For Nova Reid, championing diversity is deeply personal. “I think the catalyst and spark have been growing since I was a little girl — growing up in Hertfordshire and black,” Reid tells What We Seee. “Not knowing why, but knowing that I was somehow different and that I didn’t fit in. I desperately tried to — but of course, I didn’t.”
Now Reid works as a diversity campaigner, one who’s made huge strides in the wedding industry particularly — an area that seems to lag woefully behind other industries when it comes to diversity and representation. “From a very young age, I started seeing myself as being less than and that wreaked havoc on my self-esteem… When I discovered the wedding industry it was everything I experienced as a young girl, but even more so. It felt like the industry was stuck in the dark ages, and I thought, ‘Why have we not moved on?’” She started blogging about weddings and inclusivity with her groundbreaking Nu Bride and hasn’t looked back.
Since then, Reid has been working tirelessly to help bring the wedding industry into the 21st century — and spreading her wisdom into other areas. Jumping with both feet into the world of prejudice, from micro-aggressions to unbridled racism, is a brave and difficult choice — but one that Reid has tackled head-on, drawing on a background in mental health work and advocacy.
Visible But Invisible
After her experiences as a young girl, Reid continued to face prejudice as she started working as a professional actress and musical theatre performer. “You’re visible but you’re invisible,” she explains. “It’s all about what you look like. Some said I wasn’t the right ‘look’, but some came right out and said that they wanted someone with lighter skin. At the time, I didn’t know what to call it — but now I can see it was casual racism.”
Between knocks to her confidence and an injury, Reid eventually started working in mental wellbeing. What started out as a stopgap became a new career, when the company she had been temping for saw something special and offered to fund her retraining. “They offered to pay for all my training,” she explains. “I just really enjoyed helping people. During that time I got very interested in human behaviour and advocating for the underdog.”
While the wedding industry might not seem like an obvious next step for someone with a background in mental health work, when Reid became engaged herself the gaping problems with the industry hit her like a brick wall. “Women of color were really just invisible,” she explains. “The same goes for other minorities. It felt like they only expect white, heterosexual couples.” The problematic behaviour manifests in many different ways, from a lack of visual representation to assuming that women of color can’t afford certain products or services — and, as she started blogging, she often found that press days didn’t feel the need to cater for women of color. “Other women were given a full makeover, I was told to do my own hair and makeup,” she laughs. “It felt like a total time warp.”
They’re All Linked
As her wedding work expanded, so did Reid’s appetite for advocacy in all forms. “What makes my heart sing is diversity advocacy,” she says. “For businesses, individual change-makers, society — in any arena. I give keynote sessions, diversity workshops, right through to anti-racism training, that’s where my passion really lies.”
All of this work is culminating in the Nu Bride Wedding Show taking place on the 5th and 6th of April in Camden House, London. It’s the first event of its kind and it is taking a radical approach to wedding shows. “Its focus is on couples who care about equality, are socially conscious, and want to work with brands who share their values. I wanted to get them all in one place, so you don’t have to ask questions like, ‘Do you do wedding makeup for my skin tone? Do you do LGBTQ events?’ You shouldn’t have to ask those questions. Every single vendor is inclusive and values diversity.”
Although her professional endeavours keep her busy, Reid has also reconnected with her creative side, with the directorial debut of her short film, “Other”. The film focuses on what it’s like being a person of color in the UK post-Brexit and how people navigate that. “When I left my job in mental health in 2016, I wanted to try to explore who I wanted to be beyond what I was already doing. A friend suggested I apply for a short course in partnership with Creative Skillset and the British Film Institute that was trying to encourage more black creatives and writers and I just decided to go for it. That’s where my creativity started again. I realized you should just create, because if it’s part of who you are then you need to do that.” She also worked with Project Noir, an artistic collective who helped her find her feet. “They encourage black creatives to showcase their work, even if it’s imperfect or unfinished, just put it out there.”
While with so many different plates spinning it might seem as though Reid’s energies are dispersed, but she sees that all of the projects as coming from the same place. They’re about identity and belonging and, ultimately, her passion for telling stories and expressing things that too often go unexpressed.
Sit In Their Skin
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From the little girls we were, to the women we become. Happy International Women’s Day, especially to the Change Makers out there. I see you . I’ll be taking a little time to rest and reboot over the weekend. Take care of you xxx #iwd2019 #internationalwomensday #allys #balanceforbetter
Through her diversity work, Reid engages in an open, often difficult conversation about race and prejudice. “I had some very frank conversations with top bridal publications and they’re always very open — I think it’s important to give people permission to be open,” she says. “But then I hear what they have to say — that black is seen as a risk, that readers don’t want to see black women on covers. Hearing that as a black woman, that’s hurtful. And it’s not based on evidence. These are just their opinions.” Even in 2019, many top bridal magazines have yet to feature a black woman on the cover — and being privy to the prejudiced reasoning behind those decisions isn’t easy.
It’s an issue that has gotten all the worse since Brexit and Trump — since bigotry has been emboldened and given a voice. Reid believes there’s a clear mixture of regressing as a society and vocalizing bigotry that’s remained dormant. “The political climates here and the US are indicative of that,” she explains. “It reminds me of being back in the 1980s and 90s when I didn’t have the language and I didn’t have the tools — how do I navigate this, from the outward racism to the microaggressions?”
But, ultimately, making the decision to be the navigator, to put yourself in the line of fire like Reid does, takes its toll. “Somebody told me that I make this work look easy and it’s really not — there’s an emotional cost as a black woman to do this work, so I do have to look after my mental health. My background is in therapy, I know to set boundaries, but it doesn’t make you immune to what’s going on.”
Despite its challenges, there’s no doubt to Reid that it’s worth it — and there’s a larger purpose driving her forward. “If I’m lucky enough to have my own children, I don’t want them to go through the same complexities I did about my identity and my race. I want them to sit in their skin and their identity as black people and be proud of who they are and it starts with representation.” Reid certainly has a lot to be proud of.