A few days ago Calvin Klein mod­el Ebonee Davis deliv­ered a pow­er­ful TedX Talk on race. With insight and intel­li­gence she recount­ed the many micro-aggres­sions she has faced on her jour­ney to becom­ing a mod­el. In one eye­brow-rais­ing seg­ment, she dis­cussed how the fash­ion indus­try sees African Amer­i­can women who are not mul­tira­cial.

“Cast­ing direc­tors would ask me, “Where are you from?” to which I would respond, “Seat­tle.” And then, “Where are your par­ents 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.”

Ebonee Davis and her father
Source: https://www.instagram.com/eboneedavis/

Here are 8 more pow­er­ful excerpts from Davis’ speech (emphases mine.)

On her agency hav­ing low expec­ta­tions of her because of her race, and resist­ing her nat­ur­al hair.

“Now I wasn’t dis­il­lu­sioned by some roman­tic idea of the indus­try. I did my research. And almost every agency nev­er had more than 4 or 5 black girls on their board. The odds were against me but I was deter­mined. I fig­ured that once I got a con­tract the indus­try would open up for me. But at every turn I was met with resis­tance. I had white agents with no knowl­edge of black hair care run their fin­gers through my hair and tell me things like “We already have a girl with your look.” Trans­la­tion: All black girls look the same. Or, “We don’t think there’s room for you on our board.” Trans­la­tion: We’re at the max­i­mum capac­i­ty for the num­ber of black mod­els we’d like to rep­re­sent. But the most excru­ci­at­ing­ly painful, “We just don’t know what to do with you.” What I now see as an admis­sion to their own incom­pe­tence felt like yet anoth­er attack. As if rep­re­sent­ing me would be some extra­or­di­nary chal­lenge sim­ply because the col­or of my skin. When I did get signed my wel­come speech went some­thing like this, “You prob­a­bly won’t make it to the cov­er of any mag­a­zines but we might be able to make you a lit­tle bit of cash. We’ll push for you when one of our oth­er black mod­els isn’t avail­able.” And when I made the deci­sion to wear my nat­ur­al hair last year, “What are you doing with your hair? You need to do some­thing with that. Clients will nev­er book you like that,” was the response I got from my agency.


On being told to say away from black pub­li­ca­tions.

I was told that I shouldn’t work for pub­li­ca­tions like Essence and Ebony mag­a­zine because if I got labeled an “urban” mod­el fash­ion would close its doors to me. Although I am black to be labeled black is to be stripped of val­ue and pigeon­holed into a world of sub­sidiary work.”

On the fash­ion industry’s noto­ri­ous inabil­i­ty to deal with black skin and hair.

“I had my face paint­ed grey by make­up artists who were reluc­tant to even touch my skin and I had my hair burnt and ripped from my scalp to the point where I had to cut it off and start over.”

On being labeled an ‘angry black girl’ if she spoke up.

“Should I speak up in protest I was imme­di­ate­ly knocked back down into my place. Anoth­er angry black girl, they’d assume. To which there was no response. How do you counter a stereo­type so embed­ded in the col­lec­tive Amer­i­can psy­che that it’s the first response when­ev­er a black girl has a dif­fer­ing opin­ion?


On being silenced out of fear of los­ing jobs.

“When I didn’t have the stature in the indus­try that I have now I was afraid to speak up because I didn’t want to get marked as dif­fi­cult to work with. My liveli­hood was on the line so I had to shut up and take it. I was told that I shouldn’t com­plain because, ‘At least I was work­ing’ which was rare for a black girl, and there were a hun­dred oth­er black girls wait­ing to take my place. I was the token one who made it in the door while it remained closed for all oth­ers.… I felt com­plete­ly pow­er­less. I felt like every­thing had been tak­en away from me — my iden­ti­ty, my auton­o­my, my abil­i­ty to stand up for myself and any sense of who I was before I got into the indus­try.”

On why she wrote an open let­ter to the fash­ion indus­try after Alton Ster­ling was shot dead at close range by police in Baton Rouge.

“No longer could I remain silent. It is the same lack of val­ue for black lives which caus­es black mod­els to be exclud­ed from the fash­ion indus­try, and also caus­es black men and women to be gunned down in the street.”


On emerg­ing in the indus­try as a mod­el with nat­ur­al hair.

“That same day my first Calvin Klein cam­paign came out. And there I stood pho­tographed with my nos­trils wide and my hair defy­ing grav­i­ty in all of its glo­ry… After read­ing my let­ter the chief mar­ket­ing direc­tor of Calvin Klein brought me back for anoth­er shoot, walked up to me as I was get­ting my make­up done and told me that her two bira­cial daugh­ters read my let­ter and they felt so beau­ti­ful and so proud. I was moved and imme­di­ate­ly brought to tears. Every day I receive mes­sages from young women of col­or via social media thank­ing me for rep­re­sent­ing what they’ve been so des­per­ate­ly wait­ing to see — some­one who looks like them.”

On black women’s resilience.

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.”

You can lis­ten to the full speech below.

Ladies, what are your thoughts on Davis’ words?

Black Girl With Long Hair

Leila Noel­liste, founder of Black Girl with Long Hair (April 2008). Social media, pop cul­ture and black beau­ty enthu­si­ast. bell hooks’ hair twin…

Leave a Reply

15 Comments on "Calvin Klein Model Ebonee Davis Confirms that, Like Your Typical F*ckboy, the Fashion Industry Doesn’t Think ‘Just Black’ Girls Can be Pretty"

Notify of
I love that this is hap­pen­ing in the indus­try. I HATE the idea that only Euro­pean fea­tures are seen as beau­ti­ful, and that African Amer­i­can women are berat­ed. I am so sick and tired of see­ing a black mod­el cov­ered in some silky long flow­ing wig, and made to look as white as pos­si­ble in brown skin. Don’t get me wrong, Kinky hair can grow long too (we have seen proof of that many times). It also can be straight­ened if you want that look.…so Im not say­ing that length isn’t nat­ur­al to kinky hair…Im say­ing silk­i­ness isn’t. Kinky hair… Read more »

I LOVE HER!!! Keep up the good work. She’s BEAUTIFUL inside and out. God rich­ly bless you and thank you! :)


This is funny–not haha­ha fun­ny but sad fun­ny. To white peo­ple, high­ly almond eyes read as Asian/Native Amer­i­can. But they’re a nor­mal vari­a­tion for black peo­ple. Black peo­ple will tell me to my face that my mixed Asian kids aren’t Asian because they’re too pale and their non-white eyes mean noth­ing to them (which is real­ly insult­ing to my Asian husband–but that’s anoth­er sto­ry). Turns out that white peo­ple will tell black peo­ple that they must be some­thing oth­er than “just black” if they’ve got extreme­ly almond eyes. I shouldn’t be sur­prised! SMH.


I didn’t real­ize that I was so used to see­ing white faces until I start­ed see­ing black ones. They popped up every­where and I felt like I was being manip­u­lat­ed. But its so refresh­ing to see a black mod­el with no weave and non-Euro­pean fea­tures. I can imag­ine see­ing her in the club or in the cor­ner store near my house :)

Love when I see a black woman slay­ing it for all of us!!


Imag­ine look­ing at this love­ly young woman and see­ing some­thing “ugly”. Racism and col­orist real­ly blind peo­ple. I have seen African-Amer­i­cans say sim­i­lar things, even about young babies. It starts so ear­ly, it’s sad. In 2017, no less, I am shak­ing my head.


There is a quick, “easy” way to solve this. Black folks cre­ate and sup­port their own fash­ion indus­try. Every­thing black folks do in this coun­try is look for dom­i­nant soci­ety val­i­da­tion from 400 years of con­di­tion­ing. You can’t expect any­one to val­ue your beau­ty until you show you val­ue it word, deed and dol­lars. Till then, all you are doing is beg­ging for val­i­da­tion from a soci­ety that doesn’t care about you. Its psy­chot­ic.


You hit the nail right on the head. I don’t know why black mod­els allow peo­ple to put them through the crap.

There’s TOO MUCH white suprema­cy going on in the fash­ion indus­try.

Exact­ly. Black mod­els come out time and time again talk­ing about the dis­crim­i­na­tion they have faced from those who run the fash­ion indus­try. This has been going on from time. I met an ex mod­el from France through a friend of mine who cit­ed work­ing with Iman and all those oth­er well known black mod­els at the time. She sat and showed pictures/paper clip­pings of her doing shows but the indus­try had real­ly messed her up to the point where she said to me that if she could come back to this world she would rather come back a white… Read more »
Charise Wynter
I know. It’s a lit­tle illog­i­cal to expect oth­er eth­nic­i­ties to be com­pelled to rec­og­nize are worth. I don’t believe that is human nature, rather we(humans) like to build our­selves up and that includes belit­tling oth­ers. Liv­ing as a black per­son for 27 years I’ve come to real­ize that such an out­look is irra­tional- just cer­tain­ly, but just not the human way. We must val­i­date our­selves and give no thought to how oth­ers view us. I believe that when we do that it often pro­vides oppor­tu­ni­ty to be demeaned or under­val­ued. I think we may be over­ly gen­er­ous with our­selves… Read more »

Word, deed and dol­lars. You’re absolute­ly right, peo­ple need to do the work to get there instead mak­ing excus­es and being delu­sion­al.


It is very psy­chot­ic. Thanks for speak­ing up and adding that point of view cause most black Amer­i­cans, I think, grow up think­ing this is how to play the game. We need to make our own game.

I usu­al­ly get white peo­ple con­tribut­ing my long, curly hair and them find­ing me pret­ty to my being West Indi­an. I’ve had both white friends and boyfriends exoti­cise my her­itage. Going to be hon­est and say that I’ve nev­er done any­thing to chal­lenge those views because there are obvi­ous­ly a lot worse things to be called than “exot­ic” and “island girl”. I noticed many also had a mono­lith­ic view of African and African Amer­i­can women of all embody­ing neg­a­tive stereo­types, I.e. “bad” hair, unat­trac­tive, etc. I’ve also seen the same pass giv­en to His­pan­ics like being from cer­tain eth­nic­i­ties over… Read more »

“I usu­al­ly get white peo­ple con­tribut­ing my long, curly hair and them find­ing me pret­ty to my being West Indi­an.” Shows how igno­rant peo­ple are because we are all from the same source and share the same his­to­ry of being kid­napped from Africa and forced into slav­ery.


Wow! She is right and it’s long over due! Bra­vo to you, my sista!


Feel­ing awk­ward cause I cried while I read this because when u get old­er and u think u get over it only to real­ize there’s still a lit­tle girl inside u that suf­fers from the pain of being called ugly. It’s quite deep.