nikki stepleton.

novato, california.  |  model.  actress. wife.  mother.  sister.  daughter.

Allow me to introduce you to Nicole Stepleton. Those of you who know me, know that I have a pretty sizable family. In fact, it started out large and as life continues to unfold, it keeps getting bigger. I am one of eight children. I have four incredible sisters who continue to shape me as a human being and three magnificent brothers who have inspired me beyond imagination. And like all large families, it’s safe to say, that we pretty much raised one another. As a matter of fact, I think we continue to do so, as the learning and growing never really stops.  As our tribe continues to grow, so does our capacity to love. As of now, we have gained two more sisters—who happen to be pretty remarkable. Today, I highlight one of them. My sister, Nikki. I can’t very well have a blog about sisterhood without including my actual sisters, right?

What does failure/ or success look like to you?

The only failure you can have is viewing anything as a failure. If you have learned just ONE thing, even if it’s what NOT to do, (I have compiled quite a list of these) you have found success.

What has been your greatest obstacle in life and how do/did you navigate it?

Beyond a shadow of a doubt, the greatest obstacle in my life has been myself. I doubt myself and make mistakes perpetually. The mistakes though usually make for funny stories and I typically learn from them. Occasionally, I have made the same mistakes ones over and over … and over again … but that’s OK. I can laugh at myself. And I eventually learn.

How did you choose your career?

I am still figuring out my career path. I didn’t pursue modeling and acting at a younger age, due to a lack of confidence. I would look at magazines and see these impossibly perfect looking women and did not see how I could be counted as one of them. (Insider’s insight: the people in magazines only look perfect, no one wakes up looking this good. It takes countless hours, teams of people, hair, makeup, flattering wardrobe, perfect lighting, the right angles, hundreds of shots, and Photoshop to create one flawless image. No one looks like the girl in the magazine, including the girl in the magazine.) I was scouted by an agent at a time in my life when I was tired of being scared and feeling powerless. So I took a leap of faith and it changed my life.

Do you ever feel guilty? If yes … what for?

All the time. That donut I just ate, sleeping in, listening to T-Swift, leaving the laundry for another day (week … who’s counting?), etc. …

What is your most embarrassing moment?

An embarrassing moment I had was just a few years back. George Lucas was sitting behind me at movie. Once it was over I saw him exit and presumably leave. I exited myself, and proceeded to perform a very LOUD and physical reenactment of Star Wars. As I yelled, “MAY THE FORCE BE WITH YOU!” George (who was trusted to have left the premises) walked out from behind me, and just stared at me. And continued to stare at me uncomfortably for about 40 yards. I am still waiting for his casting call after that boisterous performance.

An unquestionably more important moment of embarrassment happened when I was seven.

I went with my dad to his office in San Francisco for “Take Your Daughter to Work Day.” It was so exciting. Dress up like an accountant and spend a day attacking my father’s coworkers with paper planes when I supposed to be in school? Ummm, yes please! My dad took me to lunch with a large group of his colleagues that day. We all passed a restaurant called Gaylord’s (which I now know to be an Indian place). I started giggling uncontrollably and said to my dad, “Can you believe it? That place is called GAYLORD’S.” He responded, straight faced, “Yes, why?” I blundered on, emphatically of course, “Because that’s what you call someone when you don’t like them, gay.” My dad calmly pulled me off to the side, away from the group, and asked me if I even knew what the word gay meant. I did not. I had zero understanding of it. He explained it to me. He also explained that members of our group may be gay and suggested that I put myself in their shoes. “Imagine how hurtful that must have been to hear those words,” he said. The humiliation burned. I was mortified and ashamed of how reckless I was in causing someone else pain. I was so embarrassed that I could not speak a single word for the rest of the day. From then on, I would not use the word gay in a derogatory manner. After my father’s lesson, I became much more aware of word choices. It sticks with me to this day.

(Snapple Fact- my father also counts himself conservative.)

What gets you through a rough day?


What qualities do you look for in friends?

I gravitate towards people with the ability to free themselves from judging others. I think the less you fear, the less you judge. So it’s fearlessness I admire.

From the outside looking in, the life of a model appears … challenging. Setting aside the glamorous clothes, fancy parties, and access to some pretty amazing photographers, (your Facebook profile pics are ridiculous), the industry seems fiercely competitive. If you could change one thing about this profession, what would it be?

I would like to do a few things. I would first like to create a greater sense of camaraderie between the girls. I think one of the major difficulties facing (not all) most models, is that the profession can feel very isolating. You are not going into the office every day 9-5 with the same people. Or in a lot of cases, school. Models are really young. So making meaningful, trusting connections with people can prove to be hard. You are typically running from casting to casting, where you are frequently one of hundreds of girls trying to get that one spot. So all too often, girls size up the opponent and become insecure themselves, rather than treating each other as peers—with love and respect. I would love for girls to be able to stand with confidence and support each other. It’s a business where you need thick skin and being united in the struggles and triumphs would be helpful for the emotional development of these young ladies.

Additionally, I would diversify the modeling world, for the model, as well as for the general public’s benefit. There’s a tiny little box of quantitative qualifications you must meet to even be considered to be signed to a top agency. You need to be a certain height and have certain (minuscule) measurements. I remember the first time someone measured me I was 36-24-36 … sounds “ideal”, yes? Nope! I was told I was a little too curvy and I needed to lose weight. I was 13 years old. And left feeling like there was something wrong with my body.

You are either “plus” size or “straight” size in the industry. Creating a wider range of sample sizes would be helpful in alleviating anxiety for the individual model and the public in general. It would be wonderful for people to be able to look at clothes on a model, and feel like they could relate to them in an aspirational manner, rather than being intimidated by an unattainable vision. Have you looked at a magazine and wished to look like the girls in them and “if I could look like that, then I would be happy and feel good about myself.” Please don’t do that. These beautiful creatures are probably some of the most insecure people on the planet. Their job is to be analyzed and critiqued based off of what they look like. So they have a continuous dialogue going, of what they “need to fix” instead of having an unwavering confidence. We haven’t even touched the lack of racial diversity in this industry and that is major problem as well … but I know I need to wrap this up.

Out of all the names and faces in the fashion industry, who do you admire the most?

Coco Rocha. A Canadian Super Model. Coco is the ultimate professional. She also serves as an advisory board member for The Model Alliance (MA), which is a not-for-profit labor group for models working in the American fashion industry. Among many things, they help protect minors in the fashion industry and aim to provide access for affordable health care. They are working hard to empower models and give them a voice. It is a necessary and thoughtful group.

If you could tell your younger self one thing, what would it be?

I would tell myself that everything will be ok. In fact, everything will be exceptional. Also, not EVERYTHING is so dramatic. “Chill out, sister.” In other words, I would say, “Nikki, your world will not end when you don’t get the number you want on the basketball team or when they run out of calzones at Sbarro’s.”

What is your greatest accomplishment to date?

My daughter, Annabella Grace.

What is your best advice on how to live a graceful life?

Live with as much love and empathy as you can, for yourself and others. Everything else will fall into place.

j. jane side notes:

Check out some of Nikki’s work. I love the shots with Jimmy Kimmel – it’s so Vegas, baby!

Nikki’s most embarrassing moment (her seven-year old experience) would only be embarrassing if she said those words as an adult. I think we can all agree that it is acceptable for a kid to make such a mistake. The real embarrassment would be never learning from it.

Oh! And I just started listening to Taylor Swift. I love SHAKE IT OFF. Not bad, T.S. – not bad at all!

  • Anne Petera
    Posted at 16:23h, 05 December

    Jess –
    I so wish that I could meet ALL of your sisters! And, I am smiling just thinking about how it could have been if ALL my sisters and I met all the Stepleton women! Perhaps, some day.

    • Jessica Jane Stepleton Stern aka j. jane
      Posted at 17:05h, 05 December

      Anne – you would love my sisters. And I am certain I would love yours. We should host a sisters weekend!

  • Sally Gore
    Posted at 17:44h, 05 December

    i love these JJ! Very inspirational! There are such amazing people out there…

    • Jessica Jane Stepleton Stern aka j. jane
      Posted at 14:04h, 06 December

      Agreed, sally. I am grateful these women take the time to share a part of themselves.

  • Hank Stepleton
    Posted at 23:04h, 05 December

    Great read! Thanks for making this story happen Jessica and Nicole! One of the most amazing, and remarkable, things about Nikki is her capacity to empathize with others. She never judges people. Ever. She always defaults with understanding. It’s an area where I have a lot to learn, and I’m very thankful to have such a great woman to help.

    • Jessica Jane Stepleton Stern aka j. jane
      Posted at 14:58h, 06 December

      Defaulting with understanding is the epitome of grace. An example we should all practice.

  • Courtney Stepleton
    Posted at 03:33h, 07 December

    What beautiful responses Nikki! You are truly a woman to be admired!