Best known as a runway and print model for the lingerie company Victoria's Secret, Selita Ebanks is one of the few black models who have risen to the top of the fashion industry. In addition to modeling, the Cayman Islands native has appeared in the short-lived UPN drama South Beach and in an episode of the CBS sitcom How I Met Your Mother. She hopes to transition into feature film work. However, she conceded in an interview with the Cayman Net News, "There is only room for a certain amount of black actresses in this industry. I don't want to fall into the zone of playing the ‘ghetto bootalicious baby mama drama.’"
Ebanks was born in 1983 in George Town, the capital of the Cayman Islands. Part of the British West Indies, the Caymans are an overseas territory of Great Britain, and a relatively prosperous place thanks to its status as an offshore financial-services haven. About 60 percent of its total population of 50,000 is of mixed race, like Ebanks. Her father was Jamaican, and her mother a native of the Caymans. In an interview with Allison Kugel in for the Web site PR.com, Ebanks described her fellow Caymanians' collective heritage as "Irish, African and Indian. It's funny because when you go there and try to see what a Caymanian really looks like, you can never really pinpoint it, because we are all so different. But we all have the traditional big forehead."
Ebanks grew up in a home on Walkers Road on Grand Cayman, the main island, in a family with seven brothers. Her upbringing was one that was focused on both education and community service, and she said in an interview she gave to Cayman Net News that she considered herself "very lucky. My mother has sent me on many programmes which have helped me develop. I think it is because of this grounding that I didn't fall into so many problems that many youths fall into such as drugs and unsafe sex."
As a teenager Ebanks dreamed about pursuing modeling as a career, and after she finished high school she moved to the New York City area with plans to enter New York University. There, she met with representatives of one of the top New York agencies, Ford Models, but "they said I didn't have ‘it,’ whatever ‘it’ was," she told Kugel in the PR.com article. "And I said, ‘Ok, that's fine.’" Six months later, however, she was visiting Six Flags Great Adventure Park in Jackson, New Jersey, when a scout for another modeling agency approached her. Within months, in February of 2001, she made her runway debut for the designer line Tuleh and was soon appearing in print ads for Abercrombie & Fitch, American Eagle, Maybelline, Clinique, and DKNY.
Ebanks moved into a higher echelon of name recognition in late 2005, when she was selected to become one of the new Victoria's Secret Angels in the lingerie-maker's annual Victoria's Secret Fashion Show. She benefited from an unusual burst of publicity a few weeks before the show was to air when she appeared on The Tyra Banks Show on November 21, 2005. The pioneering African-American model—who had announced her retirement from modeling six months earlier—handed over her own Victoria's Secret angel wings to Ebanks on the show. On the Victoria's Secret television special that aired on December 4, 2005, Ebanks closed the show wearing the wings as well as a $4.5 million jewel-studded holiday fantasy lingerie outfit.
For several months in 2007 Ebanks dated and was even rumored to be engaged to television comic and rapper Nick Cannon, but the pair split later in the year, and she went on to date Osi Umenyiora of the New York Giants. She appeared in that year's Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, another major modeling milestone, and for her repeat performance for the 2008 issue returned to her home for a photo shoot in the West Bay district of Grand Cayman Island.
Ebanks retains close ties with her community, having established a mentoring program in 2004 called Stardom Youth Foundation. The organization functions as an after-school tutoring program that brings in individual mentors for each child in order to draw out the students' special talents. In New York City, where she is based for her job, Ebanks is active in the Seamen's Society for Children and Families, which provides social-service resources for residents of Staten Island. Her own family experienced occasional hardships when she was growing up in George Town, and "there were times when we didn't have anything and my mother would go to these organizations and charities and they would provide for us, whether it was food or Christmas presents," Ebanks recalled in the PR.com interview. "Now as an adult, I look back and I'm like, ‘If it wasn't for those programs and those charities and those churches then our Christmases wouldn't have been Christmas.’ I'm not saying my life is hard. I'm just saying it wasn't hard because of these organizations."
When Ebanks was discovered at Six Flags, she was taking classes at New York University, explaining to Kugel in the PR.com article that she had hoped to earn an undergraduate liberal-arts degree there "and then go on to law school. And I wanted to be a writer as well. And I think, one day, I still will accomplish those goals. I think I'm going to write something one day. I'll probably write a book or something of that nature. I love to write."
At a Glance …
Born February 15, 1983, in George Town, Cayman Islands. Education: Attended New York University, c. 2000.
Career: Signed to Elite Model Management, c. 2000; made her runway debut with Tuleh during New York Fashion Week, February of 2001; appeared in Sports Illustrated annual swimsuit issue, 2007, 2008; made television debut in the 2005 Victoria's Secret Fashion Show, 2005; other television appearances include an episode of the UPN drama South Beach, 2006, and on the CBS sitcom How I Met Your Mother, 2007. Established the Stardom Youth Foundation in the Cayman Islands, 2004.
Addresses: Agent—c/o Women Management, 199 Lafayette St., 7th Fl., New York, NY, 10012.
Esquire, December 2007, p. 60.
New York Post, March 4, 2007, p. 12.
Kugel, Allison, "Selita Ebanks Earns Her Wings as Victoria's Secret's Newest Earthbound Angel," February 20, 2007, PR.com, http://www.pr.com/article/1060 (accessed February 22, 2008).
"Selita Ebanks' ‘Fame School’ Dream Is on Its Way to the Cayman Islands," Cayman Net News Online, January 2, 2004, http://www.caymannetnews.com/2004/01/563/selita.shtml (accessed February 22, 2008).
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