While Black History Month is coming to a close in the U.S., the celebration of Black power, influence, and beauty around the globe is indefinite.
Blackness isn’t a monolith—it connects countless skin tones, hair textures, facial features, and beauty rituals. While the beauty industry in particular has made great strides in addressing the lack of inclusion that has historically held it back, from addressing racial bias in retail to doubling the number of Black-owned brands on shelves for everyone to experience, there is still a lot of work to be done.
As beauty brands, retail spaces, and the media continue to build on missions centering around diversity and inclusion, not just through product offerings but through compensation and by providing access platforms where Black women are seen and heard, we wanted to share how Black women from around the world define their beauty, in their own words. Because no one knows us better than ourselves.
Katiucia Oliveira, model
Where she lives: Brazil
What Black beauty means to her: It means strength—it’s an affirmation of who you are and a flight from standards. For years, fair skin and straight hair settled in our society as the beauty standard, mainly because this was the image linked to most products sold globally—and this image was not only reproduced on TV, but shown in campaigns and anywhere where the idea was to convey “beauty.” Meanwhile, having Black features like full lips, curly hair, and a broad nose was considered ugly.
How it’s viewed in her country: Even in Brazil, a country where more than half of the population is Black, it took a long time to have this connection of beauty to Blackness. We grew up being fed insecurities about our bodies, our hair, our beauty, and our people. It was years of hiding or trying to fit into old patterns, seeking perfection, when you don’t have a formula for it. As a model, I think back on how difficult it was to be present in some spaces. And how difficult it was to be able to participate in a parade, a campaign, or even a simple casting.
Today our beauty is about becoming more visible, and our images are being shared widely. Although there is still a lot of prejudice and erroneous stereotypes about us, the change is happening. And that change is important. It breaks standards, grants self-affirmation in our society and gives you the power to occupy spaces, and, most importantly, nurtures self-love. With every comment that says “you are not pretty,” “your hair is bad,” “your nose is too long,” I have stopped and said to myself, “I am very beautiful, regardless of those comments.”
With each passing day, I hope for us to move beyond the waves of racism and prejudice, and for the world to see us as we are, beautiful and important. Thick lips, long noses, several ways to shape our hair, and an extreme amount of melanin applied impeccably. It’s past time to write a new script for our story.
Her go-to beauty products: At the moment, Rihanna’s makeup brand Fenty Beauty is my favorite. Not only for the quality, but for the care in meeting our skin tone and also for the representation achieved.
$36.00, Fenty Beauty
$19.00, Fenty Beauty
Nontando Mposo, editor-in-chief of Glamour South Africa
Where she lives: South Africa
What Black beauty means to her: Black beauty means being yourself and proud of what makes you unique: your skin, your features, and your culture or roots. It is confident and beautiful.
How it’s viewed in her country: I’m based in Cape Town, one of the most diverse cities in South Africa and where the remnants of apartheid are still very visible. Racism is prevalent, and as a Black person you still need to prove yourself five times over than your white counterparts in the workplace and in social environments.
Her thoughts on representation: There has been some great progress while at the same time there is a lot of work to be done toward bridging the racial divide. We have been spoon-fed the Western narrative for far too long, and this continues to cause some damage—physical and mentally. We now see more of ourselves in the media, more than before, and that is leading to the change in narrative. Black women entering the beauty space, such as Rihanna, have contributed tremendously into fast-tracking representation as well.
Her go-to beauty products: My ultimate favorite beauty product remains Elizabeth Arden’s renowned Eight Hour Cream. I also swear by the Collagen Oil by natural skin-care line Healthway, and the Nivea Sun Moisturizing Sun Lotion SPF 50+.
Loyin Ogunbusola, artist
Where she lives: England
What Black beauty means to her: I see it everywhere, from the aunties dressed in their gele on their way to the shops to the girls having a good laugh on the back of the bus. To me, Black beauty means loving myself unapologetically despite the perpetual white forces telling me that I’m not attractive. It’s unapologetic, and it has lineage, heritage, and strength. I know that our beauty can’t be contained or put in a box.
Her thoughts on representation: When it comes to the representation in the media, we have made progress, but there is so much work left to done. We need to start seeing more Black women with darker complexions in cinema, film, music, the works! Colorism is still a problem, and it continues to reinforce the dialogue that Black isn’t beautiful.
Her go-to beauty products: The things I can’t live without right now are Glossier’s Futuredew, Ayé Moringa Oil, Okin Epidermis Body Butter, and the Constellates Yoni Steam.
$25.4.00, Okin Epidermis
Funmi Fetto, author, contributing editor at British Vogue, and host of On Reflection
Where she lives: England
What Black beauty means to her: I think what is really important to note about our Blackness, our beauty, and us as a people is that we are not monolithic. What makes us beautiful is a myriad of things from our hues to our mindset to our sisterhood and shared history.
How it’s viewed in her country: Black beauty and culture are very closely intertwined. I think Black beauty is celebrated in certain spaces whereas in other spaces it is fetishized, othered, treated with curiosity, or ignored. Black people in the U.K. still find themselves in numerous everyday situations in work and in life where they are the only one, and it can be quite difficult to feel appreciated when the subliminal messaging you’re bombarded with is that you’re different—and not in a positive way. That said, London is a melting pot so you can find your tribe and community and immerse yourself as much as possible in the solace, strength, and celebration you find within that.
Her thoughts on representation: While yes, there are signs that representation of Black beauty in the media has improved, it’s a total fallacy to claim it’s progressed significantly. Many beauty brands may show Black faces in their advertising, but look closely and you’ll see that a huge percentage of those predominantly featured fall under a type of Blackness that is “palatable” to a white audience. Lighter skin, narrower features, looser curls, etc.
Also if we look at the industry itself, the majority of the people in positions of power to really make change are white. Even with makeup artists and hairstylists, there is a dearth of Black faces there, and the skill set for making up Black skin and knowing what to do with Black hair is still very much a work in progress. Once we start having Black people being represented in all the ways in which Black beauty exists, and also have Black people in seats of power where they can effect change, then we can claim to be truly representing Black beauty.
Her go-to beauty products: I’m obsessed with the Paris-based brand 4.5.6 Skin. It’s a customized skin-care line founded by a brilliant Cameroonian-born French woman, Noelly Michoux, and it’s created—from start to finish—with Black skin in mind.
$77.00, 4•5•6 Skin
$35.00, 4•5•6 Skin
Grace Okafor, founder and CEO of Dr. GIO Cosmetics
Where she lives: South Korea
What Black beauty means to her: As an African who has lived in different communities in the world, I define beauty differently. Beauty is inside and outside. We are all beautiful.
How it’s viewed in her country: In South Korea, Black beauty is definitely a new concept. Korean beauty caters mostly to Asians and is gaining popularity in the West. However, it’s not made specifically for the ethnic beauty market of dark skin tones and people of color. K-beauty is definitely not inclusive in its makeup products, which is why my goal with Dr. GIO Cosmetics is to use Korea’s innovative science to make inclusive and diverse skin-care-infused “Black K-beauty” cosmetics and skin care. I believe K-beauty can grow to become an inclusive and diverse multicultural industry that caters to Black women, Afro-Asian women, and people of color living in Korea—and anywhere in the world.
Her go-to beauty products: My favorite beauty products are the Pongdang Pore Deep Clean Bubble Cleanser, Dr. Althea Premium Intensive Essence Toner, Puregen Tetra Peptides Energy Serum, Jaminkyung Crema Caracol Ultra Propolis Hydra Intensive Cream, and of course my own Dr. GIO’s Ultra 7 Brightening Foundation Cushion.
$45.00, Dr. Althea
$34.99.00, Dr. GIO Cosmetics
Carrole Sagba, fashion content creator
Where she lives: France
What Black beauty means to her: For me, it’s all about following your own rules and being independent. Whether you proudly wear your Afro hair or extensions, there is a variety in Black beauty that gives it its richness. I think the most important thing is to feel good about yourself.
How it’s viewed in her country: In Paris there are plenty of beautiful Black women who have a lot of style. When I walk around, I love to look at everyone’s looks and be inspired by them. But being a Black fashion content creator in France is not at all easy. In the fashion environment out here, Black women are invisible and not taken seriously. Our beauty is not put forward and is not sought after by French brands. With the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement that gained a historic momentum, there was a slight awakening. But as the months go by, I have the feeling that the bellows are coming down.
Even today, partnerships still come mainly from the international brands. They’re almost nonexistent with French brands. Press officers often think that communities that follow a Black content creator cannot afford their products. I work on my looks and my style to demonstrate that Black women are chic and elegant. Through my style, I want to defend and celebrate our image.
Her thoughts on representation: Looking ahead, our beauty needs to be better showcased on social media because these are the places where millions of people communicate. As for products, we must continue to build on the progress we’ve made. Fifteen years ago I would buy my beauty products in niche shops run by Black traders where I was sure I’d get personalized advice. Today we have a little more choice in the diversity of brands, and I’m happy that things are changing. But it’s important that these brands offer us products that respect the nature of our skin and do not seek to lighten it.
Her go-to beauty products: The arrival of Fenty Beauty in France was a game changer. I’m totally addicted to the lipsticks. and the I$land Ting bronzer is my go-to for any makeup look. Currently I like to use it with the Esteé Lauder foundation and Givenchy powder.
I often wear wigs and extensions because my natural hair unfortunately doesn’t grow very fast. On a daily basis, I apply the Curls Blueberry & Mint Scalp Treatment to prevent breakage. And when it comes to keeping my body smooth and hydrated during the winter, I go for either 100% natural shea butter or Nivea cream.
$30.00, Fenty Beauty
Michelle Oré is the beauty assistant at Glamour. Follow her on Instagram @michellaor.
Originally Appeared on Glamour