10 Beautiful Black Folks Who Incidentally Became Models
These captivatingly beautiful models didn't plan on being discovered; opportunity found them.
With the advent and rise of social media, it may seem pretty easy for people to capitalize on increased visibility and reach tp make their big break as models. However, for many, their entry into the modeling world happened much more serendipitously or downright unexpectedly. Like one minute you’re working a regular nine-to-five job, and the next minute — opportunity comes knocking.
From the adorable appeal of Rihanna’s doppelganger Ala’a Skyy to the iconic allure of Djimon Hounsou, here are 10 beautiful Black folks who incidentally became models.
1. Anok Yai
Like what you're reading?
Get more in your inbox.
Two years ago, 19-year-old Anok Yai thought it would be a typical day visiting Howard University for their annual, iconic homecoming festivities. Little did she know that stopping for a quick photo on the Yard would send the internet in a frenzy — the picture went viral on Instagram. The then-biochemistry major from Plymouth State University captivated widespread attention, but not without drawing some side-eye suspicions from her family.
“You’re telling me that someone wants to pay for your flight to L.A., pay for your hotel, and then pay you to take photos? It’s a scam!” the South Sudanese beauty reportedly told Elle, mimicking her father, according to The Glow Up.
Yai has since been the face of Estée Lauder, graced the cover of Elle, and made history by walking for Prada.
2. Djimon Hounsou
Before his spellbinding performance in the 1997 Steven Spielberg film Amistad, Djimon Hounsou became an unlikely star in the international fashion world. Growing up without his parents in the West African country of Benin, soft-spoken Hounsou left his home country and moved to Paris with his older brother at the age of 13. Not invested in staying in school, he dropped out and spent much of his time wandering the streets of Paris looking for food while being cautious not to be spotted by deportation police.
“I was not any more legal because I’m no more a student and I could not work,” Hounsou recalled in a CNN interview. However, the Benin-born actor was soon spotted by a Parisian photographer who was captivated by his good looks, and invited him to audition as a model. During his audition, he met renowned French fashion designer Thierry Mugler — and the rest is history.
3. Jasmine Sanders
Now known as “Golden Barbie” on Instagram, Jasmine Sanders has not always been the glamorous beauty we know her as today. Before being discovered, the 28-year-old model explains that the "ugly duckling" phase dominated her childhood.
“I was super tall at one point and very, very skinny,” she recalled in a 2018 interview with OceanDrive. “I hated my legs because everybody would talk about how bony my knees were.”
As a biracial girl living in South Carolina, Sanders faced ridicule even for her untamed curls and for how many Black or white friends she had. Deep down, she knew fashion would play a part in her future, but she could never have imagined it would happen so soon. At 13, Sanders’ mother was approached by a local photographer to see if the teen would be interested in a photoshoot. After saying yes and sending the photos to New York City, Sanders was quickly picked up by a modeling agency, landing her first gig as a model on the pages of Seventeen and Glamour magazines, thus quieting her bullies back at school.
4. Kerion Washington
View this post on Instagram
What y'all think looks better color or black and white?🤔 photograph: @adammorozphotography modeling for @jonesmodelmanagement @lesliemarrowjones @jonesbriley @corian4 #kerionwashington #jonesmodelmanagement #jonesingtobeajones #newface #whenonedoorclosesanotheropens #blessing
For many teenagers, securing the seasonal bag for the summer is a top priority. However, in March, when 17-year-old Kerion Washington went in for a job interview at Six Flags, he was turned away for his “extreme” locs. Outraged by the theme park’s grooming policy, Kerion’s mother, Karis, took to social media to outcry the incident. Though the Fort Worth, Texas teen was hopeful to land a summer job to assist his mother with bills and necessities around the house, an even better opportunity came through for Washington after a scout from IMG Models contacted him.
“I scout the world looking for talent and stories,” Corrie Caster of IMG Models said, according to The Dallas Morning News. “I didn’t know his story then, but he had a lot of the physical features we look for in our models.” Washington has since begun modeling for Jones Model Management in Austin, Texas.
5. Ala'a Skyy
View this post on Instagram
@LilyFrilly represents GIRL POWER! How could I not support a fellow kidpreneur! She’s a true 5 year old boss! This bow definitely shows my personality! I LOVE bows, but I can never find the ones I really like! Thank you soooo much! www.LilyFrilly.com #LilyFrilly x #AlaaSkyy
Ala’a Skyy’s uncanny resemblance to beauty mogul and singer Rihanna is undeniable and has had us in awe since her popularity soared earlier this summer. On June 16, Ala’a’s mom, Bria, shared her photo on Instagram, eventually capturing the attention of RiRi, who was just as shook as the rest of us.
“Almost drop my phone. How?” The singer wrote under the reposted photo of her doppelgänger.
Meanwhile, as we sat with our mouths agape, baby girl was getting to the bag after securing a brand ambassadorship with the natural hair care brand, The Mane Choice. She even caught the eye of supermodel Tyra Banks who invited Skyy to audition for her newest project, Modelland.
6. Tyson Beckford
Arguably one of the most successful Black male models in the industry, Tyson Beckford has likely been the subject of many Black women’s fantasies, especially during the '90s when he was eye candy in Toni Braxton’s hit videos “Breathe Again” and “Unbreak My Heart.” But before his stardom as an actor, the Bronx-born heartthrob, who was often ridiculed in school for his multicultural identity (his father was Afro-Panamanian and his mother was Chinese-Jamaican), was spotted in Washington Square Park by then-editor of The Source, Jeff Jones. Being discovered by Jones opened the doors of opportunity for Beckford, who began working with photographer Bruce Weber, who introduced the young model to Ralph Lauren. By the time he was 23, Beckford became the first Black male supermodel for Polo Ralph Lauren.
7. Cynthia Bailey
Beyond her notoriety as one of the main faces on The Real Housewives of Atlanta, Cynthia Bailey has quite the resumé under her belt as a model and fashion industry mentor. Her beginnings in the fashion world all started with an L she took in high school.
“I never knew that I wanted to become a model until I was presented with an opportunity,” she recalled in an interview with Madame Noire, according to BravoTV. “I was actually homecoming queen at my high school, and with that, I was invited to be in a homecoming queen pageant.”
Bailey entered the pageant, not knowing that one of the judges was also a scout for the iconic Wilhemina Models agency in New York City. Though she didn’t end the night with the crown, she walked away with something much better: a modeling contract. Nowadays, Bailey is looking to provide guidance to other aspiring models, as she owns her own modeling school.
8. Boris Kodjoe
I think we all remember the moment we first saw Boris Kodjoe — either as Monica Wright’s date to the school dance in Love and Basketball or the sultry love scenes between Terri and Damon in the Showtime TV series of Soul Food. However, the attractive beau got his unplanned start in modeling before hitting the big and small screens. During his college career at Virginia Commonwealth University, Kodjoe was a student-athlete on a tennis scholarship, and excelled in the sport with 75 career single wins. However, just before his final year, the 6’3" student-athlete sustained a back injury ending his dreams of continuing in tennis. The unexpected turn didn’t keep him down too long; soon after, he was spotted by a Ford Modeling Agency scout and signed to a contract, later appearing in ad campaigns for Ralph Lauren, Gap and Yves Saint Laurent. Since then, he’s worked in numerous roles on and off the screen and on Broadway.
9. Olajumoke Orisaguna
Imagine, one minute you’re minding your business and accidentally photobombing a rapper’s photoshoot and the next minute you’re getting sought out for your own close-up. That’s pretty much what happened to Olajumoke Orisaguna, a gorgeous bread seller from Nigeria. During Tinie Tempah’s shoot in Lagos, the 27-year-old mother of two hawked bread, as she normally would, catching the eye of the musician’s photographer Ty Bello.
“She’s so beautiful and photographed so well,” she said.
After tracking her down, Bello immediately offered Orisaguna a chance to star in her own shoot. Since this serendipitous moment, the former bread seller has been awarded several major modeling contracts.
10. Diandra Forest
For much of Diandra Forrest’s life, she has felt like the spotlight was on her, but not for the best of reasons. Born with albinism, an inherited condition that diminishes the amount of melanin pigment in the hair, skin and eyes, the Bronx native said she often felt like the odd person out and the target of ridicule.
“People would call me ‘Casper’ and ‘Snow White’, and say ‘Why are you so white? You look weird,’” Forrest recalled. “Making friends was a struggle.”
With much miseducation about albinism in society, particularly communities of color, Forrest often struggled to be understood and represented. Her luck turned around in college when she ran into photographer Shameer Khan while shopping on 34th Street in New York.
“He asked, ‘Have you ever thought of modeling? You should,"’ Forrest told Forbes. "He shot my photos and took me in to see Elite Models in January.”
By February, Forrest had become the first talent with albinism to be signed by a major modeling agency, landing her first gig as a model in European Fashion Week
11. Indira Scott
Indira Scott’s unapologetic aesthetic is something that makes it impossible to box her in. Before making her debut as a model for Dior’s Fall 2018 Couture show, the Jamaica Queens, NY native worked at clothing store, The Reformation, where she was discovered. Though she’s left the retail life behind, one thing that remains with her are her iconic box braids -- a non-negotiable when she hits the runway.
“I’ve been getting box braids since I was probably five years old,” Scott said in her April feature with Refinery29. “Growing up the trend for Black women was having relaxed hair, but my hair looked so bad in that form. Box braids were how I felt most confident and comfortable.”
Beyond their beauty, brawn and allure, these models have broken onto the scene as talented figures in fashion and advertising, while validating the fact that Black representation is very much needed in the modeling industry. Their mere presence on our screens or glossy magazine pages reminds us that beauty is certainly not monolithic, and more importantly, our Blackness is indeed beautiful and worth celebrating.