Ebonee Davis, Model & Activist


"Before I was a model I was a student at the University of Washington. I was just kind of fooling around with some pre-requisite classes and I took an ethics class which I loved. I was always interested in social stuff—not necessarily politcs, but ethics. Like, how do we treat one another? What does it mean to be a person of color in the world? That always really interested me and that class sort of solidified my interest. But I'd always wanted to be a model, and I went to an open call agency in Seattle and they signed me. Then, I left Seattle and moved to New York.

It was so rough in the beginning. When I got here, I went to every agency—'No, no, no, no,' over and over, or, ‘We already have a girl with your look,’ or ‘We don’t think there's room on our board for you...’ but I was young and determined and eventually I did get signed. I’ve always been the kind of person that if you give me an inch, I’m going to take a mile. I don’t mind having to do all the work, I just need the opportunity. If you open the door, I'll bust it down.

Until recently I hadn’t pursued my social education in a serious way. After Alton Sterling was killed this summer, that's when I realized I had to start saying something. It was the same day my Calvin Klein campaign came out, which is the first job I booked with my natural hair. All of the resistance that I faced up until that point was proof that sticking to my gut and instinct would take me far. I'm giving a TEDTalk next week about racism in the fashion industry, because I have a unique perspective to speak on it [ed note: Watch it here]. It’s coming from an anecdotal place—a lot of my personal experiences, but the experiences others have gone through too. Within my story, there are hundreds of stories. A lot of the experiences are so universal that there is no need to be suffering the way that we do.

I went natural about a year ago. I actually remember doing it on November 16, 2015, because I was like, ‘New me!’ I’m going natural and not going back. At my old agency—and I want to be clear this was my old agency—their response was like, ‘What are you doing with your hair? Clients aren’t going to book you.’ After I transitioned, I worked for Calvin Klein and Victoria's Secret, these major clients that I didn’t work for when my hair was straight. I went to Devachan and Julie hooked me up. She cut me into this shape, and this is what I've been rocking since around the time I got signed to the Lions.

Over the holidays I had goddess locs, and I just got Bantu knots down at a braiding shop in Crown Heights—I don't get to keep anything for too long because of work, but I like to switch up my look. I'm really into Shea Moisture products. I try to keep it pretty natural, no sulfates. I shampoo once a week, but I co-wash every couple days, and I use coconut oil or jojoba oil on my scalp overnight. I use Shea Moisture's styling products too, like their Jamaican castor oil line. They make skincare stuff now. I haven’t looked into all of it, but I've heard it's really good.

I'm oily in my t-zone, and if I break out, it's along my cheeks. The rest of my skin is dry, and the only thing I use to wash my face is African Black Soap. Every day, only once. If I'm wearing makeup, I'll use Bioderma Créaline to take it off. After I wash my face I use Dr. Hauschka Day Cream. It’s from Boots and it’s sort of this yellowish color. It has a bit of oil in it, which I like during the winter, but I also use the Kiehl's Midnight Recovery Oil at night. It keeps me moisturized throughout the night and when I wake up my skin is still supple. Especially after having that face to pillow contact all night it gets really drying.

Before doing a look, I'll use the Thayer's Witch Hazel Toner and the Dr. Hauschka Day Cream. Then some lip balm—like Rosebud Salve—and I'll spray my face with Heritage Rosewater. I don't know why, I just like it. I buy it at Whole Foods... I guess I do my beauty shopping and food shopping at the same time. For me, I don't want to put anything on my body that I wouldn't want in my body.

Makeup is harder. I don't buy makeup at Whole Foods. [Laughs] But I don't usually wear it outside of work. No contour for me, but I do love highlight. It’s the most beautiful thing to me—dewy, glow, highlighted skin. My favorite highlighter is Gold Rush by MAC, but I also like the Nars South Beach stick. It depends if I'm going for a subtle highlight, or if I'm going out and looking for that glazed donut face. If it’s just that, nothing on the lids, lips, or eyes. Just a glow and I’m fine. I'll wear a Maybelline Push Up Angel Mascara to castings. This MAC Eye Kohl is called Teddy and I like to put this around and under my eyes and smudge it a bit. It's all pretty natural.

If I'm doing makeup to make a statement, it's definitely on the lip. Ruby Woo is my favorite. It’s the most red red. I’m usually a gloss kind of girl, though. The MAC Lip Balms are kind of glossy and wet, but they have great color. They’re really nice. A makeup artist used it on me one day. I love brown lipstick like the Marc Jacobs one in Bad Behavior. It kind of reminds me of the '90s, that Lauryn Hill or Mary J. Blige sort of look, and I think it’s so beautiful on brown skin. I like to play off of my own skin tone a bit.

Really, beauty and self-care are one and the same for me. We're in this culture that's all about rush rush rush, and putting everything and everyone before yourself is glorified behavior. But taking care of yourself is a huge part of your quality of life. Life is not just about making money. You can’t just be about that. You need to take time to relax. Then it's easier for you to express yourself."

—as told to ITG

Ebonee Davis photographed by Tom Newton at her home in New York on January 13, 2017.