“Growing up, I got constantly teased about the way I looked and I developed low self-esteem because of that,” said Shettima Webb, 36, during an interview last month. Webb is a self-described “chocolate sister with very thick hair.”
Nowadays, the Austin native wears her hair stylishly short and walks with a confidence that belies her backstory. But her present self-assurance was gained only after many years of struggling with the shame of her childhood.
“I developed low self-esteem because of [the teasing]. I didn’t think I was pretty or that the boys liked me. I carried that until I was in my late twenties. Those feelings don’t just go away; they stick with you if you don’t deal with them.”
Webb, an accountant by trade, is now a working full-figured model who has walked the runway during New York Fashion Week 2016, appeared in international magazines and been featured in the national advertising campaigns of some of the world’s largest companies, such as the pharmaceutical giant Humira.
Although she’s currently signed with Gill Hayes Talent Agency, which is black-owned, the bulk of her time and energy — when she isn’t doing contract accounting jobs — goes into building Model Esteem, her own talent development agency based in the western suburbs, where she currently lives.
She said she wants to provide area youths the same opportunity at building self-esteem that her grandmother gave to her when she was younger.
“Granny Pearl was beautiful,” Webb recalls. “She had the voice of a songbird and would wear the best hats and shoes and clothing. Anytime she stepped out the house to go to church or an event, she’d be dressed to the nines and that’s who I got my fashion sense from.”
And the seeds of self-esteem.
“She’d always tell me I was a ‘beautiful chocolate girl’ and that she loved me for me.”
Webb said Oglesvie paid for her to enroll in a modeling school when she was a teenager, an act that started the “chocolate sister with very thick hair” on her way. Webb said she veered in and out of the fashion lane during her adult years, which were dominated by her corporate America accounting career.
In her late twenties, she ventured back into modeling when she entered the 2009 Miss Illinois Plus America Pageant — and won, before going on to place fifth in the national competition.
Webb rode that emotional wave into a stint with a full-figured modeling agency in Chicago, where “I really learned the skills of modeling.” She slowly began to realize her professional niche, which is in the world of commercial print modeling, she said.
Webb said she wants to imprint her own personal learning curve into the programming she develops for her own agency, which she envisions as a Granny Pearl-like self-esteem enhancement tool, a model advocacy organization and a talent cultivator — all in one.
“At Model Esteem, I pay my models after they complete training based on the percentage of ticket sales,” she said, noting that the practice is not typical in an industry that often takes models for granted.
“I wanted to be able to give back to models. In Chicago they constantly produce shows, but they don’t pay freelance models because they either don’t have the budget or they just don’t have to. If you’re starting out, at least feed the models or provide pictures for them to build their portfolio. I wanted to educate my models about the industry and provide them with a platform so that, even if they never have an opportunity to be signed, they would have a place with me.”