STORY: JOSHUA M. JENKINS | PHOTOGRAPHER: STEPHEN MAYCOCK
STYLIST: OLA EBITI | GROOMING: KYLE WOODMASS
I’m tired, y’all. I’m tired of social media. I’m tired of over-analyzing and concluding that the content in my digital (Instagram/Facebook/news) feeds - highlighting movies, fashion, artists, etc. - continues to support and promote experiences and narratives through a lens that perpetuates the idea that brown and black bodies are undesirable or unworthy of representing brands.
Why does my friend retweet a video (one which I seriously cannot fucking believe someone took the time to create) paying homage to the mustache that some obscure, white actor shaved off, but this same friend scrolls past a story highlighting an unarmed, innocent, black man getting shot over 20 times in his own back yard by police officers who thought he was armed AND thought he was someone else? Why does a photo of a skinny black man, posted by a world-renowned photographer, receive 900 likes on Instagram, but a photo of a white man with a beard and muscles, in the same pose, receives ten times as many? There’s no doubt we are all subject to decades of conditioning (through media consumption) to believe that (muscly, cis) white men should be everyone’s #lifegoals.
But as consumers, page-scrollers, and self-titled “everything experts”, we all have to think critically about how our complacency or silence of these mis- or under-representations only leads to stagnancy and continued racism. If Rihanna can singlehandedly slash $800 million from Snapchat’s market capitalization by dragging them in an Instagram video for a tone-deaf advertisement referencing her abusive relationship with Chris Brown, imagine how us collectively taking her lead could affect positive global change in the type of content that advertisers, production studios, fashion labels, etc. release to the public.
Although black and brown representation in the fashion world is improving at a respectable rate (the number of black and brown models cast for SS18 is 19% higher than three years prior), I still witness brands partaking in messy, tone-deaf behavior that eclipses the progress being made. H&M posted an ad of a young black boy wearing a “monkey” shirt for their kids-campaign (they later apologized), Marc Jacobs compared dressing his mostly white models in dreadlocks for his SS17 campaign to “women of color… straightening their hair” when addressing accusations of cultural appropriation.
Despite these setbacks, brown skin is IN and we are more vocal and visible than ever, (thanks, social media.) Reece King, a bi-racial, bi-sexual beauty who went from working retail to working the runway, paves his own path to success while encouraging his thirsty fans to acknowledge our mental issues, and “be [themselves] and be kind on the way.” Not often are we awarded the pleasure of our internet idols showing vulnerability and compassion, but King – who is often draped in Prada and Versace (pronounced ver-sayse), and has graced three magazine covers so far – uses his Instagram platform (@reeceking_) to provide positive energy and sound advice to his 562k followers. Even on his birthday, King instructs us to refrain from sending him gifts and instead donate to charity, because, #selfless #wifeymaterial #supermodel #ifyoubelieve #ifyouseeitinme #szalyrics #imdonenowthx
Where are you from? How did your modeling career take off?
I’m from Essex. My modeling career took off through Instagram. I was working in retail and never planned on modeling, but one day I felt like taking my account off private and posted a septum piercing portrait. I guess I was growing into myself and trying new things and sharing, which is a part of this digital world we live in, and that kind of went viral. Within that following month my still current Mother Agent (MUTHA) Leah Hibbert found and signed me on Instagram, showed me the ropes and helped me through my new face stage and first fashion week and then I was signed to my main London agency Supa Model Management.
Please explain your skincare routine!
My skincare routine for last 5 or 6 months has been less is more and dietary. Through trial and error, I have found that washing my face 2 or 3 times a day and using a small amount of oil or moisture lets my skin breathe. I drink a lot of water and cook clean food as much as possible - I enjoy cooking. At night I use Body Shop's Tea Tree Oil on any pimples or irritation and a Kiehl’s Eye Cream. My skin does break out a lot from stress and being human but it’s the least of my worries.
Do you think black and brown models are well-represented in the industry? Which brands need a lesson in “representation”?
I think black and brown models are being represented now more and more, and definitely more celebrated for sure. In the past and with my own previous experiences I have seen first hand the clear level of indifference and lack of effort from brands, designers and casting directors to include a model who isn’t white. I recognise the privileges I carry being light skinned/biracial in this industry because sadly for some time the main representation of a black model was usually a lighter skinned person rather an equally beautiful deeper dark skin tone. But now for some time a more positive change has been sparked and all shades and diversities in POC are being celebrated.
How do both women and gay men respond to you being bi-sexual? Does each side offer their own stigmas?
Both women and men regardless their sexuality (but more often straight individuals) have made it clear to me sometimes they don’t understand. Some people can not possibly try to take a look at my life and my sexuality without the clouded judgment of thinking about sex first before considering standard universal love and partnership. The stigma I receive from misinformed women is that I’m not ‘man enough’ and the stigma I usually receive from misinformed men is ‘you’re just gay’ but overall I don’t worry about other opinions because I am living my life and my truth and no one else is. I’m not arrogant enough to assume I know someone’s soul and identity better than they do themselves.
You’ve shared your struggles with mental health online. Can you tell us a little more about it and why you’ve decided to share these parts of yourself with your fans? What do you do now to cope and keep your mind healthy?
When this situation first arrived I was younger and like many others didn’t understand everything so well, even though a staggering amount of women in my family suffer from mental health problems. Growing up around that and certain situations it was and still is hard to share such a deep side of my life for everyone to see and ultimately judge. I had problems with insomnia for years and my anxiety, which mainly was from traveling and being in new places, took a toll on me. When I first started modeling I had to ask my brother for directions everyday and train times so I could write down everything on paper because it helped with excessive traveling anxiety I felt. It was all still new for me and even though I seem really confident I am super introverted. I decided to start sharing these parts of my life because I found it was a problem that I couldn’t ignore and I also didn't want to lie and have to pretend that life is perfect. I think I knew it was important to put messages out there because I need to hear them too. I’m still learning how to cope with the problems I face mentally but mainly I have improved through personal hobbies and solitude. I have learned to not overwork myself so I turn down a lot of jobs and opportunities that don’t feel good or natural to me and I make sure my energy is feeling good before putting myself into anything, especially work. I think I am just learning how to be happy and how to deal with the sad times, but it’s getting better.
If you got to pick a song for an entire fashion show, what song would you choose, and who would the designer be?
The vibe and idea I like would make me chose the song ‘20 Something’ by SZA & the brand would be Nike. That’s my favorite brand and I think a concept like showing a soft street side of that would be sick
If you weren’t modeling, what other career paths would you take?
Fashion related 100%. I was in retail before modeling happened and I was focusing on Visual Merchandising - that was what I enjoyed and what I had to leave behind when modeling became more in demand and a priority, so yeah I would go back to that.
Would you ever model womenswear? How do you feel about “androgynous” fashion?
I would and already have modeled womenswear. I see women's clothing having more character and a presence, so it has definitely been a big part of my style and wardrobe. Some of the shoots I have done have been based around that, such as my first cover for Risk Magazine. I think androgynous fashion is perfect - we can’t perfectly fit in a tiny box thats so black and white when it comes to male and female fashion. I think we know that the wall that separates the two can be smashed down and making something more unique and personal is ok.
What are your thoughts on this crazy, socially-aware time in culture?
I believe we are learning everyday and we are moving faster and stronger from a younger age because we focus and don’t ignore problems. Now more than ever we are being more informed and aware because the importance is crucial. It’s not always perfect and polite but its real and honest. There are people in power who rule from hate but you don’t have to be a politician to research what’s happening around the world and just because something might not affect you directly that doesn’t mean it should be ignored. Social media has become the digital home to the truth and opinions of real human beings around the world, and can give the spotlight to the things that main outlets refuse to share. We are using our voices and we are being loud.
For a long time, in years past, models have been told and expected to shut up and look pretty. Now some models have the biggest voices and are advocates for many different issues. What’s an issue you’re passionate about? Why?
There are multiple issues I would put in the spotlight and feel passionate about, one of them is the lack of knowledge behind the fashion industry and the job of being a model - especially in younger people. People ask me every day if I can help them be a model or give them advice and usually, these people have no clue about what really happens in this field of work, how tough it is and the downsides of it. Another issue is the disengaged lack of compassion and empathy on social media. We need to teach people that everything they say and do matters and has an effect and impact on other feeling beings. Negative comments really can take someones spark away and even more dangerously their life.
How do you stay original in a world where everything moves so fast and everyone is wearing the same thing?
I stay original by experimenting and only wearing the things I actually like. Regardless if it’s what’s fashionable/trendy right now, if I’m comfortable and I personally thinks it suits my body and energy then it works for me no matter who else approves or dislikes it.