Want to hear something shocking?
Most of my beauty icons are nearly twice my age.
Ask any Black woman who inspires her when it comes to beauty and she will likely rattle off a list dotted with plenty of older dames. For example, the legendary Diana Ross. This woman is 79 years old and looks like she just stepped offstage with The Supremes. Singer Grace Jones might as well be a vampire, slaying at 74 with her signature androgynous look. And then there’s late actress Cicely Tyson who, even at the age of 96(!), was stepping out and dazzling on red carpets. Insert the ubiquitous and beloved (if not entirely factually accurate) ‘Black don’t crack!’
That’s not to say these women haven’t aged at all. It just means we don’t care that they have. Because while most of the world is obsessed with youth – and figuring out how to look like they just came out of the womb – reverence for ‘over-the-hill’ women is a crucial part of Black girl magic. Think about it with me – I hear my white friends reference stars like Helen Mirren, Meryl Streep or Goldie Hawn (who all look great, for the record) as their beauty muses far less frequently. And no shade to my white friends – my point is just that Black women approach beauty in a pretty special (and pretty inspiring, in my not-sohumble opinion) way.
Part of that is about celebrating each other regardless of age – or skin tone or hair texture or body type. Part of it is that we don’t stress over what everyone else thinks. And the other part is that our overall beauty point of view transcends the physical to go much deeper. Let me attempt to over-explain.
Our Dianas, Graces, Cicelys: they represent a form of trans-generational pride that works to remind us that Black is, has always been, and will forever be beautiful. ‘So much of beauty culture in the Black community is passed down from generation to generation,’ says Brooke DeVard Ozaydinli, host of the award-nominated podcast Naked Beauty. ‘Those are the women our grandmothers and mothers looked up to.’ So we do too.
‘There’s nothing like a Black woman complimenting another Black woman’
Love the skin you’re in
I can’t pinpoint when this shared esteem started, but my gut tells me it’s always been this way. It certainly revved up during the civil rights movement in the 1960s – as the Black community publicly embraced its pride for our brilliance and, yes, our beauty. And learning to love the skin we’re in has always been an imperative, since society at large definitely wasn’t doing it for us.
Ozaydinli says that the Black women she chats to often say, ‘I feel more beautiful as I gain more experiences, as I become more confident and as I’ve learned who I am.’ And she agrees, adding, ‘I’d like to think that that’s universal, but I think for Black women, it may be even deeper because