How Kelvin Davis, blogger and model, is changing Black beauty standards for men
When a sales associate told him he was "too fat to shop here," a fashion blogger changed the industry.
It Figures is Yahoo Life's body image series, delving into the journeys of influential and inspiring figures as they explore what body confidence, body neutrality and self-love mean to them.
Back in 2012, style blogger Kelvin Davis recalls, he was working as a middle school art teacher in Columbia, South Carolina, when he found himself publicly body-shamed by a sales associate who told him he was “too fat to shop" there.
"That was my first time as a guy ever being publicly body shamed, ever," Davis, 35, a divorced father of two girls 8 and 12, tells Yahoo Life. "As guys, you know, you’ll joke around, or your cousins will make fun of you or something like that, but to be body shamed as an adult in a public space? Man, let me tell you, that was not fun."
The moment triggered memories Davis thought he’d buried long before. "I gravitated back to that seventh grade boy," he explains. "I felt very insecure for weeks." Then Davis decided to something about it. After realizing there were virtually no avenues for “big Black men” to hold space for themselves online, he decided to create one.
Just a few weeks after the shopping incident, he launched the style blog Notoriously Dapper, as a way to “build body positivity” and provide “uplifting words for men and women that are suffering with their body image.”
The blog struck a nerve almost immediately. To date, it's earned 128,000 followers on Instagram, has been nominated for an NAACP award and, in 2017, was turned into a book.
The attention welcomed a modeling career for Davis, as major brands like Gap, Target, Nike, JC Penny and more wanted to elevate him and his message through various ad campaigns celebrating body positivity. In just a few years, the art teacher became a popular voice in the industry — and one of the earliest Black male representatives in the body positivity movement.
“Whenever somebody would Google ‘male body image,’ my blog was the first thing that would come up,” he recalls. “People became publicly curious about body positivity for men. I became, like, the sole resource for this. And that was amazing.”
Behind the scenes, however, Davis says he felt “reluctant” to have nuanced conversations about body image, largely due to the social conditioning around bigger bodies. “There is this stigma that men aren’t supposed to talk about emotional things when it comes to their bodies or how they feel mentally,” he explains. “No one else was having these discussions, especially Black men.”
Being so outspoken brought even more pressure, but it wasn’t anything he couldn't handle.
“I was in this gray area where it was very surreal and amazing and I was living this dream, but then I would come back to the classroom and be humbled very quickly,” he recalls. “I literally had teachers at my school who told me that I was living in a fantasy if I ever thought I was going to be a model. They were like, no chubby Black guy will ever be the face of a brand.”
Davis eventually quit teaching in 2018 to focus on modeling full-time. Always one to rise to a challenge, he says he never let the haters phase him.
“I put myself in this position to create opportunities for not only myself, but for other people that look like me,” he explains. “I have to be this role model, I have to be this guy, I have to watch what I do, I have to watch what I say. I have to be the best version of myself so other people can look at me, and aspire to be something society told them they will never be able to be.”
Admittedly, Davis says there is pressure to maintain an image as a body positive role model, especially after being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 2021, which prompted him to think differently about his weight.
“I had to change my whole diet,” he says. “But when you make those changes, your body changes too, right? I lost about 20-something pounds, and I was a little insecure about losing the weight, which may be weird for some people to hear, because most people are excited when they lose weight.”
“I thought people weren't going to view me as this bigger guy anymore, that they're gonna be like, ‘Oh, well, you lost weight, so you can't be representative of big guys anymore,’” he recalls thinking.
At the end of day, his followers never left him. “I’m still a bigger guy,” he quips. “Besides, what do I care what people think? I want to be healthy and live longer for myself and for my kids.”
Davis says his message isn’t just about being happy in a big body, but rather being happy in your body — whatever size or shape it may be. That, he explains, is the real definition of body positivity.
It's a message he continues to teach, though instead of doing so in a classroom, Davis can speak to a whole network of people online who care deeply about these conversations. That makes it all worth it, he says, as spreading body confidence is his mission in life.
“It’s like I used to tell my students: You have to find confidence in your ability to do something," he says. "If you’re really good at braiding hair, you can find body confidence in that. Everybody has something they’re good at, right? When you find the confidence in that one thing, you can build body confidence around it.”
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