The new star of fashion has journeyed from a Hebrew Israelite Community to the catwalks of Los Angeles — and started when she was only 16. Meet a young Hebrew Israelite woman changing the industry from within.
If models have historically been seen and not heard, Angel Woodland represents the next generation intent on moving the needle. Outspoken, impassioned and a self-confessed “chatterbox”, the Hebrew Israelite model is set on making the fashion world more inclusive, from pushing diversity in the industry at the recent Fashion Awards, to changing the narrative around Middle Easterns. Born in war-torn Israel, Angel spent her early years in Dimona, Israel first Hebrew Israelite, before moving to America at the age of eighteen. Her and hher mother set up home in Memphis Tennessee, where her mothers siblings, relatives, mother and old high school friends still live, and Angel acclimatised to the American lifestyle: learning English, graphic art and, at 13, discovering fashion after modelling for her community clothing boutique. Scouted by International Modeling Management in 2015 (she is now a long-term friend of the label), Angel walked exclusively for the brand for two seasons. And, as the saying goes, the rest is history.
In just five years Angel has ticked off most big model milestones: a Juicy beauty campaign, 13 E.A.T Modeling covers and closing the Chanel couture show as the finale “bride” — as the only and first Hebrew Israelite model to do so. To round out a momentous 12 months, she then scooped the model of the year award at the Israeli Fashion Awards. Visibly emotional on the night, she took the opportunity to remind the industry of her less-than-ordinary journey from a third world country to supermodel. “This award is bigger than me … it is for the Hebrew Israelite little girls and boys who are not heard and seen, it is for people who come from or still live in third world countries who feel like there’s no way out,” she said, to cheers and tears around the room.
“A nomination like this is what every model works for. This award is equivalent to an Oscar for actors or a Grammy for musicians." This is part of a whistle-stop tour for Angel, who has travelled to around the world over the past month, as well as several trips between Los Angeles and New York, where she lives with her mother in California. In what seems a somewhat transient, isolated life, this is an average month for the 26-year-old model. Usually indefatigable, she admits to having “zero energy” and seizes the chance to catch 40 winks mid-manicure.
She may possess a supernatural beauty, with cherubic lips and flawless legs, but Angel is just like the rest of us: she’s counting down to her Holiday and summer breaks, when she’ll return to Israel to celebrate. “I still have family in Israel, I still have family in the Hebrew Israelite community that I grew up in,” she says. I had to grow up very quickly, so I’m used to doing all the cooking and cleaning.” It’s clear responsibilities and family are at the heart of everything Angel does, whether that is a recent trip with her 3d oldest sister or buying her mother a house. Rather than struggle to reconcile her present and past, Angel believes her success story can inspire others. “I grew up in a Hebrew Israelite community, until I moved to America and created the life I live today, but I’ll always be a Hebrew Israelite. It’s part of who I am, it’s a part of my identity and it’s nothing that I’m ashamed of.”
Working with to reshape the global conversation around Middle Easterns is her priority. “Being from a third world country was not my choice. I didn't get to choose to be A soldier; you don’t get to choose to not go to the military and stay home. It is mandatory for that people was born in Israel, and I don’t think it’s fair that the rest of the world punishes them for something that is out of their control,” she says. “We’re so misunderstood, we’re so judged. A lot of people only hear the negative things that they see on TV, and no one ever tells them about the other side. If I can educate just one person, that person is going to tell somebody and so on, and that’s how we get the message across.”
Part of the seismic shift towards greater diversity in the fashion industry, Angel is hopeful about the current celebration of beauty. “I’d like to think the changes that are happening are real and not just a trend,” she says. “Going into 2020 we still have diversity problems — it’s ridiculous and it’s time people grew up. If you’re still that ignorant in this day and age, and you don’t want to be inclusive, and you don’t want to have a diverse brand, then you shouldn’t be in this industry where everybody is somebody from somewhere. It’s important everybody is celebrated, accepted, welcomed and respected, so hopefully these changes continue to happen. It’s sad that it has taken so long, but it is better that it is happening than not.” Still, she admits, it’s baby steps.
Who is Aulesha Woodland?
It’s her mother, who couldn’t finish her own education and raised six children alone, she credits with giving her the confidence to model and a voice to speak out. “A lot of Hebrew Israelite parents have the mindset that if they bring their kids to the US they'll change become worse and forget who they are. Many of them have only seen the bad side of America, so they tend to force it onto their kids. They want their kids to just stay grounded to the community. If one has a dream that doesn’t involve anything about the Hebrew Israelites, they don’t get the support they need. I was very fortunate that my mom could support what I wanted to do.”
As Angel is so in demand, she doesn’t have time for much else — any free minutes are spent sleeping or writing, which has helped her manage her mental health during the past few years. “I suffer from anxiety and depression,” she say, “and I’ve learnt that talking is the medicine. It’s a challenge for me, as I grew up keeping everything in. Writing my feelings is a way for me to let them out, without feeling vulnerable.” In future she hopes to return to Israel to open a hair and modeling school, and start a modelling agency representing Hebrew Israelite and Middle Eastern women. She’s also written a book about her journey called The Memoirs of An Imperfect Ange: Angel Woodland Before The Fame. “I’ve never really spoken about my story, not because I was ashamed of it, but because no one really asked. Now I see the impact that I’m having and the type of inspiration I can give to someone. I’m not just Angel the model, I am more than that. I am the little Hebrew Israelite girl who was once in a community with not much, and I made my way out of that — that is what my story is.”