BLACK GIRL MAGIC

In mid-February, Ebonee Davis, poised in all black, gave a TED Talk speech aptly titled Black Girl Magic in the Fashion Industry. She stood in the center of the stage, opened her mouth and delivered these words, “I remember entering the beauty supply shop at 4-years-old and eyeing the Just for Me home relaxer box with a picture of a black girl about my age. She looked just like me except her hair was straight. ‘Please, please buy this for me,’ I begged my grandmother, and she did.”

Ms. Davis’ words resonated with me. During my teen years, I struggled with my self-esteem, starting from boarding school, where my ‘broad’ hips were ridiculed, to my years in high school, when I binge-watched runway shows, starving myself to look like the models. My hair became a big problem for me during this time, and I began to straighten it, and even used products that were way too strong for my hair type. All, to look a certain way. All, to feel beautiful.

Ms. Davis used chemicals that burned her scalp and filled the room with the smell of sulfur. But she was “entranced at the prospect of having straight hair. It was beautiful. It was celebrated.” She felt like her “kinky coils” were inadequate.

At the age of only 19 years old, she relocated to New York to pursue her lifelong dream of being a model. Armed with her research on the fashion agencies, she knew that almost all of them had a certain amount of black models on their boards, but she wasn’t prepared to be resisted at every turn. When she eventually signed with an agency, she was reminded, constantly, of how the color of her skin was perceived in the fashion world.

“When I got signed,” she said. “My welcome speech went something like this, ‘you probably won’t make it to the cover of any magazine, but we might be able to make you a little bit of cash.’”

Last year, Ms. Davis decided to wear her hair natural and was told that “clients would never book her.” But she persisted, even when she was told not to “work for publications like ESSENCE and Ebony,” because the fashion industry would shut her out if she got labeled an “urban model.”

She was afraid to speak up, until the death of Alton Sterling, shot by the police, the same day her Calvin Klein campaign came out, on July 5, 2016. She immediately penned an open letter to the fashion industry, which “emphasized the duty the media has to help change the perception of black people,” and how proud she was to “create imagery that represented a new kind of beauty.”

It is no surprise that Ms. Davis has become a hero to young girls and women, like myself. I wish I had a role model like her growing up. I am aware that she is a model, blessed with genes that most envy, especially the teenage me. But she could’ve used that as her shield and remain silent about the way she had been treated.

If I were able to go back in time and give a message to my teenage self, I would’ve told her, that it gets better. You will use all the nasty things that were said about you to become more compassionate towards others. When you cut all of your hair off, out of frustration, it will grow back, slowly, and even though it angered you, you will learn to enjoy every bit of it. And in your twenties, you will look back at your personal struggles, wishing that you hadn’t been so hard on yourself.

Ms. Davis has done a great service to young girls. A great service.