13 Black Womxn On How Far Beauty Has Come And The Changes We Still Need To See

Lois Adeoshun
·13-min read
Photo credit: .
Photo credit: .

From ELLE

What is beauty? Is it a product we apply to our skin, a certain way we wear our hair or the complexion we were born with? Or is it our approach to life, the energy we bring and the kindness we share? More often than not, it's an indefinable combination of these things that differs depending on our personal experience. As part of Black History Month ELLE spoke to 13 Black womxn about their own perception of beauty - how it felt growing up under the pressure of Eurocentric ideals, how they've flourished despite these outdated societal limitations and what they envision for the future of beauty.

What is beauty? It is all of these women.

Fenn O'Meally, Photographer

Photo credit: Bon Duke
Photo credit: Bon Duke

When I was younger beauty for me was…

Conforming to beauty standards. Growing up in a white area where the beauty standard was straight hair and anglicised features.

But now beauty for me is…

Confidence. I truly believe that beauty is the result of confidence in embracing the unique attributes both nature and nurture have given an individual. It's that confidence in embracing 'me' that I struggled with as a child. My assumption that beauty was dictated and scored by society rather than myself.

What I want to see beauty become in the future is…

Non-conformist in every way.

Kai-Isaiah Jamal, Poet and Activist


Photo credit: Stella Malfilatre
Photo credit: Stella Malfilatre

When I was younger beauty for me was...

A very strict set of rules that I couldn’t find myself in. I acknowledged that from a young age I could find beauty in things that did not conform. In some ways I had to find self-love with myself. It also forced me to learn how subjective everything is, that nothing could be pedestaled and admired by all even if it was by most.

But now beauty for me is...

Something I try not to think about too much. I can examine the beauty standards around me and, of course, there are times where I do find myself caught up in comparisons, but I try to remind myself then and always that being for everyone isn’t always a good thing. Those who find beauty in me will be those who look at people for more than being subjects or aesthetics. I now radiate beauty from the inside too. My people will find it and who else would I want to come a-looking but them?

What I want to see beauty become in the future is...

Inclusivity but actually. It's easy to say we are diversifying the industry but we have to go deeper than just casting one black model, one asian model, one plus sized model, one trans model... Now we want to see full casts that are differently abled models or sexy studs.

We want to see what we haven’t before. We want to see something other than tokenism. We want to see more than one, both in front and behind the camera. We need the visions, make-up teams, stylists and creative directors to also mirror the cast on set.

Dr Kemi Fabusiwa, Doctor and Aesthetician

When I was younger beauty for me was…

Trying to live up to standards of beauty that were so different to what I actually look like.

But now beauty for me is…

Simply looking healthy and happy. Having fresh clear skin, strong white teeth and full healthy hair (which includes my natural hair texture as well).

What I want to see beauty become in the future is…

Making it easier for women to see that conventional beauty lies in natural beauty and we can all be naturally beautiful if we just make healthier choices.

Taiba, Founder of Keash Braids


Photo credit: .
Photo credit: .

When I was younger beauty for me was…

When people embraced their weirdness and didn’t fit into the norms, I found that very refreshing. People that seemed a bit more ‘edgy’. I hate to use that word but it makes sense in this context.

But now beauty for me is…

More than just a physical thing. It's really about someone’s personality, energy and vibe. That’s what I feel first before anything. Beauty for me is about staying true to yourself and not worrying about what you think you should look like; embracing what you do and how you carry yourself.

What I want to see beauty become in the future is…

Different types of beauty than the same beauty stereotypes that we view in the media constantly. Beauty should be seen as a personality - we should view it through what people give and not just how they look. Whether they are kind, loving, sharing, caring, these attributes are what make a person beautiful.

Yvonne Victoria, Influencer

When I was younger beauty for me was...

The shade of your skin. I felt that for your beauty to be widely accepted in this world you had to be a certain skin tone or shade. Growing up I rarely saw women that looked like me represented in fashion or beauty and the ones that were, were always regarded as the exception to the unspoken rule.

I always felt I’d be more beautiful if I was lighter skinned, especially when people would say I was 'pretty for a darker girl'. I love Naomi Campbell for that. She was one of the first women I saw in magazines and music videos as I was growing up that represented me and kickstarted my self love journey.

But now beauty for me is...

Acceptance. Acceptance of different heights and sizes, skin tones and hair textures. With age and a greater understanding of how the media works, I no longer allow outside influences to affect what I see as beautiful. To me, beauty is not confined to a box of specifics. It’s versatile and breaks boundaries. It’s in the unusual and the unique.

What I want to see beauty become in the future is...

More diverse and less restrictive.

Karen Williams, Model and Producer

Photo credit: .
Photo credit: .

When I was younger beauty for me was…

My mother’s Soul Train-ready afro crown, her sparkling, almond-shaped eyes, Maroon-proud cheekbones, creamed coffee skin, Tina Turner sassy mouth and sweet, earthy, spicy citrus scent of roses spiked with sandalwood, cloves, orange peel and lemon rind.

But now beauty for me is…

Everywhere and in everything. It’s in you, me, they. We are the beauty of the universe; the perfectly imperfect reflections of creation itself.

What I want to see beauty become in the future is…

A true embrace of the global population’s diverse, intersectional identities with age as a necessary criterion for diversity and inclusivity. I want to see a celebration of diverse older faces and bodies to affirm ageing as the most natural and universal of experiences for all people.

Lois Adeoshun, ELLE Fashion Assistant

Photo credit: .
Photo credit: .

When I was younger beauty for me was…

About physical appearance. Growing up there weren't a lot of Black women to look up to so my perception of beauty was what I saw on my TV screen or in my favourite magazines. Without even realising I became conditioned to a Westernised standard of beauty.

But now beauty for me is...

About someone's aura and vibe. It's about being true to yourself - a feeling that comes from within and actually not about physical assets at all. My mother always told me if your insides are beautiful best believe it will shine on the outside.

What I want to see beauty become in the future is...

More diverse and welcoming to all skin tones, genders and races, beauty doesn't have a label and therefore it should be represented by all.

Danika Magdelena, Photographer

Photo credit: .
Photo credit: .

When I was younger beauty for me was...

A naive perspective. I was more concerned about acknowledging beauty on the outside, rather than how I really felt about myself within. As a teenager, I was obsessed with being slim, I wouldn’t go out without some form of make-up on my face, and I liked having my hair as straight as possible on special occasions.

But now beauty for me is...

So much more. It’s not just about how I look, but how I feel about myself. I feel most beautiful when I am comfortable so I embrace my size by wearing clothes that compliment my shape. I still love to wear make-up but now I feel less inclined to wear it all the time, because, ironically, I feel more self conscious than when I didn't have it on.

What I want to see beauty become in the future is...

More accessible for everyone. There has been a shift and major improvement with shades and colours for black women in the last few years, but there is still more to be done and I would love to see more representation in how beauty products are marketed.

Maha Alselami, Make-Up Artist

Photo credit: .
Photo credit: .

When I was younger beauty for me was…

Instinctive. As a child I saw all of my mum's beauty products and knew I needed to make my own. I’d make perfumes out of crushed flower petals from our garden, or I would save the chocolate end of a cornetto and use it all day as the perfect brown lipstick. Can’t say it had much staying power though!

But now beauty for me is…

A tool to connect with myself and others, a way to express my passion and to educate where I can. We are all walking pieces of art; the planes and dimensions of the human form are so unique, with clear differences, even amongst identical twins. Beauty for me is understanding those dimensions and envisioning an enhanced potential, then creating it in reality using the right products and techniques.

What I want to see beauty become in the future is…

More self acceptance. When we accept all aspects of our selves, inside and out, we can create our own unique beauty using our own opinions and creativity, without conforming to any particular standard or appearance.

Lee Estelle, Model

View this post on Instagram

what is lady like?

A post shared by 🦋 (@lee.estelle_) on May 5, 2020 at 10:00am PDT

When I was younger beauty for me was...

Anything my mum and older cousins did - I wanted to be just like them, and Rihanna! But overall Black women especially have always been the epitome of beauty to me.

Now beauty for me is...

It's the same women I look up to but with more self love I no longer want to look like anyone else. I found the beauty within myself and ran with it and no one can take that away from me. Beauty is so fluid now and I love it, you can do things however you want. There are no rules!

What I want to see beauty become in the future is…

People looking inside themselves for their beauty and not relying on society to tell them what’s in or out. I would like people to realise that searching for a societal perfection that doesn’t exist won’t get you anywhere and to embrace whatever beauty means to you as a person.

Naomi Smith, Influencer

Photo credit: .
Photo credit: .

When I was younger beauty for me was...

A reflection of what others could see. I didn’t didn’t see myself as beautiful. Negative comments stick with you with like glue. I was so focused on what others thought of me as a child it was almost impossible to acknowledge my beauty.

But now beauty for me is...

My rich dark skin. I must say I’m in love. I see it as a gift and some days I wonder why I’ve been so blessed. It’s been a long, emotional and nerve-racking journey but I can confidently say I’ve made it.

Everyday you look in the mirror, you’re looking at features you cannot change... really features that you shouldn’t change. Things that seemed to be a curse to me are now a beautiful blessing. Everyday I told myself how beautiful I was, I am and will be. It manifested.

What I want to see beauty become in the future is…

Diverse. I want my little sisters to flick through catalogues, magazines, watch adverts and see models that look like themselves. I want them to see their beauty through influential stars. They need to know they ARE good enough to be on that big screen or in that magazine. They need to know they ARE worth it.

We need to see more of our role models. I want to be able to go into beauty stores and see every single brand being inclusive, whether big or small. We have a long way to go but I believe that there’s always room for change and I am confident, together we can make it.

Mikai McDermott, Hairstylist

When I was younger beauty for me was…

Seeing gorgeous black women in R&B videos. Think Snoop Dogg and Pharrell. Beauty was also seeing all the Black women who would get their hair done in my aunt’s salon. I would pester her for ages to let me get hair extensions and extravagant updos like the Jamaican women In the y2k magazines I loved so much. When you’re a little girl, you’re so impressionable - it was really important that I got to see women who I thought were beautiful that looked like me.

But now beauty for me is...

Being content with your internal and external being. It’s increasingly difficult to do so because of the ways beauty can be violent. But it is even more important to build communities in beauty. Build with people who look and feel like you - people who share your experiences.

What I want to see beauty become in the future is...

Far more accessible. Our ideas of beauty are rooted in centuries of eurocentricity. What we understand to be beautiful often times isn’t what we look like. I hope the future allows us to continue to reshape and rework what beauty is and what it can do for people.

Chizoba, Model

View this post on Instagram

@lukehemmingsphoto

A post shared by Chizzy—Aries (@chizoba_emmanuel_) on Mar 6, 2019 at 1:08am PST

When I was younger beauty for me was…

About being glamorous. As a Black girl I used to see lighter skin tones as more beautiful, people in magazines and at glamorous events as beautiful, it was just about the looks for me.

But now beauty for me is…

Having that extraordinary personality that makes you stand out, that scar, the lessons life has taught us, our real purpose in life.

Beauty is confidence, beauty isn't perfect, beauty is peace, beauty is diverse. Right now I feel so confident knowing my idea of beauty has changed. When I look at myself in the mirror I always say ,‘I have one of the most beautiful smiles.'

What I want to see beauty become in the future is…

Freedom. Beauty should be an expression of love, it should be appreciated no matter the colour of our skin or body sizes, it should not be discriminatory.

Beauty should bring hope. It shouldn’t be a symbol for sexual harassment. It should be the liberty to be whoever we want to be without being judged or bullied. We are all beautiful.

Like this article? Sign up to our newsletter to get more articles like this delivered straight to your inbox.

In need of more inspiration, thoughtful journalism and at-home beauty tips? Subscribe to ELLE's print magazine today! SUBSCRIBE HERE


You Might Also Like