With the new year, Salem Mitchell is ready for a new mindset. The model has been fielding questions about diversity and acceptance from the moment she first caught our attention with her freckle-embracing viral banana photo. But she’s ready and been ready for the industry to stop treating different body types and features as a perpetual novelty.
Mitchell is also deeply invested in how dialogues about diversity and discrimination have been going outside the fashion industry. She was especially vocal last summer, when George Floyd and Breonna Taylor became household names, saying how important social media has been in confronting America’s racist past. This isn’t the first time Mitchell’s spoken out about discrimination, but she’s felt a shift in how the lockdown has focused our collective attention to the most recent instances of black death at the hands of law enforcement. Read on for more insights she shared with Schön!.
You’re from San Diego. Is that where you’ve been living during the pandemic? How have the past couple of months been?
I am from San Diego, but I’ve been living in LA for the past three years and that’s where I’ve been during the pandemic. The past couple months have been a little uneasy with COVID cases rising in LA, and it was a lonely holiday season. Not being able to spend time with all of my family for the holidays this year was a bit sad, but I’m just grateful to be healthy and safe.
You’ve been very vocal about the Black Lives Matter movement, taking part in TIME’s “Reckoning” video among other platforms. How do you think people being in lockdown affected the dialogue we’ve been having over the summer protests?
The black community has been facing discrimination, racism, and injustice for decades, so none of the grave injustices that sparked the summer protests were first-time instances. Being in lockdown greatly impacted the amount of dialogue we were having, in my opinion. Spending more time at home and on social media forced those who could use the motions of everyday life as an excuse to stay complacent to learn, listen, amplify, and check their own privilege.
Battling racism a post/comment at a time is exhausting. When do you know you need to step away from the conversation, and how do you recharge yourself?
I measure that based on how I’m feeling. More often than not I feel like stepping away from the conversation because people can be really disrespectful, especially behind their screens. I recharge by talking to loved ones, journalling, or sometimes just napping so I don’t have to think for a bit.
From the beginning, you’ve pushed body positivity by embracing your freckles. What do you think the fashion industry or society in general still needs to work on in accepting different body features?
I think we all need to just come to the collective realisation that everyone is an individual and there’s not a particular shape or form of beauty.
What are some things brands can do that are inclusive in representation — but not gimmicky like tokenisation?
Brands can simply be inclusive and leave it at that. Oftentimes when POC or “unconventional” talent are cast, it’s followed by a conversation about what adversity they’ve overcome in order to get to this moment. Then they’re often asked to express how much the opportunity means to ‘someone like them.’ Dialogue is important, but it’s also important to note that it’s not always necessary for someone to repeatedly broadcast their trauma and essentially explain to the masses why they’re worthy of being represented.
What’s your favourite make up trend you’re seeing online these days?
I’ve been seeing a lot of fun brows lately. Bleached brows, thin brows, colored brows, diamond brows — I’m into it all right now.
A lot of people are currently shopping and trying to support small businesses. Are there any small businesses that you love and want to highlight?
You’ve already worked with major names like Beyoncé, SZA, Khalid, and Vogue. What are some projects you’re hoping to work on in the future?
I’m hoping to work on more creative projects outside of just still photography, maybe more music videos or short films. I also recently released a phone case collaboration with Wildflower Cases and that was a really fun way to use my creativity/platform for something outside of the fashion world so I’d love to dive into something else like that in the future.
This Schön! online exclusive has been produced by
photography. Amy Lee
fashion. Miso Dam
talent. Salem Mitchell
hair. Michael David
make up. Arielle Park
nails. La Lady Nails
fashion assistant. Emma Harding
production assistant. Snow Chen
location. Flashhaus — 15801 Stagg St, Van Nuys, CA 91406
words. Dayoung Lee