Editor’s Letter: The Legacy and Liberation of Black Beauty

Editor’s Letter: The Legacy and Liberation of Black Beauty

By Jessica Cruel, Allure

Last spring, Allure launched The Melanin Edit, an editorial destination that celebrates the highly melanated. We wanted to create a place to have meaningful conversations about skin color and culture. This year, we decided to extend that digital project to print. And to help bring this first-ever Melanin Edit issue to life, our team collaborated with guest editor Michaela Angela Davis. Davis is an author, activist, fashion stylist, the former editor in chief of Honey magazine, and a personal mentor. Over the course of many months we had conversations about what these pages would represent. In the end, we landed on two crucial themes: legacy and liberation.

For decades, Black and brown people were minimized in the beauty conversation, very similar to how we were (and in some places still are) relegated to a footnote in American history. This issue is a bit of a reclamation of our heritage and all the contributions people of color have bestowed on the beauty world. (It’s no coincidence that this issue is on newsstands during both Juneteenth and Independence Day.) It’s also a safe and liberated space for the voices of those who can be othered and tokenized by this industry that we love.

Best believe, we’re here to celebrate the many shades and cultures that combine to make our nation’s beauty great. So many of the people in this issue are revolutionaries and advocates who pursue that greatness. In Beauty Reporter, we present three Indigenous entrepreneurs who are grounding their brands in their Native heritage. Alok Vaid-Menon is the subject of our Talking Beauty conversation this month, and they have been advocating for LGBTQIA+ rights while wearing fabulous lashes and glittering eye shadow. We also feature New York Times best-selling author of Olga Dies DreamingXochitl Gonzalez, who has written a love letter to the New York City bodega, a place to shop beauty and build community in Latino neighborhoods. For our cover story, rising star Chlöe talks to Joan Morgan, PhD.

Dr. Morgan coined the term “Black girl magic,” something Chlöe embodies to her core. In their conversation, Dr. Morgan places Chlöe within the long-held tradition of hip-hop feminism. She has

faced criticism for embracing overt sexuality, but since the days of Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith, Black performers have used their bodies to recapture physical freedom. The following pages are —every last one — splendidly brown, a mirror of many parts of America. As they came together, I had the joy of sitting down with Michaela, as well as Mikki Taylor, the former beauty director of Essence, in my home base of Newark, New Jersey. Three Black beauty editors from two generations, we talked about sisterhood, visibility, and beauty storytelling that shines a light on everyone. I’d love you to listen in.

JESSICA CRUEL: When we talk about the “legacy and liberation” theme of this issue, this is legacy, the three of us in a room together. I wouldn’t be able to be where I am today if not for the work that you two have done in this industry. Mikki, you spent 30 years as a beauty director at Essence, bringing our faces, our shades, our personalities to those pages.

MIKKI TAYLOR: You know, it was an honor to serve. To tell our stories on the pages of Essence was an opportunity to beat a drum that seemingly only you could hear. At the time, when I was reporting and telling our narratives, we were the invisible women in beauty.

MICHAELA ANGELA DAVIS: Mikki, I remember coming into Essence [as a young editor], and you were so fabulous every day. The hair was snatched. The skin was perfect. The ‘fit was perfect. I’ve never seen anyone up close that had glamour like that. Not [just] glamorous for a Black girl. You poured [out] this confidence because you could go in [any room] and dazzle.

CRUEL: Today, when I walk into a room as the editor in chief of Allure, I think, How can I bring an ounce of that glamour you just described?

TAYLOR: I’m sitting here and what you just said sent a chill through my every beauty vein. When you said, “I think about that as editor in chief of Allure…” You are the future that I dreamed of. I’m getting goosebumps, because for so long I was the only Black woman in the room, telling our story and fighting for social justice and beauty. And now, you sit here, the editor of a magazine that talks beauty globally — a brown woman who understands beauty from her soul.

CRUEL: Mikki, you just said how you were fighting for social justice and beauty. The mission you started then and the mission I have now are similar in a lot of ways…. Beauty for us is culture. It’s sitting between your mama’s knees, getting cornrows. It’s going to the salon and staying all

day, hearing the ladies talk. It’s going to the bodega to grab mascara.

DAVIS: It’s rituals.

TAYLOR: It’s tradition.

DAVIS: Mikki, you were often the only [Black beauty editor]. What did you walk in there with? Who was with you?

TAYLOR: At the time, the 14.2 million Black women that Essence served. I knew that when I walked through those doors, that every one of those queens walked in with me. At the same time, I took it upon myself to educate the industry. It wasn’t my job, but it was my responsibility.

DAVIS: Mikki, when you said you know that wasn’t your job but you did it, you were in a space to make them better because they had more understanding. But that’s what Black girls do. We liberate ourselves, everybody gets free.

CRUEL: Michaela, I think that’s so true. Once I had an experience where I felt seen in the pages of Allure, I said, “Well, how can we open this up to other people? How can we make South Asian women feel seen? How can we make Latina women, LGBTQ, and Indigenous people feel seen?” because they also haven’t had this platform. So, how do you share the podium and share the mic?

TAYLOR: We actually had Caucasian readers, and I had an editor tell me once, “I read your magazine because it’s the only magazine that doesn’t make me feel like I need a makeover, like I’m lacking something.” Magazines must be the place where we come to be affirmed, informed, inspired to have the conversation, to have our voices heard.

CRUEL: I love that word, “affirmed.” Because so many times people think magazines are aspirational, but at the end of the day…you should aspire to be yourself.

TAYLOR: The best version of you possible and to keep discovering what that is. Magazines have a responsibility to help you navigate that journey, to discover.

DAVIS: Whenever I’m asked, “What makes you feel beautiful?” I feel most beautiful when I’m telling the truth. When you become a truth teller, then you get to really open up this definition of beauty. It’s not just skin care and lipstick. It’s identity, it’s humanity.

TAYLOR: I think that women, in general, are looking now to be intentional, to clarify their why.

DAVIS: [Their] purpose.

CRUEL: This has been such a celebration. Being supported by you both, my community, that’s what allows me to go into the office and be big, to take up space. It’s not just for me, but for you and the people who will come after me.

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