Model Ebonee Davis on How Suffering Leads to Power

November 11, 2017

As my 25th birthday approaches, I think back on how far I’ve come. Born to drug addict parents in Seattle, Washington, who struggled for most of my life to make ends meet, I experienced trauma from a young age that had lasting effects into my adulthood. The most significant was on my relationships; not only how I related to others, but how I related to myself. I spent years in denial of my past, running away from my shadow, imprisoned by shame and afraid of the consequences of others finding out about my history.

What I now know, is that my history is far greater than my experiences growing up and that those experiences were preparation for my greatness. Suffering was the catalyst for my evolution and without it, I may have continued repeating the same cycles of dysfunction I witnessed as a child.

"It was my job to break the chains of poverty, addiction and abuse; to rewrite my family history and live according to my own narrative."

Seeing my parents struggle pushed me to live beyond the status quo. Instead of living out my life as a product of my environment, I decided it was my job to break the chains of poverty, addiction and abuse; to rewrite my family history and live according to my own narrative.

When I look back on my time in fashion, I realize that if it were not for my mistreatment as a Black model, I would not have the platform to inspire other young women of color to be their authentic selves, and to love themselves despite living in a society that constantly reaffirms our inadequacy. 

When I moved to New York at 19, I was told there was no room for me on the boards of multiple modeling agencies because they already had a girl with my “look”. The reality was, most agencies didn’t want to represent more than a handful of Black models. Often, I would show up on set and have my face painted grey by makeup artists who didn’t know how to work on brown skin. And last year, when I decided to stop straightening my hair and stop wearing extensions, I was told by agents that I wouldn’t find work if I embraced my natural texture and would lose the clients I already had. But I refused to let them have the final say. I took a risk, followed my intuition and continued to rock my curls. Since then, I've booked several global campaigns, from Calvin Klein to GAP, and signed with a new agency that fully supports my stance on the importance of representation in media.

In my personal life, specifically in dealing with friends and lovers, it was toxic relationships that pushed me toward better ones. At 18, I stayed with a man who spat on me, put hands on me, and cheated on me. At 25, I understand that behavior is intolerable because I know my worth. I am precious. My body is precious, my mind is precious and I know that no matter where I come from or what I’ve been through, I deserve to be treated with respect. The toxic relationships were only mirrors of me and the treatment I believed I deserved. They showed me who I did not want to be and that if I wanted better, I had to adjust my behavior and hold myself accountable for the spaces I occupied and the people I surrounded myself with.

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