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Adaora: Hartford Native on Modeling and Motherhood

Adaora Cobb is a versatile model, who has been featured in Seventeen, Ebony, Essence, and Sports Illustrated. Though she didn’t grow up dreaming of becoming a model, she was quickly drawn into the world of modeling after being scouted in her home state of Connecticut.

Written & Photographed by
Jasmine Jones

Born in Hartford, Connecticut, Adaora lived in the state until the age of 10 when she moved to Nigeria with her brother and father. Wanting them to experience and learn more about their culture and heritage alongside him, her recently retired father decided to go back home and bring his children along.

Living in a new place at such a young age was a great change for Adaora, and it taught her some important skills that she could use throughout her life, recalling, “Living in Nigeria taught me how to persevere, how to assimilate and to embrace change.” She continues, “It was painful at times, especially in the beginning because I was homesick, but once I started forming new relationships/friendships it got easier.”

After a year of being back in Connecticut, Adaora was approached by a model scout for John Casablancas Modeling Agency. Initially she was hesitant to pursue this route since she was taught that “getting an education and becoming a doctor or a lawyer was legitimate success.” However, she ultimately followed through and began her modeling career. That beginning, though, was not as easy as one may think. “Those early days of modeling were slightly intimidating yet blissful because I didn’t know what I was doing,” she explains, “I was competing for jobs against girls who were more beautiful, I thought, skinnier, and with more experience. There were times when I would cry after leaving a shoot or just feel really low because I wasn’t nailing my shots, and some people just treated me coldly.”

But Adaora didn’t let that stop her, she knew that she could do it and she was determined to give it her all, so she kept moving forward. “I was hungry though — figuratively speaking,” she says of her early days as a model, “I had a vision of where I wanted to be and what I wanted to accomplish, so I pushed forward.”

In 2007, that determination, hard work, and positive thinking paid off when Adaora Cobb appeared on NBC as a finalist for the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Model Search. She speaks on her experience, both the good and the not so good: “I was elated when I became a finalist in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Model Search because it was my dream to be a Sports Illustrated model,” she says, “It was my first time being flown out to LA and my first television appearance, which was beyond anything that I had imagined for myself.”

And among all of these great, new experiences she also realized that modeling isn’t as relaxed and simple as it may appear. She admits to being naive to “the competitive nature of modeling,” stating that she “learned very quickly that it is a discipline.” She explains, “A lot of the other models exercised and watched what they ate faithfully, and had way more experience.” Unfortunately, she “was eliminated along with another girl on the second episode, which was devastating.”

Adaora with her son, Arinze

“I had a vision of where I wanted to be and what I wanted to accomplish, so I pushed forward.”

After the show, Adaora completed her English program at CCSU and moved to NYC after graduation to pursue modeling full time. After signing with New York Models, she shared her goal of becoming a Sports Illustrated Model with her booker, determined to not let the outcome of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Model Search stop her. In 2012, about a year or so later, she got the good news from her booker that the editor of Sports Illustrated had requested to see her. “I was just so happy that my booker heard me and that I got the request,” she remembers fondly, “On the day that I met with her I didn’t even have to try on a bathing suit, I just shared my story and found out not long after that I booked the job and would be flying out to Australia.” She made her first Sports Illustrated appearance in their 2012 Swimsuit Edition, and would go on to appear in their 2013 Swimsuit Edition as a direct booking, meaning she did not have to cast for it. ​ Adaora continued modeling, even after getting pregnant and having her son, Arinze. She began bringing him along to photoshoots at 3 months old. “I loved and appreciated being able to be a mom and still do my job at the same time; that I didn’t necessarily have to sacrifice one for the other,” she explains. During one casting for Gap, Adaora was asked if Arinze could be featured in the shoot as well. While shooting, she stopped briefly to breastfeed Arinze. It was a special moment, so the photographer asked if she could take a few photos and she agreed.

What initially was a quick break in between shots to nurse her son became the image for the ad; a powerful image that helped to normalize breastfeeding, which is important to Adaora. She continues to breastfeed her son to this day, and has no set age for when she plans to stop. “I never thought that I’d breastfeed for as long as I have. Ever,” she says on the topic, “I’ve learned in motherhood that it’s best to just go with the flow sometimes and just trust my instinct. When it’s time I’ll know and will work to make the transition as easy as possible for the both of us.”

“Models working post motherhood can do what they did before and more. Motherhood is not a limitation but priorities do need to be set from time to time and that’s okay.”

Today, she has gotten the hang of being both a model and a mom. Now that Arinze is older, she feels less guilty when she has to leave him. “Working brings me reprieve since I am his primary caregiver. It’s great to have a balance,” she says, “I appreciate my career now more than ever because I can help provide for my family and still be there for my son.” She believes that motherhood isn’t something that will hold one back from doing what they love. “Models working post motherhood can do what they did before and more,” she explains, “Motherhood is not a limitation but priorities do need to be set from time to time and that’s okay.”

As for the future, Adaora will continue to work and be there for her family. “I want to continue to progress and grow in my career. I want to model for as long as I want and am grateful that is an option because in some ways, I feel like I’m just getting started,” she says on her future. Adaora is also interested in writing, and plans to continue developing her writing craft. And although she had lived in New York City for some time after graduating, she explains that she plans on staying here in Connecticut. “Connecticut is my home and I love it,” she says, and that is something we can certainly relate to.

You can stay updated with Adaora on Instagram @adaoraakubilo and Facebook.