It wasn’t Iesha Hodges' first rodeo when she walked into the casting room for this year’s Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. “I actually tried out for the show last year but didn’t get the job,” she tells Refinery29. But this year was different.
Equipped with more experience, more confidence, and a bold new buzzcut, Hodges landed the gig and will be walking in her first show alongside VS elite like Cindy Bruna, Bella Hadid, and Kendall Jenner in just a few days — and on T.V. come December when it airs for the world. She’s also one of many models of colour shaking up the status quo by wearing natural and short hair despite the "angel waves" that dominated the runway and advertisements for years. “It’s such an honor to be a part of this show,” she says.
Hodges has been a model for seven years and has appeared in campaigns for brands like Marc Jacobs and Miu Miu, but it was just two years ago that she started to lead the pack when she chopped her hair into a TWA (teeny weeny Afro). “I woke up one day and realized that I’d been using my hair as a crutch. I was on this self-love journey so I just shaved it all off and bleached it blonde all by myself,” she says. Given the harsh standards of the modeling industry, most models refrain from drastically altering their look in fear of limiting their chances of booking work, but for Hodges, her haircut did the opposite.
I'm a girl from Brooklyn with a buzzcut fade and gap-toothed grin — and I want girls like me to feel beautiful, too!
— Iesha Hodges
“Cutting my hair came with brand new confidence," she says. "It changed my appearance but it gave me a new sense of self. I think everyone else felt that energy when I walked into the Victoria’s Secret casting,” she says. “They believed in me and wanted me to bring something unique to the runway. It has definitely changed my career for the better.”
The self-proclaimed "buzzcut guru" doesn't play about her hair routine: She follows a consistent schedule to keep her fade fresh from the comfort of her own bathroom. "Every five days I shave, bleach, and treat my hair," she reveals. "I use clippers to remove my new growth. After I shave, I apply bleach and 30-volume developer to my head for 45 minutes to an hour to get a vibrant platinum colour." The dangers of bleach on hair — especially natural hair — is no secret, but Hodges relies heavily on conditioners and Olaplex to keep her strands healthy. "A good conditioner is so important for bleached hair, and I can't go a week without using Olaplex because it makes my hair so strong and prevents it from breaking off."
The model often takes styling matters into her own hands on set. "Literally when I'm on set no one touches my hair — there's nothing to touch," she jokes. "The most they'll do is rub my head with some oil, but otherwise I make sure to arrive at every shoot freshly shaved and bleached so I just have to go into makeup."
Hodges’ joins the new wave of Victoria's Secret models who are embracing their natural hair on the runway and simultaneously expanding the idea that "sexy" is more than long blonde beach waves. You may remember Maria Borges and Herieth Paul both graced the stage in 2017 with short 'fros. Additionally, various models like Aiden Curtiss, Jourdana Phillips, Cheyenne Maya Carty, and more have different natural hair textures that include cropped fades and 3C curls.
“Representation is important and I am extremely excited to walk alongside other women of colour," Hodges says."I am also grateful to carry the legacy of legendary models, like Tyra Banks and Naomi Campbell, who have walked the same stage. In the digital age, it’s important that girls can tune in and see women they can relate to. I'm a girl from Brooklyn with a buzzcut fade and gap-toothed grin — and I want girls like me to feel beautiful, too!”
Her confidence to walk the runway didn't bloom overnight, however, and according to Hodges she still struggles with various insecurities — including her skin. "I struggled with acne all through high school and wore a lot of long extensions to cover up my face. Since then I've had some hyperpigmentation, but shaving my head has forced me to embrace my flaws — I can't hide behind anything — what you see is what you get."
To keep acne at bay and fade scars, Hodges takes the "less is more" approach to skincare. "Simple and natural works better for me," she tells us. She relies on African Black Soap, Aveeno Daily Scrub, and Weleda Skin Food to keep her complexion clean and nourished. "As far as hyperpigmentation goes, clearing that up is still a work in progress but exfoliating definitely helps." When she's off-duty, her makeup routine is minimal but when she's wearing foundation it's usually Fenty's Pro Filt'r followed by Nars concealer. "That's the dynamic duo right there."
If you've been debating a big chop or switching up your look for the new year, Hodges encourages you to take the plunge: "I think every woman should cut their hair at least once in life because the feeling is so liberating. You aren't defined by how long or short your hair is, it really just boils down to owning who you are." You can catch her (and many other models) sprinkle #blackgirlmagic down the runway (and serve lots of hair inspo) when the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show airs in December.