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8 models whose careers took off in 2017 thanks to social media

If anyone is still arguing that social media has no influence on the fashion and beauty industries, they seriously should think again. Nowadays, social media has the ability to transform and alter the life of anyone through a carefully crafted tweet, properly used hashtag, or awesomely timed video. Within minutes, no less.

Social media has leveled the playing field for makeup artists, designers, and models who are looking to build audiences that support their dream. For models of color, these online communities not only promote and engage their work but can also speed up the process of landing that dream opportunity or job.

The internet gave these models of color props for overcoming odds. (Art by Quinn Lemmers for Yahoo Lifestyle)

In 2017 alone, we saw many models of color gain recognition via the internet for their naturally stunning looks — many immediately going viral thanks to blogs, reposts, and hashtags in an effort to get modeling contracts. Let’s take a look at eight individuals whose careers took off thanks to the powers of Instagram and Twitter.

The model pushing for gender fluidity

Aaron Phillip is on a mission to change how we define beauty, starting with accessibility for models of all abilities and gender pronouns. To many, it would seem that Phillip had too many things working against her: physically disabled, nonbinary femme, and an underrepresented minority in the fashion world. However, she posted a collection of photos on Twitter, claiming, “Honestly when i get scouted/discovered by a modeling agency it’s OVER for y’all! by y’all i mean the WORLD! it’s real inclusivity/diversity hours folks, get into it!”, and we surely did.

She was  using those not only in her own favor of scoring a modeling contract but in an effort to also increase the diversity of models seen in campaigns. With beauty being such an abstract concept, Phillip showed us all through her photos that she, like us, can take that definition of beauty into her own hands!

Liked more than 84,000 times on Twitter alone, the young model gained attention from Duckie Thot — who asked to meet Phillip — as well as countless supporters cheering, “GET IT! YES to more nonbinary models, YES to more disabled models,” and “your confidence shines!”, and of course, the unmatched “WEEEEEEERK!” Aaron Phillip, we’re rooting for you!

The model who accidentally got discovered at homecoming

Anok Yai (Photo: Steven Hall/SUNK)

Every year, the Howard University homecoming drives thousands of people to the nation’s capital for a weekend of fun, celebration, and alum coming back to see family and friends. But for Anok Yai, a 19-year-old sophomore studying biochemistry at Plymouth State University, the HBCU homecoming became the casting call of a lifetime.

After having her photo taken and posted on a photographer’s Instagram, Yai immediately became an overnight social-media sensation. She was dressed in a black long-sleeve shirt, denim shorts, and tights, and Yai’s rich, chocolaty skin was certainly unavoidable to the crowds, the photographer, and to fans of #Blackgirlmagic on Instagram.

The comments were buzzing from those hoping that Yai is a model. “Please tell me she’s modeling,” one follower wrote. “Oh my lord! Look at God’s work, wow!! She is runway ready. I feel bad for the dude who was nervous to talk to her. She’s a gem,” said another. And it would seem that the hopes for Yai — who had never modeled before — did not fall on deaf ears. Yai has signed with Next Models, and she is now embarking on successful fashion career.

The model preaching self-love through her skin tone

South Sudanese model opens up about learning to love her skin tone despite being bullied for it. (Photo: Twitter/Simply Ronis)

Though we all come in various shades, sometimes affirming ourselves due to the color of our skin can be difficult when surrounded by hate. For many years, that was the case for Ronis Aba, who settled in the U.S. after being born in South Sudan and moving to Egypt. In both locations, she faced discrimination based on her skin tone, even from her own family members. As a result, the 22-year-old grew up wanting to be someone else; well, that is until her sophomore year in college.

Using her social platform to help others (and herself) learn how to unapologetically love their skin, Aba turned to modeling and posting photos of herself on Twitter. “The way that chocolate looks against this yellow. Can’t believe I ever hated this skin,” she captioned under a quartet of photos of her in different outfits against various backdrops. And Aba’s empowering message is more than color deep; since her initial posting, she’s not only garnered more than 10,000 likes but has also inspired countless people to embrace themselves, inside and out.

“Mainstream media taught us to hate ourselves, but I’m happy that we learned to love ourselves,” wrote one user. Another user screamed, “it’s like yellow was MADE for your skin tone!” while countless others stated “Black is beautiful.” Aba’s unapologetic message shows us all that we are all beautiful and should embrace who we are! Get your model on, Aba.

The model who fought back against bullying

Dealing with bullying when you’re a preteen can be hard, especially when you feel like others don’t understand. Such was the case for then 10-year-old Kheris Rogers, who was being bullied because of the color of her skin by classmates at her Los Angeles school. The bullying was so bad that she had to transfer to a new school.

Her sister, Taylor Pollard, posted a tweet featuring several photos of Rogers in a floral dress with her natural hair, showing the world just how beautiful her baby sister is. The tweet, which said, “My sister is only 10, but already royalty,” has been liked more than 84,000 times and received thousands of positive comments. “Your sister in onto world domination!” said one follower, while countless others noted just how beautiful Rogers is. Many reflected on their own personal self-love journey, with one follower saying, “I grew up hating my complexion. It wasn’t until I became an adult that I learned to love my dark skin. Your sister is gorgeous.”

Seeing the positive social media reactions proved to Rogers that she needed to use her platform to speak out against colorism and bullying. Since that initial tweet, Rogers’s life has certainly changed: She the founder of Flexin’ in My Complexion, a line of T-shirts, and she also made history as the youngest designer to show at New York Fashion Week. Keep flexin’ in your complexion!

The model who gave her Uber driver a reality check

Nyakim Gatwech is the epitome of black girl magic. (Photo: Instagram/queenkim_nyakim)

Nyakim Gatwech is a model from South Sudan living in Minnesota, who brought Instagram together to share a story regarding her dark, rich skin. She posted a photo of herself alongside three other Sudanese models and shared a story in her caption of an Uber driver asking her would she bleach her skin for $10,000, to which she said, “[…]why on earth would I ever bleach this beautiful melanin God bless with me?”

The amazing reaction online — bolstered with positive comments such as, “You ladies are absolutely stunning,” “Black is so beautiful,” and “Your confidence is amazing!”  — pushed Gatwech to continue posting inspiring photos of herself to show others her journey to self-acceptance. Now with more than 331,000 followers on her Instagram page, the model and schoolteacher is teaching countless people to be proud of their skin tone and that when you truly love yourself, you will inspire others to do the same.

The model who got a second chance 

From “Prison Bae” to runway model. Mekhai Alante Lucky got the second chance of a lifetime. (Photo: File photo; Ahmad Barber Photography)

When life gives you lemons, some will make lemonade. For Mekhi Alante Lucky, who was arrested on charges of speeding and driving a stolen vehicle in 2016, his lemonade consisted of a modeling contract.

Lucky’s mug shot made news because of his mesmerizing eyes, one blue and one brown. The photo in question instantly shot him to social-media fame, where he was dubbed “Prison Bae” in 2017, when Twitter learned of his existence. The 20-year-old North Carolina resident is now signed to St. Claire Modeling, showing us all that no one is above second chances.

“Wow! So happy he’s turned his life around,” wrote one user, while countless others, understandably, couldn’t say anything else but “Wow. He’s gorgeous.” Lucky not only made his New York Fashion Week debut back in September, but he has also already been included in countless campaigns for some of today’s top fashion designers and brands.

Negative stigmas can always be hard to break; however, Lucky is showing us all that it’s never too late to start over.

The model proving traditional style is beautiful

The beauty industry is usually heavily influenced by what’s next, hot, or on the rise. But for 22-year-old Sruthi Jayadevan, sometimes the most beautiful looks include upholding cultural tradition.

Jayadevan, who grew up in South India and moved to the U.S. when she was 11 year old, uses her platform to not only celebrate her traditional style from India — such as her bindi or gold anklets — but also to educate others that beauty is diverse and is to be celebrated. As a woman of color, she’s also used social media as an outlet to teach people about various symbols in Indian culture in an effort to enlighten individuals about cultural appropriation. Despite whatever criticisms or hate received, Jayadevan’s empowering posts radiate love, light, and positivity.

“You’re so pretty! Like a princess!,” said one user. Another user exclaimed, “I will never understand people who say these ignorant things … be proud of who you are, cause you are beautiful!” Now you can follow the beautiful stylist and aspiring model on Instagram, where she boasts more than 43,000 followers cheering her along.

The model who is embracing her curves

Alex LaRosa shared an Instagram post with an important message. (Photo: Instagram/Lucaspicturesnyc)

While we’ve seen beautiful models like Ashley Graham or Precious Lee strut their full figures down the runway, being a curvy woman, especially on social media, can still feel daunting. That’s why the internet raved when Alex LaRosa, a plus-size model and community organizer, posted a test shot flaunting her “tummy” on her Instagram to advocate for body positivity for all shapes and sizes. She captioned the photo by saying she “just had to share this completely unedited photo of all this fat black girl magic!”; the photo immediately went viral because of its positive message of being comfortable in one’s own skin.

Even today, LaRosa’s message certainly is working; with more than 8,000 likes on Instagram alone, the post boasts comments like “Thank you for helping get this message out there. You don’t have to be a size 2 to be beautiful” and “Love your confidence & so glad that you are showing girls/young ladies to love their bodies.” LaRosa has shown the fashion world that no size is better than others!

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