Marley Parker on Her Signature Curls, Body Image, and Racial Identity

Updated 06/09/18
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Welcome to our series, Beauty Test, where we invite the freshest faces to the Byrdie studio to test-drive the most buzzed-about beauty trends—or to be honest, just some rad makeup looks we've been dying to see in real life. This month, get to know up-and-coming DJ and model Marley Parker.

I arrive on set—late, courtesy of an overcrowded L train—like a tornado, clutching coffee and tote bags with every available limb. My eyes dart around the studio, first from the organized makeup table to the racks of spring-colored clothing and accessories. Everyone was calm and sun-lit. It's all good, I thought, relieved she hadn't yet arrived. "She," of course, is Marley Parker, a born-and-raised New Yorker who blends various beauty looks on her Instagram as aptly as she does genres of music as DJ She Marley Marl.

The 18-year-old model/DJ walked in shortly after, her immaculate bare skin peppered with freckles and her trademark Afro more stunning than I'd imagined. It always tends to take a minute to reacclimate to meeting a person in real life after fawning over Instagram images for weeks prior. In this case, it was remembering that the woman standing in front of me, 5'10" and swagger in spades, was just a teenager. Parker is outgoing (she walked over to introduce herself, smiling with an outstretched hand to shake mine) and possesses a knowledge of music far beyond her years.

She offered up her own playlist for the day, stopping to explain the origins and inspirations for many of the songs between shots. She's playful, as evidenced by the breaks for laughter and praise when she caught a glimpse of herself in the monitor, and for lack of a more poetic word, she's vibey. Her style matches her personality in all its eclectic, original, raw glory, and it all comes across as both authoritative and spontaneous in equal measure.

We got to talking about skincare, her signature curls, body positivity, and the consistent and unrelenting questioning of her racial identity. In true Gen-Z form, Parker spoke eloquently about each issue, offering her well-informed opinion plainly and without embellishment. Find her thoughts on confidence, beauty inspiration, and music below.

Earrings: Christofle ; Hoodie: Fendi; Trench: Drome

On blending different music genres—as well as makeup looks and techniques:

I'm inspired by a lot of my friends, people I meet every day, and my environment! I have a love for so many things, which forces me to find a way to connect and intertwine everything.

On how she thinks Rihanna is spearheading change in the beauty industry:

Being a part of Fenty Beauty was amazing. I grew up listening to Rihanna, and I've always respected her. I think everything she's doing at the moment is iconic. After she launched [the brand], I saw ads all over Instagram of makeup companies producing a wider and darker selection of foundation shades, which is great, but they will never equate to what she's done. Rihanna has created so many different shades with so many diverse undertones, sending a message that WOC come in more than 10 to 15 shades.

I think Rihanna has a beautiful gift of making women of color feel beautiful, fly, and important.

On her hair journey:

I used to hate my hair. I believe it stems from internalized racism. I wanted to have straight hair—most of my childhood idols had straight hair because of how whitewashed the media is.

I rarely wash my hair, as natural oils are really good for moisture. I started making my own hair products. I combine whipped shea butter, coconut oil, essential oils, and black seed oil. This makes my hair so soft because it's all-natural and allows me to forgo supporting large corporations, as I buy the ingredients from small businesses.

Jacket: Nanushka ; Earrings: Hannah Jewett

On questions targeted toward her racial identity:

Every day I deal with questions or comments about race—being racially ambiguous makes people question me and feel the need to assign me a racial category. People are weirdly always eager and intrigued to know my race, as if they can't feel comfortable to exist together or converse without knowing. Yes, colorism is extremely prevalent everywhere in all countries because most nonwhite people feel an extreme burden to look white or do things that our society deems as white. It's subconsciously ingrained in us whether we immediately recognize in ourselves or not.

On the body-positive movement:

The body-positive movement is great, but it needs to be more intersectional, like most activism nowadays. We ask ourselves why it feels like such a burden to exist if you are not skinny, straight, gender-conforming, cis, white, rich, hairless, trauma-free, able, etc.

On practicing self-care and keeping herself calm and grounded:

I meditate quite often—spending time completely away from your phone by yourself is vital. I practice self-care through mental consciousness. My anxiety got way better when I started pushing myself out of my toxic comfort zones, like doing the same things over and over again. Doing things that make you happy (even pushing yourself to leave the house) and taking healthy risks are great tools.

Earrings: Hannah Jewett (left ear), Christofle (right ear); Top: Marques'Almeida

On her favorite makeup and skincare products right now:

My favorite makeup right now is definitely Obsessive Compulsive Cosmetics Lip Tar ($9). It's a super-pigmented and multiuse product. In terms of skincare, shea butter all day, every day. Malcolm Shabazz Harlem Market on 116th St in New York City is a great location to buy from.

On what makes her feel most confident:

DJ'ing makes me confident. I really enjoy showing who I am in that way—people who haven't met me will hear my set, and it's like we're having an hour-long conversation. It constantly allows me to attract other artists, making me more connected, knowledgeable, and confident.

On her beauty icons:

Definitely Grace Jones, Fecal Matter, Sita Abellan, Aaliyah, and my best friend Pauli Cakes.

Production Credits: Photographer: Adrienne Raquel; Hairstylist: Jeanie Syfu; Makeup Artist: Alana Wright; Manicurist: Gracie J.; Stylist: Christine Nicholson; Model: Marley Parker with Muse Models

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