Nicole Williams English is 7 months pregnant in her Sports Illustrated Swimsuit debut. She wants women to know that they can feel 'sexy' as moms.
It Figures is Yahoo Life's body image series, delving into the journeys of influential and inspiring figures as they explore what body confidence, body neutrality and self-love mean to them.
Nicole Williams English is stepping into an era of body acceptance after becoming a first-time mother and a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit rookie in the same year.
The 39-year-old model and designer appears in the pages of the magazine as the second visibly pregnant woman ever featured, following Katrina Scott, who was the first in 2022. And while being photographed for the iconic publication has long been on English's bucket list, she never imagined that it would happen like this.
"Being a young model, all I knew was to try to be perfect and have your body looking perfect and your face looking perfect. And this is how it was for me when I was living in New York and going on my castings and trying to get all these jobs," she tells Yahoo Life of getting her start in the industry at 14 years old. "It makes you feel a little insecure at times because you go to these castings, and you see all these models in front of you. It's like a competition."
The Toronto native has had a complicated relationship with her body for as long as she can remember, recalling that she'd wear layered clothing to school to give her the appearance of a fuller body. "Growing up, I was super bony, and skinny and lanky, and I hated it," she explains. "Everybody wants what they don't have."
Taunting and bullying by peers made her look for ways to get out of attending school. "The only thing that made me feel accepted was being in the modeling industry where you had to be rail thin and I was like everybody else," she says.
Although she felt that she belonged, she faced a different kind of pressure to remain in that figure even as she's gotten older and her career and life have evolved. "Maybe subconsciously, I waited so long to start trying to have a baby because, you know, I'd beat myself up about like, 'I haven't accomplished the things I want to accomplish yet. I need to wait, this is my career. I have to keep this body or I have to keep this image,'" she says.
Never did the former WAGS LA star imagine that her modeling career would reach new heights after she and her husband, former NFL player Larry English, decided it was time to start a family. But at 38 years old, she got life-changing news that IVF led to a successful pregnancy and that Sports Illustrated Swimsuit wanted to take part in celebrating. In July 2022, she announced her pregnancy on the brand's Miami Swim Week runway as the first rookie of the 2023 issue.
Knowing that she would be shooting for the magazine while pregnant went against all that she thought to be true about the industry and its beauty standards.
"I had to sit there and be like, this is kind of crazy, because all of these years I spent thinking that I had to look a certain way or be a certain way with all this competition and all these girls with perfect bodies. And here I am massively pregnant and going to Dominica to shoot seven months pregnant. And this is the way that I'm shooting for SI," she says. "I guess it was like a reality check, like I don't have to be what everybody expects me to be."
The routine of preparing for the shoot looked different than it had in years passed, as English recognized she'd been "stuck" in a habit of dieting before a job or stressing out about imperfections in her hair or her skin. "It's kind of ingrained," she says after years of modeling.
To reject that entirely for her shoot with Sports Illustrated Swimsuit was refreshing.
"To be able to wake up, look at myself in the mirror and be like, 'OK, I have all this water weight, my face is huge, my belly is huge, I don't have ankles, but there's nothing I can do about it,'" she says. "And it's OK, because this is why I'm doing this. I'm going to shoot like this to show the world, look at me, I'm growing a human inside me, this is the biggest moment of my life."
English welcomed her daughter India Moon in January via C-section and continues to show herself grace when it comes to her postpartum body. "You're looking at your body in the mirror when you get out of the shower and there's a lot going on. You feel different, you're having cold sweats at night, you're leaking and you're pumping at 3 or 4 in the morning. There's a lot that goes into it," she explains. "But I'm not really too worried about snapping back or getting so snatched. I just feel so much more confident now about my body and I just know that my body is going to go back when it's going to go back.
"I've already noticed little things, like my belly button looks different, I have a scar, my muscles in my stomach are more spaced apart, I'm not the same shape. But I actually really love it," she continues. "It's like a new beginning, a new chapter, new body, baby and it's just beautiful. I'm accepting it, I'm loving it."
With the latest issue of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit coming out, she's even missing her pregnant body that the world is now getting to see.
"I was posing my butt off on the beach in the sun with my belly out in a skimpy little bikini, and I felt my most beautiful I've ever felt in my life," she says. "I challenge the idea that when you have a baby you can't have a career, you can't work, you can't be hot, you can't be sexy, you can't be a cool mom. I think you can do it all."
Wellness, parenting, body image and more: Get to know the who behind the hoo with Yahoo Life's newsletter. Sign up here.