I'd be doing you a disservice if I even tried to characterize a woman as high caliber as Gabrielle Union in just a few words. It's impossible when you wear as many hats as flawlessly as she does. The 45-year-old award-winning actress, author, wife, and businesswoman does the damn thing and does it well. I was 8 when my sister and I watched marathons of her starring roles in late-'90s classics like She's All That and 10 Things I Hate About You. A year later, my friends and I would recite every one of her iconic lines from Bring It On.
So when I was in the same room with her on the terrace floor of Gramercy Park Hotel in New York City celebrating her new collaboration with Shutterfly, it felt like I'd known her for years. Union's big, textured curls fell perfectly over her sparkly back top, and I couldn't get over how her smoky eye paired perfectly with her toned-down nude lip. The moment I walked up to her, she instantly complimented me on my red lipstick and asked which shade it was. This night, it happened to be Fenty Beauty Stunna Lip Paint in Uncensored. "I have to get it now—it looks gorgeous on you," she said. At that moment, my nerves naturally drifted away, and it felt like I was talking to a close friend. We chatted about skincare, Eurocentric beauty standards, and diversity over glasses of wine—we both chose red, so I knew this was going to be good.
I had to begin talking hair. Gabrielle has graced the cover of many magazines and big screens rocking every hairstyle in the book: voluminous curls, long extensions, blunt blobs, braids, twists, updos, and her naturally curly hair. A hair chameleon, if you will, she's not afraid to switch it up. I was curious about her thoughts on the recent hair retouching incidents of Solange Knowles and Lupita Nyong'o where their natural hairstyles were digitally altered. The unapologetic actress did not hold back.
"My thing is if you want them on your cover, you want them. Why would you change who they are? You obviously want them for all that they bring to the table, so show all of them. You don't need to re-create the wheel—they're amazing and beautiful on their own.
"There's a larger conversation with people of color when it comes to our hair and our skin color. People will try to lighten our skin tones and alter our hair, which says a lot of about how we feel about ourselves versus how other people feel about our blackness and textured hair. We need to showcase the fullness of our beauty."
Gabrielle then brought up the popular notion that straight hair is the single most beautiful style.
Your hair doesn't always have to be super straight to be considered beautiful. You know, we come in every incarnation.
"Lupita was obviously very comfortable and felt very beautiful on that day. That's how she wanted to be reflected and obviously what you shot, so to change her hair is to erase her," she says.
I then went on to ask if she’d been through similar experiences with skin or hair alterations on magazine covers. "My skin has been lightened in a sense of the camera making me look over-exposed. And at the time, I was like, I look weird, you know what I mean? It's one of those things that I noticed and my family noticed, but nobody else noticed," she says.
In a major acting role where Gabrielle portrayed a "professional woman," she told me, there was major pushback when she mentioned she wanted to wear twists in her hair. This reminded me that what's considered "acceptable" for black women in the workplace is somehow still up for debate.
"I was doing a project and with the character the producers were coming up with what they wanted to do for her hair. And they were like, She’s beautiful, sophisticated, and professional. I was like, Well, I want to wear braids. And and they were like, Well, I mean, she’s beautiful, sophisticated, and corporate America. I responded, Yes, and specifically I want twists. And they went on to say, We just really want her to look more polished. I said, You all really don't understand what are we talking about here?
"And if you get into the Eurocentric beauty ideals that the [black community] has adopted ourselves at times, it's even more maddening. We're all on our hair journey, and everyone's journey is beautiful and valid and amazing."
The idea that how you wear your hair somehow relates to your character, your intelligence, or your wokeness is bullshit.
"We should embrace all of us on our hair journeys, wherever they take us. Not to quote Martin Luther King Jr., but let the content of someone's character actually determine how you treat them, not how they wear their hair."
I couldn't let Gab go without discussing her ageless skin, which she credits to a combination of booze, a gallon of water every day, Luzern Laboratories products (uses the Brightening Serum, $115, and Oxygen Cream, $175), and Mirigal oil.
"I do drink a gallon of water a day. I started that in my mid to late 30s. So for a good 10 years, I've been drinking a gallon of water a day. It makes a difference for hair, skin, nails, all of it," she says.
Afterward, we posed for a picture, wineglasses in hand, and I told her our talk was truly amazing. I'm still replaying the moment in my head.