Iconic Moments in Black Beauty by writer @charisse.kenion

Jasmine Wicks Stephens
An alternative title for this piece could have been: Black Women Who Inspired Me To Go For Everything I Ever Wanted. Because, while I might be a beauty journalist, obsessed about the latest range or ingredient, I also know that, while there is a plethora of black and brown women out there doing their thing, for all the world to see right now, it hasn’t always been that way – and that willingness to be diverse could still only have the shelf-life of any other seasonal trend. So, I’m putting these words here, to remind you, and me, of how far we’ve come.

Grace Jones

It’s easy to put Grace Jones in that category of strong, fierce black woman, but for me, she was a blend of strength and beauty, a concept that the masses probably didn’t get appreciate in the ‘80s. Yes, her hair was cut in a masculine high top, but that only heightened the appeal of her high cheekbones and lips. Her dark skin was rarely celebrated and yet here Grace was, glossy and gleaming, daring you to look away.

Today, Grace inspires people the world over to just be, in a world that loves cancel culture and demands that we stick to one tribe and one singular belief. She also inspires artists and celebrities – Kim Kardashian’s infamous Paper magazine cover was a blatant copy of Grace’s shoot with Jean Paul Goude – because Goude himself shot it. Weird, right?

After seeing the cover Grace called Kim: ‘a basic commercial product’. I wonder if we’ll be talking about the Kardashian effect decades from now?

Halle Berry

When you think longevity, you have to think Halle Berry – and I don’t just mean how amazing she’s looking right now. From 1990 to way into the 2000s, Halle was rocking the pixie cut that ultimately inspired millions of black women around the globe to go for the chop. And it’s no wonder; that cut took her from starring alongside the aforementioned Grace Jones and Eddie Murphy in the classic 1992 film Boomerang,to the 2002 Oscars red carpet to accept the award for Best Actress for her role in Monster’s Ball.
Even though the length remained the same for around 15 years, Halle played with different textures, slicked back looks and of course colour, all aimed at accentuating those Oscar-winning features.

Toni Braxton

If you’re talking about black women and short hair you cannot NOT mention Toni Braxton. While fans often argue over ‘who wore it best’ when it comes to Halle and Toni, for me, they both showed how versatile a pixie cut could be, because while Halle had more of an angular face, Toni’s was more of an oval shape.

Just like Halle, Toni knew the look was working for her, and kept to the short and choppy brief from the early ‘90s onwards. If you need further proof of Toni’s influence, just check out Beyonce’s homage to her signature look for Halloween, 2018, below.

Lisa Bonet

Let me confess; I’ve had a love affair with Lisa in my head for years. For me she was the cool girl who didn’t care about being cool. She was also light-skinned like me and was one of the first black women to be seen on a popular TV show, The Cosby Show playing the character of Denise Huxtable. She also appeared in the show’s spin-off, A Different World. Back then she was the first woman I’d ever seen wearing loose curls and a fringe. She also often wore braids, which have over time, morphed into the most beautiful dreadlocks. Today she reigns as a boho icon, alongside her husband Jason Mamoa and their blended family, and she still has that same chilled vibe, that’s seemingly been passed on to the next Catwoman – Zoe Kravitz, her daughter.

Naomi truly encapsulates what the word iconic means. She is a brand name. As with all brands she is always talked about for good and bad reasons, and as such has become part of modern culture

Diana Ross in Mahogany

Wow. If this was an Instagram post then that’s all the caption would say. Diana Ross in Mahogany just burns on the screen, and the memories of that first watch have stayed with me for years.

Diana plays Tracey Chambers, a woman who longs to be a fashion designer but her glamourous designs don’t work well in her hometown of Chicago. Soon she is ‘discovered’ by white photographer, Anthony Perkins as a model and she is whisked around the world. I don’t want to spoil the plot, especially because, you need to see this film.

There are so many moments of beauty in Mahogany that still, undoubtedly to this day, inspire the likes of Solange, Beyonce and more. The hair, wardrobe and makeup team deserve some serious recognition as all worked together to show Tracey’s rise to being the most in-demand model. My favourite moments include the hats, the hair and the super thick ‘60s style lashes.

If you don’t know the film, at the very least you might know the theme tune: Do You Know Where You’re Going To.

Mo’ Better Blues

If you know Spike Lee you’ll probably know Do The Right Thing and She’s Gotta Have It, but Mo Better Blues, the 1990 comedy drama seems to be one of his lesser known movies. It’s about friendship and music, but for me, the female characters were the stars.

When I say, glamour, I mean that old school vibe, of dressing up – remember that? Cynda Williams sings a song called Harlem Blues and is dressed in the most beautiful, sparkling silver gown with cut-outs. The song hints at her love for Denzel Washington’s character, who of course, is also entangled with co-star Joie Lee (Spike’s sister). Suffice to say, it’s a mess, but this story of love is a must-see.

Moira Stewart

So while Oprah Winfrey was making her mark on a global scale, for those of us here in the UK, it was Moira Stuart. Back in 1981 it was said that Moira was the first black female newsperson to appear on British television – but that’s not completely correct; it was actually Barbara Blake Hannah, a Jamaican, who paved the way for Moira, back in the 1960s. Barbara’s career was short-lived because viewers and colleagues saw it as ‘inappropriate’ for a black person to be on TV. The racism she experienced on set is no surprise and I’ve often wondered if Moira experienced the same years later.

Over four decades Moira presented the news with the kind of gravitas that you know (or at least hope) demanded respect. I always used to imagine that Moira had her own dedicated makeup artist when she was on every night – I’m guessing that wasn’t the case but I loved her dark smokey eyes and her love for a dark lip.

Naomi Campbell

Naomi truly encapsulates what the word iconic means. She is a brand name. As with all brands she is always talked about for good and bad reasons, and as such has become part of modern culture. For many in the UK, she was the first black model they had ever seen. For others, she was that model who took a tumble on the catwalk and got back up with grace and a smile.

For me, she was the supermodel of all supermodels who stole the show from Cindy Crawdford, Linda Evangelista and Christy Turlington in the video for George Michael’s Freedom ’90 video. For me the video was a celebration of the supermodel, and as with so many other videos, movies, etc, Naomi was the only black model on set. She became the go-to and is still in demand.

Today Naomi is vocal about racism within the fashion industry and the industry’s lacklustre attempts at diversity, and has also built a new fanbase via her YouTube channel: Naomi.

Oprah Winfrey

It wouldn’t be right not to mention Oprah in here. For me, Oprah did more for black women the world over than anyone else born in the 20th century. And that’s saying a lot. Seeing her grow as a presenter, a celebrity and a media powerhouse struck me on so many levels. She definitely didn’t fit into a size 0, she knew the power of listening, and leading, and she was always, always, changing her hair.

No-one wore the flick quite like Oprah. Today she’s a billionaire with magazines and TV stations, but me, I always go back to the original Oprah, especially when I need a reminder that I can do anything. That’s real beauty.

You can find writer, photographer and podcaster Charisse Kenion on Instagram @charisse.kenion and @beautymepodcast

Previous post Next post