This Is How We Should Be Talking About Beauty

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MBIBPhoto: Courtesy of My Black is Beautiful/P&G.
We've hit a crossroads in the beauty industry. Consumers are aware that there is a problem with the way women have been represented on television, in movies, and in advertisements — especially when it comes to African-American women. But, whenever a company tries to combat this, the efforts don't seem to go anywhere, and the issue persists.

My Black Is Beautiful is striving to change that. As part of an initiative started in 2012 by P&G, UNCF, and Black Girls Rock, My Black Is Beautiful is trying to motivate black girls and women, who are typically marginalized in media, to define beauty in their own termsnot by what society tells them.

In order to spread its message of positivity and self-love, My Black Is Beautiful held a nationwide search to find six ambassadors. Each woman selected has her own unique tools to help bring the initiative's vision to fruition.

We had the opportunity to sit down and chat with three of the ambassadors about this ongoing conversation. Each of them attempted to define the issue and then gave some brilliant advice on how to overcome it. No matter your race, age, or background, everyone should read their empowering words. Because, the current way we talk about beauty — to younger generations and among ourselves — is problematic, and the only way we can rectify that is if we work together to change the conversation.

Click through to read the interviews with these three inspiring women.
JerePhoto: Courtesy of My Black is Beautiful/P&G.
Jeré Reid
Jeré is a high-school advanced-placement history teacher in Kissimmee, Florida. She's also a motivational speaker and a natural-hair and beauty blogger for her website, Nappturally Chic Jeré. Her site allows her the opportunity to mentor young girls as well as conduct workshops on natural hair and self-esteem.

Tell me a little about how you got involved with My Black Is Beautiful.
“I actually filled out the application at 3:45 on the last day. I didn’t even have time to read over the rules! I figured I’d just fill it out and send it. Once I actually had time to sit down and read everything that was a part of it, I knew it was something I absolutely had to be a part of.”

What sort of change do you hope My Black Is Beautiful will put into motion?
“I wholeheartedly believe in the goal of My Black Is Beautiful. I’m a high-school teacher, so I see all the time how young girls don’t think they’re good enough or smart enough. I want to open up a dialogue. I want to reach out to young girls and help them. The rest of the ambassadors and I have major dreams to impact the lives of young girls and women and show them, yes, they are good enough.”

Why do you think the conversation has been so negligent and uneducated toward women of color?
“I think it has a lot to do with the traditional standards of beauty across media. We have to fight against a lot of stereotypes as black women. Programs like My Black Is Beautiful are helpful because we’re putting six educated, driven women together, and we’re going to change things. There are so many different shades and backgrounds and facets of beauty, so we want to shed light on them and uplift our community.

“The positive imagery is something we’re continuing to try to get more of. It’s not always a positive image that’s being portrayed. But, the goal is to showcase more positivity and empowerment.”

Why do you think right now is the time that this conversation needs to change?
“You watch television — most of it is reality TV. If you didn’t know better, those women are the only representation of women of color. When you look back at my parents' generation, they had women like Oprah and Maya Angelou. Now, you ask kids who they look up to, and they tell you all about reality TV stars or the latest train wreck of Hollywood. It’s crazy — especially when people are fixated on social media. It’s important to show the other side.”

Beauty seems to be revered above other traits, like intelligence, compassion, and courage. Why do you think that is?
“I think the main thing is social media. Instagram is a perfect example. People post snapshots of themselves all day long, but it’s so calculated. They aren’t going to pick a bad picture to put up there; you’re going to pick a good picture. So, a lot of the time, people get so caught up in trying to achieve this perfection — the perfection of that perfect shot. People think, I have to look perfect at all times. It’s glorifying this thing that doesn’t even really exist.”

What sets you apart from the other ambassadors? What do you hope to bring to the campaign?
“I think my profession sets me apart. I see a lot of girls who don’t feel like they’re worth it. They complain about their size, their complexion, their anything. So, one of the things that I always did my entire life, every time I met someone, I tried to find their inner passion. Maybe they like to dance or sing or cook — and that makes them special. That’s what I want to bring out of people.

“Trends change, beauty changes, but when people finally see that what they have inside is special, that’s forever. That’s what I bring to the table — that drive to bring that out of people. If I can do that on a grander scale, then I’m really living my purpose."

What would you say to the critics who say you can’t change the conversation?
“Well, I would say that I’ve seen it happen before! There was a time in my community where people who relaxed their hair were seen almost as outcasts. And, then it shifted. Now, more and more people are starting to re-embrace natural hair. Not only is it acceptable, but it’s starting to become the norm again. If people are there to put up the fight to change the conversation, it’ll happen. It happens all of the time.”

If there was one thing you wish you could tell all little girls, regardless of their race, size, or backgrounds, what would it be?
“I would tell every single little girl that her beauty is so much more than what people see on the outside. I’d tell them that beauty is something that resonated from the inside. If only you just look inside yourself and realize that you are the only person that is like you are. You are unique; everything about you is exactly the way it’s supposed to be.

“There’s a quote that I’d heard before that says something like, ‘When you watch flowers in the garden, none of the flowers are trying to compete with one another. They all just bloom on their own.’ I would tell girls to just bloom! Somebody else’s beauty doesn’t take away from yours. Just bloom in your beauty.”
Angelina-Photo: Courtesy of My Black is Beautiful/P&G.
Angelina Darrisaw
As a senior manager of digital business development at Viacom, Angelina knows a thing or two about scaling the corporate ladder. With a masters of business under her belt, she strives to educate young professionals to get ahead in the world of business.

Tell me a little about how you got involved with My Black Is Beautiful.
“My mother sends me emails all the time that have to do with social activism and empowerment, because she knows that it’s something I’m very interested in. So, she sent this program along to me. I applied online and was kind of nervous about it. When I have the opportunity to do something good, I can get a little scared, even if it’s a positive thing. But, I went through the process, and I eventually got selected!”

What sort of change do you hope My Black Is Beautiful will put into motion?
“I think the change is already happening, just in the conversations that are being generated around [the campaign]. Any conversation is good conversation, and the overwhelming majority of conversation around this has been good conversation.

“The other ambassadors and I recently sat on a panel, and we started talking about self-love and how to define that for yourself. It’s all about feeling good and treating yourself right. If you’re not in love with yourself, it’s hard to love other people. So, I hope that lesson of self-love will help others improve that person-to-person contact, and those interactions will continue to be amplified.”

Why do you think the conversation has been so negligent and uneducated toward women of color?
“I think there are so many historical reasons for that. It’s just an unfortunate, universal standard. Just think about the history of our country. There was a time up until recently that women of color couldn’t even be in media or have main roles on television.

“The positive imagery is something we’re continuing to try to get more of. It’s not always a positive image that’s being portrayed. But, the goal is to showcase more positivity and empowerment.”

Why do you think right now is the time that this conversation needs to change?
“You know, I’m so passionate about digital media and digital tools, and we’re at a place right now in society where social media is so prevalent. All of these negative videos that are going viral that demonstrate bullying — it’s actually scary. My Black Is Beautiful is so strong because of its social-media presence. To have a social impact means that you can amplify a positive image, which is so important right now.

"We can use the same tools that are making the negativity go viral and instead have a voice about being a strong woman and a sister. Right now is such a great time to do that.”

Beauty seems to be revered above other traits, like intelligence, compassion, and courage. Why do you think that is?
“I think it has a lot to do with gender relations in our society. In the past, women were looked at as objects. But, now we’re starting to see the definition of ‘beauty’ changing. It doesn’t just have to do with the physical anymore. Now, more and more women are starting to define beauty as compassion, as caring, etc. There’s a push of women supporting an intelligent woman as a beautiful woman.

“We have the ability to recreate and redefine what beauty means. Now is the time to step up and say, ‘We aren’t just pretty faces.’ We’re also able to have conversations without apologizing for it and embrace our femininity without it being a negative thing.”

What sets you apart from the other ambassadors? What do you hope to bring to the campaign?
“Well, what I love about this group of women is that we all come to the table with different strengths and experiences. There’s something so great about that dynamic — we’ve really established a sisterhood.

“My personal passion is career development in young people. That’s my ‘role.’ I have a masters degree in business, and I’ve progressed through the corporate ladder. I want to show all young people that no matter where you’ve come from, you can achieve.”

If there was one thing you wish you could tell all little girls, regardless of their race, size, or backgrounds, what would it be?
“I would tell all little girls that everything that you have inside of you, every part of your toolbox, is a gift — so you should use everything. Look at all parts of you as beautiful. Look at the parts that you’re unhappy with, and turn that story from a negative one into a positive one. Embrace your uniqueness. You are uniquely made. There is nothing that should be changed about the way that you were made.”

FeyiPhoto: Courtesy of My Black is Beautiful/P&G.
Feyi Odukoya
Feyi is a self-described serial entrepreneur. She works to instill confidence and purpose into the lives of young girls and women. Fayi is also the founder of Project Beautify You, a nonprofit with a mission to raise a generation of female leaders.

Tell me a little about how you got involved with My Black Is Beautiful.
"I randomly heard about the contest! It was 2 a.m., and I was looking online at something with Lisa Nichols. As soon as I read about it, I got really excited, and I thought this would be such a great opportunity."

What sort of change do you hope My Black Is Beautiful will put into motion?
"The biggest thing I want to accomplish is to inspire girls between the ages of 12 and 18 years old. I want to show them that there are women who are doing amazing things in the world. I want to show them that you can have mentors who are doing great things and that whatever you have a purpose for, you can do it. I'm a living testimony of that. My life defines that."

Why do you think the conversation has been so negligent and uneducated toward women of color?
"I think it goes back to media. When you watch TV, the definition of beauty is set for a specific hair length, color, and shape. It's all these different things that really have nothing to do with beauty. Children and people have adapted to that mentality. Beauty is what you look like instead of what you bring to the table, and that's something that needs to change."

Why do you think right now is the time that this conversation needs to change?
"A lot of people want to be 'known.' That's the most important thing. Those who are 'known' are known because they have a specific figure.

"It's funny, because the girls who I work with always say, 'Skinny girls want to be thick, thick girls want to be skinny, and you're only pretty if you're mixed.' Even though that's crazy, that's what's popular to them, and that's what they think defines beauty. That's something that needs to change."

Beauty seems to be revered above other traits, like intelligence, compassion, and courage. Why do you think that is?
"Well, the idea of 'Skinny women are the best women' is still very prevalent. That's why it's so great to see companies like Always and Pantene tackle these issues [with their commercials] and get people to tap into their inner self-esteem.

"Social media and TV also have a lot to do with it — they're what is training our kids. It's becoming ridiculous, almost."

What sets you apart from the other ambassadors? What do you hope to bring to the campaign?
"Well, people say that I'm the youngest looking, which I hope will help me relate to the younger girls. They're my niche, that's what I do. I really hope to be able to connect with young girls across the entire nation and really arm them with strategies to feel like they're able to connect with other powerful women."

What would you say to the critics who say you can’t change the conversation?
"History shows that things do change over a period of time. It just takes one person or movement. It may not be the quickest change, but anything is possible. We've seen beauty ideals change over the years! Who's to say that the idea of beauty as a whole can't be changed?"

If there was one thing you wish you could tell all little girls, regardless of their race, size, or backgrounds, what would it be?
"I would tell them that everyone is born with beauty, and beauty is something you have to see within yourself. People may tell you that you're beautiful, but you've got to believe it. You were born beautiful, you are beautiful now, and you will always be beautiful."



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