Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Afiya Bennett always knew she wanted to help inspire others like herself to pursue their dreams despite adversity.
Over the years Afiya has gained global recognition as one of the world’s top models, appearing in countless advertising campaigns, runways and even on billboards in Times Square. It was all this attention that led her to become the runner-up on Naomi Campbell’s reality television series, The Face, and become the American brand ambassador for Fiji Water.
With New York Fashion Week here, The Levity Ball sat down with the down-to-earth, straight-talking Afiya to learn more about her modeling career and growing up & living in New York…
1. Growing up in Brooklyn, NY, did you always want to pursue a career in modeling?
Growing up in Brooklyn gives you this pound the pavement, have to make it happen drive. It wasn’t always my intention to become a model, I was very much into sports and dancing growing up but somewhere between puberty and a growth spurt, modeling became my dream, and it’s never stop being ever sense. Modeling has become that aspect of my life that I wake up in the morning and go to sleep at night trying to figure out how to better my self and better my craft.
2. We read that Micku Taylor at Essence Magazine helped you launch your career… tell us the story?
I believe that every little girl with a dream needs the opportunity to blossom and Mikki Taylor gave me just that, or at least a start. When I was 15 years old I was walking with a group of fellow models and one pointed out that Mikki Taylor was walking in front us. I’ve always been super ambitious and I saw that as that perfect opportunity to gain advice toward becoming the model that I desired to be. I literally approached her with a digital picture with my information on the back of it and promised her that if she gave me a shot I wouldn’t disappoint her. I still try and live by that with anyone that gives me any opportunity. Long behold, I get an email from Essence Magazine a few days later and after a brief meeting, and an amazing photoshoot came my first publication in Essence Magazine… This became the beginning of a beautiful journey.
3. You have appeared in some great campaigns and on some of the top fashion brand runways… what has been your most memorable experience to date?
My most memorable experience to date would have definitely have to have been this year when I landed my first billboard in Times Square in New York City. This was literally the proudest moment for my self and my parents, even bigger than being on television. I felt like that little girl that always wanted to make her parents proud had finally done It.
4. And lets not forget being the runner-up on Naomi Campbell’s reality series, The Face. How was being on a show like that and working alongside Naomi?
I absolutely loved being on The Face and it is definitely an experience that I will never take for granted. Naomi Campbell is thy supermodel of all supermodels and having an ounce of her time and her guidance is one that will forever be grateful for. I think that what was even more of a blessing was that our relationship was not limited to the television show and that even after the cameras stopped rolling, she still extended herself in helping me.
5. Besides modeling, you run an incredible and inspiring blog afiyabennettblog.com… Do you feel blogging helps you unwind with your feelings towards certain topics?
I love my blog so much! It literally started out as a hobby and has turned into so much more. I think that my blog helps me define who Afiya is outside of the beautiful pictures. It answers, “what are Afiya’s values, morals, lessons learned, and moments of success. My blog is a melting pot between a lifestyle blog, modeling advice, fitness, beauty, charity, style, and most of all giving me a voice that I feel that a publication doesn’t necessarily give you.
6. What is the best advice you have ever received career wise?
The best advice that I have ever been given in my life is to “study your craft”. I think that is so easy to say that you want something or that you dream of something but how many people are willing to study what it takes to actually get there. For a model that might mean looking at the type of images agencies are looking for, figuring out which niche best fits your look, getting into shape, changing your look, changing your style or even the market that your modeling in. To actually fall and get back up, to preserve in the midst of adversity, to wake up with a mindset of “how can I improve” takes patience, faith, and ounce of assurance that everything that you have studied will eventually align with itself. I have received so many no’s in my career or excuses about why I will not be Great, but it is important you you believe in you self more than anyone else because it will take you to know your self worth before anyone else will see or appreciate it.
7. With social media now playing a factor in jobs and how people connect, what are your views on the technology in general within your industry?
Social media has changed the modeling industry so much. It used to be based on who walked the top shows, had the best agent and worked with the best photographers. Now it based on who has the biggest following. As unfortunate as that might be it has also put the power in the masses hands based on what they like and what they want to see. It has also encouraged entrepreneurship, offered free publicity and marketing for companies and give an insight into who models really are. None the less growing a following is not the easiest thing and a lot of amazing models are not booking certain jobs because they don’t have a certain following. My advice is to be authentic to who you are and the rest will follow. Either play the game or don’t play at all but getting left behind will not book you the job.
8. We all know models eat! So what are your favorite foods and places to eat in the New York region?
I’m so glad you know that models do eat because that is the biggest misconception of them all. My favorite food would definitely have to be sushi which ironically came about shortly after my time on the The Face. I can’t say that one specific restaurant is my favorite because one of my all time favorite things to do is get dressed up and try new restaurants. But when I find it I will definitely let you guys know.
9. Do you keep to a strict diet and workout routine?
I have two secret diet routines when I am trying to be strict. I eat 30 mins upon waking up, 250 calorie Meals or snacks every 2 or 3 hours and one 400-500 calorie meal. My next diet would have to be eggs and avocado for breakfast, a veggie burger and sweet potato fries for lunch and a shake for dinner. These are two strict diets that I use when I am trying to get in shape for a big job or casting. But on an everyday basis I try to just eat clean and nothing that I will majorly regret and not eating 3 hours before going to bed.
10. And final question: What do you want to be remembered for?
What I want to be remembered for is a question I think about everyday; every time that I take off on a plane or lay my eyes to rest at night. I want to be remembered for breaking barriers and opening certain doors for models of color in the fashion industry. I want to be remembered for my contribution to charity in helping the next little girl with a Dream take that leap of faith and for overall being a good person. A person with a good heart who extended that to everyone around me no matter who they were or where they came from.
Follow Afiya and her New York adventures via: http://www.instagram.com/afiyabennett and www.afiyabennettblog.com