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It was early 2013 and Kelvin Davis, an U.S. based art teacher was shopping for clothes. He had seen a “stop sign red” coloured blazer in Express (a popular American clothes shop) and requested whether the shop had the piece in his size. After some back and forth with the sales assistant, she “basically got frustrated and told me that maybe that I was too fat to shop there,” Kelvin says.
He patiently put the blazer down, left the store and never entered an Express again. But rather than wallowing in self-pity, or immediately leaping into a juice cleanse, Kelvin used this as motivation to start his own fashion blog for men that celebrated more than one body type.
The blog, Notoriously Dapper, took off and Kelvin became one of the first male body positivity bloggers with some considering him to be a “trailblazer” for influencers to come (although he is far too modest to call himself that). Since then he has become a model, a published author and an inspiration to many young men.
“I don’t want to be shady but…” he begins sheepishly, “in a world that’s full of Kim Kardashians, why wouldn’t you want a Lizzo?” He is easily forgiven for his ‘shadiness’, with the “best smile on Instagram” (as his social media bio states) radiating through the screen. He sits among a rainforest of houseplants in his home in Columbia, South Carolina, the exact same “plant daddy” viewers see on his green-themed TikTok.
“Why would you only want to just celebrate one body type?,” he continues. “When you see people living the same life that you do, why should they be upset that their body doesn’t look like yours? That makes zero sense.”
As a Black man, Kelvin says body image was something he struggled with growing up, particularly due to a lack of representation for Black people, and living in a majority-white suburban area in South Carolina. “It was more than just the way that I looked weight-wise, it was my skin colour. It was my eye colour. It was everything,” he says.
“I had this image that beauty was fair skin, light hair, green, or blue eyes. That was my definition of beauty, because that’s all I saw.”
Kelvin even remembers asking his mother to get him coloured contact lenses so he could fit in with other kids at his school. He says, “There have been times where I’ve been talking about body positivity on my channels. And I’ll have flashbacks of moments where I can’t believe that happened to me.”
He vividly remembers the first time seeing a model who looked like him: “I was probably eight or nine and I was shopping in JC Penney’s (a clothing store in the U.S).” He looked up to see Tyson Beckford modelling a bright green polo for Ralph Lauren. He was stunned and couldn’t help but stare at the picture for minutes.
“It was my first time ever seeing a dark-skinned male model. Seeing him, and us having the same skin colour, and how beautiful he was, it shocked me,” he says.
Kelvin hopes to represent for young Black boys of the next generation as Tyson Beckford did for him.
He says: “Just the fact that [Black boys] can walk into a store here in America, like a Target or a Nike store and see my face somewhere, gives them recognition that: ‘Oh, this guy, he’s dark-skinned, he’s bald, he’s a little bigger. He looks like my uncle. He can be a model, I could be a model too.’”
Often people are quick to forget that it is not just women who may feel insecure with their looks at times. Kelvin says: “There’s this societal standard around the world that men don’t care about body image, we don’t care about how we look. But in actuality, we want to feel great, we want to feel beautiful, we want to feel wanted.”
And it was this reason he started his blog.
“When I started it, the underlying message was to be about body positivity, toxic masculinity and about men being better humans,” he says. “It got popular mostly because of the women’s body positivity movement taking off. People got curious if it existed for men. And just by natural curiosity, whenever people would search ‘men’s body positivity’ my blog was the first one that came up.”
Not only was he the first Google result, but he was also one of the first male body positive influencers on the internet, and so people saw him as a ‘trailblazer’. “I just want to put on the record that I haven’t personally called myself that,” Kelvin laughs.
His blog led him onto writing a book in 2017, Notoriously Dapper: How to be A Modern Gentleman With Manners, Style and Body Confidence. The book teaches young men the etiquette of how to be a young man in the modern day. It doesn’t instruct on, in Kelvin’s words “the right fork to eat a salad with,” but instead, it is a book written by a young Black male that “really teaches young men of America how to be men.” And he is certainly managing to do this, receiving messages almost every day from young men (or their mothers) telling him how the book has helped them.
When asked what being a young man means in the modern day, Kelvin says, “Being yourself. Not feeding into the societal standards of what people think a man should be. Being a man is being whatever version of a man that you think is best for your well-being.”
This can sometimes involve unlearning the gender biases we are brought up to believe in. Kelvin says, “For me, one of the biggest things I had to work on was empathy. I was raised thinking ‘I’m a Black boy, nobody’s gonna care about my feelings.’ I had to be tough.”
Such unlearning can even involve therapy for some, which is something Kelvin is a huge advocate for, who says, “Therapy has truly saved me from a downward spiral.” A focus on well-being is present throughout Kelvin’s content because “It doesn’t matter how you look if your mind is fucked up.”
This focus on mental well-being is the message he carries throughout his blog and his social media. As he lipsyncs to TikTok sounds in his sea of green, as he tells his audience to “keep shining,” he wants to show them how to be empowered not just in their bodies, but their minds. He says, “You can have whatever body the media portrays as beautiful, but you could be the most mentally unhealthy person on earth. And it’s damaging, not only yourself but to everybody that ever comes in contact with you.”
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