Leomie Anderson: ‘I first met Rihanna backstage as a teenager’

People have this idea of what it feels like to be a model, but it’s so rare to feel like that bitch. Usually there’s so much to stress about: impressing the client; why have I not been paid for three months? Still, in those moments, where everything clicks, you feel free. There’s this unmatched energy, doing what you were born to do.

Rubbing an entire tub of Vaseline on my face is my first memory. I’ve always loved using whatever tools I can find to shape how I look. Mum encouraged all types of creativity, never punishing us for self-expression. My whole childhood felt like a movie, its colours were soft and warm.

In my teens I worked hard and played hard. I was academic, but partied, too. Being allowed to do whatever I wanted from a young age meant I took responsibility for myself. Children should always be made to feel that way.

I met Rihanna backstage at a gig as a fangirling teenager. It’s crazy to me that I’ve worked with her so many times since then. She’s an inspiration: an amazing businesswoman who is entirely unapologetic. And such a hard-worker. Sometimes my call time to meet her is 10pm, and we’re in the zone until dawn.

“Stranger danger” was the first thing which crossed my mind when I was scouted: who’s this pervert eating a McDonald’s? Once I realised he was legit, I gave modelling a go. Mum raised me to try new things, but she never let me miss school for jobs and I wasn’t put on a pedestal. Not knowing my potential kept me grounded.

When I signed my first contract, Mum told me: “These people are not your friends.” And she was right. At some point, most reveal their true intentions. I meet so many people in this job, she was right to teach me not everyone is for you, some are just about the moment that surrounds you. It’s the best way to stop yourself being hurt.

Social media offers models a layer of protection, we have a voice in a way we never did before. Earlier in my career, we often suffered in silence and were vulnerable. Now, if those same things are said or done to us, we tell the world. And people are shocked.

There are more opportunities for black models today. When I started it was an isolating experience, you really felt alone. But often the motivation of brands or companies is tokenism, or the fear of being called out. Ticking a diversity box isn’t good enough. That’s presentation, not structural change.

Black women are asked to do a lot of free labour, to speak up on everything. Some days I don’t feel like it. I’m a human being, not a machine, but that doesn’t mean I don’t care.

Less than 10% of my personality gets shared on the internet. It can feel contrived when people force themselves to present certain sides of their personality online. For me, though, it’s not protection or self-preservation… I just can’t be bothered to post all the time.

I cry a lot. The last time was yesterday. I was in the middle of doing my makeup. I wish I didn’t cry so much; it makes you look and feel like crap. I’m just an emotional person – and life is overwhelming sometimes.