Meet Dayna: The 25-Year-Old Model Kicking Cancer In The Face
The first thing we noticed when Dayna Christison walked into our offices wasn’t her slender frame or sharp cheekbones. Rather, we were struck by her buoyant, radiant air. Recently, the 25-year-old from Warwick, NY has become a familiar face in the fashion industry for her distinct look and for her incredible story. She was diagnosed with Nodular sclerosis Hodgkin’s lymphoma a few years ago, and has been kicking its ass ever since.
Dayna first entered the fashion world first as a visual merchandiser and stylist before moving out from behind the camera. Now signed with Major Models, she’s been walking the runway and shooting editorials with a shaved head and a fearless attitude. Along the way she’s become an inspiration and a symbol of resilience in New York. Ahead of her debut as one of the Milk Makeup girls, we hung out with Dayna on the Milk Studios roof to talk true beauty, inspiring other cancer patients, her favorite badass baldies in pop culture, and more.
What prompted the switch from the business side of fashion to modeling?
I never really had any desire to be in front of the camera—being behind it was more fun for me. But then when I lost my hair, I just thought it was very important for me to show people something. I wanted to be there for girls so they could look at me and go, “Oh! She looks kinda cool. It’s ok that I don’t have hair now.”
A lot of people freelance model for fun now. How did you go from modeling for your friends to landing a contract with Major Models?
At first, I would be working with my friend Ryan and I started working with other people. It started getting to the point where I was like, “Why am I doing this if it’s not going to amount to anything? I should probably do something with all these sweet photos I’ve been getting.” So, Major was having an open call and I had nothing to do that day and I came in and it was amazing. I was really impressed by how appreciative they were. They called the next day and I signed with them. It wasn’t until after I got signed that I told them I’m sick. They couldn’t even tell!
What advice would you give to people who are trying to model but are starting to feel defeated by rejection?
I mean, everyone has limitations. It’s so hard for you to expose yourself in front of other people and it’s even hard for me to open up. You just have to overcome it and know that it’s you and that there’s no one else like you and if you change who you are for other people to make yourself seem more appealing it’s going to end up feeling that way. It’s going to end up feeling fake and it’s not going to be you.
Do you draw strength from any particular badass baldies in pop culture?
I would say I love Natalie Portman in V for Vendetta, but I also love Eve Salvail. She was a ’90s model and appeared in The Fifth Element. She had this dragon tattoo on the back of her head. So fucking cool, I love her.
“I want to show people in my situation that they can do whatever they want. This sickness isn’t the end, it’s not who you are.”
If you had to identify one central goal that you’d like to achieve, what would it be?
I want to show people in my situation that they can do whatever they want. This sickness isn’t the end, it’s not who you are. It was really hard and takes hold of you because you identify with it. I didn’t want to tell people about my sickness because that’s not who I am. I realized that it’s something that happened to me and that I just have to take a hold of it. I have to control it and be like, “Yeah that is something that happened to me, but I’m still me and I’m still who I was before. I’m not cancer, I’m not that. I’m Dayna and I can still kick ass and have cancer too.”
How has the response been since you’ve started to become well known?
The response so far has been overwhelming. The fact that people with cancer or people that know someone with cancer will comment on my pictures and say how much I have helped them, that is all I ever wanted. Cancer is such a scary time and it’s so terrifying to have everything crash down on you. I want to make people realize that you don’t have to have hair to be who you are because hair doesn’t define you—it’s just an accessory.
Your style reminds me a lot of the Riot Grrrl movement from the ’90s. Does that punk feminist movement inspire your look at all?
I definitely drew inspiration from the attitude and platform shoes and all that. I wore fishnets for my birthday! It’s cool that it’s coming back around because that feminist counterculture really inspires the way I dress every day.
Do you have any methods to help pick your outfit in the morning or do you just throw together a look?
Oh my God, my morning[s are] a mess. I dress better when I get ready the night before because in the morning, I like to sleep until literally the last minute and then go. The weather actually inspires me a lot—especially living in the city. You’re trucking around in the city and if you wear the wrong shoes? It’s a nightmare for the rest of the day.
What do you see yourself doing next?
I’d love to tell you that I have a sweet five-year plan but—especially with this disease—I really do have to take it one day at a time. Right now I’m just seeing where the wind takes me, but I should probably start planning some stuff. My boyfriend is a musician and [he’s helped] me open my eyes to music in a way that I hadn’t before. He got me a sampler for my birthday so I’ve been working with that. I’m not going to be the next big musician, but learning about stuff that you’ve never done before helps you even more with what you’re passionate about.
What does the concept of beauty mean to you?
Feeling comfortable in your own skin and having people realize they are beautiful the way they are. That’s the way they were born and if anybody doesn’t like it, that’s too bad. I love that it’s become more about who the individual is—that’s very special and beautiful.
How has your concept of beauty and your own self-confidence evolved over the course of your career?
Before I was diagnosed, I had very long hair and stood out more for my clothes and how I dressed. When I lost my hair, I was standing out just for not having hair. But yeah, I think it changed with my diagnosis and also just growing into my own body—that was the diagnosis too, you know, learning about yourself. I feel amazing and, at this point, I almost feel like myself. I don’t feel like I’m sick anymore and I feel like people respond to that very well—it’s all about what you bring to people.
All photos shot and styled exclusively for Milk by Miyako Bellizi.
Creative direction by Paul Bui.
Video directed by Lewis Meyer-Peddireddy.
Edited by Lewis Meyer-Peddireddy.
A Camera Tommaso Albertini.
B Camera Russell Efros.
Thanks to Dave Damico.
Shot on Blackmagic. Graded in Davinci Resolve.
Stay tuned to Milk for more beauty coverage.