It ain’t easy being a swimsuit model, but when Jeneil Williams stopped by our studio, we were super inspired by her badass confidence and you-can-do-anything attitude. The 22-year-old model relocated to NYC from Jamaica after being discovered at a pageant in 2007, and we were lucky enough to chat with her about the secrets to success—and how she got that killer bod.
Did you always know you wanted to be a model?
Always did. I used to dress up in my mom’s clothes. I used to do weird stuff. I always wanted to be a model, but then I started doing track and field, and I got distracted with that because I love track and field. Eventually, I got back into modeling because it was something I always wanted to do.
Tell us why being a model is awesome.
For me, I like getting dressed up. I love going on set and meeting new people and working with a team to develop something amazing and putting it out in the world to show people. I love that. I love traveling. I love seeing the clothes. It exposes you to so much. A young girl like me coming from Jamaica, so many girls from Jamaica think that they’ll never get to travel the world and see different places, so it’s opened a lot of doors for me.
Since you’re in a swimsuit shoot, we have to know how you keep in such great shape.
I do a lot of running. I love jogging around 3 miles a day. A lot of yoga. A lot of cardio, but mostly running and yoga is my thing.
Just long distance running and not sprints?
Yeah not sprints, because sprints build you up. If you want leaner muscles, you do long distance.
What are some things you do every day to stay healthy?
I drink a lot of water which is so good for you because your body is made of mostly water. I also cook every day, and I don’t go out as often. But I mostly cook because I love cooking. It’s much healthier, and you get to see what goes in your food!
What are some of your favorite things to cook?
I love cooking salmon in tomato sauce with some brown rice. I don’t really do that much rice—just a lot of vegetables, chicken, some jerk chicken. I cook most of my stuff in the oven or on the grill—even the sauce.
Any major substitutions we should know about?
Yeah, it’s good to substitute salt. We don’t recognize how much salt we eat throughout the day, so I cut out a lot of salt and replace it with natural vegetables like peppers, tomatoes, and onions to build the flavor up. It doesn’t have to be bland—you can substitute with natural vegetables.
Is there anything that you absolutely will not eat or drink?
I love food! Especially dessert, like chocolate. I can’t control myself around that stuff. I’m trying to break myself into getting used to not eating too many sweets because it’s bad for you. It’s my weakness. I have to try and be determined, but it helps you throughout your life, too—to be determined and fight your cravings off.
Is there anyone you look to for inspiration?
I love Lupita [Nyong’o]. She’s incredible. She opened a door for so many of us that think, “Oh, because you look this way you can’t be a famous actress.” I love Grace Jones. I think she’s amazing. She has done so much. She did some acting, and then she moved on to modeling and performing. Even Tyra Banks. She’s amazing. She developed her own empire. It’s incredible. I look up to people like that because at certain point in modeling you think, “What’s next?” so it’s good to see different places that you can go. You can go to acting, you can build your own empire, you can do cooking.
So, what would you do next?
Right now I’m working on a fitness book, because I love fitness and acting. I’m doing a few auditions. I love performing, I love being in the media.
Wait, a fitness book? Tell us about it!
Yeah! I’m going to do a “what to eat for 7 days” thing: exercises that you do throughout the week, detoxing and different stuff like that.
OK, what’s one exercise we need to start doing ASAP?
Squats. You get good toned legs, it helps you walk better in heels, you get a nice butt. [laughs] You can never go wrong with doing squats.
What’s something you’ve done recently that you’re really proud of?
I always wanted to shoot with Mario Testino, and I finally did and it was an awesome shoot.
German Vogue. It was all nude with all white, so it was amazing. It got deleted off my Instagram because I think it was too much. [laughs] All the work I did throughout the years I’m so grateful for. I don’t see myself as a typical model—coming from track and field and being more toned unlike most models. I’m grateful for all the things I’ve gotten to do, and I finally got to start working with Nike, so that’s awesome.
When you’re shooting with such big photographers, and even now doing a swim shoot, how do you get the confidence?
I think you just have to believe in yourself. If you don’t believe that you’re beautiful, you have to love yourself. Shooting with those guys is so easy, they always make it so comfortable. Even with Nasty Gal, everyone seems like I’ve known them forever. I love that. It’s good to come on set and be confident because people read off that energy.
Do you have any more tips for aspiring models?
Go out there and do it. As Lupita said, “Your dreams are valid.” So you have to make your dreams count. You never know. I’ve gotten so many “nos” throughout my fashion career, and you have to turn those nos into yeses. Eventually it will, you just gotta keep pushing and going forward.