Bending the Beauty Mold: How 6 Women Burn Possibility Into Our Minds

Bending the Beauty Mold: How 6 Women Burn Possibility Into Our Minds



In a recent NY Times interview in conversation with comedian Trevor Noah, Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong’o had this to say about not being considered beautiful in her younger years: “I was always confident, but I shed my tears. They told me I was too dark for TV. But I came to accept myself. And a lot of that had to do with Alek Wek, the way she was embraced by the modeling industry. Oprah telling her how beautiful she was. I was like, ‘What is going on here?’ It was very powerful. Something in my subconscious shifted.”

Fashion guru Mary Alice Stephenson has this to say about beauty: there are two types. There’s the one-dimensional “look at me” beauty that’s so breathtakingly shallow that it could enter any room and suck the air out of it. Then, there’s the beauty that’s so profoundly generous it becomes a pool of light for others to bask its glow, making them feel beautiful, too.

The image industry has been catching on to this nugget of wisdom in recent years, as brands make strides to bend the beauty mold, creating an atmosphere of inclusivity that doesn’t hold a world of women at arm’s length in order to appeal to them. And while there’s still a ways to go, the inclusion of darker, curvier, and older women in ad campaigns is enough to massage the psyches of female consumers who’ve ached to see a beauty spectrum that reflects our world, and us.  And why does this matter?


Images matter plenty, and we are all vulnerable to them. They project values, shape realities. If Alek Wek did not pioneer catwalks with her distinctly African look, it is possible that we might not even know of Lupita Nyong’o. Subsequently, in the wake of Nyongo’s sudden and stunning presence on the world stage, who knows how many doors flew open in the imaginations of girls that reflect her? As the Academy Award-winning actress so beautifully stated, this is a conversation about “burning possibility into people’s minds.”

These six women that are doing just that.


The model whose lips could launch a thousand ships.

Aamito Lagum stole the show with her lips during  the New York Fashion Week event earlier this February when MAC posted an image of hers rocking their “Matte Royal” color. While you might agree that the profile of the Ugandan model’s mouth resembles a perfectly plush purple heart, that’s not what everyone else saw. Between a slew of racist statements and scathing rebuttals in her lips’ defense, 30,000 comments bombarded MAC’s Instagram post, setting newsfeeds ablaze. Langum, on her own Instagram, responded to the controversy with playful poise: “My lips giving you sleepless nights.”


Fifth-Grader Debuts Chubiiline at NY Fashion Week

After getting stabbed with a pencil by a classmate and bullied for her weight, 10-year-old Egypt “Ify” Ufele got even in the most inspiring way possible. She took up needle and thread and became the seamstress to her dreams. Later, she graduated to a sewing machine that stitched Chubiiline fashions into reality. She describes her all-size clothing line, which debuted at New York Fashion Week this year, as: “Africa to America, one design at a time.”


Nigerian Bread-Seller Photo Bombs Her Way to a Modeling Contract

When Olajumoke Orisaguna recently donned her crown of bread for yet another arduous day of selling it on the streets of Lagos, she never dreamed her life could change in a camera’s flash.  Balancing her livelihood on her head, the 27-year-old mother of two happened to saunter past the British rapper of Nigerian origin, Tinie Tempah, during a fashion shoot, creating the most unconventional photobomb ever. When the serendipitous photo went to print, so many people asked if Orisaguna was a model that the photographer Ty Bello posted her photo on Instagram with the intention of getting a lead that would help her track down the mysterious bread-seller. Bello found Orisaguna, shot her, and days later, Orisaguna was gracing the cover of Nigerian magazine, This Day Style.


Black Voluptuous Model to Appear in Sports Illustrated’s Swim Issue

Precious Lee’s chocolate curves, accentuated by a white bikini, is poised to make waves in Sports Illustrated’s highly anticipated 2016 swim issue, via a Lane Bryant ad. The publication,  which has historically possessed a beauty standard as narrow as the hips that populate their pages, is evolving at breakneck speed; Lee, who is a size 14, is in good company. Between size 16 sizzler Ashley Graham, British-Ghanaian model Philomena Kwao, and 56-year-old Nicola Griffin, this promises to be the most progressive SI swim issue yet. Lee, who was also the first black curvy model to appear in Vogue last September, also has a dream to show off her skin and her eyes in cosmetics and skincare campaigns. However, for the moment, she is hot on her mission to normalize her body type in the image matrix.

Winnie Harlow arrives at the Much Music Video Awards on Sunday, June 21, 2015, in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Arthur Mola/Invision/AP)

Winnie Harlow arrives at the Much Music Video Awards on Sunday, June 21, 2015, in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Arthur Mola/Invision/AP)

Model with Michael Jackson’s Skin Disorder Flaunts Her Two-Toned Beauty

You might have seen Winnie Harlow on America’s Top Model or heard about the splash she made during last year’s New York Fashion Week. The 20-year-old Canadian, whose real name is Chantelle Brown-Young, possesses a beauty and spirit that is Midas-touch golden.  After being diagnosed with vitiligo at age four, and called “zebra” and “cow” by cruel, taunting peers, she has been dubbed the “epitome of beauty” by the Spanish company Desigual, which embraced her as their brand ambassador. She displays total acceptance for her pigmentation, stating: ‘People have black skin, people have brown skin, I have both.”



Tina Turner: The Oldest Woman to Grace the Cover of Vogue

At age 73, the rock ‘n’ roll diva replaced Meryl Streep as the oldest person to beautify the cover of Vogue. Unlike her stunning Rolling Stone cover, this time, Tina Turner didn’t have to show off her iconic legs to move units, between her signature tresses, sassy waist-hugging, and a pursed, red-lipped smile that says, “I know something you don’t know.” The rock legend, who has sold more concert tickets than any solo performer in history, is working on her next album.  After almost twenty years of living in Switzerland, Turner recently renounced her American citizenship, so it would only make sense that Vogue Germany featured her on its cover, and not American Vogue.


-Samantha Thornhill




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