Maeva Marshall On How Diversity Can Be an Instrument for Greatness

Before she ever debuted on the runways of Europe two years ago, Maeva Marshall had practice turning a negative into a positive. Her most notable feature, a smattering of freckles across her face, was a result of a rare skin condition that flared up due to medication. Further complications led to a massive health scare but after a long recovery, she was scouted for the very thing that had brought her past pain. As the fight continues to rid the world of what plagues us, Marshall has found the balance between standing up for what is right by using her platform to educate on the Black Lives Matter movement and protecting her aura while in quarantine. Models.com spoke with Marshall while she stays put in her native France about the state of the world and how she’s finding peace, in chaotic times.

You’ve lived in Miami, Paris, and Senegal but had a health scare before you first came to New York. Tell us about your path and how it first lead you to NY.
I was indeed born in Miami and left for Paris at an early age. From Paris, I often went and spent a lot of time in Dakar, Senegal. When I turned 18, I realized I had the chance to have both French and American citizenship. I was a bit all over the place at that time, so I decided I would take back control of my life, which to me translated to booking a ticket to NY so that I could know more about American culture. Back then, it was really hard for me to leave my family and friends, but at the same time, I was super excited to be an adult and go someplace new – to jump into the unknown! Turned out I loved it, then quickly found a job as a bartender on a rooftop, and lived in Bushwick for a year. My health issues first came up in NY and I very suddenly started to feel sick at some point. Eventually, I paralyzed on the right side of my body due to a massive amount of stress I was going through. After a week at the NYU Langone Health, I was repatriated to Paris, where I spent almost a year in a bed, at the hospital.

What were the circumstances of your discovery as a model? Was it something you always thought about?
I always thought of modeling as a cool job, but a goal only a few people could attain, and that it was out of sight for me – I wasn’t very confident as a teenager. I occasionally started shooting for friends that were photographers for the extra money but also for the fun of doing something new. Even then it still wasn’t something I imagined that I’d do full-time. Following my time in hospitals, I developed this rare skin condition that resulted in me growing more freckles on my face as well as other parts of my body. I was at a party when someone came to me and started questioning me about myself, my story, my condition, and eventually introduced me to the team at Heroes Models, which became my first family in this industry.

How was it navigating the global pandemic in an industry where face to face time is so essential?
I can tell that it is hard for everyone – models like me but also photographers, stylists, artists, freelancers…all who are used to being on-set, at meetings, in showrooms, working in teams – it’s essential for them to work. Being isolated is already a tough thing for our business where a lot of people can’t work alone or from home, but isolation further hurts our mental health. Some people are more sensitive to this, which is why I think we need to spread good vibes and messages online, stay connected and stick together to make things easier for everyone.

What have you done to maintain your mental and physical health under isolation in France?
I couldn’t see myself staying in my tiny apartment in Paris, with no access to outdoor spaces for weeks. So I jumped in a car with friends and drove to the South of France, to my family house where I’m lucky enough to have a garden. Right now, my days are split between drawing, cooking, working out, and eating good food, all the things that ease my mind. I’m trying to stay away from sitting down and scrolling social media or news outlets for too long, and rather try to (re)focus on myself. Also, video calling my family and friends to make sure they’re okay and just talking about everything – it recharges my batteries.

Can you describe the feelings that first made you want to lend your platform to the Black Lives Matter organized protests?
I’ve been lucky enough to grow up multicultural and surround myself with people from various ethnic backgrounds. Although racism and inequality is not something I experienced directly, it’s something that I’ve discovered through the lives of my friends, during my travels, and on social media. Eventually, I understood that there was a difference in the way they were treated VS how I was treated.

Following the media exposure I got from my job, it came naturally for me to communicate about topics that are deeper than my everyday life. I felt more comfortable speaking about issues that didn’t impact me directly but that I still had opinions on, racial inequalities being one of them. I also felt a sense of responsibility towards my friends who are POC, to the POC following me, and to all the POC who I believe I can support in the fight for a fairer system. On the other side, my audience also provides me with a lot of information like news articles or even their own life experiences.

As the international focus on the case of Adama Traoré is reignited, what do you think fashion can do to denounce and dismantle its contribution to systemic racism?
Our industry has an economic power that is simply major. There should come a sense of responsibility with it, including one of working towards a more diverse industry. First by learning, empathizing, and informing others about this topic, then by deconstructing bias. Understand that a diverse staff or cast is an instrument for greatness.

Have you seen the industry evolve since you first started?
I have! It evolved in a lot of ways. Mostly thinking of inclusivity as it impacts me but also just a growing awareness of other human beings, work conditions, and the fact that everyone deserves respect, independently of their job titles or social rank. I’ve also seen a lot of changes around eco-responsibility, whether it’s part of new company policies or directly in the mind of consumers who buy less.

What’s one thing you would change about the industry?
I’d love to see models able to be themselves completely, to not be asked to be so careful of their look, to adjust their speech, stay discreet, keep things neutral.

What does beauty mean to you?
I feel like “beauty” means everything and anything. When it comes to people, it divides a beautiful look and a beautiful being. A beautiful look can hide a lot of things, but a beautiful personality is just what you get.

What’s one thing that gives you confidence?
I think the biggest confidence shot for me is seeing the pride in the eyes of my family and friends. I trust them a lot, so it just gives me the confirmation I need that I’m evolving the right way.

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