Newest Angel at Victoria’s Secret Leomie Anderson is shining a light on models of color

PHOTO: Leomie Anderson walks the runway during the 2018 Victorias Secret Fashion Show at Pier 94, Nov. 8, 2018, in New York City.PlayDimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images, FILE
WATCH Leomie Anderson shines a light on what it's like for fashion models of color

For 26-year-old Leomie Anderson, it seems like the sky’s the limit.

On the edge of supermodel stardom, she’s one of the faces of Rihanna’s ground-breaking Fenty Beauty makeup line.

She’s graced the pages of “Vanity Fair” and “Elle” and modeled for some of fashion’s top designers, like Tom Ford, Emporio Armani and Tommy Hilfiger.

Anderson has also rocked the runway for Victoria’s Secret -- recently earning her wings as one of their Angels, putting her in a class with Gisele Bundchen and Heidi Klum.

Beyond her beauty, Anderson is a woman on a mission to level the playing field for models of color.

“When it came to speaking up about my experiences as a model or a black model within this fashion industry I knew I had to do something,” Anderson told ABC News. “There's girls who are even darker than myself who are in this industry and they don't really have a voice.”

She’s speaking out in hopes of changing an industry where Eurocentric facial features and hair texture has long been the standard of beauty.

“It was very normal to be told if you're a girl with natural hair, ‘Oh that's unprofessional, can you straighten out your hair?’ Even girls with like loose curls were made to chemically straighten their hair,” Anderson said.

She said black models often feel like they are hired to fill a quota.

“I think that tokenism is something that the fashion industry needs to work on, because we are getting to a place where … there will be an array of different women, but it will still always be a majority white women, and there usually will only be space for one black model and one Asian model,” she said. “I don't like it when I go on set and I'm the only black person, full stop.”

Julee Wilson, global beauty director at “Essence,” told ABC News companies “believe by hiring a darker-skinned black woman or a black woman in general, that they are marking off that box of diversity.”

“I'm hoping that with models like Leomie who are speaking out and showing that that's not necessarily the right way, that they'll start to get the memo that there needs to be diversity in their diversity,” Wilson added.

Anderson grew up in London, the daughter of Jamaican parents, and was just 14-years-old when a scout stopped her while she was shopping near home.

“I had red hair, blue mascara thought I looked really cool,” she said. “When this guy came up to me and was like, 'hey have you considered doing modeling?'”

At first, her answer was no.

“I was just thinking, 'stranger danger. Why does this man want to take photos of me?'” Anderson recalled.

But the modeling agency persisted.

“Three months later, somebody else from the same agency came up to me,” she said. “I was like, ‘OK maybe I should just give it a chance, call them.’ Went to the agency -- fake Gucci belt and stiff poses as well and I was, you know, doing my Polaroids and what not. I still managed to get signed.”

New on the scene and traveling the world as a teenager, Anderson was in for a few unpleasant surprises.

“All I knew was ‘America's Next Top Model’ and I really, really thought I was about to be like… running into this glass house for fashion week having pillow fights with my roommates wearing colorful pajamas. No. There were roaches,” she said.

She said she expected a lux life.

“I thought I was going to be a 'driver, pick me up,'” she said. “I thought it was going to be so glitz and glamour and all this but it was the complete opposite. Being in a model apartment really humbled me.”

Early on, Anderson was reminded that she was in a predominately white industry.

“It was very normal to be told by agents or bookers, 'don't go into a casting off a black model because they might get you confused' -- like this was the language that I kind of grew up learning,” she said.

She said stylists often aren’t trained to work with her hair type and darker skin tones.

“I had my incident backstage where a makeup artist said that she could do my makeup. I took pictures of the fact that she had no foundation shades in my color. She was trying to, like, do some remixing of, like, a white shade with like a brown eye shadow,” she said. “I just turned to her and I'm like ‘do you actually have foundation in my skin tone?’ She said no.”

PHOTO: Leomie Anderson walks the runway at the 2018 Victorias Secret Fashion Show at Pier 94, Nov. 8, 2018, in New York City. Stephane Cardinales/Corbis via Getty Images
Leomie Anderson walks the runway at the 2018 Victoria's Secret Fashion Show at Pier 94, Nov. 8, 2018, in New York City.

Anderson said she was “angry inside. I just felt like, ‘Oh my gosh I can’t believe this is happening again.’”

She uses her social media to shine a light on what it’s really like behind the scenes for models of color.

“She's really taken her position and her privilege in being in this world of beauty and having, like, hitting the genetic jackpot, really, and allowing that beauty to translate into real world," Wilson said of Anderson. "Like, talking about real issues and moving it forward.”

Anderson said that for “the longest time,” speaking out as a black model would get women labeled as being a 'diva' or 'being aggressive' or not knowing your place – so I was scared.”

Naomi Campbell, Iman, and Tyra Banks all broke barriers. But Anderson and some of her fellow models say they’re trying to take it a step further, like Ebonee Davis, who gave an impassioned TEDx talk on casting black models.

In 2017, when Rihanna developed a makeup line called Fenty Beauty, she called Anderson.

“Rihanna didn't just shake the table -- she flipped it over, destroyed it and threw it out the window,” Wilson said. “I think that Fenty beauty has completely changed everything.”

Fenty is now one of the hottest beauty brands, catering to women of all skin tones. Their 50 shades of foundation often sell out.

“I realized this is going to be a huge moment,” Anderson said of being the face of the brand. “Not just because it's Rihanna releasing makeup, but because of the message that she's trying to send to other brands… you don't have to have the European standard of beauty to be the face of makeup brands.”

“She's really showing ... really reflecting what the world looks like,” Anderson added.

Anderson believes that “we are making steps when it comes to colorism, but I still feel like the general consensus is still that light skin is seen as more expensive and more luxury, and darker skin is seen as like urban and cool. It's just that urban and cool is in fashion now.”

Anderson is expanding into an entrepreneurial role, creating a blog that has become a safe space for women to write about issues like these and share their own empowering stories. It's called LAPP, which stands for Leomie Anderson the Project, the Purpose.

She's also launched a clothing line, called LAPP the Brand, that she designs, markets and even sometimes models.

“I wanted to use fashion as a way of speaking to people and talking about important issues such as body diversity,” she said.

Rihanna wore her provocative sweatshirt at a 2017 women’s march in New York City.

“I want black models to understand that their voice matters and that they are of value," Anderson said. "I want black models to not be afraid to speak up in fear of being stereotyped."

“I want people to see me as a success story of someone who was unapologetically themselves and was successful,” she added. “That is what I think I've been put here to do. I think I'm here to show people that you can be yourself. You can speak up and you can be a success story.”