Attending art school throughout her adolescence, model of the moment Salem Mitchell was surrounded by a plethora of different creative characters. With a lack of sports teams and cheerleaders, her education was worlds away from the all-American upbringing that TV shows such as Glee and 90210 have made us accustomed to. But it was this non-conformity that set her on a path to become one of the world’s most promising models of tomorrow.
Over a crackly transatlantic call, we catch up with Salem to discuss her unique appearance, diversity and how it’s OK to still be finding your feet.
Tell us about some of your role models growing up.
I would definitely say my mom! I think she’s really beautiful, she’s a lot of fun and she taught me a lot of things about myself and how to treat others. It was always about family, not really anyone in the media because for me personally, I didn’t really feel like there was anybody that reached out to me and nobody that was similar to me or representative of who I was as a kid or who I could be as an adult.
Did you always want to be a model, or when you were younger did you have a different idea of what you wanted to be career-wise?
I didn’t think I could be [a model] so although it was in the back of my mind. I would look on agency websites and it would give you a little guideline of what they were looking for and none of the criteria would ever say anything I was or would be, like I don’t think I’m ever going to be 5”10! I just bounced between finding what I wanted to do but knowing in the back of my mind that if that could happen I would love it!
So, how did it end up working out for you?
I didn’t necessarily start in the professional realm until I started using social media more heavily. I was just posting pictures of things that I was doing and pictures of myself like normal teenagers would. Some people would be like ‘you’re really pretty’ and I had a lot of people like ‘you look really strange, I don’t know what’s on your face, you look like so many different things’. I thought it was pretty funny, I don’t really mind, but there was a lot of like ‘you look like a banana, you look like a cheetah, you look like a chocolate chip cookie’, just random things where it was like “where are you guys even getting this” so in response to that, I was kind of annoyed because I just kept getting it. So, in response to that I went and took photos with bananas. It was [after] that photo I posted, this woman reached out to me and asked if I wanted “to do a photo-shoot in LA”? I was in San Diego and she actually drove to my house with her partner and they shot me in my bedroom. The photo that they took ended up being in Paper magazine!
What message would you want to give to anyone who was being criticised for the way they look?
The advice I would give them is to just not listen to any criticism. I think that you just have to block out all those voices that are trying to shape you and just become the exact you that you want to be.
Within the fashion industry, there’s still a big point of conversation surrounding diversity. I wondered what your thoughts were on this as a young woman of colour.
I think it was harder [for women of colour to break into the industry] and it’s progressively getting better because people are using their platforms to speak up about diversity. I think that their message is getting heard by different brands and different publications. Back when I was looking at agencies, the amount of women of colour was drastically lower than there is now, I think that we have a way to go and we need more diversity, but I just want it to be normalised for different types of women and women of colour to be in modelling!
My final question, tell me a little about your plans for the future.
I’m still figuring it out. I’m 19 and I have a lot of ways to go!