by Rose Miyonga
The 2017 Golden Globes felt quite special to me.
It felt like the first time in a long while, if not ever, that there was some decent representation, that I could look at the list of people that the establishment had deemed “the best” in television and film, and see a more diverse range of people representing the many stories that touched us this year.
Representation matters! And, I don’t just mean one token person who is not straight, white, male and able-bodied on a show written, produced and directed by a white male. What I mean is a plethora of people telling an array of stories in their diverse voices. What I mean is the use of the arts to expand collective consciousness and aid in dispelling the limited idea of normalcy.
I didn’t grow up thinking that my family was strange; my gorgeous multi-cultural, multi-racial family was my first understanding of the world. I only became aware that the wider world seemed to have more restrictive views of what constituted the most inclusive values in the world: beauty, love, family, struggle…
At its best, television and film, like all the arts, can be a mirror into your soul, shining light on the deepest truths of human existence with love and compassion, inviting us to
contemplate who we are and where we find ourselves in the world. Television has always seemed especially amazing to me because you bring the stories and characters into your home, sometimes over a period of years or even decades.
It can engender intimacy and belonging, but at its worst, it can also encourage feelings of otherness and lacking, a feeling that people who look like you don’t belong in the collective narrative or don’t deserve a space to share their stories. I inhabited this realm for a long time, and only obtained self-love through hard-learning against the popularised lack of representation.
Self-love is really hard when you feel like an island; when it feels as though every message society sends is so foreign to yourself. I grew up in a society that didn’t encourage my self-love, that subliminally, and sometimes explicitly, taught me that I was not enough and that I certainly would never be “the best”.
My society taught me loathsome self-depreciation.
Television used to encourage the most negative feelings for me. But it is gradually becoming a source of delight, a place to go to feel understood and valued.
Some day Viola or Tracee or Thandie will win an award or nominated and it will just be about them.
I hope that day is near, the day when it won’t be remarkable that someone who is colourful and unique and universal can be hailed as the best at what they do and that the next woman of colour to win a Golden Globe Best Performance by an Actress in a comedy or musical television series will not have to wait until 2052.
I hope that my children, whatever their colour, gender identity, or ability will be able to hold the television up to their faces like a mirror and proudly see themselves reflected and represented in the most beautiful and honest light.
For now, their wins are still also our wins. They are part of the long-awaited slow-dawning collective realisation that we, too, represent the world.
by Oyin Akande
So it’s hard to imagine a world-class model being told that she’s anything but gorgeous, right? While we are increasingly aware how many mainstream industries push rigid and unattainable ideas of beauty, we have a tendency to overlook that these constructs are even more ruthlessly observed for models than they are for us, the majority of ‘real women’.
French model Anaïs Mali has featured in many editions of Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and many other international titles; she has walked down the runways for Michael Kors, Balenciaga, Jason Wu and more. It would seem to most that her success in the industry, at the very least, is a confirmation of her widely accepted perfection. Yet, after landing the cover of French magazine Lui, an adult entertainment title created by Daniel Filipacchi, Jacques Lanzmann and Frank Ténot, Mali posted this on Instagram:
“I always wanted to be a LUI cover girl!! I was told by my ex model agency 2 years ago, that I wasn’t sexy enough for The Magazine. So I wanted to thank first of all @nextmodelsparis for making this happen and a huge thanks to LUI for giving me the opportunity to show y’all what I could do (I’m a pretty shy girl and don’t often pose nude) so this is HUGE for me ! I’ve been criticized by the industry for Yeaaaaaaars because of the way I looked (too skinny , too sexy , not sexy enough, too petite .. blabla). I’m so at ease now that I realized that sexy begins by loving yourself and not caring what others think (EVER). Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you re not good enough for this or that ! If you think that you are .. well you are . If the other are too blind to see it, their loss … And this .. is me”
Anais is not your ‘typical’ pin up in that she is incredibly slender, but Lui magazine has a more ‘high fashion’ slant, using photographers who usually shoot for magazines such as W Magazine rather than Playboy.
Born to a mother from Chad and a Polish father, Anaïs belongs to a generation of gorgeous melaninated models working the fashion and beauty industries. But she’s been fighting the rigid ideals of her industry for a long time. She left France for New York when she was 18 as she found it difficult to get jobs. She was told ‘This is Paris; black girls don’t work here’ and in 2013 spoke out about the persistent lack of diversity on the runway particularly in Milan.
No matter who you are, what you do or what you look like, society’s mechanism can attack your confidence by telling you there is something you lack. Your “imperfections” or simply just qualities you do not possess (because we cannot be all things all at once, right?) become the standard against which you measure your worth. And the female body and identity are historically the choice ‘victims’ of these paradoxical pressures.
The model recently launched, Anaïs a collection of bodysuits created by model v Mali and designer Urivaldo Lopes in 2016. Inspired by the audaciousness of studio 54 and the supermodel era, Anaïs reinvents a 1980’s wardrobe staple for the modern woman with a “Made in Italy” philosophy, creating and armor that empowers its wearer through an urban perspective and irrefutably bold aesthetic.
by Rose Miyonga
Last week, TK was fortunate to have the sparkled voice of Tahmina Beghum of XXY magazine as she shared her experience of dual identity and frustrations with rigid concepts of personhood. This week, we are so excited for Rose Miyonga, one of our contributing editors to share with us her experiences the same subject.
My mother is White British and my father is Black Kenyan.
My sisters, Poppy and Jasmine and I have had to explain what this means to people our whole life, so I have been aware of my racial identities for as long as I can remember.
During my early years, my family lived in Brixton. I don’t remember my brown skin or my hair (usually in dreadlocks or cut short) being an issue. Of course, in my immediate family, it didn’t matter.
I knew that my parents had different skin colours, just as I knew as they had different eye colours and that they loved my sister and me. It was just one thing that blended in with a whole host of other things that happened to be true about my family.
When I was six years old, our family moved to Kenya, and my sister and I were enrolled in a local school on the outskirts of Nairobi. The cracks in our ‘deeply flawed’ system of categorisation and classification of ‘race’ were clearly exposed when our race changed somewhere between Heathrow and Jomo Kenyatta Airport. Suddenly, without warning or consultation, we were white. To my Kenyan classmates, my skin was pale, my hair was soft, and I could see that relatively, I was more white than most of my friends on the school playground… It was a lesson in ‘context’.
This is not to say that race and racism do not exist, as the realities that we have to battle with every day make them evidently tangible, but that race and racism were created and constructed as tools to justify slavery and subjugation; to divide and dehumanise.
I didn’t fully understand how other people’s perception of my skin tone would come to deeply affect me when I was six, but I had learned something important, and something that would repeat itself in various iterations over and over again:
As a teenager in rural England, my Blackness was constantly highlighted by my peers, and I was forced to grapple with it, accept it, and eventually fall in love with it, and when I spent two years at school in the U.S., I remember trying in vain to explain to some (not all) of the people I encountered that I was actually not just black.
I’ve given up explaining now (well, for the most part). Although my heritage does matter, I don’t want my skin colour to define how I live my life. I can’t control how I am perceived and treated by others, but I can control how I look at myself, and I choose to look at myself without judgment, to see my beauty without boundaries, and to love myself without limitations
by Rose Miyonga
Andrea Pippins is an artist, illustrator and designer from Washington, D. C., whose work seeks to inspire a generation of women. Her first book, I Love My Hair is a colouring book that invites people of all ages and colours to celebrate their hair for its unique beauty. Her second book, Becoming Me, is a glorious exploration of what it means to be a young woman of colour. It asks us to doodle, scribble and write our own investigation into ourselves.
I spoke to her about beauty, creative arts, and the importance of self-expression.
I spent my early years, from the age of six months to four years, in a sewing studio in the Georgetown neighbourhood of Washington, D.C. The studio was run by a French woman named Solange Cody and was occupied by a team of four women who spent their days constructing, hemming, and altering clothes. These ladies, except for one African American woman, were all immigrants—including my mother, who’s from Brazil. While my mother was sewing and fitting clothes, I would be drawing and colouring for hours. I believe that space planted the seeds for my own creativity; my love for textiles, patterns, and colour; and my desire to become an entrepreneur. But that all would come together much later.
I didn’t really know about graphic design until I saw Halle Berry playing the role of Angela in the film Boomerang. Angela was an art director and artist, and it was my first time seeing a woman of colour doing that kind of work. Even though it was fiction, it blew me away. But it wasn’t until I started applying for college that I really learnt about careers in graphic design, or what was then called commercial art or graphic art. I applied to Tyler School of Art at Temple University, and though it took several tries because of a lacklustre portfolio, I was finally accepted into the design program.
After working as a graphic designer at companies like Hallmark Cards and TV Land/Nick@Nite, I returned to Tyler and graduated with an MFA in Graphic and Interactive Design, so I could teach design at a college level. Eventually, I decided to take a leap of faith and pursue a path as a full-time freelance designer and illustrator. Currently, my work is transitioning from graphic design to a focus on art and illustration. I’ve always solved design problems with illustration, not realising that that is where my skills and talent flourish.
Aside from my mother, I would say the media heavily influence my perception of beauty. My mother had a subscription to Essence magazine, and I remember absorbing those pages filled with beautiful women. But I always saw it as a publication for adults. Where was the magazine featuring little girls who looked like me or had hair like me?
As a teen I loved Seventeen magazine, but honestly, at the time those pages didn’t show anyone who reflected me. So it was difficult to find style, hair, and makeup advice.
As a kid and teen I watched a lot of TV, and thank goodness it was during a time that black TV and film was doing so well. From TV shows like Living Single and A Different World to movies like Love Jones and Boomerang, I did have a lot of positive references that influenced my ideas of beauty. There could have been more, but having those showed me more of a range than what I see today.
I Love My Hair happened when I met an art director at Random House and sent her some ideas for a colouring book last spring, none of which had anything to do with hair. After looking at my artwork, she responded asking if I’d be interested in doing a colouring book about hair, and I said, “OMG, of course.” I didn’t have a specific plan of what to include, I just knew that I wanted it to be fun and that I wanted to show a wide range of hairstyles and ideas of hair. There were 84 pages to fill, so it was a creative challenge to figure out what would be interesting and what would work in terms of filling it with colour. Because “hair” is so specific, and because I didn’t want it to be just about hairstyles, I had to be creative in my interpretations. So I explored abstract representations, lettering, and accessories and tools related to hair.
I don’t know the numbers, so I can’t speak about the gap in the market for books celebrating women of colour, but I can speak about what stories are being celebrated and highlighted. I do think there is a gap in the kinds of stories that are told about women of colour, and a huge gap in what gets recognition, awarded, written about, etc. I assume that fewer of us get opportunities to write books, but also wonder if it’s really that fewer of us get recognized. Or a combination of both. Either way, it is frustrating.
Because of my family and community, I’ve always had a pretty strong sense of self. But in certain areas of my life, I can be a perfectionist, and at times this results in high expectations and me being hard on myself. In the last few years, I’ve learned to surrender, be easy, and give myself a break. This also means not working so much and allowing myself to just be.
I would tell twelve-year-old Andrea to always be herself. That who she is enough, and that life is too short, so to not take things too seriously.
I am a strong believer that image is power. Whether it’s in propaganda, a story being told, or an advertisement, an image really drives the message. The people behind media understand this and use images to tell how us how to see the world. And until we get people of colour behind the wheel as directors, producers, cinematographers, artists, and designers, we won’t be able to control how we are portrayed or the stories that are being told about us. In this way, we can give all people access to visual expression, which is important. The beauty, though, is that we live in a time when the tools to create images and tell stories are readily available. And people are taking advantage of it. We can already see how the media is shifting because of that access.
But on a micro level, being able to understand what you see is just as important as being able to read. So regardless of your level of interest in art and design, you need to be able to interpret the millions of messages being thrown at you everyday. You need to be able to decipher and question the intent behind an image. And with the arts being eliminated from our school programs, people aren’t developing that skill.
Having access to the visual arts is about self-expression AND developing a form of literacy.
My favourite artists are also people who inspire me, such as Emory Douglas, Kerry James Marshall, Sister Corita Kent, Frida Kahlo, Malick Sidibe, and Nina Chanel Abney, among many others.
Follow Andrea on Instagram
Featured image by Danielle Finney, all other images courtesy of Andrea Pippins