Mary J. Blige’s My Life album cover is like a study in everything great about ‘90s style. The dark lip, the leather cap, the hoop earrings — all peak 1994. It’s hard to believe it’s been 25 years since that album drop, because the same ensemble would look at home on any woman riding the subway in 2019 (and it’s just as likely she’d be bumping “I’m Going Down” through her AirPods, too).
But while the brown lip that was so popular in the '90s is doing a boomerang, it's rare you'll catch Blige herself in the dark lipstick she wore so often in the beginning of her career. “On the What’s the 411? album, I was hiding. You couldn’t see my eyes, and I had a hat on. I always wanted to wear dark lipstick or anything that hid me — glasses, a hood, whatever it was. I never believed in my own beauty,” she tells Refinery29 in an interview. “Black lipstick was armour for me. Every time you’d see me, I had a lot of stuff on because I was hiding. I’m not hiding anymore.”
This month, Blige signed on to be the face of MAC’s Love Me lipstick campaign. In all the images, she’s rocking French Silk, a peachy nude lipstick that’s a far cry from the vampy shades she preferred during her “Not Gon’ Cry” era. “The campaign is all about me loving me and finding that in myself,” she says. “When they introduced this concept to me it was like a no-brainer because that’s where I am in my life. I am being a little selfish these days, loving me and taking care of me.”
This isn't the first time Blige has worked with MAC: She was a Viva Glam ambassador back in 2000, and she's coming back this year to celebrate Viva Glam's 25th anniversary, which coincides with the 25th anniversary of her My Life album. As part of the collaboration, Blige is helping MAC’s philanthropic mission by attending the Love Ball, an annual event that celebrates the LGBTQ+ community and raises money for HIV/AIDS organisations.
Of the 24 shades in the Love Me collection, Blige chose a nude lipstick because that's her go-to these days. “It’s my comfort zone. I do colours sometimes, but nude is the thing for me,” she says. “You don’t feel like you’re doing too much. You just feel comfortable. French Silk is a nude that you have to have some kind of confidence to wear.”
Blige admits that it took years for her to develop that confidence and to hone her unique style. Looking back at her career, you can see that evolution in every album drop — and on the cover of her latest album, Strength of a Woman, Blige sits on a throne. You can’t miss the symbolism there: she’s a queen and she knows it. “I had to grow into this. No matter how many people would tell me I was beautiful, I didn’t believe them,” she says. “It took a lot of certain people saying they love me then start tearing me down for me to say, ‘OK, well, I got to start believing in myself, loving myself.’ I’m still growing and evolving, but I’ve reached a point where I can’t please the world; I have to please me.”
Getting there has taken work. In addition to devoting time to her health with a regular workout routine and healthy eating habits, Blige spends time every day bolstering her spiritual well-being. “When my eyes come open in the morning, the first thing that I do is thank God for my life. I sit up for about an hour and 30 minutes and meditate, read, pray, and sit quietly. Just to have a spiritual [moment] before I go out into the world and have to deal with all the nonsense,” she says. “I always speak that I am going to have a blessed day, that I’m beautiful. Whatever it is I want to believe and want people to believe about me, I speak it and rehearse it in my mind. I start my day off loving myself.”
Now, when you see the Oscar-nominated actress walking the red carpet, nothing is hidden. In fact, she rarely wears a full face of makeup when she’s not working. “In my everyday life, I barely have anything on. I wear a lip, an eyeliner, and I kind of darken my eyebrows, but I don’t have any foundation on,” she says. And when she does have to do press, she keeps it as natural as possible. “I tell my makeup artist, please don’t remake my face — just enhance what I have. I’m happy with what I have.”