Daron Dean, More than a Model
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in a really small town in Washington state called Brush Prairie. It’s pretty much just as “country” as it sounds. I was lucky enough to grow up on 2 acres where we had chickens and horses, and too many cats and dogs to count. It’s the kind of town where everyone knows everyone, and I’m still really close with a lot of people I have known since I was in kindergarten!
What was it like growing up in an interracial family?
I never really thought about how I was in an interracial family until about 3rd grade when another student asked me if learning about MLK Jr. made me feel weird because I was black. After that, I started noticing things I hadn’t before, like how I look nothing like my mom and my oldest sister, who has a different Dad than me and our other two sisters. I noticed that my two sisters and I who share the same dad were pretty much the only African American students in the school. Even though there was no diversity where I grew up, my mom did a fantastic job at raising us to believe that it doesn’t matter what color you are or what you think in as long as you are kind to other people, treat people with respect, and work hard at whatever it is you want to do in life.
How did that affect your self-image as a child?
Kids would ask me if I was adopted because I don’t look like my mom, and my dad wasn’t present so it didn’t make sense to kids how she could be my mom. Those types of things made me feel sad and out of place as a kid, especially because I was and am so close to my mom. It would make me angry as well because they had no idea the struggles my family went through when I grew up with a Dad who wasn’t faithful and not present in our lives. Because of this, my mom did EVERYTHING for us, and I thought it was so mean for kids to question her ability to be my mom just because we don’t look the same.
My self-image was great until middle school. Kids would make fun of my big curly hair, and just touch it and grab it without asking. I remember specifically wearing my hair in a bun or braids a lot because it was easy, and boys would hit my bun or pull on my braids just to tease me. I always played it off like I didn’t care, but it made me want to straighten my hair, so I started to straighten it a lot in middle school to look like the other girls, and so no one would touch it or make fun of me.
What lead you to play competitive sports?
When my sisters and I were younger, my mom let us try EVERYTHING. We took art lessons, piano lesson, nature club, ballet, tap dance, gymnastics, basketball, soccer, etc. Sports was the one thing growing up were my size and strength were not only an asset but encouraged in many cases. Gymnastics and dance didn’t last long because I felt self-conscious in the leotards and always felt out of place. Soccer and basketball stuck with me, and I quickly became pretty good at both sports. I got invited to play on club teams and try out for select teams. I loved not only being part of a team but feeling like I was wanted and needed just the way I was. In middle school, I decided my next life goal was to play college basketball. Even then, people said I was too short, not fast enough, too big, too small, I heard it all. But the difference this time is that I didn’t listen to anyone who had negative things to say about me, I just worked extremely hard through my middle school and high school years and got recruited to play at a ton of schools, including a few Division I schools. Playing a college sport is one of my proudest accomplishments because such a small percentage of people do it, and I stuck with a dream even when people said I couldn’t!
How did you balance playing sports in college and getting your degree?
Playing college basketball and getting a biology degree at the same time was easily the most challenging years of my life. Sometimes we would have to condition at 5, or 6 am, then you go to class during the day. At some point in the afternoon, you’re expected to hit the weight room and get your scheduled lifting session in. Sometimes open gym at night for a couple of hours, and when our season started, we would have 3-hour practices at night. Oh, and if you’re a science major, your labs are 3 hours long too during the week. It’s tough to find time to do all that, eat, study, and sleep. I learned to prioritize my time and also the best way for me to study to maximize the time I did have. This is an invaluable skill that I’m glad I learned! It also helps to be studying something you love so that when you study, you enjoy what you’re learning.
"Playing college basketball and getting a biology degree was the most challanging years of my life."
I know you had a passion for horses when you were younger. Why didn’t you pursue that dream?
I had been obsessed with horses since I was little. Growing up I wanted to be a professional horseback rider, and my mom even sent me to horseback riding camp for a couple of summers because I loved it so much! I had gone to Texas to visit my Grandma with my sister when we were young, and she was asking us what we wanted to be when we grew up. I told her I wanted to be a professional horseback rider, and she proceeded to tell me that I could never do that because I was too big and bulky for the horses to carry me. Mind you, I was in 3rd or 4th grade at the time and hadn’t started thinking any negative thoughts about my body until this moment. I was ALWAYS taller and bigger than my sisters and all of my friends, but it had never been an “issue” until that day. After that day, I didn’t want to ride horses anymore! It’s a sad story, but I think its all too common for girls to be told they can’t do things because of physical attributes which are crazy!!
You call yourself a science nerd. What do you love about science?
I am a self-proclaimed science nerd. I love learning about it, and I love talking about it, I love reading about it, I could go on!!! When I was a kid (before the internet and smart phones were invented), I would spend hours outside catching bugs (and keeping a collection in my mom's freezer, sorry Mom!), climbing trees, catching frogs and salamanders, digging up worms, anything I could get my hands on. Science is such an incredible field because of all it encompasses. From how our body processes food, space exploration, the ecosystem, germs, how our cars work..it’s all science, and it’s always working around us and inside us even though most of the time we can’t see it. It’s fascinating, and I’ve always been so curious about things I don’t understand.
Why do you feel passionate about young girls and women going into the science field?
We live in a society where women are still judged on their ability to do things by how they look. I remember listening to some of the news coverage on the last election and reporters were saying that Hillary Clinton couldn’t be the President because they didn’t like her voice. It sounds so ridiculous to me, but that is the reality for women entering and working in a male-dominated field. Because we are still judged heavily based on what we look like and what we wear, there is no focus on our actual skill or intelligence. Being older I fully understand that, but it makes young women and girls subconsciously think that they aren’t as smart as boys. I thought this way too growing up because all of the boys in my math classes could solve problems so much faster. In college, I started to understand that it doesn’t matter how fast or slow you can do a math problem or come up with an answer. Everyone’s minds work differently, and that doesn’t make you better or worse than someone else. In fact, in the field of science you work in teams, and having people that have different perspectives and think about things differently is so much more beneficial! I want young women and girls not to be afraid of a field that is mostly male, and most of all not put the same constraints on themselves that society does when it comes to looks or how to dress.
You took a big risk following your instincts to move to LA. What were your fears?
I was terrified moving to LA. I grew up in Washington my whole life, spent a year on the east coast and hated it, then moved to Portland, OR to finish school. I knew that I wasn’t a city person by any means, and I also knew I would have to put my nursing school goal on the back burner while I chased a modeling dream. This was scary because I didn’t want to fail in LA and think that I wasted my time. I’m also extremely shy when I first meet people so I was worried that I wouldn’t make any friends. But, I had the amazing opportunity to try modeling in LA with Natural Models... I had been following Natural since they began their agency and always felt like it was an agency that shared the same views as me and that I would fit well with. My mom said that it doesn’t matter what happens in LA, I could always move home if I needed to. Having her support meant everything, and I knew I had to place to go if it didn’t work out. It was so hard at first being in LA without everything I was used to and people I was used to, but I have learned so much and grown so much as the person pushing myself to do something that made me uncomfortable at first!
Looking back, are you able to have a different perspective?
Now I can look back and appreciate the struggles I had when I moved here. I think to go through things or trying new things that scare you and make you uncomfortable help you grow and learn. I also think it’s just an important life skill to learn how to be in a tough situation and stick with it, in any aspect of life. When I moved to the east coast for my first year of college, it was truly the worst and saddest year of my life, but I stuck it out for the entire school year. One good thing came from it, and I met my best friend who lives in LA now. There is always something good you can take from scary and tough times in your life, regardless of how it turns out and if you focus on those good things, you’ll always know and feel that you learned and grew as a person.
What is your advice for girls and women to overcome the fear of failure?
Trying something new, especially in going a different direction in life can be scary. For me, I realized that I would be SO upset with myself if I grew up and didn’t at least TRY to take a new opportunity in LA. For me, I knew I could always enroll in nursing school if LA didn’t work it…my safe option would always be there. Whatever direction you're going now will always be there and always be something safe you can come back to if you realize going a new direction was the wrong thing to do. Women and people, in general, are scared to try something new because other people project their fears onto them: “Oh you can’t do that, what if you fail?” “But how are you going to pay for rent and school?” “But you already have a good job why would you move and try that?”. All of those are other people’s fears…not yours! Anything you want to do or accomplish in life is up to you, but it’s important to tune the haters out! The only person who is capable of stopping you is YOU!
You met your amazing boyfriend in LA, how has meeting him changed your view of men and relationships?
Growing up with a dad who was not the best example of what a partner or husband should be affected me in a very negative way. I was not a good partner to my boyfriends in my college years because I thought every guy was like my dad and would just leave me without notice, so I would leave them first even though I dated some incredible guys. I hurt some great guys, and it wasn’t their fault. I was projecting my fears of men onto them, which is the wrong thing to do. Towards the end of college when I became more confident with myself overall, I was able to voice my opinions and my sadness about my dad to him. For years I let him off the hook for mistreating my mom, sisters, and I because he was my dad. When I started holding him accountable and letting my feelings about it out, my feelings about men began to shift. I understood that just because I encountered one that wasn’t the best, doesn’t mean that every guy I meet is going to be like him. I also understood what to look for and what to avoid because I grew up with a person like my dad. Anyone in LA will tell you how terrible the dating scene is. All anyone wants to know is what you do and where you live, as if that is a sign of how good of a boyfriend/girlfriend you will be. I didn’t last long in the dating scene, and just kind of gave up and decided to focus on my happiness here in a new city. I would take my dog hiking all the time and explore LA by myself at times. This was about the time I met my boyfriend, Ryan. He romantically messaged me on Instagram telling me how awesome my dog is and if I wanted to find a cool taco spot. I had never really been approached nicely and sincerely on Instagram, so I was taken aback and didn’t message him back for a few days. Finally, I was like, well if we go on one date and it’s horrible then we never have to see each other again. So, we met up for brunch one day and just continued to hang out and get to know one another, and here we are today! I would say meeting him hasn’t changed my views, but more so confirmed that there are amazing people in the world, but we just need to be in the right mindset and ready for people like that in our lives. If I had they same mindset I had in college, I don’t think I would have found Ryan and built such a great relationship with him. I firmly believe that whatever energy you give off, wether it be negative or positive, greatly influences the types of people you will have in your life. Once I started having a more positive outlook on relationships and people, I met someone incredible!
What do you want the little girls who look up to you to know?
I want them to know that I am just like them. I go through the same self-confidence struggles, the same life struggles, etc. My life isn’t perfect, and they shouldn’t aim for perfection or base their success or self-worth off of what they see on my Instagram or any other model’s Instagram. They should aim for growth, pursuing their dreams (whatever they may be), and making a positive impact on the world around them! I also want them to know that I support them and that they can always reach out to me if they need guidance and advice, or even just want to chat!