Don Benjamin’s tattooed forearms have starred in the center of Guess campaigns, they’ve also helped him fill out applications at their retail stores. Unlike creatives that refuse to take on a side hustle to take care of their bills, Benjamin was down to do whatever kept the lights on. “When I was broke and struggling, I was looking for jobs constantly,” he told HelloBeautiful.
“I got denied at every job and I went to Guess with some of my friends to get hired to just work retail. And all of my friends got the job except for me.”
When he wasn’t seeking gigs, Benjamin was trying to get someone in Los Angeles to hear his music until a friend suggested he might gain traction by using his good looks to audition for America’s Next Top Model. “One of my buddies let me know about it,” he said.
Some artists might have turned their nose down at reality TV, but Benjamin grew up on the art of the “Chicago street hustle.” He knew admitting he needed this chance, couldn’t cost him more than not taking it. “I was like man, I need an opportunity. I need a break. I don’t have nothing to lose by going through the casting. And it ended up just changing my life.”
Benjamin was a cast stand out. By not being afraid to look like he was struggling, he claimed eighth place and was introduced to millions of fans weekly. Today he has 2 million Instagram followers and has walked in shows in New York and Milan. “Some people are ego driven,” he said. “They feel bad for it ,where they’re like, ‘Oh, I don’t want to just let my looks do the speaking,’ but I feel like you have to use any opportunities.”
“Pretty privileged has definitely helped me,” he said. “I tell people all the time it’s how you take advantage of your look, because I know some very attractive guys and girls who are not doing well in life and they don’t take advantage of it and they don’t have any opportunities going for themselves,” Benjamin continued. “For me, I was just like, y’all, I’m going to take advantage.”
Being a fan favorite didn’t save him from losing one of the top prizes, a Guess campaign. He kept trying they finally hired him, even though he was already booking major campaigns and could have refused to keep casting.“I felt like the vendetta that I had to prove myself that I was good enough to be a part of Guess somehow,” he said. “When I finally booked a Guess campaign, it was just like that sweet moment of like, Okay, I finally reached the goal. I didn’t let up.” Black models with tattoos as prominent as Benjamin’s don’t often get the chance to represent mainstream brands so his appointment proved they could be commercially viable. “Opening that door for other people was a blessing in itself,” he said. Benjamin wants to share some of the lessons, actions and attitudes that served him, and some that didn’t, on the road to receiving that blessing with readers of My Truth.
In addition to sharing highly anticipated tea about his romantic shortcomings, he revealed how his lack of knowledge about modeling placed him at an initial disadvantage.
“For some reason I was like, yo models are like, their jobs are easy,” he said. “I learned that it’s just like anything else. It’s something that is a craft that you have to mold. You have to kind of learn how to be comfortable with your body.” Benjamin also learned to take care for the parts of himself diet and exercise couldn’t address. He worked to keep his “spirits upbeat,” and remained connected to friends and family back home who could offer him perspective in tough times. “You got to have a big circle around you. They keep you humble and grounded. For me, it’s always been a key factor.”
“You can get burnt out modeling just like anything else,” he warned.
“The goal of my book is really to just let people learn from lessons that I’ve made in my life,” he continued. “Whether it be generational curses that I’ve had to break, failures out may like less than, uh, trying to use my situation to help anybody that may be going through it.” He offers support to those struggling off the page as well. He donated the $100,000 prize he won on VH1’s Scared Famous to a non-profit that supports abuse victims. “One big organization I work with is Peace Over Violence. They do a lot with women or children that have gone through domestic violence situations,” said Benjamin. “When I was a kid my mother was in a few abusive relationships. And so it drives me.”
He especially wants the book’s message to provide affirming words for young men at risk for self-destructive behavior. He wants them to build spaces for vulnerabilities in their relationships with women and one another, something that has helped him go from a struggle rapper to a supermodel. “All of my friends were supportive. They were like, man, go on Top Model, blow up,” he recalled.
“Men we’re kind of egotistical and, and, you know, we have pride,” he said. “The book is really an example of being vulnerable and being able to set your pride aside and your ego aside, and really tackle whatever demons you may be facing and overcome that. And once you start to do these things, you start to open up a new door into life of bringing blessings and more powerful actions into your life for success and for happiness.”