You may remember in September 2014, the New York Times published an article calling Viola Davis “less than classically beautiful,” leading to a torrent of much-deserved criticism. The comment and its backlash inspired artist Abi Ishola to enlist her husband and photographer Kunle Ayodeji to create a photo series, “Beyond Classically Beautiful,” that captures and celebrates the beauty of black women.
“Black beauty comes in so many different forms and I think we should celebrate that,” said Ishola. They chose to take the portraits in front of a simple backdrop with natural makeup, because what is more beautiful than these women just as they are?
These are some of the amazing portraits.
“My definition of beauty is when I’m at my happiest moment. Classic beauty is whatever you see in the mirror and you’re happy with. No one else should be able to define classic beauty for you except you.”
“Beauty to me is unique. It’s much more than race and gender or color. To me it’s just personality. Loving who you are as a person. I think beauty is just like a flame. It’s an unquenchable fire that comes from within. And you have to just allow yourself to let it flow.”
“My definition of beauty is feeling comfortable in your own skin and not needing anyone to call you beautiful but when someone does call you beautiful you understand where they’re coming from. If you call somebody a ‘classic beauty’ you’re saying that beauty looks like this one thing, and everything else is outside of what that is, so I don’t believe in classic beauty.”
“Beauty in things exists merely in the mind which contemplates them.”–David Hume 1742
“All my life I’ve heard people say, ‘she’s a pretty dark skinned girl,’ [which I think] is a phrase that could scar a young lady for life. Thankfully, the women in my life taught me many positive self-image lessons at an early age. I was raised to know that I am beautiful because of my complexion and my opinion of myself was the only opinion that truly matters. Because of that I’ve learned to see the beauty in everyone and things regardless of my likes and dislikes.”
“I used to get bullied when I was younger so I didn’t really feel as beautiful as my classmates because I was darker toned than everyone. But as I grew up I learned to embrace my complexion. I’m me and nobody is like me.”
“I would define classic beauty as simplicity and sometimes conformity. My beauty goes beyond classic beauty because it is not masked with the opinions or standards of others. It has room to breathe, to be different. It is truly free.”
“I do not let society’s standards of ‘beauty’ define my life or my decisions concerning my body, my style or any other physical and material elements. I’ve learned to stay true to myself despite what society thinks I should look like or dress like, while at the same time, not letting my physical appearance be the only substance that speaks to who I am and what I have to offer.”
“My beauty goes beyond the idea of classic beauty because it is different, unique and is all my own. I have dark skin, but a yellow undertone. I have dark brown kinky hair and a broad nose with huge eyes. I used to even have a gap, which I regret closing when I got my braces. My beauty may not resonate with the status quo but it is what makes me, me. And I think that in and of itself is beautiful.”
“I think I consider myself as ‘flawsome.’ I have flaws and they’re awesome and they are what make me, me.”
“Having breast cancer made me question my beauty after I lost my hair. I was a model for many years and a designer all my life. I did not feel pretty and was very sad and depressed many times. I knew that God had a plan for me. I knew I was special enough to handle it. I knew I was going through my new normal.”
“I remember a night while I was very young, that I prayed to look differently. I wanted my skin lighter. I was sure my hair could do cooler things. Why was I so skinny? Would I ever grow breasts? I came to my senses and realized that there wasn’t much I could do about my appearance. I could grow up wanting something else and hating myself or I could choose to grow up and love what life and my body did for me.”
“Growing up, I was always the biggest girl in the class, so I blossomed a lot earlier than all of the other girls. I was always the last girl in line when we were in size order and my boobs were a little bigger than most. When I was younger, they teased me about it. They called me big foot and doofy. But as I got older I realized that I got blessed a lot sooner than most. I was insecure about it but now I feel a lot more secure about my body and I love the way I’m shaped. I’m a little curvy but I’m okay with that. Overall, I’m happier. I know I’m beautiful and I tell myself that more often now than I did before because I define my beauty.”
“As a young woman I wasn’t quite fond of my look. I was surrounded by white girls who had long hair and boys in middle school who supported that aesthetic. That was the standard of beauty because they were the most sought after and I was not. But how could that be? I thought my mum was beautiful. She had the skin of gold, rich in darkness and the cheekbones to match. I thought my sister was so fly in her tom-boyish way. It wasn’t until college that I started to question and understand that the western standard of beauty was so one-dimensional.
I’ve realized that my beauty comes from my confidence in knowing that I am me—the Nigerian girl who came to America at the age of 11. My beauty is exemplary of my African heritage. In my culture, features such as a gap-tooth, high cheekbones and a heavy body type are the ideal features of a beautiful woman, a strong woman and a unique woman. So I had to revert to standards that I grew up knowing in order to make sense of the western world I was living in. I had to understand that even though I was living in a western society, I’m still a daughter of an African heritage that praised my beauty and welcomed my features with open arms.”
“When I was younger I hated my hair. I remember being teased for always having braids. I was one of the only kids who had natural hair while all the other girls had perms. I decided I was going to get a perm to fit in. It was horrible. All I remember was the burning and running to the sink to rinse my head. I wanted to change myself for other people and I hated that feeling. From a young age I learned that I have to love what I see in the mirror and if it is not what I constantly see around me, that is okay. It is okay to be different.”
“Now I feel like I’m beautiful but for a very long time, as far back as I can remember, I never felt beautiful. Everywhere around me people kept telling me I wasn’t, including my family—especially them. It was a struggle for a very long time. Plus I have a lisp. Add that to not feeling beautiful and being told that I wasn’t beautiful, it was a very hard thing to deal with. When I look in the mirror now, I see a Black woman who has learn to love and accept herself after years of believing that she wasn’t good enough because she did not fall within society’s definition of beauty. I wake up and think that now that self-esteem issues are out the way, all I have to do is conquer the world.”
Here is a video of the making of the project and its origins.
Images via Beyond Classically Beautiful
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