Where Do You Find Beauty Inspiration?

Between the Vogue Italia hubbub and the New York Fashion Week’s will-they-or-won’t-they ethnically ambiguous post, I’ve been thinking A LOT about models, the fashion industry, and where women of color find themselves in the midst of it all. Where do you look if you want to see beautiful, inspiring images of women of color — besides the obvious mags dedicated to us, such as Essence and Ebony? Why do we look to magazines and the media to reinforce our concepts of beauty and include us regardless of their spotty track record in doing so? Bianca, a commenter on that Ethnically Ambiguous post, dropped some knowledge that has lingered with me all week.

Why do we continue to look to the fashion industry to represent us when the industry is built on generating illusions for profit? When people from the industry throw their hands up and say, “Well having diversity would be nice, but sorry, it just can’t be this way.” Since when do they not have control over who they cast in their shows? Fashion’s complacency, excuses, apologies and superficial attempts to show diversity are disgusting.

I’d rather put my energy into promoting, discovering and creating my own ideas of beauty, and representing what I find beautiful in myself. I learned what was beautiful from the folks who raised me, not from magazines and TV. I try to help my students identify and verbalize their own ideas about beauty and see how the media has distorted those ideas.

If the fashion industry truly wanted to represent all kinds of beauty, it would no longer be an industry. It would be unnecessary. We spend so much money trying to attain a certain beauty and so much time being fearful that we may not be able to.

I will not pat designers on the back for showcasing models who range in complexion. I will not look at it as a step in the right direction when they turn a complexion or hair texture or bone structure into a trend. I will not praise an industry that still conforms to a certain body type. And I will not applaud them when they do these things for profit.
I love me some clothes, but I’ll be damned if I ever expected a designer to truly represent people that look like me and my friends.

We/I don’t need designers to show us what we already know. Why are we waiting for them? Why are we paying them so much money and time? Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn in the summertime is as visually stimulating and ethnically diverse as it gets. I sit on a bench and watch well-dressed folks pass – for free – and thank mother nature for continuing to broaden my idea of who is beautiful.”

That’s why I love you bellas so much. I swear, I have the most intelligent group of commenters on the internet (and I say this as someone whose cat got 85 comments on ICHC).

Thank you, Bianca. Your comment was not just eloquently stated, it was on frickin’ point. And I agree with so much of it.

But in addition to learning my concept of beauty at my mother’s feet, watching her put on her face at her dresser — I grew up in a magazine-reading home. I’ve always been an avid reader, and when I was a teenager, magazines were my food. That Carrie Bradshaw quote, “I used to buy a copy of Vogue instead of buying dinner because I felt it fed me more” — that was me as a teenager. Except, replace Vogue with Seventeen and Sassy, and well, I was bulimic and pretty unhappy with myself back then so that explains that. But now I’m grown, and I realize that I need nourishment for my body and my mind.

For me, going natural was an awakening, a chance to discover my beauty in a unique way. And consequently, I’ve come to realize that mainstream beauty magazines don’t nourish my mind. They’re more like… cigarettes — initially satisfying, but addicting, and poisonous. I’ve managed to kick the habit.


Also, unlike Bianca I don’t live in Brooklyn, I currently reside in Miami. A stroll down Lincoln Road is more likely to reveal surgically enhanced living Barbie dolls than a range of beauties I can identify with.

I still look for representation, even though I turn to sources like Jezebel and Make Fetch Happen for information about the latest magazine photoshoots, and which models are being featured where. I still find myself looking for images that highlight beauty I can identify with. When I see Yaya DaCosta in an Olay ad, or Nina Keita advertising Old Navy, I smile, I lean forward, I want to know more about the product. Call me a sucker for advertising, but it never fails to pique my interest.

The occasional ads or photo shoots that feature black women intersprinkled like too few chocolate chips in a big, bland vanilla cookie don’t satisfy a bella like me. And so, more and more often, I find my beauty inspiration online. I don’t even have to browse through Fokti, although there’s SO MUCH inspiration there — sometimes it just pops up in unexpected places when I’m not even looking for it.

Like MSN — which recently featured a hairstyle gallery of African American hair that included some cute natural styles — quelle surprise. Going Natural.com can always be relied upon for beautiful images of brothers and sisters with locs, twists, and other natural styles, and so can Naturally You magazine. Gorgeous Black Women always delivers, and I found the beautiful image of Wakeema Hollis that you see above on GBW.

I’ve been watching some great natural hair videos on YouTube, quite a few of the bellas on Fokti and Nappturality are on there doing their thing, it seems! I especially like Shawnta 715 — who also does amazing makeup, Curly Chronicles, she’s wonderful, Rustic Beauty, Nappystar 25, and then there’s Masoesa of the aforementioned Going Natural.com, whose videos are just filled with inspiration and positivity and women who look like you and me. Check out the video she made for Miss Nappturality 2008.

So many colors of skin and textures of hair to drink in — I love that video!

So tell me, bellas — where do you find your beauty inspiration?

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Comments

  1. my roommate is wonderfully inspirational to me. all my fashion blogs are streamed to my google reader. with reader you can tag posts that you like or are interested in. lots of times i see things that remind me of her. and she has her own special tag called “channeling morgan”.

    more recently i’m becoming more inspired by what’s in my closet. this whole summer i was away from most of my wardrobe so i’m finding more joy in the clothes i haven’t seen in 2 1/2 months than anything else.

  2. Mrs.Mckinzie says:

    I am always serching the net,reading magazines,and watching tv for beauty inspiration.ANTM was good last night ,and i’m rooting for Isis to win.I have accepted the fact that there are some men out there who are just fabulous.

  3. About twice a month, I pluck four or five fashion mags from the stands at B&N and peruse the glossy, perfumed pages. I always search for women of color or women who are curvy — “fat and fine!” as my grandma would say. Alas, 9.9 out of 10 times, I’m disappointed, because Bianca is right. We DON’T need designers to show us what we already know… and often they get their inspiration from what they see us (read: people of color) wearing!

    I don’t think that trying to change the industry warrants my anger or too much of my energy. Instead I choose to channel my efforts into (1) cultivating my own style according to the things I love and (2) supporting others to embrace their natural beauty. There was an Essence article that came out several years ago — and I paraphrase, because I don’t remember it exactly — which said that black women should smile at each other more, encourage each other, and compliment each other instead of cutting our eyes, back-biting, and being overall jelly. So every chance I get — and particularly when I see a sister with natural hair, regardless of her age — I tell her she looks beautiful and encourage her. I think if we all did that more often, it would make a huge impact on how we see ourselves while also teaching us to appreciate the beauty around us.

    Oi! What a long response. My inspiration comes from the gorgeous women at my church who wear the glow of peace and grace that comes from right living. I’m also enthralled with 40s style and black sirens of days past and present — Lena Horne, Diahann Carroll, Diana Ross. I love the look of fashion a-la Lynn Whitfield and Debbie Morgan in Eve’s Bayou. Lately I’ve had a thing for Cosby Show style circa 89′. Lisa Bonet and Phylicia Rashad always looked so cool to me. I could go on and on…

  4. My first beauty inspiration is my mother. That woman can do things with eyeshadow that still leave me in awe. As a kid I wanted to be a fashion designer, so I used my allowance and chore money to snap up any mag I could get – Vogue, Elle, Harper’s, especially. My mom got Essence then so I used that too.

    I eventually switched course in my career aspirations, but I still loved fashion. Around the time I was in college, though, I started wondering why I was financing publications that showed me few to no images of women who looked like me. So I stopped. I still look from time to time, but unless a sister makes the cover, I don’t buy them.

    Now, I find inspiration everywhere. Girlfriends, clothes, art, blogs, the garden, everywhere.

  5. great entry!
    For the longest time, I defined beauty and searched for its definition in magazines….
    now, after much soul-searching and working on my self-esteem i just came to embrace that every woman is beautiful in her own ways and it is up to me to define my own standards!

  6. I find it just by living. I try to be “in the moment” so that I can absorb all the amazing things around me. My local florist, a well dressed man/woman, cable cars, the sky. You name it.

  7. @ Ms. McKinzie– I’m rooting for Isis as well… It is WE who set the trends in our society & then mainstream fashion/beauty tries to copy or remix it as “original.” It is funny to me to see how much our natural cool flyness or style is envied and admired(how many “lip plump” lipsticks are out right now?? And self-tanner is a million dollar industry), yet we aren’t given fair credit. I love to read & I like to look good, but I must say WE have to celebrate and educate ourselves about ourselves, b/c no one else is really looking to do so. I think you had a post awhile ago about supporting black fashion/ beauty by buying black-owned, and I truly enjoyed that. Now, instead of immediately looking to buy a Coach or Prada bag when I want something new, I look at what Alek Wek or Tracey Reese has going on first.

  8. I’m so thankful for the internet age, because it has helped a lot of us who didn’t know the other existed to come together and create our own beauty ideals, be it through blogging, fotki or online communities and e-zines.

    I’m so happy for what the future holds for us. We have something great on our hands and it’s up to us to harness this greatness that’s bound to happen. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, bella you’re much more than afrobella.com imagine the possibilities, even bigger than the glam or sugar network and yes you can even do print!

  9. My fashion icon was..is my mom too…she always followed her own road with fashion…the rules she followed then i still follow now.

    I don’t even try to find myself in commercial media anymore..especially when i wear my hair as I am now…Back in the day at least you would see some music videos with short hair or caesar cuts in em…not anymore.

    So I don’t look in the media..i look to my friends…and relatives and random Brave people in the street..and what makes them feel pretty and sexy..

  10. Ceecee – I’m working on some thangs! Give me time — there’s so much in store. Trust. And thanks for saying that and supporting me. It really makes me feel proud =)

  11. Bella, you should be proud! Very.

    I used to scour the ‘net (at the detriment of what I was SUPPOSED to do at work) for beauty inspiration. I’ve gotten away from that somewhat, but like many here said I find inspiration from those around me. I look at my relatives and even at myself. Once the Lord showed me how to see myself as a beautiful creation of His (even when looking in the mirror!), my whole world changed. I think my three sisters are just GLAM! Don’t get me started on the fly and graceful women in my family…

    Which takes me to another tangent (I’ll make it short.) What happened to graceful beauty (particularly among us younger ones)? I see it sometimes but I’d like to see more of it.

  12. In my early 20′s I used to wear short skirts and high heels. I was confident and loved my body. Aged 27 I became disabled and found myself using a wheelchair. I went on to use crutches and now I walk with a cane. In addition I have to wear trainers. I have no choice, no Manola’s for me.

    One of the most injurious pressures I put on myself was trying to maintain the old image of beauty I had. It was impossible. It led to me feeling second to other women. The most freeing thing I did was to abandon that impossible dream and create my own beauty. So I walk with a cane but I make sure that cane is a fashion accessory as well as a tool. I walk with a rollator but I do so with pride knowing I won’t fall over. I had to create a new image because I tell you absolutely no magazine out there was telling me how to do it.

    This is one of the many joys and advantages of being on the margins; you get to create and tell your own story. So I say welcome the fact that the fashion industry ignores you. It only enslaves those who follow it anyway. Have you ever seen a Chanel show? All the women look the same in their badges of Chanel. Who wants that? Not me.

  13. I find inspiration in the mirror. I have to live with this face and this body every single day and no matter how much I may not like it, it’s mine. I have to constantly remind myself that beauty is truly skin deep, and what I see in the magazines and tv isn’t always real. Living in a society where lace fronts and cosmetic surgery is our answer to “looking good,” I pride myself in my original nappy hair, voluptuous breasts, oily skin and all. I have what the have-nots pay thousands for. I’ll never need botox cuz my oil slick of a complexion will pay off in another 15 years. I’ll never need a breast enlargement (maybe a reduction), and I’m happy with my short, textured do cuz I can wear it straight one day and nappy the next. I love me, and I am my own inspiration!

  14. Loved the video salute to natural sistas!

    And your reader comment was spot on. Thank heavens for the Internet. Empowering folks to embrace out of the box thinking. I find beauty inspiration in the beauty of my spirit. In my ability to recognize that life is a daily gift; not to be wasted. True beauty is not using anything as a measuring stick for your own personal moxie. I love listening to spiritual teachers like Iyanla Vanzant and my momma to empower my sense of divinity and wholeness.

    I love woman who are daring, bold, confident, and courageous. Beauty that is skin deep.

  15. Also.

    Yes! Brooklyn is the hotness when it comes to Black women who are natural. I’ve traveled a lot of places and I’ve never seen as many beautiful natural black women as I have seen in Brooklyn. It’s as common to see a natural black woman as it is to grab a burger from Mickey D’s. I love it! There’s so many sisters in Brooklyn who are doing the damn thing with natural care for the inside and out. Queen Afua books and her colon therapy, meditation, Vegan food (although I love chicken!), and just a wholesome energy when it comes to self-acceptance. It’s sound’s like a Black Utopia; but it really is…

  16. I do not see the fashion industry as representing images of beauty whether Black or white. I just see it as a profit making industry that uses clever psychological tactics to make women feel insecure about their looks. Designers makes clothes that are not always designed to be worn and the ones that are made for the shop floor are for ladies with the same size hips as ten year old boys. Those six footers donning the runway during the fashion weeks are not representative of all women just a small minority.

  17. It’s funny Bella, I was discussing this exact same topic with a friend the other day. I live in a small city in the UK which is not very ethnically diverse, the small number of black women I do see are weaved to the max (think Beyonce and ashanti)and I often feel little like the odd one out with my au natutral do. To add to this the women whose ‘beauty’ I am constantly bombarded by is that of Kate Moss, Keira Knightly, Agyness Dean…Daisy Lowe, these women are a constant fixture on the big beuaty glossies, these women are praised as being the ‘coolest’ and ‘most fashionable’, but none of them look like me (Trying to get a black beauty magazine here is almost as hard as finding anything but dax for my hair in the local drug store…lol!Plus the only one I’ve managed to locate- rarely that is!- is black beauty, but that particular magazine focuses on the creamy crack, weird looking weaves and skin lightening creams- I mean how damn insulting!)
    Anyway I rely heavily on the net for black beauty inspiration, fokti, naturally you website…miss Jessies website has some fabulous pics, also Karen Halliburton posts soem really inspirational videos on her site (although she’s pretty hardcore about the natural movement), but my true inspiration comes from London. I work there are often and am finally moving there at the end of the month, when I’m there I can’t believe how many black women walk past me, I also can’t believe how many beautiful natural bellas are strutting aroung with the healthiest, funkiest hair. I stepped off the tube the other day to be confronted by a beautiful black women with bright red curly hair (think mel b in the spice girls), a huge orange flower acessory clipped in the side..she looked ferosh, no one could take their eyes off her…I literally walk around london taking notes. So there you have it!
    Just so you know I’m not disputing that Keira Knightly et al aren’t beautiful they are, but they aren’t the only kind of beautiful as we all know!

    Peace to all you fabulous bellas!x

  18. Bella I understand your point about finding our own role models and not counting on Vogue; but then I think if enough people demonstrate to Vogue that we would like to see issues like this, it could be the beginning of the hiring of more women of color in the modeling profession.The other reason why this vogue was significant was because it was triggered by the magnificent image of the Obama family. I’m sure more European magazines will do what Vogue Italiana did! And most importantly I’m hoping that the advertisers in these magazines will be a reflection of us. Although Vogue may not be consistent; I say support their effort and continue developing our own media outlets.

  19. What an inspiring post. I find my inspiration in the beauty of others that I surround myself with. And when I do makeup I like to be inspired by getting up close.

  20. While I am natural, I tend to find beauty inspiration within EVERY type of woman…when a woman of any color or size or style smiles with confidence and she looks healthy and happy and glowing and stylish in her own way, it inspires me to take care of my beauty, especially on my “slump’ days, when I’m not feeling the beauty & random compliments from the hubby always boosts my beauty energy!:)

    PS:Currently Andrea of FlyGirls(http://flygirls.typepad.com) is inspiring my love for my natural hair…

  21. I really appreciated the comments by dettygirl and mochachoc.

    I think in a way my children inspire me…because I look at them and feel that they are beautiful, and work hard for them to love their poofy hair and all the rest of it… and then I realize that I have live it myself, because children pay more attention to your actions and attitudes than your words. So if I tell them that black women are beautiful, too, then I have to act like it. So I have learned to enjoy the things about myself that are so reflective of a mostly non European heritage…my lips, kinky hair, etc., etc., so that my kids will really see that And I totally agree with Ericka. My kids go to a very ethnically diverse school, so we talk about how that red curly hair Missy has is pretty, and aren’t those braids Tonia has beautiful? Oooh look at that pretty chocolate skin your friend has, aren’t Lisa’s green eyes pretty? They seem to be able to see beauty in others without feeling it makes their beauty less. So, they inspire me to be like that, too.

  22. I find a lot of beauty inspiration on my college campus: from my friends, the black female professors (two of whom are fellow afrobellas!!) and students who do fashion design. i prefer these to the magazines, because the models just aren’t accessible. they pose and look happy in these gorgeous clothes, but i can’t connect with them. i don’t open a magazine and say “that’s me”. but i look around me and say, “yeah, if she can look fly, so can i!” Being at home in Nigeria is also very beauty inspiring, because I see people of all complexions, with amazing hair and clothes, and i identify with them a lot more.
    Oh and finally, congratulations on winning, and thank YOU, Patrice! Your site has helped me find so much amazing inspiration on the internet, i don’t know what i would do without it.

  23. Bianca, well said, but I think you underestimate the impact that these images have on us and especially are younger counterparts. “We’re all conditioned to see beauty,” says Veronica Webb and she’s absolutely right. Being substandard was simply a fact that was drilled into my head every time I opened Vogue or Seventeen, or watched MTV or BET, or walked down the halls of my high school. I didn’t ever aspire to be a musician or model but it was great to look in the mirror and see someone beautiful. I thank Monica, Naomi Campbell and Brandy for providing darker skinned, equally attractive/non-hypersexual counterparts to Aaliyah, Mya, Cindy Crawford and Britney Spears.

  24. My beauty and style inspiration came from my mother and sisters. I’m over forty and I still find inspiration in Essence magazine and the many beautiful women of color all over the world. I think that all women are beautiful regardless of ones hue. I love my hair and skin tone because this is what God gave me and I am not going to change it. My Black is Beautiful and so is yours!

    I love it when I see a woman who emanates strength and beauty from within, it shows because she has a smile on her face and is not wearing a frown.

  25. I can’t believe my little comment has triggered all this, and on Afrobella no less! Crazy…

    The comments are great. I’m glad Shones reminded us of the importance of honoring and acknowledging each other’s natural beauty more often. A friend and I made a deal that we were going to break the habit of viewing other women as some kind of competition. Instead, we were gonna smile and send out positivity. I’m working on it! I’m delighted many of us have been able to find a way to construct our own ideals.

  26. My favorite way to get style inspiration is to look at old photos of my mother from when she was my age. Her style was the best, and she is STILL on point with it decades later. It makes me so happy when people tell me I look like her. It’s the best compliment of all!

  27. I look in the mirror and I look at my beautiful culture that god has blessed me with for beauty inspirations, I don’t need a europeans ideal of what beauty is.

  28. We are all beautiful in our own unique way and it IS our differences that make us so beautiful. We do not need Vogue, Chanel, or NY Fashion Week to define our beauty. Lets face it we spend millions of dollars a year on the latest designer this or the latest designer that and most of these designers have made it very clear that they do not design clothing for us bellas. Beauty isn’t just about what you wear and how you look; real beauty comes from your heart.

  29. my inspiration is twofold: the blackness in the beauty industry and the everyday effort so many black women make, in the face of such strong opposition.

    does anyone know/remember who patrick kelly is? http://www.answers.com/topic/patrick-kelly this was the black fashion designer from mississippi who was so powerful and well-respected that he worked with black models exclusively — and when he did work with a white model, he sent them down the runway in blackface.

    to pick up a vogue magazine as a kid and to see this black man’s work all over everything was a revelation. i was beyond inspired. i vowed then and there that when i got away from my mother’s straightening comb, i wouldn’t ever process my hair again. (think of it — if black women stopped straightening their hair, using weaves, etc, they’d put a billion dollar industry out of business.) fashion does matter because it’s images are so pervasive. when those images are of us, it changes how we see ourselves and how others perceive us.

    okay. secondly, i live in harlem, so it’s easier for me to go natural and revel in that than it is for my kinfolk down south and in the midwest who are ridiculed mercilessly if they don’t tow the conventional black beauty standard line. i know, because that’s the heat i caught until i left — and it sometimes singes me when i return. think about it: many black women run the risk of losing their jobs or not being taken seriously on those jobs for opportunity and promotion if they don’t straighten their hair.

    i greatly admire those black women who go natural under those circumstances. they inspire me to stay natural, too.

  30. Gorgeous Black and Queen Esther, I agree thanks. I left my 2 cents on the other comments with the related post.

  31. I have never quite understood our society’s obsession with corporate beauty. I guess being raised in a small midwestern town has left me either a little naive or unwarped to what I am supposed to want or be attracted too. The movement towards unnatural ideals is really confusing. Why is the image of ultra skinny young white women the ideal concept of beauty? Why is this the image that supposedly helps sell? Is it because this is what society really feels is ideal beauty or is it because we have been inundated with this image over and over again that we have accepted it and now believe it to be true? Chicken or the egg I guess.

    I always joke that I am an equal opportunity dater. Of course I am attracted to women by physical characteristics, but what keeps me and what defines beauty to me is their personality. Beauty is all emcompassing. I can find beauty in seemingly diametrically opposed concepts. Strong and meek. Serious and silly. Conservative and liberal. It all depends how the womnan carries herself. I guess these are difficult to portray in tv and mag ads, but just thought I’d throw my 2 cents in after stumbling upon this interesting discussion.

  32. Thanks for the love afrobella! I love your site, I forgot about those ‘continue reading’ links, completely missed this!

    I got inspiration from other women I would see out on the street and those who appeared in magazines without the yaki. It was nice to see that they were just as gorgeous with their natural hair. I find it in myself as well..Fortunately, I’m pretty darn happy with what I see in the mirror..and if I’m not, I throw on something that’ll get me there, lip gloss, heels, pretty eye makeup..whatever..but my hair is me..most people get confused if I change my hair from the fluffy state lol.

  33. I recently saw an episode of Tyra about dark-skinned black women so unhappy with their color they bleached their skin. In one case the woman was bleached as a child and was now bleaching her 3 sons! Anyway, Tyra made the point of their being a spectrum of color conditioning, with bleaching being at one extreme end (similar to bulimia or anorexia for “weight watchers.”) Anyway I am thankful not to have those issues with my dark chocolate skin and recognize that self-acceptance, self-appreciation and self-love is indeed a gift I am grateful to have had passed on to me. Luv ya Bella and Congratulations on the blog awards.

  34. I love cute kid photo, could u plz mail to me more cute pics,

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