do that.

Natural hair is becoming more acceptable. I do Target ads all the time and they use my hair in its natural state. But not every company is ready for that — nor is their customer.

On America’s Next Top Model
I give kudos to Tyra for having this platform for women to explore modeling in a way they probably wouldn’t have had a chance to, so I definitely applaud her for that. And I do know that there’s been some successes from some of the past winners. I’m actually good friends with the runner up from Season 2, Mercedes Yvette. She has lupus and we work together with The Lupus Foundation.

It’s a reality show, you know, reality shows are fantastical so they’re meant to have drama and strife and things of that nature to bring viewership. Is it my cup of tea? No. I don’t believe women getting together and having to be catty with each other is necessarily a good thing. But, I’m also in television so I understand how it works.

Does it set up unrealistic expectations for some women? Possibly. I don’t know of many winners, honestly, that have gone on to supermodeldom or superstardom. So I’m kind of on the fence with it. I applaud Tyra for doing her thing as always. But I don’t know if the premise of the show and its after effects are most ideal for the modeling world that I know.

On her skin
I wish that I could take full credit for it, like I made it this way, but no, it’s definitely genetics. But it’s my responsibility to take care of those genetics so I do the old adage of washing your face twice a day using some kind of astringent, and also moisturizing.

Never go to bed with makeup on. Even if you’re that tired, that drunk, that whatever. Have some of those facial wipes by your bed, wipe your face off. Drink a lot of water. If you are in a position to get facials, do that. And there’s so much information on the web about doing at-home facials with products from your kitchen. Treat your skin like you treat your hair. Take care of your entire self.

On her natural hair journey

A young Tomiko
I wasn’t a willing naturalista. About 12 years ago my hair decided that it had had enough of the perm. It began to break quite a bit and my hairstylist at the time, Anthony Dickey, who is still a good friend of mine, said, ‘You need to cut this hair off. I don’t know why you’re playing.’ I remember sitting in his chair and asking him to be gentle, knowing he wasn’t going to be. He chopped my hair off. As I know now they call it the big chop. I cried and cried, let it grow back a little bit and tried to perm again.

Then I went to a trichologist who told me that my scalp couldn’t handle the chemicals anymore (I had been getting perms since I was 11.) I was concerned because at the time I had my Maybelline contract and I thought, ‘There is no way that Maybelline is going to have a natural haired model with darker skin as their spokesperson. That’s just not happening.’ But when I explained the situation to them they thought it was fine. We used wigs and weaves, and eventually we used my hair in a couple of ads because it had grown by then and was full and healthy.

So I went natural because I had to, but it was the best forced decision I’ve ever had to make.

On her hair regimen
Felicia Leatherwood is my friend and my hairstylist and she takes such good care of me. I am a chameleon when it comes to my hair. I use it as an accessory. I’ll put twists in, then I’ll use weave for a little while, then I’ll use my own hair. I like playing with it. Thankfully I have a very skilled and patient hairstylist who just rolls with me. My regimen is pretty much washing it, keeping my scalp moisturized, keeping my ends clipped and just playing. I don’t think hair should be a chore. I think it should be fun.

On what she wants women to learn from The Goddess Gathering, an LA-based women’s support organization she started six years ago

Tomiko at a Goddess Gathering meeting
You create your life, you define your life. Whatever happened to you in the past, whatever is happening to you now that doesn’t fit, that is horrible, that is sad, it doesn’t define you unless you let it.

On her husband, Chris

Tomiko and Chris

I got married at 38. It was the perfect time for me to get married. He works in television. He’s also a spoken word artist and he’s yummy delicious. I have married perfectly for me.

Thank you Tomiko for sharing your life with us! Click HERE for more information about Tomiko’s Goddess Gathering and her new e-book, Tomiko Fraser’s A-Z Guide to being a Goddess.

Also look out for Tomiko’s new Old Spice commercial coming soon and her first photo book, Unbound.

Black Girl With Long Hair

Leila Noelliste, founder of Black Girl with Long Hair (April 2008). Social media, pop culture and black beauty enthusiast. bell hooks' hair twin...

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63 Comments on "Tomiko Fraser talks life, hair and modeling"

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The Black Bot

“Natural hair is becoming more acceptable.”

That’s great to hear, but it’s so frustrating that our genetic, racial features are considered to be unacceptable in the first place. I’m glad that sisters are working to change this by teaching America to celebrate diversity. There is no better way to do that than to simply be ourselves and to not hide our hair texture.

Nedra

Her baby photo is absolutely adorable! What an interesting hair color.

julia

talk about more than just a pretty face. and 42 just stop it! Beautiful. And I love that her hairdresser was honest with her – more people need that because unhealthy is just not cute.

Felicia

I love, love, love this article…good job and I love, love, love BGLH’s extensive coverage on everything! BGLH you really do give 100% to the readings! THanks

thelady

She is gorgeous. I’m 30 and single. She gives me hope for the future.

Heartless

Glad to know I’m not the only one shocked she’s 42. Definitely flawless.

Dawn Michelle @ Minimalist Beauty

This interview was so inspiring!!! Being in the industry can be very challenging, and it is so wonderful to get inspiration from other women of color really doing their thing as beautifully as Tomiko. She has such a sweet spirit and this article really allows it to shine through. Thanks so much for sharing and I wish her even more success as she deserves it!

Crys Mack

Amazing! Both Tomiko AND the article. Going now to post on my FB and Twitter!

Great job BGLH!

Caramelqueen

Umm . . . she is my new SHE-RO!!!! 42!!!! I too had to make sure that wasn’t a typo. She’s gorgeous!!!! Her story is very inspiring and yes, her husband is quite handsome. Thanks for the interview! =)

Amma Mama

Wow that was actually interesting to read! I read everything & enjoyed every minute of it.
She is beautiful and intelligent! She’s just comfortable in her own skin. I can see that by looking at her pictures and reading her interview.Very inspiring 🙂

Hmm

And just like THAT she became my hero! Her skin is so incredibly FLAWLESS! I would’ve guessed her to be in her 20’s for sure! 42?!? I’m 22 and I would KILL for her skin. Seems like she’s got a beautiful spirit to match her physical beauty. Great feature!

Daree Allen

Awesome interview– I can’t believe she’s 42. I’m glad she has had a long career in modeling–her face is very recognizable and her story is inspiring.

titilayo

42???!!!! Get outta here!

Great interview, and I think that last photo (with her yummy delicious husband, ha!) is hands down the most beautiful photo I’ve ever seen of Ms. Tomiko. It’s too gorgeous.

luvmylocs

very good interview! she’s such a professional. i like how she talked about the “age thing”. she is a beautiful woman with wonderful skin. that’s the first thing i noticed about her years ago! i love her hair too! i thank her for mentioning she married at 38. sometimes you feel like if you haven’t met “the one” and married by your early 30’s you are doomed to live a life of singleness. i wish her much success and greatness!!

Jan

@ Krystal, I understand how you feel lol!! I’m also 32.
Tomiko is absolutely gorgeous. Talk about flawless skin!!! And her husband isn’t bad to look at either!

Yemzi

Wow, Tomiko and her husband are a beautiful couple! She married when she was 38 but she looks much more youthful, beautiful!

Shanika

I love Tomiko! Always have! She’s flipping 42?!?!?! I had to read that about 3 times!! I love how she is upfront about America’s Next Top Model and realizes that majority of the show is for pure entertainment. I love how this interview was so real. She didn’t sugarcoat anything and say things that she thought we wanted to hear. KUDOS!!!

Krystal

I cannot believe this woman is 42! And she got married at 38? There’s still hope for me after all. Beautiful woman. She’s right: I need to start owning my age. There’s nothing to hide. I’m 32 and people, young and old, routinely mistake me for 25. This was a good interview. Thanks!

Davina916

GREAT interview!

aiych
She’s 42?!?!?! wow, talk about DIMEPIECE, i thought she was in her 20’s. puts Halle Berry to shame lol Ok….enough of that. It’s nice to hear that she’s been natural for most of her modeling career. And that guy was a good friend to tell her–‘You need to cut this hair off. I don’t know why you’re playing.’ I’d like to tell that to some of these women with overprocessed or extremely heat damaged hair, but I’m not trying to get slapped anytime soon… It’s also great to hear that Maybelline worked with her on the hair issue after that… Read more »
LittleOne

So beautiful and inspiring!

Sasha-Shae

Tomiko! That was an awesome post!! Loved your insights!!

Freecurl

Tamiko has always been one of my favorite models. She is absolutely GORGEOUS. She truly represents a fuller spectrum of black american women. Thanks for doing this interview.

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