How This Male Model Healed From Being Publicly Body-ShamedKelvin Davis is all about focusing on what his body can do, not how it looks.
After being body shamed while shopping in 2011, model Kelvin Davis set out to create a fashion blog that would highlight confidence at any size and help others embrace their beauty. “I was doing it, honestly, out of the pure consciousness of: I don't feel good about myself because of this situation that happened. Now, I'm starting to feel better about myself, so I'm going to use what I've learned to try to help others that may have been in the same boat,” he tells Wondermind of the mission behind his blog, Notoriously Dapper.
Davis’ online presence took shape before the body positivity movement really caught on, and he’s since used his platform to spread positivity and break down harmful ideals around masculinity. Here, Davis checks in with Wondermind to talk about building up his confidence after that shopping trip, the importance of men’s mental health, and making time for gratitude.
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WM: How are you doing lately?
Kelvin Davis: I'm doing pretty well lately. I've been doing a lot of work to exercise more empathy in my life, and I've been trying to take care of myself as best as I can mentally by lowering the expectations on myself.
WM: What does exercising more empathy look like for you?
KD: I have an 11-year-old daughter, [and I’m] trying to empathize with what she's going through and how she feels about certain things, and understanding that something that may seem silly to me is super serious to her. [I’m] trying to reason on that level and give space and not be so brash and like, "Well, you really shouldn't be worried about that." ... So I've been asking, "Are you asking for advice, or do you just want me to listen?"
WM: You're a body-positive influencer and advocate. Can you tell me about how tapping into that outlook helped your confidence and mental health?
KD: I was publicly body-shamed around 2011, when I first graduated from college. I got my first art teaching job, and I went to go get some new clothes, and there wasn't anything in the store that really fit me. I asked for some larger sizes in a couple of items, and one of the sales associates told me that I was too fat to shop there. It was my first time as a guy being publicly body-shamed. I know my mother's been through it, [and] I know many women that have been through it. That feeling, I just could not shake.
I wanted to create a solution for it, and my only solution at that time was for me to make a body-positive fashion blog. I've always been into fashion, but I wanted an underlying meaning to what my fashion blog was—I didn't want to post cool outfits with no context or without a strong basis.
Body positivity was my way of not only showing the world that I could be confident no matter how I look, but it's also giving that confidence to other people and letting them know you don't have to feed into the societal standard of what people deem as beauty. You're beautiful just the way that you are, and I'm going to depict that when I post pictures.
WM: What other steps did you take to help you heal from being body-shamed?
KD: My parents have always taught me to be appreciative of what your body can do for you. As much as I didn't like the way my body looked in that moment, I still understood that I still have a good eye for color. I'm still a great artist. Even though I had to get a lot of stuff altered, I could still dress well. I still have a great personality. I was very reliant on the things that made me Kelvin rather than the things that made me the physical version of Kelvin.
What I started to realize is that people liked me because I was charismatic—I brought joy. … Instead of me focusing on the way that I look, I focused on the things that I brought to people in life and when I brought joy to myself. And that's what really helped me overcome the actual physicality of being body-shamed.
If you just focus on how you look, you're going to get stuck because your body's not going to change overnight—and nor do you want it to.
WM: Aside from fashion, how do you express how you're feeling?
KD: My number one way right now is I have about 56 plants, so taking care of [them], whether that's wiping down their leaves, checking for bugs, spraying them, watering them. It's very therapeutic for me.
The next thing would be painting. I studied art education with a minor in oil painting, but I paint with acrylics now. I do a lot of Gullah-inspired paintings, which are inspired by the Lowcountry here in South Carolina. The paintings consist of very bright colors and dark-skinned Africans because a lot of the Lowcountry and a lot of Charleston was the biggest slave port. A lot of that Geechee and Gullah art and culture came from Africa. … So I like to paint [in that style]. It brings a lot of peace and joy to my mind because I just love bright colors. And the actual process of painting just makes everything around me seem like it’s going to be OK.
WM: What's something you'd like more men to know about confidence and body image?
KD: Being confident doesn't mean you have to overpower someone else. Being confident means you're secure in who you are. You don't have to pretend to be something that you're not, and you don't have to pretend to be some manly, masculine guy that likes to overpower people and talk over people and show your bravado and machismo. That, to me, isn't being a man. To me, that means you're insecure and overcompensating for something that you're lacking.
For body image, it goes both ways. I had a college roommate who was very small, and he always wanted to get bigger. That was his goal. He ate so much, and he worked out. Me, I wanted to be smaller. So we were at this odds in college, where there were so many guys that had unhealthy eating habits to try to get bigger, and there were other guys that had unhealthy eating habits and exercise habits to be smaller.
For men, it's OK for you to be who you are. It's OK if you don't have a lot of muscles. It's OK if you're thinner. It's OK if you're a bigger guy. It's OK if you're short. It's OK if you are tall. What truly makes you a man in most people's eyes is how you treat other people. People will rarely remember how you look, but they will always remember how you made them feel.
WM: What's one of the best pieces of mental health advice you've received?
KD: It came from my dad, and he said this to me around 2018 because I was doing a little complaining about the way my career was going and this and that. He said, "Don't be the man that finds four quarters and complains it wasn't a dollar bill." [I started to understand], OK, you have to be grateful for the situations and the things that you have, even though it didn't come at the time and in the way that you wanted it. … I have to take each day and take each moment in time as a process and take these four quarters and not complain that they're not dollar bills.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
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