Jhené Aiko On Fame, Tattoos, & Breaking Out Of The Box

Growing up, Aiko felt like she never fit in — now, that's the whole point.

Squiggly Line
For some, a lipstick is just a lipstick. But for others, it's a source of strength, creativity, and expression. In our series Power Faces, we'll explore the relationship between strong women and the makeup they choose to wear — or not. Our latest subject is singer and author Jhené Aiko. This story was told to Jessica Cruel and edited for length and clarity.
I come from a mixed family, and I didn’t like having my mixed features when I was younger. At school in L.A., it was Black, white, or Mexican, and I was never fully accepted as any of those things — or even as Asian. People would be like, “What are you?” And I would tell them both my parents are mixed, and they were like, “How could you be more than two things? How many parents do you have?” Sometimes, I would wish that I could be one thing. I was just so self-conscious about everything: my skin, my nose, all of my features, really. But as I got older, I started appreciating and accepting my uniqueness.
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Photographed by Paley Fairman
Balenciaga dress.
Photographed by Paley Fairman
All Eyes On Aiko
I’ve had so many different people do my makeup over the years, and have taken on different products and techniques that I like. When I was 14, I did a music video and the makeup artist did some art on one of my eyes. It was kind of like [a reverse cat-eye]. From then on, I can’t do my makeup without doing it. I just follow the line of the inner corner of my eye. I like how it brings my eyes closer, and I think it brings more depth to my eye.
I started plucking my brows when I was 12. I would over-pluck, so they were super thin and the wrong shape. [My brows] always depend on my state of mind. When I look back at pictures, I know that it was a stressful time in my life because my eyebrows look crazy. When they look even and pleasant, that means I’ve been having a very balanced, centered few days.
I'm always telling my daughter, Namiko, the things that I did when I was younger. She has such beautiful eyebrows and I always tell her, Don’t ever let someone make your eyebrows thin. She's 10 and definitely gets into my makeup. She’ll walk out and have bronzer on and I will say, “You don’t need that.” I try to teach her that makeup is an art and it’s to express yourself, but it’s not something you need to be beautiful.
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Photographed by Paley Fairman
Missoni dress.
Photographed by Paley Fairman
Written In Ink
My first tattoo was a big lotus on my side. I started researching, and I wanted it to be symbolic of Buddha. Most recently, I started covering up my old back tattoos with a dragon piece. The dragon is wrapping around a flower and crystals. I was always into mystical creatures, and I was born in 1988, which is the year of the dragon.
I just turned 30 this year, and I feel like I’m transitioning, so I wanted my outside to match my insides. Aside from my first tattoo, most of my tattoos are from when I was going through something emotionally. I kind of needed to go through something painful to get over that emotion. In a weird way, getting the tattoo is like taking the emotional pain, experiencing the physical pain, and then turning it into something that is beautiful to me.
Photographed by Paley Fairman
Balenciaga Star Earring, $295, available at Balenciaga; Lisa Perry suit.
Photographed by Paley Fairman
Break Out Of The Box
When I put out my song “TheWorst,” it was like, Now that I have more attention on me, I need to start changing up my hair and wear heels and more makeup when I go out. And sometimes I do feel like putting on a dress and makeup and heels and wearing my hair straight; and sometimes I really don't. In the last two years, I’ve started feeling more comfortable being whoever I feel like being.
People are going to try and box you in no matter what. If you’re a singer, and you’re female, and you have light skin, they’re going to put you under this category of Aaliyah or Beyoncé or Rihanna. But everyone has their own thing to offer, so I think that should be celebrated more. I definitely have been called “the Asian R&B singer” a lot throughout my career. But as time goes by and people understand humanity more, that will be less of an issue.
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