You probably recognize Ebonee Davis. She’s posed for many a high-profile client, including Urban Outfitters, Sports Illustrated, Teen Vogue and, most recently, Calvin Klein. Conscious of her “otherness” in an industry dominated by the Kendall Jenners and Gigi Hadids of the world, the natural-haired black model positions herself as a voice for the women of color watching from the sidelines.
Four months ago, Ebonee spoke out about her decision to revert to her natural fro and the encouragingly positive response her new ‘do received. “I’ve booked more stuff with my hair curly and natural. Well, maybe I won’t say ‘more’ but clients have opened the door to work with curly and natural hair, and some of my previous clients have allowed me to make the transition as well without complaint — and with encouragement, actually…” Now, in the wake of the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, the America’s Next Top Model alum is calling on her peers in the advertising, fashion and beauty industries to do more.
Ebonee felt inspired to pen “Time For Change: An Open Letter to the Fashion Industry Concerning Police Brutality” the day she saw the photo of her new Fall 2016 campaign ad for Calvin Klein — coincidentally, the same day Alton Sterling was shot and killed.
The lives of two black men have once again been reduced to hashtags. They are fathers, sons, husbands and, above all, human beings. I think about the man who raised me as a single parent. My father; a black man. I think about my younger brothers and how their lives are in danger for no reason other than the color of their skin. I NEED black lives to MATTER for them because THEY matter to ME. I wouldn’t be in this world without the strength of a black man. #BlackLivesMatter Side note: I wish I didn’t have to say this. However, I feel it very necessary. The terms #ProBlack and #BlackLivesMatter do NOT imply “anti-white”. Unlike pro white ideology, which is rooted in violence, racism and white supremacy, pro black ideology is only being used to uplift the black community and achieve justice and equality. Not to oppress and destroy.
“Last week, I received an email from my agent at MC2 Model Management. The contents: a photo of myself—nostrils wide, lips full, hair defying gravity in all its natural glory—in Calvin Klein’s Fall 2016 campaign and a message that simply read, ‘Really proud of you.’ My heart swelled. I thought back to how hard I had tried to assimilate into the fashion industry—straightening my hair, wearing weaves and extensions. I was told that brands only booked black girls if they looked like they’d been ‘plucked from a remote village in Africa’ or like a ‘white model dipped in chocolate,’ and from the start of my career in 2011, I lived by those words. Until last year when I made the decision to wear my natural hair.
That same day, Twitter informed me that Alton Sterling, a black man, had been shot and killed by the police. I scrolled through a stream of tweets filled with grief, sorrow, anger and bewilderment until I regrettably found the footage of his murder. Heartbreak instantly consumed me; a man’s entire existence had once again been reduced to a hashtag. Less than 24 hours later I checked my news feed again, only to find that yet another black man had been killed by the police.”
Davis goes on to reiterate the widely discussed issues that haunt her industry, including the need for more models of color on the runway, makeup artists’ lack of knowledge (and supplies) when it comes to shade matching, hairstylists’ inexperience in styling natural hair and retailers’ segregation of black hair products.
“Every year, particularly during fashion week, there is an outcry felt throughout the industry. From the disproportionately low number of models of color walking in the shows (blacks make up less than 10 percent of models on the runway; models of color make up 24.75 percent), to the lack of makeup artists trained to work on colored skin; from the mismatching of foundation to the burning and ripping out of hair. We sit in silence for fear of being labelled ‘a diva’ while being inflicted with pain, or watching our faces turn grey.”
She holds that it is the fashion industry’s responsibility as the “gatekeeper of cool” to change what is beautiful and acceptable and what is feared, and in so doing fight the systemic racism that contributes not only to the low percentage of black models walking at Fashion Week but larger societal issues like police brutality. While the Spring 2016 runways and ad campaigns were the most racially diverse yet, as Ebonee points out, the industry still has a ways to go. (Think of the number of brands that expressed solidarity with the victims in Orlando versus the number who offered condolences to Sterling’s and Castile’s families, for example.)
“With greater frequency, we’ve experienced an uproar of outcry in regard to the deaths of black men at the hands of police officers. The correlation? Inequity. It is the same systemic racism that sees beauty products for ‘black’ hair end up in a section of their own (‘the ethnic aisle’), that sees black men more likely to end up dead after a police encounter than any other racial group. Systemic racism began with slavery and has woven itself into the fabric of our culture, manifesting through police brutality, poverty, lack of education, and black incarceration. The most dangerous contributors? Advertising, beauty and fashion.
We must band together to neutralize the phobias surrounding black culture. Rather than perpetuating trite stereotypes that vilify people of color, we need to produce positive, accurate and inclusive imagery. My advice to makeup and hair artists: rebuild your repertoire of techniques. My advice to models, fashion designers and public relation agencies: use your personal platforms to speak out against injustice and show your support rather than standing by in silence. Most importantly, love black people as much as you love black music and black culture. Until you do, society will continue to buy into the false notion that people of color are less than—a concept already deeply embedded in America’s collective psyche which is reinforced again and again through depictions in media. The time for change is now.”
Thank you, Ebonee.
[ via Harper’s Bazaar ]