Unsettling images in the media of black people being attacked and killed — often out of fear because they look different — perpetuate negative beliefs that we are not worthy of love and respect. The psychological trauma that has arisen because of recent tragedies (not to mention this country’s long history of intolerance and racism) can make it difficult to see oneself as beautiful, strong, and free. For any black woman who has doubted her value or beauty, model and writer Nikia Phoenix has an affirmation just for you.
“Dear Black Girl: You Are Beautiful” is a short film that “celebrates the beauty of black womanhood.” The uplifting visual essay features Phoenix and three friends artfully dressed in all white, captured through a series of detailed shots that illuminate their brown skin, full lips, and natural hair. In the background, you’ll hear Phoenix recite a “love poem” she wrote, personifying what she refers to as the “intoxicating beauty” of a black woman’s complexity.
“Black women are my family, my village, and my backbone. I am constantly amazed by our energy. Honestly, there are not enough inspiring images of black women in advertising and media, yet I see those gorgeous reflections every day when I look at my friends,” Phoenix tells Yahoo Beauty. “I want to share my world with the world and prove that the aspirational woman of color isn’t some fictitious character — she is real. She is multidimensional with layers you want to peel back.”
“Dear Black Girl: You Are Beautiful” is just the beginning of Phoenix’s mission to empower and uplift her fellow “queens.” This August, she is hosting a beauty and shopping event in Los Angeles called Black Girl Beautiful at which black women can shop for makeup and hair brands created especially for them and “focus on spending spending money where it’s valued.”
This may sound like a huge undertaking, but Phoenix’s film is proof that she is a woman with purpose. Read on to find out more about “Dear Black Girl: You Are Beautiful” and how she eventually came to accept those very words herself.
Yahoo Beauty: What was the inspiration for the “love poem” in the film?
Nikia Phoenix: The words of Nayyirah Waheed, Yrsa Daley-Ward, and Alex Elle have been influential in my recent work. Their poems are like the last thing you hear in a dream. You wake up hearing that echo. Certain words and phrases throughout the love poem I say quite often to myself. For some reason, I was waiting on someone else to say these kind words to me, and I figure so many women are waiting for that from someone they admire. But it doesn’t come. We start to feel unappreciated and unloved. Essentially, I wrote a love poem to myself because I need to hear these words. We all do.
Who are the women featured in “Dear Black Girl: You Are Beautiful”?
The fantastic group of ladies are not only amazingly talented artists but also some of my best girlfriends. Myra Hasson is a native of Los Angeles who is also a cool DJ. Eromomen is a model and proud Nigerian. Finally, there’s my ace Jana Hatcher, a Southern girl with a really big heart. Behind the scenes as the director of photography is Paris McCoy. There is no acting in this film. It’s more of a documentary of how we actually interact with each other. That’s real sisterhood. That’s real love.
In an Instagram video posted ahead of the short film, you asked musician Mary Akpa to look into the camera and say, “Hey, black girl. You are beautiful.” Why do you believe this affirmation was a struggle and is a struggle for so many women?
Traditionally, women put others before themselves. We have been taught that celebrating yourself is a sign of selfishness and vanity. We live in patriarchal societies where it’s OK for men to showboat but not a woman. We are not allowed to say we’re beautiful even if we know we are. This practice starts when we are little girls and continues into womanhood. Imagine what prolonged denial of self does to you. You start to question your worth. I think that’s why many women have a tough time saying positive affirmations. That’s why it’s difficult for many women to accept compliments. We don’t believe our own truth. The truth is you are an intelligent, strong, resilient, and beautiful soul that has the power to create, build, nurture, and influence those around you.
Can you speak to any personal struggles with feeling/accepting your own unique beauty?
There was a time when I didn’t believe in my own beauty. As a kid, I was teased for my reddish hair and freckles, both attributes one doesn’t often associate with African Americans. When I looked at my family I saw not only freckles, but brown skin, deep melanin, and everything in between. We don’t judge each other, so I couldn’t understand why others didn’t accept me. Freckles are definitely having a moment now, but that wasn’t always the case. Working as a model, I’ve had makeup artists try to cover my freckles. Or I’ve even been a victim of really bad photo retouching. My freckles are part of who I am. Learning to love myself and embrace my beauty has made me a much stronger person. I know I’m beautiful, and there’s nothing wrong with proclaiming it.
Here’s proof that black beauty comes in all shades and sizes. (Photo: Kaitlan Flowers)
What has been the biggest lesson you’ve learned so far in creating Black Girl Beautiful?
We are all dealing with self-doubt and learning to truly love ourselves. It’s not like these issues came out of nowhere. We’ve inherited them from our mothers and grandmothers. The most amazing and striking brown-skinned woman that stops everyone in their footsteps probably deals with a lack of self-esteem on some level. But we try to hide it and put on a good face like everything’s all right. The more we don’t talk about lack of confidence, depression, and anxiety, the worse it gets. There’s no quick fix. I don’t have a solution, but I do know that sharing our stories helps nurture the village.