Overcoming great odds is something Nyle DiMarco knows very well. We were first introduced to the New York native in Cycle 22 of America’s Next Top Model back in 2015. He was the first deaf model ever to compete and win.
A year later, Nyle was announced as one of 12 celebrities vying for the mirror ball trophy in Dancing With The Stars. While he was not the first deaf contestant (that honour goes to actress Marlee Matlin), he was first to impressively clinch the top spot in a competition that relied heavily on musicality and perfect timing.
In both instances, Nyle played the role of the endearing deaf role model. There was nary a snide remark made nor any ugly sportsmanship that would’ve made for excellent reality television drama.
While he had the help of his American Sign Language interpreter Ramon Narrod in both of his reality television endeavours, Nyle’s voice has always been loud and clear: there is no stopping me. He’s now officially a professional model, a trained dancer, an actor and an activist. And we reckon there will be a whole lot more to come.
How did you get involved in modelling? Do you identify more as a model, a dancer or an actor?
Several photographers encouraged me to start modelling when I turned 18. At that time I was living in DC pursuing a BA degree in mathematics. I ignored that because it would mean changing my career. What didn’t help was that DC wasn’t a fashion city and I did not know agencies existed. After I received my degree in math, one photographer wanted to shoot me for fun. I thought it wouldn’t hurt and the rest is history. My career completely changed. All for the better. I identify more as a model because that is what I started out as and what I am still doing now.
In a capitalist world, in which beauty has a commercial value, how do you rescue the most essential and pure side to it? What really determines someone’s beauty?
I think that there should be something to align with beauty (and by beauty I mean every diversity within race, size, height, etc). Charity. Awareness. Or current issues. I think companies should now start to be bold and to align issues… because bold is beautiful.
You stand as proof that a model doesn’t just represent an ideal of the human physique, but can also be someone who empowers others. How it does it feel to represent the deaf community in the fashion industry?
I am truly honoured to represent the deaf community. I feel fortunate to have a platform. It is what pushes me to break barriers and raise awareness. I think every person with a platform should contribute to something and to empower other people. It’s a truly beautiful thing to do and the world needs more of it. Change starts when one person supports another person, until we
all make ourselves heard.
How do you manage to find the time to spread yourself between modelling, dancing, acting and activism?
I ask myself that a lot. In the beginning, I felt overwhelmed. However over time I learnt to balance all these aspects and figure out when to save and when to invest my energy. I’ve learnt to truly enjoy alone time to focus on my own wellbeing. It’s so hard, but I’ve also learnt how to say no.
Tell me more about LEAD-K and your very own The Nyle DiMarco Foundation.
Ever since my stardom, I’ve received thousands of emails especially from parents with deaf children asking for help. I’ve always felt helpless and felt there was something I could do. That is how NDF exists. There are 70 million deaf people worldwide. Only two per cent of them have access to education in sign language. More than 75 per cent of parents do not sign to communicate with their deaf children. There are so many unfortunate statistic reports and I want to change that.
We work closely with LEAD-K (language equality and acquisition for all deaf kids) in achieving their bill in every state that ensures every deaf child has access to language, be it ASL, English, both, or just one of them. Our goal is to get every deaf child ready for kindergarten with language foundation (because millions of them are without language), so they are ready to learn, socialise and express themselves.