If you’ve ever thought about the phrase “Black boy joy,” a picture of Deon Hinton probably comes to mind.

The New York-based photographer, cinematographer, poet, and model has racked up over 200,000 followers on Instagram, where he goes by the handle @okdeon. He’s widely loved for his beautiful and often hauntingly vulnerable content around the topics of men’s fashion, self-love, and mental clarity. His refreshingly honest social media presence has led him to create content for all your favorite brands, including Gucci, Louboutin, and SOREL.

At just 22-years-old, Deon has accomplished his wildest dreams and is still reaching for more. He’s created a safe space on his social media, which is filled with encouraging messages and where he takes the time to respond to followers, reciprocating the love they give him. He truly shares only light and joy, which one would find even more incredible considering he’s dealt with the darkness of being othered, discriminated against, and struggling with poverty.

SEE ALSO: 13 Black Gen Z photographers redefining the Black experience

His mom had him when she was just 14-years-old and raised him entirely on her own. They lived in the projects for three years before moving to Springdale, a predominately white town in northwest Arkansas. While he never felt like he had a place of belonging or someone to relate to in his town, he would go on to find that within himself in the years after he left – and along the way, help thousands of others do the same.

Since leaving Springdale, Deon has blossomed into someone his younger self would look up to now. He made his big move to New York to follow his dreams and hasn’t looked back. In this exclusive interview, Deon tells Very Good Light about his coming-out experience, the realities of being a Black content creator, and how he gets his skin so glowy.

On Deon’s coming out experience

After dealing with bullying and feeling othered in his small town, he did what he thought would help him fit in: he joined the football team. He hated it and only played as wide receiver for a year. Although the sport didn’t last, the experience actually played a huge role in his sexual identity. Everyone has different sexual awakenings, and for him, that was football.

“It was me wanting to play into the masculine stereotype,” says Deon. “I think it was just the locker room fantasy and seeing these boys and understanding and questioning, ‘Why am I feeling this way?’”

Deon didn’t come out until he moved to New York, avoiding the harsh judgments that come with living in a small town in the south. “I started to hate my Blackness and the very things that made me beautiful, so it took moving to New York to release the mold that so many people have put over me as a Black man.”

On finding social media and himself

Deon has been taking artistic photos with friends since junior high, which often made him the “weird kid” in school. During his senior year, Deon started to shed the weight of people’s expectations of him, and that’s when his content creation really began. Others gawked at him for dressing a certain way and taking pictures with his friends, but he realized quickly and at a young age that he can’t please everyone, and that’s okay. Social media quickly became his escape.

“It allowed me to live and build this work for myself that nobody knew about in my reality,” says Deon. “No one knew that I was struggling financially, no one knew that I didn’t have food to eat, or that I was sleeping on the floor. They saw a really cute picture of a boy smiling.”

Come freshman year of college, Deon realized that he didn’t want to be in the pre-med program at school. “I felt obligated to study medicine because my mom had me so young so she didn’t get to have the college experience, so technically, I was going for the both of us,” he says. Deon changed his major to Marketing and that’s when he felt his calling to New York and made the decision to move.

“I knew for a fact that this was it, this is where I belonged and if I failed, I fail, but I can’t stay here and be stuck. I will never forgive myself if I don’t try.”

On being a Black content creator

Deon doesn’t call himself an influencer, but rather a creative content creator. “I look at other influencers and I feel like we don’t do the same things,” he says.

He realized he wasn’t represented on social media or in the current culture, and he saw an opportunity to fill that void. He describes this experience as a two-sided coin: on one side, it’s a gift to be one of the firsts and be part of the trailblazers of his generation. On the other side, it’s sad that a lack of representation is what fueled him to create the platform that he has now.

Ever since the Black Lives Matter protests last summer, Black content creators have noticed a surge of emails and DMs in brands wanting to collaborate. Many brands would offer significantly less in payment to him compared to white counterparts, offering “exposure” instead – meaning no payment at all. For Deon, the power that comes with saying no to brands that don’t align with him was necessary to stand up and support Black art through the Black lens.

“Exposure is not going to pay my bills,” says Deon. “They tried to get Tiffany Haddish to do the VMA’s for free, offering her exposure rather than paying her. No matter how far you get, people just expect you to be grateful to be in these spaces, not necessarily seeing you as talented or beautiful, or your work as divine. I pour my all into this, so for someone to come to me and offer me exposure or lower pay… it’s bullshit.”

On his skincare routine and favorite products

As a creature of habit, Deon has a skincare routine he sticks to. He cleanses with the Kate Sommerville Eradikate Daily Foaming Cleanser ($40) and tones with The Ordinary Glycolic Acid Toner. ($9), following that with Hyaluronic Acid ($7), also from The Ordinary. Before moisturizer, he puts on Sunday Riley’s CEO Glow ($40) before applying either Drunk Elephant’s Protini Polypeptide Cream ($68) at night or Supergoop Everyday Lotion SPF 30 ($22) during the daytime.

On his habits, identity, and masculinity

A few other habits that keep Deon centered are practicing gratitude and affirmations. He’ll wake up, sit in stillness, and set his intentions for the day. “You will do great today, you are amazing, you are deserving,” are a few affirmations that Deon will use. He tries not to fall victim to rolling over and grabbing his phone first thing in the morning. He puts his list of things to do for the day on sticky notes and says this system changes everything for his productivity. Sometimes he’ll put on some music and just dance. He makes it clear that he’s practicing living rather than working.

Finding your true identity is such a process and is different for everyone. Deon found himself by just accepting and falling in love with all of him. “What that looked like for me was finding all the things I was insecure about and learning to love them one at a time. [It was about] analyzing my thoughts and the things I was saying to myself.”

He describes masculinity as the most fluid thing he’s experienced thus far. Although masculinity is a construct, it’s also something that shaped his identity, as he was taught at a young age that masculinity is the epicenter of who a Black man is. He has since been able to debunk this myth and considers himself a very fluid individual.

“I love to debunk and tear apart the construct of what was ingrained in me by wearing what I want, whether that be a feminine top or my plethora of bags,” says Deon.

On his goals for the future

“My main goal is to just reach as many people as possible, to continue to maintain momentum within the ever-changing algorithm, to say less and allow people to feel more, to push the needle and shape our narrative to look like whatever we want it to,” says Deon.

Very Good Light asked Deon what he thought beauty meant and his answer was poetic: “I think that beauty is an extension of love. Love that we have for ourselves and love that we have for other things and other people.”

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