Danielle Mareka is an undergraduate student at New York University. After kick starting her modeling ventures with Refinery 29 and Milk Makeup, she’s an up-and-comer on the NYC modeling scene.
She has worked with Spike Lee, Lil Yachty and Nike. Danielle has also been featured in Vogue and appears in Sedona’s music video for her debut song, “Call Me Up.”
Apart from being a full-time student and an independent model, Danielle is an active member of Planned Parenthood. In fact, she is the founder of Voices for Planned Parenthood at New York University.
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What is your experience modeling?
Modeling has certainly been a process for me. I have been pursuing this industry since I was twelve but, started to seriously work towards it my freshman year at NYU. Although it has been difficult to work as an independent model, my introduction to the modeling industry has been fruitful. Despite having limited access to shows because I don’t have any management, last summer I was able to kick start my modeling ventures by working with Refinery 29 and Milk Makeup. It has been a journey that has taught me you have to keep going if you want to see results, and that’s what I intend to do.
What is the most positive attribute to modeling?
The most positive attribute to modeling has been the simultaneous journey towards self-love. I struggled with my self-image for a long time and modeling has definitely been an avenue for me to explore myself, my capability and general self-image. I really appreciate how I have grown in my journey towards self-love. I say this because I internalized the beauty standards around me and felt like I did not love myself because of the color of my skin for a very long time. It wasn’t until I came to NYU and started modeling that I began to accept myself for who I am. This includes loving the texture of my hair and existing as a Black woman.To be comfortable with myself. I’m not trying to say everyday I wake up feeling extremely confident but, I’ve definitely progressed into a more positive mindset about myself.
That being said, I also think modeling is a means to inspire individuals and the community around you. I can’t necessarily speak to inspiring others but, I hope that my work will one day be a source of inspiration for many.
How has race presented itself in the modeling industry? What has been your experience with Fashion Week?
In terms of being a Black woman in the industry, I’ve observed that more space needs to be accommodated for the wide range of Black women. I noticed that the opportunities in the industry are more limited for us. But, you have to continue to work hard and push. You know what they say about minorities and Black women having to work a lot harder to try and get to a certain level because of their race? It’s true.
After fashion week, and after attending a sizable amount of shows, I noticed that even the representation in the audience, and within the shows, is lacking in minority groups. Certain high fashion brands use a limiting amount of black women. This speaks to our current societal values, and the necessity to accommodate for everyone.
I had an even worse experience when I attempted to get management in Milan, Italy. I was told that Black women, who are either very dark or mixed, only make up 20% of the industry and don’t get cast often. The agent I spoke to said this from a business perspective. In reality, they aren’t making efforts to include more black women in the industry, limiting their representation and space within the industry! This manifests into the modeling industry’s form of systematic racism.
What role does femininity play in your modeling career? Could you separate one identity from the other?
I do not think that there is a way to separate the two because that’s part of my identity, I am a Black woman. I’ve observed that although modeling is feminized, the focus is rarely ever on women of color. However, as a woman, no matter your color, there is more you to you have to be cautious of. You have to be cautious of being taken advantage of. You have to be cautious of being underpaid. This is not specific to modeling, it is also evident in the real world, and the structural sense of society. In that regard, it is important to maintain some kind of strength and aggression because being seen as a woman, at times, is like being seen as weaker, or as less able to advocate for yourself.
Growing up in a single parent, all female household, has really taught me not to stick to these societal beliefs and to advocate for who I am. I think it is important to advocate being Femme in the modeling industry. There are people that are out there to take advantage of you, especially when a lot of higher positions are occupied by men.
What is your affiliation/involvement with Planned Parenthood? How does your participation in Planned Parenthood align with your female identity?
I started working with Planned Parenthood last year. It was the summer after the presidential election and I really wanted to get involved in some regard, but I wasn’t sure how, nor was I well versed in the groups that attempt to advocate for a lot of the issues that concern our society and present day political climate. And by issues I am referring to the wide range of gun violence, sexual assaults, police brutality, gender gaps and the likes. Whether macro or micro, all of these instances affect everyone because they are in reference to the political parameters that allow gun violence, that limit women’s access to health care or that pay women less for the same job. The list kind of goes on, especially with our current president. It feels like everyday there’s always something new. I appreciate that groups like Planned Parenthood, who are concerned with targeting anyone that they align themselves with, and I hope that they are not affected by this administration and political climate.
I went to Planned Parenthood because I am a Public Health major at NYU and the the topic of health intersects with all of these aforementioned issues, as they are all interconnected. In terms of health, Planned Parenthood’s mission is to advocate for everyone despite their race, sexuality and legal status. That made me want to get involved. I decided to start the Canvas Branch of their advocacy groups on campus at NYU. I started the club Voices for Planned Parenthood at NYU. We worked directly in partnership with the Planned Parenthood New York City office and it has been incredible.
Voices for Planned Parenthood has done a wide range of advocacy on campus. Our first club event was a gallery featuring femme artists. In order to attend you just had to bring a femme hygiene product and we donated that to a homeless shelter in the city. I wanted to make the events open to everyone and I wanted to maintain a therapeutic component to the club, which involves art and creativity. With all the stressors of this political climate it’s really important to have a way to advocate for what you believe in and also have fun while you’re doing it, even when times are so trying.
Voices for Planned Parenthood also hosts fundraisers and discussions. We are keen on having bi-weekly discussions around topics concerning internalized misogyny, sexual assault, sexual harassment and race. I really appreciate the discussions because it’s an ability for us to create a safe space on campus and to get to know people through this club. It just feels really intimate and that’s important to me because building personal connections with people you don’t know, but who hold the same beliefs, is empowering.
What does Planned Parenthood mean to you considering today’s political climate concerning women, women of color, health care access to women, women’s choice?
Planned Parenthood tries to advocate for every human being. This is a huge advancement for speaking out for marginalized communities. You can go into a clinic and see the diverse demographic that they service. It is important to have groups like this, especially when funding is being threatened on a federal level.
Planned Parenthood is both a necessity and a right to me especially in this political climate. Imposing on ones right to health access is an extremely disposition to further disenfranchise marginalized communities. And truthfully, an injustice.
What are some facts about Planned Parenthood people are not familiar with? What are some common misconceptions?
Some things that people don’t know about Planned Parenthood is, like I mentioned, how they service everyone, regardless of even legal status. That was something that was a shock to me when I first started learning about the organization. One really big misconception is that all Planned Parenthood does is give abortions, and that’s only 3% of their services. They do so much more. They offer hormone therapy, mammograms, STD/STI screenings, the list goes on. It’s really disappointing when a lot of the conversation is taken up by abortion rights when Planned Parenthood consists of women’s rights, and therefore human rights, as a whole. Planned Parenthood gives people autonomy over their body, something we forget on a political sphere.
Does your participation in Planned Parenthood align with your interest in modeling?
Planned Parenthood is an organization that strives to advocate and service all individuals. No matter their background, whether it be race, sexuality, socioeconomic status or citizenship. I’ve always wanted to bring these beliefs into whatever profession I chose and I appreciate being able to work with an organization that allows me to advocate for my beliefs in a structured and organized manner. For these are the next steps is bridging fashion with sociopolitical issues that can be implemented in whatever setting I am in.
What are you looking forward to now? Any projects aligned?
I’m looking forward to growth! I hope for bigger campaigns and whether or not I have an agency I look forward to seeing my brand expand. I wasn’t able to stay abroad for long but, I can’t wait for international campaigns. That being said, I definitely think that thing year will be a year for education as well. As I continue my pursuits I also hope to gain great knowledge about past and current activists, societal injustices and aid to marginalized communities, bridging my interests in or sociopolitical climate and the fashion industry.
Photography: Shirley Reynozo (@dtba_)
Model: Danielle Mareka (@daniellemareka)