Image courtesy of SavagexFenty

this model hit back at trolls who compared her freckles to a bruised banana

Salem Mitchell is a model, activist, and the new star of Rihanna’s SavagexFenty lingerie campaign. She talks cyber bullying, self-confidence, and the long and winding road to self-acceptance.

by Tish Weinstock
|
21 May 2018, 2:27pm

Image courtesy of SavagexFenty

Salem Mitchell is just about to turn 20, which she is very excited about. Born in San Diego, she has spent most of her young life moving between homes, living with her mum, dad, and grandparents. “It was definitely a little unconventional but never a bad thing,” she says. From the age of 12 to 18, Salem attended the San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts where she studied dance. At the time she mostly hung out with photography students who would often feature her in their school projects. “It became something I grew to really enjoy, but I still didn’t see the modelling world having a place for me.” Last year, however, she made headlines after hitting back at trolls, who had compared her freckled face to a bruised banana, by posting a photo of herself with said bruised banana . The photo went viral and she subsequently landed a modelling contract with LA Models. Since then, she’s starred in billboards in Times Square, featured in music videos for SZA and Cardi B , worked with her entire family for GAP, and most recently starred in the Tyrone Lebon shot campaign for SavagexFenty. An absolute hero, here she offers her notes on beauty.

“Growing up I never allowed to wear make-up. My parents always believed that I didn’t need it, which is sweet I guess but I also think my dad had a misconception that wearing make-up was about wanting to look older as opposed to just having fun with your look. I remember wearing eyeliner to a concert when I was 13 and getting in so much trouble. At the time I felt like I was in the wrong for disobeying my parents, but now that I’m an adult I realise they were the ones in the wrong. They should have realised that make-up doesn’t mean you’re up to no good; it’s a form of expression. Them trying to make it a negative thing for me so early on was wrong. I think when I finally started incorporating make-up in my day to day looks I started to feel really good. I love the way I look naturally but mascara just does something to make me feel invincible.

When I was around nine or 10, I remember really wanting to straighten my hair, so my grandma and I bought the worst flat iron and attempted to straighten my hair. We have very different hair types too so I can’t believe I was so confident in her being able to lay my 4c hair. Looking back, it really didn’t look that great, and I really hate that it was something I wanted so badly, but back in 2008 natural hair definitely wasn’t as celebrated as it is now, and even now we still have a long way to go.

I never really had a problem with my skin or my body or anything specific but I also never felt particularly beautiful. I think once I was in secondary school and I started being more expressive with the way I dressed that’s when it all changed for me. I would walk around in an outfit that I thought was really cool and that’s when I started to feel like “wait you look awesome.” My relationship with my body and self image was neutral for a long time then I started feeling more confident and now I feel not as confident as before. I wouldn’t even know how to fully describe the reasoning for all this, I think as you grow into yourself and get older there are so many changes you go through and it takes time to fall in love with them all.

Being a model means a lot; it makes me feel special that people see me and think I can contribute in completing their creative visions. It also makes me feel very special knowing I have helped inspire others. Sometimes I feel small or I think I’m not really doing anything that special, and then random people will tell me I have helped them or they’ll say seeing me succeed gives them hope.

The downside is the cyber bullying, especially regarding my freckles. Nothing that anyone has said about my freckles has ever bothered me, but the fact that people feel they can be so mean to others is what upsets me. People think the internet is a shield and they can be hurtful toward others -- that’s what I feel the true issue is. At first I just ignored it because I was confused as to why people were being mean because I look very “normal” in my opinion. I would just complain to my friends or ignore it for a long time. I posted a picture of myself with a bruised banana, because I was just over the same joke, I took control because if I got in front of it would no longer be repeated.

I am so lucky to be in the position that I’m in, being in this industry and having a platform I have so many people watching me. But I feel like I always have to look as good as I do on Instagram because if someone sees me in public and I look a little crazy I’m not going to live up to the expectation they’ve built based of my profile.Whenever I have a blemish or a sunburn I feel gross because my skin and my face is what people highlight about me the most and I don’t want to disappoint them, all sorts of things. I feel like I always need to be the same size even though I’m getting older and your body fluctuates. Sometimes I want to be taller because I look at runway models and how long they are. I’m black and Filipino. I went to school with a lot of Filipino kids and I remember wanting to look Asian enough to prove I was Filipino to fit in with them. Even now being a model every other day I’m like “Do I look enough like a model? should I be dressing more grown up? do I need to wear more heels?”

I’m still trying to figure out what beauty means to me. I think it means you see something valuable in yourself or in others. You can find personalities beautiful and someone’s energy can be beautiful. I think beauty is way beyond your skin, your body, your appearance, etc. It’s more of a feeling and how you hold yourself. If I’m having a good day with a good outfit on and I’m radiating positive energy I’ll feel beautiful. Beauty isn’t conforming into what you see on Instagram or looking one specific way. When you’re being freely yourself and appreciate all the good things and good energy you have to share you’ll feel beautiful.”