Preparing for my interview with Selita Ebanks, I couldn't imagine what I would discuss with a Victoria's Secret Model or what we would have in common. I fancy myself as someone who uses my mind and my creativity to earn a living, often putting my appearance on the back burner these days. As one of Victoria's Secret's newest contract models (since 2005), Selita's life has been a non-stop whirlwind of over-the-top runway shows, personal appearances and glamorous photo shoots where she often wears little more than pieces of strategically placed silk and lace.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that Selita and I had quite a bit in common, including a love of writing and a shared passion for community service and charitable works. Selita Ebanks is an exotic beauty of Caymanian, Jamaican, Irish and Indian descent. Often described as the logical successor to Tyra Banks, Selita insists that their African American heritage, exotic looks and similar last names are simply a serendipitous coincidence and that she just so happened to become initiated into Victoria's Secret angeldom as Tyra Banks was transitioning out of the modeling world for a career in television.
Selita Ebanks and I had a great time talking about her tomboyish nature, the result of being the only girl among seven brothers, the powerful experience of helping others with her non-profit organization in her native Cayman Islands, and feeling beautiful and sexy inside and out.
Oh yeah Selita shares her turn ons and turn offs when it comes to men, and the qualities she looks for in potential suitors, for the overly inquisitive male reader
PR.com (Allison Kugel): How long have you been a Victoria's Secret model?
Selita Ebanks: Almost two years.
PR.com: As a Victoria's Secret contract model, what are your responsibilities? I know there are the catalogs and the fashion shows
Selita Ebanks: Well, when you're contracted with Victoria's Secret, like if you are contracted to any brand, you're not only just a model. You're a spokeswoman. We do a lot of PR. We have to make [appearances] and things of that nature, which I love. That's the highlight of my job. I'm able to meet new people and talk about the new products and the brand, and doing all the behind the scenes stuff.
PR.com: I saw some behind the scenes footage on YouTube from your last fashion show (in December 2006) and it's pretty crazy!
Selita Ebanks: It's insane. There's so much going on. This year it was in L.A. and it was ten times crazier than last year. Last year was in New York; you show up and you do your press all day and then you leave. This year we flew down two or three days before the actual show and we had press every day. The contract girls: Karolina Kurkova, myself, Gisele Bundchen, Izabel Goulart, Alessandra Ambrosio, and Adriana Lima we had set schedules. So our days started at 6 AM, and my [day] would start at 4:30 AM because I have to work out. At 6 AM you go into interviews, and then you go into meetings. Then we have rehearsal. It never stops. Then we have a store appearance and autograph signings and then you go to networks and do interviews again. It was pretty hectic, but it was amazing; very humbling for me.
PR.com: I saw the video diary that you guys did for People Magazine, on People.com. I got tired just watching it. I felt like I would just need a nap. When I get off a plane all I want to do is go to a hotel and watch pay per view and just crash for an hour. You were just like, go go go go go! Where do you get your discipline to wake up at 4:30 in the morning and go to the gym?
Selita Ebanks: I love my job so much that I actually anticipate it. I can't sleep at night when I have something like that to do. It excites me a lot. I'm like, "Ok, yes! Tomorrow " You're going over in your head all of the products and you have to study [them]. We use them, but there are certain things that we have to study. If we want to [do] good interviews then we have to know what we're talking about. There are all those things that are going through your mind. For me, I'm new at it. I think that with K.K., Gisele, Adriana and Alessandra those are the veterans; I just learn from them. I feel like if they're not tired, then I shouldn't be tired either.
PR.com: Did you take the place of Tyra Banks, or is it just coincidental that she retired from modeling and then you were hired [by Victoria's Secret]?
Selita Ebanks: I think it was a coincidence. She was going out and I was coming in. I think it all just happened at the right time. Tyra's amazing. She said on her talk show that she was passing the torch down, and that was a bit overwhelming! I was like, "Excuse me. Don't say that! You're Tyra Banks!" Those are some pretty big shoes. It's amazing and it's an honor. Sometimes, people, they do the similarity thing: she's Tyra Banks and I'm Selita Ebanks. This whole thing has just been a coincidence. It's crazy.
PR.com: And you were discovered by accident when you were seventeen years old
Selita Ebanks: Yeah, at Great Adventure
PR.com: What did you want to do, or what did you think you wanted to do before that day?
Selita Ebanks: Six months prior to that I went to Ford Modeling Agency and they said I didn't have "it," whatever "it" was. And I said, "Ok, that's fine." I was involved in my community. I was taking NYU (New York University) law courses. I was always very family oriented. My father is very strict about college, so I was preparing for my SATs and I didn't really care. I was going to be an Entertainment Lawyer. I was going to study Liberal Arts, undergrad, 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.
PR.com: What kinds of books do you like and what is your writing style?
Selita Ebanks: I'm very poetic when I write. When I used to write in high school, I won awards and competitions. I don't write as much as I used to, so now it's hard to say what my genre of writing would be. Now I've seen so much more and I've experienced so much more. Now I think I'll be doing some articles in some magazines, but I'm not sure which ones yet; for fashion.
PR.com: Like a column?
Selita Ebanks: Yeah, exactly. I think that's where I'm going to start warming up again.
PR.com: What was your very first assignment when you were contracted as a Victoria's Secret model?
Selita Ebanks: My very first job with Victoria's Secret, and I wasn't signed yet, was for the Ipex Bra. There was me, Gisele, and another girl. That was an amazing experience for me because I just went into a casting for the commercial and I got it, and I was like, "WOW!"
PR.com: You have a very exotic look and I know you're multiethnic. What is your background?
Selita Ebanks: My father is Jamaican and my mother is from The Cayman Islands. I think that's where my exotic [look] comes from: Caymanians. They are 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 (laughs).
PR.com: (Laughs) And you do some community service in The Cayman Islands as well?
Selita Ebanks: Yes. I have my own foundation down there. It's called The Stardom Youth Foundation. It's a mentoring program. We try to help motivate, educate and encourage young people to achieve their goals, to reach for their dreams. In New York City I work with Free Arts. It's an amazing program that helps endangered young people to just get away from their hardship, and to encourage them to be young and fearless. I work with them personally, the children. We have free art days and all the kids come out, and there is one-on-one mentoring that day. We all have arts and crafts, and we laugh and have pizza. You share time with this young person that sometimes just needs a hug and needs someone to listen to them.
PR.com: What has made you feel compelled to get involved in community service and mentoring?
Selita Ebanks: I've always been that person that wants to change the world (laughs). My father's always telling me, "Sel, you're gonna go broke. You can't save everyone." My whole thing is then I can contribute my part. Growing up in The Cayman Islands, even growing up in general, I think 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. 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. I think that's where it started, my whole thing of wanting to give back. It does have an impact and it can change someone's life. And you can change someone's life. The impact that just giving someone a pair of shoes will have on their life.
PR.com: Absolutely. And giving time often means so much more than just giving money
Selita Ebanks: Oh yeah, I like to see where my donations go. I like to be a part of that and experience it. In The Cayman Islands there was a hurricane, Hurricane Charlie I believe. It ruined about 80% of our island. A lot of young people were going to school with no shoes, and they called me up and let me know. I called up some sponsors, Neiman Marcus being one, and some other folks. They gave me a whole lot of sneakers and shoes. I carried them down myself and I went to local schools and I distributed them among the kids. One little boy came up to me. I said to him, "How are you doing?" He said, "We don't have anything!" And then I said, "Well open up the suitcase." He opened up the suitcase and he said, "Are these for us?!" He gave me the biggest hug! He was so small; he must have been 6 years old. His name was Jonathan, and he was so sweet and I cried. I was the biggest baby in the world.
PR. com: Now everyone in The Cayman Islands is walking around in some Neiman Marcus shoes thanks to Selita (laughs)!
Seilta Ebanks: (Laughs) We also got from Payless Shoes. They have some great quality sneakers. So I got those and then Nike and Adidas as well. So there was a whole lot of sneakers.
PR.com: That's great. I commend you on that. Let's talk about body confidence. When you're doing this Victoria's Secret Fashion Show, you're on stage in lingerie. You've got this huge audience, all these photographers and now it's broadcast on network television. What goes through your mind when you're walking down a runway like that, in underwear?
Selita Ebanks: With me, personally, I remind myself that it's a show. I'm an entertainer and it's a show and I'm gonna put on the best show I know how. I'm gonna walk out there with confidence and exude this sexiness that only I can do. So that's my own that's the little person in my head reminding me as I'm walking out there, "Don't worry about the ass jiggling. It's ok." Like this year I wore a thong and I almost had a heart attack when I first fitted it. I didn't want to be difficult or this diva, so I was just like, "Uh ok. Sure, I'll wear this thong." But you know what? It's kind of great because it actually motivates me to work out. It's funny because women will come up to me [and say], "I want to have your body. I want to lose weight," and this and that and taking these diet pills and whatever. And I always say to them, "No. You know what? Victoria's Secret, what's so great about them is we appreciate and we exaggerate our curves." That's why we're always pushing out a hip or pushing up a boob, because it's sexy to be curvy. That's what women are
Selita Ebanks: In this industry we are small; we're petite. That may be true, but we're not standing there like stick figures. That's not going to sell lingerie. That doesn't make women feel beautiful. So on the runway, I think, when I work out I always try to I don't want to lose weight because I'm so small as it is. It's all about being lean and toned. I do squats because I like booty. And the women in my family, from The Cayman Islands, they're very voluptuous. My father's always reminding me, "You better stop eating that Popeye's [Chicken]. You're gonna wake up and you're gonna have a booty like your mama!"
PR.com: I'm 32 now and my father's been saying to me, "One day, one day you're gonna gain weight if you don't stop eating sweets," for years! I'm 32 and I'm still a size 4, and finally the other day he's like, "I guess you're never gonna gain weight." (laughs)
Selita Ebanks: (Laughs) I guess not! I grew up with a complex, being around all these beautiful, voluptuous women and me being this little skinny girl. I had such the complex. I drank Mioplex, weight gainer and ate oatmeal every morning. Anything to gain a little bit of weight, and it never happened. It's so funny because this whole industry is about losing weight and my whole life I've been trying to gain some booty! And now you're telling me to get rid of it? No way!
PR.com: I agree. I look at women like Jennifer Lopez and Salma Hayek and I'm like, "That's what I want." And I don't understand this size zero business. I really don't understand it.
Selita Ebanks: Every woman is different and I think every woman should appreciate what they have and know how to enhance it. You know what, just love what you've got and go out there and be yourself. Be sexy, because you are, because it comes from within, not because someone says, "You're too big or you're too skinny or you're not this or not that." That's crap. But on the runway, it's all about fun and having a good time and being confident in who you are. I depend a lot on my personality to shine through. I think that if I didn't have that I would just be another girl.
PR.com: It's just so funny, because as you were talking about going down the runway in a thong, I'm thinking that would be a lot of women's worst nightmare. They'd wake up and be like, "I just had the worst dream that I was on television in front of millions of people in a thong !" (laughs)
Selita Ebanks: (Laughs) When I found out, I was like, "Don't you guys want to give me some nice little 'Boy Shorts' or something?" And they were like, "No, no. The thong is great."
PR.com: Well you know what, now you can do anything (laughs)!
Selita Ebanks: Yeah, exactly (laughs)! Next year I'll be like, "Ok guys, whatcha got? Whatcha got?"
PR.com: What are your fitness and diet tips?
Selita Ebanks: Every woman's body is different. What works for me, because my frame is so small I work out two weeks prior to a show, five days a week, for an hour a day. We do a lot of weight and core training. Not so much cardio, because I don't need to burn anything. Actually my trainer, before we go to work out we have to eat breakfast. For me that consists of bacon, pancakes, eggs and cheese. My trainer says that because I'm so small, if I didn't eat those things that I would wither away. And it's true. I'm so small. For me, going to the gym is just about being toned and having muscle definition and enhancing some good qualities about my body. But like I said, when women want to lose weight they shouldn't look at it as losing weight or trying to look a certain way. I would say, "Look, you're beautiful as you are." When you go to the gym and you have a trainer, or whatever you are doing, you just want to tone what you have. That's healthy. It's not about being skinny or losing weight. We, as women, want to be healthy. And I think if you shop at VictoriasSecret.com then anyone can be sexy
(Good segway, Selita!)
PR.com: Right (Laughs) Good plug!
Selita Ebanks: (Laughs)
PR.com: Speaking of that, what's your favorite Victoria's Secret bra and favorite Victoria's Secret panty?
Selita Ebanks: Right now it's the Secret Embrace Bra, and I think it's going to be my favorite bra for a long time, because I have one in every single color. What's so great about this bra is that it comes in all different styles: full coverage, demi... it's great because it's all in one technology. You don't feel or see the wire. It's super light and it does exactly what it says it does, depending on which style you're getting. It's an amazing bra and it comes in fun colors and patterns.
PR.com: And favorite Victoria's Secret panties
Selita Ebanks: I think it's the Very Sexy Little Things Underwear; the thong. They're so small and almost invisible, and I don't feel them and you don't see them. I have, like, 5,000 nude ones.
PR.com: Do you ever get time to date?
Selita Ebanks: Not really. I try to concentrate on my work and my career. I mean, I meet guys, but I'm so anal when it comes to giving my time to someone. Unfortunately, I just haven't met someone who has swept me off my feet.
PR.com: Are you getting bombarded now that you're a Victoria's Secret model? Like a lot of guys in Hollywood or guys with a lot of money think they can go out with you?
Selita Ebanks: You know, it's weird. You meet people and they say things and you're like, "Oh, come on now! I know exactly why you're trying to talk to me. It's not gonna happen dude." Because I have seven brothers, and I completely see through the bullshit
PR.com: You've heard all of their stories
Selita Ebanks: Yeah. Heard it, seen it, done it. Gimme a break! My brothers, they're like the "macs" of all "macs." And nothing you're going to say is going to surprise me. But I have to say that I've met so many people, and it's amazing that I know these people. Just this weekend, I met some amazing people at the Superbowl. If anything, I'm making great friends.
PR.com: What kinds of qualities do you look for in a guy?
Selita Ebanks: I think it's honesty. I think it's really sad when a guy wants to lie and cheat. Just be honest with me, because then we'll save so much time. My pet peeve is bullshit. I like humorous men, someone who knows how to laugh; someone who is spontaneous and [someone] who can laugh at life and not take it so seriously.
PR.com: What do your seven brothers have to say about your job?
Selita Ebanks: They're proud. I think my first show, the year before last, was a shocker for them because I wore that little purple bow. And of course it's broadcast all throughout The Cayman Islands, and that's a Christian Island. I got some heat from it, but at the end of the day, everyone is very proud. My brothers are very protective.
PR.com: So nobody better mess with you
Selita Ebanks: No! You know what? They raised me well, so nobody better mess with me, because of me! I'm a tough cookie.
PR.com: I hear you. But, you know what? That's what happens when you grow up around men. I honestly think that's what happens. When you have a lot of peers who are male, you tend to take on those characteristics. You retain your femininity, but you know how to command respect.
Selita Ebanks: Yeah, and it's weird, because sometimes I say things that are very man-like. I'll comment on a girl's rear-end or something to my guy friends. And they're like, "Selita, you're a girl! Stop it!" I slip up all the time.
PR.com: (Laughs) I do the same thing.
Selita Ebanks: I think it's good when a woman can compliment another woman. It's all good.