The model and activist opens up about embracing her looks, practicing self-care, and becoming the new face of Marc Jacobs Beauty.
What's the earliest encounter with beauty products that you can recall?
I come from an African household, so it was all about moisturizing and looking after our hair. Both my sister and I went through this journey of figuring out the products that suit us and dealing with the fact that our skin got so dry. We saw our mom using certain products, but she's white, so we would lean toward the things our [Ghanaian] dad used. He would moisturize our hair and then braid it. I've never known anything other than my dad doing my hair.
What about your experience with makeup?
It's interesting—thinking back, I never could wear the same makeup as my friends. When I got to boarding school, all the girls were wearing foundation, and for some reason I thought we could all use the same shades. I remember not understanding. So I'd either wear my skin clean or go with really out-there makeup. I went through this phase when I used shiny turquoise liquid liner to draw three dots on the side of my eye. I did that every day for four years.
Have you always loved your freckles, or did you have to grow to appreciate them?
I don't remember consciously not liking them, but in high school I would've much preferred to be a blank canvas. I hadn't started modeling, so no one was paying attention to how great they are. But you'd be surprised—when I began modeling, some makeup artists would put thick foundation over my skin to cover them up.
How did you respond?
I never spoke out, but my parents would see the photos and comment on how the images didn't look like me. It doesn't happen anymore, but there's still so much education needed when it comes to models of color and our skin and hair. You'll see a long line of us backstage waiting for the specific makeup artist and hairstylist who we know will get it right. We won't have to redo it ourselves. Although I don't have the hair issue anymore.
What inspired you to shave yours off?
I knew the long hair I'd dreamed of having that blew in the wind was never going to happen. So one day I just shaved it. It was liberating. I was so unattached to my hair, and this was the first time I was doing my hair for me and not others.
Now you've landed your first campaign as the new face of Marc Jacobs Beauty.
When I got the call it seemed like fate because Marc gave me my first fashion show in New York. He's always been one of my favorite designers, and I've used his makeup products since the very beginning.
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How do you stay confident working in an industry with so much focus on your appearance?
Self-care is always my mental state. It's the first thing I think about when I wake up in the morning. "How am I going to approach my day and make it the best? How am I going to protect myself from things that don't make me feel good?" If I'm feeling anxious, I stop what I'm doing and take a walk. I've learned that being diligent about and aware of your happiness is key.