The word ‘LAWLESS’ is scrawled—or, rather, stamped—across her left collarbone; it’s as in-your-face as it can get. This is no coincidence. There’s not much else immediately riotous or insubordinate about Odalys Pena, but make no mistake: she answers to no one.
We’re here to talk about her most recent role in Fuse TV’s The 212, but I quickly glean that a starring role in the reality show is only one of many, many things on her plate. Sitting on the steps of a gallery on Chrystie Street, the 21-year old DJ-model-creative director spills out her life story. Her distant, glassy stare knits effortlessly with her words, like she’s done this before. And she has; Odalys is not new on the scene. In fact, she’s been at the focus of downtown’s underground inner circle for almost seven years now.
Odalys wears sweater – POA, Yellow Plaid Morgan Pants – $325 – and belt chain by Miaou available at miaou.com . Earrings by L. Jardim. Pearl Distal Ring – $100 – and Orbit Distal Ring – POA – by CHRISHABANA available at CHRISHABANAJewelry.com. Shoes and socks Odalys’s Own.
Even for a city kid, exposure to that kind of independence at that young of an age can change you. For Odalys, the change had already been made. “Something in me just flipped… [I was ]13 [when] I realized life wasn’t anything I’d ever been taught. So, I decided to teach myself life. I didn’t listen to no one; my parents, not one person.” The heft of that sentiment weighs on me—feeling for this girl on the cusp of becoming a woman, sifting through the layered meanings of what she’s just confessed. But Odalys is already miles; years ahead, switching lanes as quickly as she switches up her look.
Exposure to the glitz and glory of the real world is a fix that’s hard to turn down, and the attraction of social media was irresistible. Before Instagram, it was Tumblr, and Odalys was right in the middle of it, taking and posting photos, attending meetups. “It actually made people come together. People would just come downtown and mob out on St. Marks,” she waxes nostalgic. “It was the first time I had experienced taking pictures, being on Tumblr and being reblogged like kind of the ‘cool kid’ and through that my life has changed.”
Odalys didn’t just ride the momentum, she took it as her own. Unabashed and impassioned were her secret weapons. From kicking it on Saint Marks to hosting parties at some of downtown’s biggest clubs, her status as creative, model, muse morphed into something more. It was the music, or rather the shitty music, that inspired her to try her hand at the decks. “I started getting tired of the music and I felt like ‘fuck it, Imma give it a try,’ and I was lucky enough to meet my managers. I actually met them at a presentation I did for a brand and they didn’t care what I was doing they were just like ‘we want to support you.’” Ambition reaped rewards in the form of blind faith. “I asked them one day to buy me a controller and a laptop because I couldn’t afford it, and they did. Three months later I was getting booked and they couldn’t believe it.” There’s a depth in Odalys’s voice that I can’t place; a mix of amazement and surefire confidence— she still can’t believe where she is, even though she knew all along she would get here.
Maybe it’s her age. She is still so fucking young and there’s something so tragically eye-opening about those twenty-something trips around the moon—you’re allowed just enough hindsight to start understanding your place in the world. For so many, it’s the period where you cultivate a relationship with yourself. But not Odalys. She kicked off the process long ago. Freedom was the shelter of her self-sacrifice, trading innocence for independence. It’s easy to assume a typical ‘overcame adversity’ narrative as she shares that she does it all for her dad, who’s been in and out of jail most of her life. Yet consistency and stepping up just seem second nature to her, confounding as it may be at the depths of reality. “[My dad] is still my motivation today. Ya know, because he’s out you gotta do things the right way. I still feel like I gotta work harder just to be able to help him and my family out with certain things.”
She approaches everything that life has thrown at her with a steadfast sureness, understanding the power of yes I can. And for the most part, it’s worked out. It’s time, though, for Odalys to be on the other side of the mirror. It’s time for the world to respond back, yes you did.
How will she do it? Being heard, not only seen. “I’ve been DJing, but I want to focus more on producing my own music,” she says. “I think it’s just cooler to get a reaction, a genuine reaction from music that you really made and not other people’s music.” It’s a bold step into the spotlight, but she knows the price. Oscillating through life on and off screen has always been part of Odalys’ story. And no matter how innately social media has woven itself into her life, she admits that she doesn’t love it. Putting yourself in the public eye at such a young age takes guts. For someone who is so secure in her public self, she’s openly honest about her feelings towards misperception, Instagram vs. reality, and how people don’t really know her. Confidence might have paved the road, yet it’s a path laid with vulnerabilities. Everything, like, everything she tells me feels transparent.
“The reason why I’m here is [to be] myself,” she says. “So, I really don’t understand the industry that I’m in. Sometimes I get it and sometimes I don’t and at the end of the day all they really wanna do is just change you in a way and make you what they expect you to be. [But] what you are is what got you there in the first place.”
This is Odalys, perfectly articulate and self-aware. And down to the details – today it’s black AF1’s, patchwork flares and a crop exposing a sliver of olive skin – public emulates private self in lawless harmony. That means rarely matching, wild prints, bikini tops in winter. She’s always done whatever the hell she feels like, so why change now? “I felt like fuck what anyone had to say,” yep. “I just follow my own rules at all times, so it got me this far and I’ll keep on doing it.”
Odalys wears Bo Dress – $850 – by Sandy Liang. Cropped Leather Jacket by Eckhaus Latta. Pearl Distal Ring – $100 – and Orbit Distal Ring – price available upon request – by CHRISHABANA available at CHRISHABANAJewelry.com. Shoes Odalys’s Own.
Odalys is the only one of her five cast members to be born and raised in the 212, and the metropolitan rhythm and flow runs through her veins. She was blessed with the wisdom that in this race to the top, you gotta elbow your way in, fight for opportunity, and prove your worth. Her courage of conviction grows in abundance. The city and its scene are cutthroat, and south of 14th street there’s only room for a few streetwise hustlers to rise in the ranks—she’s gotta do it all. And she will.
Check out ‘The 212’ Tuesday nights on Fuse TV
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