Earlier this month model Ebonee Davis delivered a TEDX Talk exposing what the fashion industry thinks of black American women — that they cannot be beautiful unless they are foreign or mixed.
“Casting directors would ask me, “Where are you from?” to which I would respond, “Seattle.”… I was met with looks of confusion. As if it were impossible to conceptualize that black beauty exists right here in America. If they were really bold they would ask me, “But, like, what’s your ethnicity? Where are your people from?” And I would say, “Well my people were kidnapped and brought here as slaves and had their identity erased so I don’t really know.” And I wouldn’t get a great response. They would say to me, “You’re so beautiful, you must be mixed.” What may have been intended as a compliment felt like an attempt to rationalize the source of my beauty. If I was mixed it would all make sense.”
But these 9 up-and-coming black American models, with names like Jazz, Ebonee and Iesha and hailing from places like Detroit, Atlanta and Brooklyn, are proof of what we already know: “just” black is indeed beautiful.
1. Simone “Slick Woods” Thompson
Hails from: Minneapolis, Minnesota then Los Angeles, California
Has modeled for: Marc Jacobs, Fenty x Puma, Fendi, Yeezy, Calvin Klein
Backstory: 19-year-old Thompson was discovered by another model while standing at a bus stop. He arranged for her to be photographed by a well-known fashion photographer. When the pictures became popular Thompson moved to New York and was quickly signed by an agency. Her gender-bending style, bald head and distinctive gap-toothed smile have facilitated her swift rise in fashion.
Quote (on the Winnie Harlow/Duckie Thot bullying incident):
“Identity is an internal war we often lose as black women. Growing up we were told our hair isn’t beautiful. How do you build your confidence and self love as a young woman while people are telling you your hair isn’t “good hair”. We are made uncomfortable by social standards to strip us of our culture. We don’t educate ourselves on how to maintain it and are tricked into damaging the hair we do have. We get teased at school our whole lives. I’m not in school anymore and neither are my sisters. To see a top model of color bash one of my sisters for a photo of her sporting her crown really hurts. You will not use your platform to provoke my sisters to move backward. That’s when you become a puppet. Self love doesn’t allow you to have hatred for anyone let alone your own people. Wake up bro. There’s room at the top for everybody.”
2. Theresa Hayes
Hails from: Brooklyn, New York
Has modeled for: Louis Vuitton
Backstory: This born and bred New Yorker was hand picked by Louis Vuitton for an exclusive worldwide campaign.
Quote (on being discovered):
“I woke up one Monday morning, June 20th to be exact, and decided that was the day I would agency shop. I had my list ready of which ones to go see and all their addresses. I made a few rounds in Soho and eventually made my way into the city. I often don’t get lost but on my way to visit an agency I was going the wrong way completely and as I’m walking the right way I hear someone say “hey are you with an agency?” I tell this random guy that I wasn’t but I was on my way to visit some. With his strong accent he tells me he is a booker at Ford Models. It was really serendipitous..in my head I’m thinking “holy shit,” but I keep my cool. He tells me his name is Paulo Santos and invites to me to take a look at the office. That was the moment I knew my career was going to start as a signed model. [And the] next day, that is what happened.”
3. Ebonee Davis
Hails from: Seattle Washington
Has modeled for: Calvin Klein, Yeezy, Liu Magazine, Teen Vogue, Adidas
Backstory: Raised by a single dad, Davis left Seattle for New York after high school to pursue her lifelong dream of modeling. After the police shooting death of Alton Sterling and her own disheartening experiences with racism in fashion, Davis wrote a Harper’s Bazaar editorial blasting the disregard for black lives in both policing and fashion.
“Despite the grave injustices we face as black women we can, and have and will continue to rise out of the ashes and become examples of resilience, drive and excellence. I like to call this black girl magic. And with this magic we are creating our own publications, we are creating our own television shows, we are creating our own narrative… As creators of media we have a responsibility to rehumanize the systematically dehumanized.”
4. Zuri Tibby
Hails from: Florida
Has modeled for: Victoria’s Secret, Becca Cosmetics, Seventeen Magazine, Teen Vogue
Backstory: Born in Florida to Jamaican immigrant parents, Tibby was scouted while walking around the mall after work. She was just 15. She is the first black woman to represent Victoria’s Secret’s Pink college line.
“When I was in kindergarten, I was taller than my teacher, which was crazy…I used to get made fun of a lot for being very tall, lanky, and awkward-looking. My height was something I was always insecure about. Now, in the modeling industry, it’s vital to my career and I’m using it to my advantage. It’s something that I’ve grown to love.”
5. Riley Montana
Hails from: Detroit, Michigan
Has modeled for: Marc Jacobs, Givenchy, Jeremy Scott, Balmain, Brandon Maxwell, Vogue Italia
Backstory: Montana worked at Claire’s, Sprint and Radio Shack before being signed to an agency.
Quote (on what her family thinks of her success):
“They’re so happy because we’ve all had hard lives, so just seeing me overcome it all and go after my dreams really inspires them and that’s what I wanted to do. My brothers and my sisters have dreams and now that they’ve seen me achieving mine, they know that it’s obtainable, they can do whatever they want to do. That’s the thing that makes me most happy.”
6. Jasmyn “Jazz” Wilkins
Hails from: Atlanta Georgia
Has modeled for: Old Navy, Nike, Bare Necessities
Backstory: This commercial model comes from a family of athletes — her uncle is 9-time NBA All Star Dominique Wilkins, her father is retired NBA player Gerald Wilkins and her brother Damien Wilkins also played in the NBA. In 2012 she was crowned Miss Georgia, and placed fourth in the 2012 Miss USA competition.
7. Jayla Alex
Hails from: Los Angeles, California
Has modeled for: Teen Vogue, NARS Cosmetics, Stardust Magazine, Seventeen Magazine
Backstory: This cutie was signed to an agency at 16. Now 17, she models while attending high school in LA.
8. Iesha Hodges
Hails from: Brooklyn, New York
Has modeled for: Bottega Veneta, Marc Jacobs, Miu Miu, Vogue, American Eagle, Maybelline, Paper Magazine
Backstory: Hodges won Ford’s 2014 model search when she was 18. She remained in college while walking runways in New York and Paris. The 21-year-old is active on Tumblr and still maintains a personal blog.
“My biggest influence would have to be my mom. I admire her tenacity, strong work ethic, and her ability to take care of three children as a single parent mom. She is the epitome of a strong, independent, beautiful woman. There is not a day that goes by where she isn’t encouraging me, uplifting me, or guiding me down the right path. I thank her for being my number one supporter and most importantly, for believing in me. One day I hope to be half the woman she is.”
9. Asia Hairston
Hails from: A small town outside of Detroit, Michigan
Has modeled for: Akira, Macy’s, Target
Backstory: This commercial model and small town girl blogged about her journey into fashion before landing a contract with Ford.
Just beautiful! Ladies, are you familiar with any of these models?