My Kind Of Beautiful
March of 2017,
Vogue released their cover, celebrating the "modern American woman" for women's history month. As the rest of the world noticed (hopefully), I saw the lack of diversity among the group of women displayed. I was not surprised. The skin tones varied mildly as did the sizes, shapes, heights, hair textures...the list goes on. The one plus size model had her hand down on her thigh while all of the slimmer model's hands were up. I read this as a covering of some sort, and I do hope that I was just overreacting. On the cover were the headings Women rule! The beauty revolution, no norm is the new norm! I found it ironic.
As I continued to stare at the cover, I felt my irritation growing. I could not see myself. Again. Living in America, the internal battles women of color face in seeing their own beauty are immense. At least it has been in my case. The fashion and beauty industries are only now starting to slowly see that beauty comes in different forms..maybe because of the rise of social media and the increased visibility of the different types of women out there. Who knows.
The thought crossed my mind that I could make a difference. I could add to the pool of images out there that showed women owning and accepting their own unique beauty while challenging the built definition of beauty that has been reigning for far too long. I wanted to somehow express that beauty was more than the clothes we wear (don't get me wrong, I love aesthetically pleasing outfits all day), the make up we put on, and the way we wear our hair.
My initial idea was to plan two shoots. The first one, to address the issue of seeing myself, was to be of African-American women of different shades and backgrounds to depict the diversity within the African diaspora. The second shoot was to include a diverse group of women..in my mind's eye, I had a woman wearing a hijab, an albino, a freckled face, someone with an indigenous background with bronze skin and jet black hair....the list goes on and on. Hopefully one day, I get to shoot the second one...maybe I'll make an individual portrait series out of it...but below is the first. I planned it to be sunny with blue skies, vibrant and bright, but God gave me a sky full of fog. It worked out better than planned despite my nervousness. Taking the role of a creative director, stylist, and photographer was scary, but sharing takes even more courage. It's taken me a while to share this as it contains other people's stories and a piece of my heart, but I hope you enjoy and appreciate it.
We spend so much time trying to be "someone else's beautiful" when each and every one of us have a unique God-given beauty.
There is no standard. There is no norm.
You....we....I am my own kind of beautiful.
Wide lips, broad noses, thick thighs, unmanageable hair...generalizing the black woman when God made none of us the same. Get to know us. One queen at a time.
Big hair, freckle skin
from salty seas and sunshine
she is a island
-Shekaya Sky, island gyal with big dreams
I remember crying around age 8 because my mom wanted me to wear my hair out for a party; curls to the wind! I was so upset and tried holding my hair down the entire time so no one would say it was "poofy". By 15, I appreciated the fact that I could jump into the ocean or sweat without messing up my hair; I appreciated being my real natural self to the fullest, I felt free.
I have developed a broader understanding in that our bodies are nothing but a dream shell in which our souls reside and that I shouldn't allow society to pressure me into being someone else's idea of "pretty." I made a decision to embrace my uniqueness as a melanated, athletic, multicultural, strong woman and one day at a time, heal the ugly scars derived from many years of self-hatred. I am reaching higher and further everyday.
You can be both a work in progress and a masterpiece at the same time.
A glory unknown
Made intentionally bold
The fire starter
-Muna: God is with me
I've always had a presence. A strong sense of influence that made me attractive to different types of people. An influential vibe. The more I unwrap my thoughts the more I understand about my purpose. I'm here for a reason and I'm determined to fulfill it.
the tone of my skin
warm honey black purple bronze
each one magical
Baby you so loved
So feed your mind the honey
That's given to them
I wasn't one of the "pretty girls". I wanted my hair to be long and flowing like my Barbie dolls and the popular girls at school. My hair was thick, stiff and kinky. When I became a natural, then started modeling, and actively pursuing self love I got to understand myself more. A journey inward. I still am working towards it tbh. Right now I've been loving my curves and I got a lil booty now.
I am a friend, a sister, a daughter.
I’m an empath, a dreamer, a lover, a social introvert.
A social media addict and a creative consultant.
Pisces Sun, Scorpio Moon, Leo Rising.
My name is Aaryn O'Quinn.
I love that my blackness is uniquely me. I love that my blackness invites conversation. I love that my blackness lends itself to an amazing fro. I love that my blackness unites me with amazing people.
I hated my hair the first time I went natural as an adult. I wore wigs for a few months, then eventually got comfortable with it. Several people told me how they preferred my hair when it was relaxed or straight...
I fell in love with how easy it got for me to do my hair and fell in love with the look. My look.
I am Lilian Uwanyuze, made in Rwanda.
I was extremely shy so I never played much; I just sat and watched other kids play. To this day, I am still shy and would rather just watch people from a distance than join them. AKA very little has changed about me.
And that's OK.
I am Hyacinth Capries Noble, a loving, spiritual being who is always in the making.
Growing up, I wanted kinky hair so bad! Just so I could wear my hair in two puff balls, a hairstyle I'm still madly in love with to this day. I also wanted darker skin. I hated being prejudged as stuck up or as if I felt superior because I had light skin and long hair. I hated that when I described my ethnic background to people, a lot of them would respond, "Oh, so you're not black." I could never be black enough, nor white enough (not that I ever tried), nor Hispanic enough to feel like I fit in any one category. There were many of times when I wanted to change my ethnic makeup all together. For instance, checking multiple "ethnicity" boxes on state exams gave me anxiety and made me feel more like an "other" than an actual, multicultural, complex being. I wanted to be as simple as life wanted to me to be, but we all know that's impossible.
I appreciate how far I've come. I love my long wavy hair (cut it this year), and its versatility. I love being multicultural, speaking slang, English and Spanglish, throwing down on soul food and Caribbean foods, being one shade of brown in the winter, and a darker shade in the summer. I especially love that my blackness is now defined by me, and only me.
I am 23 year old African woman living in Sweden
I am a true believer of love
I am a true believer of God.
I love love love fashion.
I am a strong independent woman who does not allow negative things get to me.
But most of all I am a beautiful woman.
Being confident, strong, independent realizing who I am and what I stand for
That’s who I am.
Letter to self:
I love that you’re full of love and that you want everybody to be happy.
I love the confidence that you have within yourself, you’re never influenced by other people when it comes to fashion or appearance. You have evolved so much Mai , you have become a rasta gal wow who would've though that you would stop wearing weave and rock your own hair, with no fear of what society thinks of your appearance I love the woman the you have become. I love your full lips, your booty , your skin , your hair, your beautiful name “Mai” which means water in tigrinya (Eritrean language) , you’re the purest.
I love that you’re unraveling yourself, on a journey to find your core. I love that you’re taking the time to learn more about yourself (spiritually)
I love that you are unraveling yourself, on a journey to find your core, that part of you that is the truest version of you. I love that you are taking the time to learn more about yourself, that you recognize the importance of it and that you are a queen.
But most of all, I love you for loving yourself.
the only Melina Resto you'll know.
In the 4th and 5th grade, I became best friends with three white girls, one was half Mexican. Knowing my mom was always struggling and my dad only had 1 hair style (the infamous ponytail), I asked my mom to straighten my hair so I could look more like my friends at school. Being that they never seemed to have to go through any scalp trauma since their hair was naturally bone-straight. This was when my mom started relaxing my hair to train it to lose its natural, curly essence. I remember crying to my mom so many times over not having straight hair at one point. At the age of about 12, I learned to style my own hair using celebrities as my inspiration. Sundays were my wash and re-straighten days.
After going through so many years of altering my natural hair pattern, I never knew what it was supposed to look like. I found an entire community of natural, curly haired women on YouTube in the beginning of 2011 and it completely blew my mind. Ran across a couple of women I related my hair journey with and learned so much. One night I came home from school, grabbed a pair of fabric scissors and went to town on my own head. I had big chopped my own hair into a TWA (teeny-weeny afro). By the end of those 20mins, I took a step back and had a moment of "Melina, what the hell did you do to yourself?!" The next day at school, everyone probably thought I was experiencing a "Britney Spears" moment, but I really loved the way my new hair cut made me feel.
I did this as a way to get to know my true self and never did I look back.
I am only me.
Unique, beautiful, worthy.
Strengthened by God’s love.
-Nina, 26, Igbo Nigerian, born and raised in Los Angeles, CA but rooted deep in my culture
When I was younger, I hated the texture of my hair. I hated that I couldn’t go swimming without braiding it up. I hated how it took an hour to detangle. I hated that it never seemed to lay quite as flat as other girls. I hated that it got poofy in the rain and didn’t stay sleek if there was any moisture in the air. My mom was always really good about taking care of my hair, but there came a point when I let almost anyone do it and not treat it with that same care. I remember being distraught the day I took a good look at my hair and realized I had lost so much of the volume and length that I was used to having. I finally started doing my own hair and nursed it back to health. Now, I wouldn’t trade my tresses for anything in the world. I love having a texture that is strong and resilient.
Your worth is not
based on what others
think they see just by
looking at you. It took me
a while to get to that
point, but I’m there.
Thank you for coming on this journey with us. I have realized that learning to love yourself despite what the world has to say is a life-long journey. Be mindful of the words you say about yourself and others because words are powerful and life-changing. Tell yourself how beautiful you are because of your unique God-given story, smile, and soul. Everyday. Until you believe it.
You are beautiful.
Special Thanks: Thank you to the ladies who so willingly shared their stories with me and you. And a heartfelt thank you to Joni Margaux for lending some handmade pieces for me to use when styling the girls.