Recognized by various media and news platforms, recently we were able to speak with Yasmin Benoit – a black alternative model, writer, and asexuality activist from Berkshire, UK. During this interview we talked about her modeling career as a black alternative model, her activism with asexuality and it’s misinterpretations, diversity in the punk/alternative scene, and also the whitewashing of LGBTQIA+ representation.
How long have you been modeling for?
About five years now.
What made you want to pursue modeling?
Initially, it was because I’d exhausted every other hobby I could think of, so when the opportunity presented itself to be signed by a child modelling agency (I was about sixteen), it gave me the idea to step out of my comfort zone and try modelling. As I found my feet and my niche, I realised that what I was doing could contribute to something bigger. I wanted to bring some diversity to the alternative fashion industry and provide representation for alternative Black women.
Being from the UK, do you feel that women of color face discrimination, especially in the modeling industry? If so how do you break those chains?
Hell yeah, there’s definitely discrimination, especially for Black women. The mass majority of British alternative brands don’t want to include Black models, even though there are loads of Black people wearing their clothes and they know that. The only woman of colour you’re somewhat likely to see is a thin, pale East Asian girl because that still conforms to the ‘edgy goth’ aesthetic. Dark skin does not. If they do include a Black model, then you know they won’t do it again for years so you can safely assume that a job opportunity isn’t coming your way for a while. I feel like I help to break those chains whenever I get to collaborate with a brand, because that means that they’ve got an unambiguously Black woman contributing to their image. It usually means that they’re not worried about ‘alienating’ their White audience and they’re giving alternative Black people visibility, even if we’re not always seen as being ‘alternative’ enough. I say ‘usually’ because that isn’t always the case. I had a bad experience recently with a certain popular British alternative brand looking for Black models purely to fetishise them, so it isn’t always because the brand cares about inclusiveness.
You’re an black alternative model-What does being punk/alternative mean to you?
It’s quite a significant part of my identity. It affects the way that I’m perceived almost in the same way as my race, gender or sexuality does. It’s really shaped my life experience. It isn’t just a sense of style, it’s like the expression of my aura and affinities. I’m not trying to fit a mold, I’ve never consciously tried to be punk, or alternative, or gothic, it just so happens that when I be myself, it ends up looking like that. I’ve been the same way since I was literally a little kid.
Do you feel that there needs to be more diversity in the punk/alternative scene?
Definitely. I’ve always thought it ironic that the alternative scene is supposed to be a counter-culture that’s all about individuality and being different, when it’s actually really homogenous. Even when there are minorities who are part of it, you never see us. Mainstream media is making a conscious attempt nowadays to be inclusive but I think alternative media has some catching up to do.
You identify as asexual and you’re an asexuality activist that has spoken and have done interviews for various media platforms and events. I feel like asexuality doesn’t get a lot of attention in the LGBTQIA+ spectrum. For those who may be unaware can you explain what it means?
Asexuality is a term used to describe people who experience little to no sexual attraction to others of any gender. It can be thought of as being a variation of sexuality, like homosexuality or bisexuality, or an absence of sexuality. It isn’t a physical or psychological disorder. It isn’t a lifestyle or religious choice, or a social statement. It also doesn’t necessarily correlate with someone’s romantic attraction, although I happen to be aromantic, which means that I don’t experience romantic attraction either.
Do you think that LGBTQIA+ representation is whitewashed?
I think it has been whitewashed historically, academically and in contemporary culture, but there have been some attempts to resolve that more recently. There’s still a long way to go, though. When it comes to LGBTQIA+ organisations, events, publications, committees, anything going on behind the scenes, it’s still overwhelmingly white. Inevitably, that either leads of minorities not being represented in a nuanced way, not being represented at all, or taking a back-seat so that white narratives can be the focus.
How do you think we can bring intersectionality in LGBTQIA+ representation and how do you think you do your part with that?
On one hand, it’s up to the media to acknowledge a more diverse range of stories and experiences, instead of just cherry-picking ones that conform to narrow ideas and stereotypes. At the same time, unless there are minorities who are willing to put themselves out there, we’re going to be invisible. By being open and visible as a black asexual woman, I’m like an example of intersectionality.
What do you think are some big misinterpretations of asexuality or of people that may be asexual?
That asexuality is a disorder, that we ‘just haven’t found the right person yet,’ that we’re sexually repressed, that asexuality is the result of abuse, or personality issues, or insecurity, or just being unattractive. That asexual people are inherently shy, anti-sex, don’t or shouldn’t care about their appearance.
What is your response to those that place judgement on it?
Honestly, I wish I could say that I had a cool comeback, but 90% of the time, I don’t have the patience for it. I just avoid those kinds of conversations. If someone wants to judge someone else for their sexuality or lack of it, I probably can’t change their minds with a sentence. I just let it go and focus my attention on informing and empowering those who are more receptive.
Do you think sex really sells and do you think there’s a way to get around that?
Sex totally sells. I don’t think it’s ever going to stop selling and I don’t think there’s anything anyone can do about it. The majority of people aren’t asexual. The media is either going to sexualise something, or people are going to sexualise themselves or each other. Now that women, in particular, are calling out more blatant objectification and being listened to, and we’re talking more about consent and agency, the sexualisation has changed forms but it’s still there. It’s ’empowering’ now but it’s the same thing.
Now onto the more fun questions, what are your favorite rock bands or musicians?
Sumo Cyco, Linkin Park, Beyond Creation, Taake, Mercyful Fate, Dissection, Igorr, Steelwing, Enforcer, De Lirium’s Order, Blood Tsunami, Dio, Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, Three Days Grace, Lacey Sturm.
Is there a band you can think of that you wish would get back together?
In Solitude from Sweden. I felt like they were on such a roll, they had found a really distinctive sound, and then they just called it a day out of nowhere back in 2015.
If there was a musician you could bring back from the dead- who would it be and why?
Chester Bennington, I don’t even think I need to elaborate on that one.
As a black alternative model and as a asexuality activist, what message do you want to send to people through your work?
I want to spread a message of inclusion and diversity. You might not see us, but we’re here, we’re killing it, and we’re going to leave our mark.
For the latest with Yasmin Benoit and her modeling and activist ventures, be sure to give her a follow!
YouTube Channel: Yasmin Benoit
Facebook: Yasmin Benoit – Model