Meet Yamani Wallace: The Model with a Message
Yamani Wallace is the newest face of Natural Models LA. The L.A. based model, is not only photogenic but stunning in person. She makes it look effortless as she takes a seat wearing her curly tresses in a top knot bun, yoga pants and a fleece sweater. Did I mention, no make-up? That's optional. She's confident, relaxed and in her element. Aside from her aesthetic, I wanted to learn more about Yamani's intersectionality as a black queer woman and balancing those identities.
Javonne Crumby: Hey Yamani! So your Instagram bio says “Black with a little bit of cream.” What is your racial background?
Yamani Wallace: My dad is Black and my mom is White and Black. Her white side is German and English and my dad is a red tone with green eyes and freckles, so we have a blend of something else. When people ask me I always say Black. I don’t like saying “mixed” because people assume that means just white and black.
JC: Interesting! Did you ever face any challenges growing up being a mix of different races?
YW: Definitely. I noticed it more around middle school. I had a best friend she was white. We hung out all the time. It was me, another black girl and our white friend. Her mom told her going into 7th grade, that she hung out with too many black people and she needed to cut it out. We went to a predominately white school. I’m from a predominately white area [San Dimas, CA]. I remember there were like 10 people, I could count on my hands that I graduated with, that were people of color. At lunch one day we were all hanging out around some dancer and the proctor came over and said “there’s too many of you hanging in one area, you need to disperse, because it looks bad.” There’s a lot of stuff like that. Even in sports it’s like “oh you’re gonna be good, because your black.” Or like—
JC: So let’s change gears a little bit here. What got you interested in modeling?
YW: I don’t know to be honest, I really like being in front of the camera, even though sometimes it doesn’t seem like it. So I’ve always applied and applied and applied. But I never think I grew into my look and what I wanted to look like and how I am as a person until college. So once I applied maybe 4 or 5 months ago to an agency and I got in! That’s how it all started.
JC: So pretty recently!
YW: (Chuckles) Yeah!
JC: You are signed to Natural Models LA, an agency whose mission is "to let models be healthy and happy.” What is it like being part of such a body positive agency?
YW: It’s GREAT, but it’s also challenging because the stigma in the model world is if you’re a straight size model, you’ve gotta be a [size] 0-4, instead of [sizes] 12-16. I like it personally, because I’m in that awkward not straight size, but not plus size, and not such a curve model. And a lot of people look up to the movement ‘healthy is the new skinny’ because of the body positivity that is somewhat a trend now. You get a positive vibe being on set with a lot of curve models, and plus size models to the point where you don’t have to not eat so much before a shoot. Or, starve yourself before a shoot so, I love it! It’s really comforting knowing that there’s other women and other girls that look up to me. I get DM’s on a daily like “oh my god, I know I’m not this size but do you think I can still fit into the agency?” I’m just starting out and people are already looking up to me, thinking I’m this famous person because I’m on the agency’s website and that’s not the case. But it’s so empowering to speak to a young lady over social media that wants to pursue her dreams even though she’s not a straight sized model. The agency is very becoming of women and body positivity.
JC: Right on! And you were recently featured in Darling Magazine rocking a vintage YSL suit and you look AMAZING! What is it like seeing yourself in such a high fashion magazine?
YW: It. Was. Crazy! I did the shoot in the summer and they’re like ‘yeah it’s gonna be out in November’ so I was constantly checking the website and I remember I was like "it’s not out. Maybe they didn’t choose me blah blah blah” and I was in Barnes & Noble the other day and I was like “oh, that’s the magazine!” And I was flipping through it and I saw my face and I was like “Oh my God!” I was star-struck with my own self. It was crazy! I still don’t have words for it. My family thinks “oh my God, you were in a magazine, we have to buy all of them!” And I’m just like gosh, it’s only 2 pages! It’s crazy, I still don’t have words for it!
JC: That’s awesome! Is this your first big feature in a magazine?
YW: It’s my first boutique magazine or large magazine. But when I was in high school I was featured in sports magazines, and that was cool. But once you're big in the sports arena that wasn’t anything new. But when you’re a model and you’re on a website and you’re with an agency and you're in a magazine-- it just happened all so fast! It’s a big deal but I try not to say anything about it. (chuckles)
JC: Yeah, I could understand that. So let’s change gears a bit. I notice you are vocal about social injustice and racial inequality. Do you consider yourself an activist?
YW: That’s a good question. I think I’m getting comfortable with the term activist, but I wouldn’t consider myself an activist because an activist is someone who is out on the streets and I’m not there yet, but I will vocalize my opinion on social media and in the public.
JC: Do you think we will ever live in a post-racial society?
YW: I don’t know. I honestly don’t know.
JC: What makes you uncertain about that?
YW: There’s hope for racism to stop and then there’s also, that thing that it’s been going on for so long that it’s never going to stop. I have so much hope for this country but at the end of the day, you kind of have to look at it for what it is. The fact that there’s so much blatant racism and [naivetés] among the majority, it’s hard to look at a positive light for where we can go. Like, we know we can get there, but we’re so stuck on past things that I don’t think that there’s a time frame that we can get past that.
JC: I see. Now on a lighter note, you’ve got a special lady in your life! In a time where couples constantly post about their relationship on social media, you are very selective. Why is that?
YW: Recently, I was forced to come out by my parents and I had to kinda pick and choose what I was gonna post and grow up a little bit in a short amount of time. I’m 22 and I can obviously do what I want. This is who I love and this is who I want to spend the rest of my life with, so I kind of just had to be ballsy and do whatever I want. I don’t know. I post because I want people to know that that is my significant other, but I don’t want to post about her too much because I don’t want people to see who she is because I don’t want people to steal her! (laughs)
JC: Ok, that’s fair! (laughs)
YW: But it has a lot to do with the recent actions of my parents, but it is what it is now.
JC: I see. So some people believe, if you aren’t posting about your relationship online that means you’re hiding something. Being part of the LGBTQ community, do you ever feel obligated to represent, especially being in a same sex relationship?
YW: I think in the position I am in, being a model and having young girls and even grown women in my DM’s and people trying to contact me to be a model-- being the black queer woman that I am, I feel a little bit obligated to show you CAN have healthy relationships in a same sex, same race relationship. But I try to separate the two: my relationship and my social media standing or what I want people to see. I don’t know, I guess I feel somewhat obligated but at the end of the day I’m human so I’m gonna do what I want and say what I want regardless. I’m gonna make mistakes on social media and outside social media. For a long time I hid it, because I wasn’t sure if that’s how I wanted people to view me. I was very insecure in that place and being queer and being unsure of what I wanted to do and who I wanted to be with. So I hid it for a very long time. But as a result of being forced to come out I was kinda like “whatever this is who I am and if you can’t accept it then I don’t know what to tell you." This is me.
JC: Absolutely, it’s not easy living with the intersectional identities as a queer woman of color. Do you have advice for other queer women of color who may feel like they don’t have a place in society?
YW: I feel like everyone has a place in society. It’s up to you to not victimize yourself and not let others victimize you. It takes a lot to grow up and really figure out who you are. My advice would be to figure out who you are inside and then let that be shown. Show who you are truly by finding yourself first, because everyone has a space. Everyone has a platform it’s just up to you to figure out who you are and where you want to be represented. And if you need to make a new platform to be represented, then do that. There’s a lot of opportunities for us as women to take a stand for ourselves. And us as Black women and queer women to be bigger than how we are represented. I think it’s just up to individuals and women banding together to empower one another to find themselves inside. I feel like once you find yourself and you know your worth, then no one can stop you.
You can check out Yamani's stunning portfolio for Natural Models LA here