In the not-too-distant past, it would have been unthinkable for a black model to walk down a runway with natural hair. It was rare even to see black models cast as spokesmodels for mainstream brands until recently. Thankfully, this is changing. According to The Fashion Spot's seasonal diversity report, 21.8 percent of the models featured in spring 2016 ad campaigns were women of color, an improvement over previous seasons. And, of the models who walked during the fall 2016 season of New York Fashion Week, 31.9 percent were non-white. More representation matters, and that's why Zuri Tibby, the first black spokesmodel for Victoria's Secret PINK, is more than just a face of a brand.
PINK recently named Zuri, 21, its newest ambassador; she joins Rachel Hilbert, the other face of the college-geared brand. Rachel and Zuri are now part of a squad of former PINK models like Alessandra Ambrosio, Behati Prinsloo, and Elsa Hosk, who went on to become Victoria's Secret Angels.
"It feels really amazing," Zuri said of achieving her longtime dream of being a Victoria's Secret model. "Joining such an amazing brand is such an honor. It's really cool to see everything coming together in my career."
This a step toward more diversity for the brand, and Zuri isn't taking her role lightly. She believes being in the public eye allows her to represent for other young girls who look like her.
"I feel very proud and honored that a lot of other women of color look up to me," Zuri said. "It's so important to inspire people. When young girls look at magazines and advertisements, it's important to see girls that look like them. It's very encouraging."
And it's true: Zuri's fans are really proud of her.
Zuri said that in addition to being a role model for women of color, she's an advocate for natural hair, both on and off the runway. She would even feel comfortable walking down Victoria's Secret Fashion Show runway with her natural hair. Last year, Maria Borges made history as the first model of color to wear natural hair while strutting down the Victoria's Secret runway.
"In most of my photo shoots, I wear my natural straight hair. I think my hair is beautiful either way," she said. "Natural hair is something everyone should embrace. It's celebrated more now than it ever has been before."
It's hard to believe that Zuri had no desire to become a model before getting scouted at a mall when she was 15. "Before I was scouted, I went to, like, two open calls, because my aunt was pressuring me to do it," she said. "I was really young at the time and didn't think that I wanted to be a model. But when I got scouted, I was really determined to do it."
Looking back at her younger years, Zuri said being a model coming up in such a tough industry pushed her to grow up faster than the average teenage girl. With shoots for Teen Vogue, Interview, and Cosmopolitan under her belt, it's obvious that her method of slaying the industry works.
"Don't take everything so seriously and don't take rejection personally," Zuri said of what advice she would give young models. "Stay determined, stay focused, and work hard. But don't push yourself too much—you always need downtime. Oh, and definitely finish school!"
Even though she has stunning features, Zuri has dealt with insecurities. In fact, she thinks everyone does.
"When I was in kindergarten, I was taller than my teacher, which was crazy," she said. "I used to get made fun of a lot for being very tall, lanky, and awkward-looking. [Editor's note: Zuri is 5-foot-10.] My height was something I was always insecure about. Now, in the modeling industry, it's vital to my career and I'm using it to my advantage. It's something that I've grown to love."
Bonus secret on how she slays the selfie game: "I'm very extra and I have my own ring light in my apartment. A ring light is a bright, white, natural daylight fixture that just makes you glow. With that, I find a big open window and hold the phone up a little bit, tilt my head, and pose. Good lighting is the best for a selfie."
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