Who is Nini Amerlise? Most people don’t know and if they do, the knowledge of her is likely very recent. When I first encountered Nini, she was standing on a rich and swanky staircase wearing a breathtaking red ballroom gown. Maybe it was her mahogany torso delicately curved into a most flattering posture or maybe it was that her expression was both surrendered and sovereign. Either way Nini was brilliant in that shot and my heart stopped, as it often does when I witness pure beauty and perfection. I’m a chaser of beauty so I searched feverishly and found more photos, all with different looks and they all attested to the same reality; if fashion posing is art, then Miss Amerlise is Lina Iris Viktor.
She had just won the title of Super Model Canada 2017 and her announcement of this in her video on social media revealed a humble but positive young lady who immediately saw this new opportunity as a way to motivate others. She spoke of her past and how its scars should have made it unlikely that a girl like her could ever end up a reigning beauty. “Anything is possible if you have faith and believe. If I can do it you can do it too!”
“We’re all fearfully and wonderfully made.” Nini Amerlise
When I reached out to talk with her, I wasn’t ready for the heartbreaking story she was going to tell, or the lessons of hope and restoration it held. A year and many conversations later, it’s clear that Nini is a living attestation to the power that lives within us, regardless of our trials. In her very short life, God has revealed that if you ask him to, he will use your trials and wounds as the canvas to paint his glory on.
If asked, this Brampton Ontario native will openly tell you of a childhood marked with painful events that marred her physically, mentally and emotionally. It’s hard to conceive that the infectious beacon of joy she is now is the same girl featured in her horrible narratives of domestic violence, decumbent self-esteem, mental abuse, suicide attempts, alcoholism, rape, promiscuity and rebellion. She speaks of her past openly, not like a girl whose soul was repeatedly punctured without recovery. When I note to Nini the lack of shame in her tone, and how much it sounds like she’s telling me about a completely different person, she smiled at me and said, “I am.”
THE LOVE OF A FATHER
“I kept screaming, ‘I hate men’ over and over again. That was the worst time I can remember.” Nini Amerlise
Nini is the last daughter of her mother’s 5 children and the first girl of her father’s 12. Yes twelve. Her father’s presence was both inconsistent and random. “He had many women and when he came to see us, he would just show up, it was never announced.” His visits offered Nini very little love or emotional connection. Instead, she vividly remembers instances of violence, both physical and mental towards her mother. Although only 3 years old at the time, this fragile ebony beauty tells of the day her father embedded a deep hate in her. “My dad was calling my mom to help him with our microwave while she was changing my diaper. When she didn’t respond to him right away, I saw my dad punch her in the face. Twice. He severely injured her nose.” Nini says her mother called the police, who locked her father up and took her mother to the hospital. And while her mother got stitches in another room, the nurses tried to console Nini. She described the feeling of intense rage when her mother returned with her face covered in bandages. “I kept screaming, ‘I hate men’ over and over again. That was the worst time I can remember.”
Nini expresses the source of her trauma and hatred towards men on The Karen Carrington Show in the following episode discussing the affects of paternal relationships on love (37 mins in):
For too many young girls, absentee or abusive fathers are an unfortunate common denominator. It could be that her father isn’t physically there, or worse, his presence subjects his children a consistent barrage of violence, abuse and emotional damage. Whether intentional or not, this reoccurring drama often starts a slow spiral downward in the development of young girls. The words little Nini exclaimed in that hospital waiting room foretold the trajectory of darkness she was about to embark on.
THE EROSION OF SELF
“I was called everything you could think of everywhere I went and I believed everything they said about me was true.” Nini Amerlise
We’ve all been bullied, some of us more than others. But for this emerging super model, being taunted daily, from siblings, family members and schoolmates for years resulted in something far worse than hurt feelings. Nini internalized every syllable of hate she heard. She believed the words she was told and recited them to herself like a song on repeat:
“You’re dark and ugly. You look like a man. You’re so skinny. You’re face looks like connect the dots. You’re nose is huge. You’re hair doesn’t move. You’re weird… I was called everything you could think of everywhere I went and I believed everything they said about me was true.” This intense bullying made Nini her own worst enemy. From the 4th to the 8th grade, she would repeat these insults to herself all day. She avoided eye contact so she wouldn’t see anyone’s disdain. Nini literally wouldn’t look up or at the whiteboard in class. Anxiety grew exponentially at the thought of others looking at her, and caused academic failure that mistakenly had her categorized as learning disabled. Nini’s simmering pot of self-hatred intensified. She lived without happiness, questioned everything about her existence and often asked herself why someone with absolutely no worth was even alive.
A LOVE LOST
“It was my inability to love myself that caused me to be so hurtful towards him.” Nini Amerlise
The relationship between Nini’s parents deeply impacted her feelings about the opposite sex. Nini was petrified of falling in love and replicating the relationship between her parents. She had never loved herself and rejected any form of affection from boys growing up. This caused many to question her sexual orientation. She couldn’t look at herself in the mirror for more than a few seconds and always believed that people were talking about her. There was only one boy who was able to permeate the shell that armored Nini’s heart. Her first love. She calls him T. “He was the first boy I ever liked, and he really liked me too. T was like ice-cream personified because every time he was around I became a happy little girl again. But I couldn’t understand or accept that he liked me and his attention almost felt like he was mocking me.”
Nini was afraid of love because to her loving someone was giving them power over you and making yourself vulnerable. Through her insecurities, she started to perceive T’s attention as an offence and mistreated him. “I still care about him and regret the things I did and said to him. It was my inability to love myself that caused me to be so hurtful towards him.”
“I was a child trying to deal with a very adult life, living my life aimlessly and partying all the time. I was dying slowly.” Nini Amerlise
Nini was body shamed in junior high because of her emerging curves. “Boys were constantly poking my butt with their pens and pencils, I hated it.” She developed anorexia in an attempt to become invisible to those around her. Being deprived of respect added an intense anger to her self-loathing. Then at the age of 18 she was raped. Nini felt stripped her of her humanity and began to live her life as an empty shell. She had no respect for men and by using alcohol as a coping mechanism, Nini assumed a new persona that she herself describes as vindictive, destructive, jealous and rebellious.
Desperate to end the ongoing pain, she made several attempts at suicide. Drinking started to give Nini a surge of confidence and for the first time in her life, she felt powerful. Nini used the bravado from drinking to exert herself and become more outgoing socially. She learned to use her body to manipulate and humiliate men who were attracted to her. She describes a second violent rape at the age of 21, and the consequent tragedies (detailed in her upcoming book), as the lowest point in her life. “I was a child trying to deal with a very adult life, living my life aimlessly and partying all the time. I was dying slowly.”
“I used to curse God and ask him ‘if you are real, why is my life like this?'” Nini Amerlise
“My sister found out about my being raped and was really sad about how I handled the aftermath.” Nini’s sister recommended that she attend a weekend youth retreat at her church. She offered to pay and Nini didn’t refuse although she didn’t believe in God. How could she? What kind of God would have created her to be subject to such cruelty for most of her life? “I used to curse God and ask him ‘If you are real, why is my life like this?!’”
Countless truths were revealed to her that weekend. Nini learned about Jesus’ story and God told her for the first time in Psalm 139:14 that she was fearfully and wonderfully made. When I asked her what the passage meant, Nini explained that we are all designed from a place of love, designed for greatness and in the likeness of our creator. “That means we hold a lot of power. We have God’s light within us and it permeates any form of darkness. Once I learned to activate this power within me, I was able to defeat the darkness of the past. Fear, rejection and hurt, I’ve overcome them and have been transformed and renewed. I’m becoming the person that God called me to be.”
When talking to Nini and looking into the honesty of her gaze, there is no doubt that the shattered girl she was before that weekend retreat no longer exists. After she surrendered her pain to God, Nini says her entire life immediately changed. Everything spiraled upwards and opportunities in the fashion industry arose.
“I really started loving myself in 2016” Nini’s radiant smile punctuates that affirmation. It’s still difficult for me to accept that this quintessential Nubian princess, at one point in time did not value all that she is. She professed that “finding God and eventually understanding the magnitude of who He is, how much He loves me and how real His promises are makes it possible to accept and love myself.” That’s when she started rocking her beautiful kinky crown she’s so well known for. “I also stopped bleaching my skin” BLEACHING YOUR SKIN?! She laughed at my retort. “Yeah I was as light as Rihanna, it’s crazy, I know!” God is a guiding force in her life. “Now I pray before walking any runway or before any photo shoot. I ask that God help me to deliver my best every time. When things turn out great it’s all him, not me.”
These are only a few of the dark experiences Nini fully reveals in the book “Designer’s Original” that she co-authored. The highly anticipated title is set for release on the 23rd of February. If you’re in the Greater Toronto Area, check her out at the Gospel Cafe in Mississauga. Her message is targeted primarily at millennials who she implores to not be defined by their past hurts, failures and rejections. Instead, she advises that they be used as catalysts of change and empowerment. My confidence comes from God, and he reminds me who I am. Fearfully and wonderfully made.
NINI vs NERI’S RAPID FIRE QUESTIONS
Who do people say you look like?
I get 3 answers usually; Whitney Houston, Janet Hubert (the original Aunt Viv from The Fresh Prince of Belair) and when I have straight hair, Tika Sumpter.
What’s your favourite body part?
My hips and my legs… definitely. (then she giggles).
Think of the person who hurt you the most in your life. What would you say to them today?
This person told me a year and a half ago that I would never amount to anything. I would say to them, “I hope you’re watching” not out of anger, but because she’s a blessing. Her words are likely the reason that I’m pushing so hard.
What is the purpose(s) God has aligned with your passion?
(Huge smile). I have a clear vision of me mentoring. I see a foundation for the homeless. Motivational speaking and specifically influencing and motivating millennials. The book Designer’s Original is just the start.
Tell me more about the foundation for the homeless…
I want it to be really inspiring.
Can you elaborate?
Well not like a normal shelter. Really set up so they walk in it sets the tone for who they are. I want the décor and everything in there to inspire them to be greater. The shelter will also offer counselling and mentoring. They will recover from life and really learn how to reclaim their lives. Oh and fashion… they have to learn about fashion. Fashion is important.
NERI: Why is fashion important?
It’s art. Fashion is a language and your style is what you are saying with the fashion. My mother and sister are amazing seamstresses, so fashion has always been a part of our lives.
NERI: What are your fashion favorites?
I love bold color, unusual patterns, cuts and lines. Anything that’s different.
NERI: What words do people use to describe you?
I always get effortless and graceful.
NERI: Past or present, who would you work with in the fashion industry and why?
OOooo! Naomi DEFINITELY! It’s her fierce walk, she has the sauce! I’d love to be mentored by her and to know everything she could teach me about making it in this industry.
Givenchy because of the elegance and it’s regal to the core. Givenchy makes garments for Queens.
Versace because they make clothing of accomplishment. You can see the quality of their work. They put blood sweat and tears in their work.
Betsey Johnson because she’s colourful, wild and fantastic.
Finally Chanel because of my old soul, it represents French elegance and it’s timeless.
NERI: Who are some up and coming designers people should be keeping their eyes on?
I really love working with Jordan from Hendrixroe. She’s based here in Toronto. I modelled for her first collection. She’s amazing because she is everchanging. Her designs are inspired by what she sees around her. Always super creative and ultra-wearable.
Ofuure, the one who did those amazing King and Queen sweatshirts you love so much. She’s originally from Nigeria but based out of Toronto. Her style is amazing! So afrofuturistic and revolutionary. I really love how she takes traditional African patterns and prints them on more sculptable fabrics.
And then there’s Kyle Gervacy from St-Lucia but also Toronto based. Just pure elegance and 100% originality.
NERI: What does it take to be a great model?
A great model can be molded by the designer or director without losing herself. She can transmit the essence of the garments through her walk, poses, facial expression. As a model, that interpretation is really up to you. The key is to take a good look at the clothing before putting them on. Appreciate the work that went into it so that you can become one with the garment. Taking note of what is special about the design so that when it’s time to present it, you appear as one.
NERI: One last question. A year from now if we are sitting across from each other again, what are some of the things you’ll tell me you accomplished in 2018?
I will have traveled and told my story. I’ll find my wholeness in 2018. I will have come into the fullness of who Nini Amerlise is. I want to live fully and be unapologetically real. I’ll have the freedom to show anyone love and not be offended when people don’t show love back. God’s perfect and unchanging love is enough.