Kelvin Davis on Body Image and the Power of Fashion
So often people only imagine women to have body confidence issues, but author, model and fashion blogger Kelvin Davis is speaking out to break the mould. While the world around him left him feeling under-represented, and self-conscious, through his love of fashion, he’s changing that world one stitch at a time
When people think of the term body positivity, they often think of women and the body issues many experience. Many never associate men with having the same feelings or emotions when it comes to how we look at our bodies. The harsh reality is that we do, and a lot of men suffer in silence.
We live in a world where society has this toxic idea of what being a man is. As boys, we are told not to cry, not to be sensitive, and to ‘man up’. This has led many boys and men to not speak about their emotional issues, which in turn affects our mental health as we grow older. Thankfully, I had a father who did the exact opposite of what society did. He encouraged me to talk about my issues, problems, and taught me ways to release them.
Growing up, I always suffered from some sort of issue due to lack of representation. I didn’t realise until I was older how much I was affected by not having other people around who looked like me when I went to school or extracurricular activities. Yes, I had my parents, but I longed for a role model outside of my family.
I was a short, chubby kid growing up, sometimes teased for being on the chunky side. I remember when one of my friends told me I looked like Notorious B.I.G., and it was one of the first times I could remember feeling cool. Especially then, because I was shopping in the dreadful ‘husky’ clothing section.
My mom had a way of making the husky section sound cool, as if it was some exclusive club for the cool kids. I remember getting a pair of jeans, and one of the ‘cool’ girls complimenting me on them the next week. With pride, I told her they were from the husky section. She laughed and said: “The ‘fat boy’ section, you mean?”
I was so hurt. I felt so embarrassed and ashamed. That was one of the first times I remember being publicly body-shamed. The feeling was horrendous; it affected me the rest of that week.
As time went on, my interest in fashion and art continued to grow fiercely. Even as a kid I liked mixing and matching colors, patterns and styles to create my own outfits – I actually started doing my laundry in elementary school.
Being able to have such a strong eye for colour helped me to become well known for dressing nicely. One of my peak style moments was in high school, when my mother bought me a bright pink polo from Ralph Lauren. I was in shock and awe; not only at the fact that she got it for me, but also at the realisation that pink was finally being made in boys’ and men’s clothing. It was a big moment for myself and many others around the world, especially in the fashion industry.
When I wore that polo the next day (I was the first male to rock pink at my high school) I had all kinds of reactions, from the highest praise to being called derogatory names. Unbeknownst to me, there was a rapper on the rise (Kanye West) who rocked pink polos as well.
Many people at school gave me the nickname Kanye East, because my style was just as innovative at the time.
While Kanye was changing the way rappers were perceived via style, I was doing the same at my high school. Little did I know I had set a trend, and over the course of the following months, nearly half the male students were wearing pink polos.
In a way, I was responsible for changing the conversation of what many people around me thought was a ‘girls’ colour’. Some of the bullies became less toxic and more open about who they were. It was really beautiful to watch some of the same guys I had class with compliment me on my outfits, when a few weeks before they were saying negative things about them.
Years later, I was in college at the University of South Carolina, studying Art Education. I was well known at my college for the way I dressed, and for having a vibrant personality. Even with some of the body image issues, anxiety, and girl problems I had, I was still somewhat confident because of my ability to dress well.
During my senior year of college, I met my wife. She was a Spanish major and I needed help in my Spanish class. She helped me pass, I asked her out on a date, and the rest is history.
When we had our first daughter, we were both still very young. Fresh out of college and scared of becoming first-time parents. It was then that I landed my first job as a teacher, and I needed to get some professional-looking clothing.
My friend Adam came into town, so we went shopping together to catch up. We went to one of our favorite stores that I loved because the clothes allowed you to look professional, but you didn’t have to sacrifice your style to do so.
While we were shopping, I spotted a bright red blazer, and wanted it so badly! Unfortunately the largest size they had was one or two smaller than I usually wear. I gave it a try and it barely went past my elbows. I asked the sales associate to check if they had any larger sizes – which seemed to irritate her. She checked, before assuring me that this was the largest size they carried. With clear disappointment on my face I said: “OK, maybe I’ll try another store.”
She replied: “Yeah, maybe you’re just too big to shop here!” and walked away. It bothered me so much, and brought back one of my first true memories of being body-shamed publicly.
I couldn’t shake the feeling of my body insecurity. I remember going to Facebook to type a status about it to vent and get some support from my friends online. But as I was typing, it dawned on me that I wouldn’t get the same reaction that a female would get. I knew that I was going to be bashed with the “go to the gym”, “get over it” type of comments.
I deleted the draft and never posted it. The feeling never went away. I became more aware of my weight and I began to hate the way I looked.
I wanted to feel good, I wanted to bring light to the darkness of male body image, and the toxic masculinity that exists with it. I always had the desire to start a blog, so in 2013 I decided to make a body positive menswear blog; a place where all men – especially bigger guys – could go to find style inspiration and words of encouragement.
As I was always known for dressing nicely, I decided to call it Notoriously Dapper. I bought a camera and started to take pictures even on my most insecure days, to show people that style has no size, and beauty has no boundaries. Even on my worst days I always knew that no matter how low my confidence was, how bald I was, or how big I had gotten, I would always be the best dressed guy in the room.
My site and Instagram became a visual alternative to all the slim, fair-skinned models in advertisements we were all used to seeing. People liked what I was doing because representation matters more than we think. I decided to represent not only a body type, but also a skin tone that was not as celebrated as others.
Because of that bad shopping experience, I have been able to impact others in a way I never thought was possible. I have become an award-nominated author with my book, Notoriously Dapper: How to Be a Modern Gentleman with Manners, Style and Body Confidence. I have become an in-demand model, and provide representation in campaigns for Target, GAP and more. I have been in a commercial alongside DJ Khaled. And most importantly, I’ve been able to have some influence on brands that are now releasing larger sizes, to fit people of all shapes and sizes.
We all deserve to feel beautiful, no matter who we are. When you look good, you do good. And when you do good, you can change this world. Don’t believe me? Just look at what I’ve been able to accomplish. Never discredit your ideas or dreams. You are worthy of everything you dream of. Work hard, stay positive and, most of all, always be kind.