Original Illustration by Stephanie DeAngelis
Here at Byrdie, we know that beauty is way more than braid tutorials and mascara reviews. Beauty is identity. Our hair, our facial features, our bodies: They can reflect culture, sexuality, race, even politics. We needed somewhere on Byrdie to talk about this stuff, so... welcome to The Flipside (as in the flipside of beauty, of course!), a dedicated place for unique, personal, and unexpected stories that challenge our society's definition of "beauty." Here, you'll find cool interviews with LGBTQ+ celebrities, vulnerable essays about beauty standards and cultural identity, feminist meditations on everything from thigh brows to eyebrows, and more. The ideas our writers are exploring here are new, so we'd love for you, our savvy readers, to participate in the conversation, too. Be sure to comment your thoughts (and share them on social media with the hashtag #TheFlipsideOfBeauty). Because here, on The Flipside, everybody gets to be heard.
Here at Byrdie, we’re committed to honoring and supporting our fellow women each and every day, whether that’s through sharing personal experiences with body image and confidence, discussing the ever-morphing representation of women in the media, or offering mental health advice. Beauty and feminism have more to do with one another than some people realize. As Transparent creator and trans activist Jill Soloway has stated, beauty rituals serve a larger purpose than simply enhancing our features (read more about that here); and there’s strength in expressing ourselves authentically through beauty and encouraging other women to embrace their own identities.
I think we can all agree that celebrating the amazing, unique women around us should be something we do on the daily. But International Women’s Day serves as a special reminder to support, empower, and take pride in our sisters. As participants in the beauty industry, we sometimes forget to look for beauty inspiration in nontraditional places. So this year, to celebrate our sisterhood as genuinely as possible, we wanted to expand our source of beauty inspiration by turning to five trailblazing women who are redefining what it means to be beautiful. Keep reading to hear five important beauty tips from Hari Nef, Amandla Stenberg, Ruby Rose, and more.
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Social media beauty guru Nura Afia is officially the first Muslim ambassador for CoverGirl. You can catch her in advertisements proudly wearing a Hijabi, which is something we haven’t seen in mainstream beauty campaigns before.
Her insane makeup skills aside, Afia has a refreshing perspective on the role makeup can play in women’s lives. “I feel like beauty and makeup really helped me find myself,” she told Elle.com earlier this year. “Growing up, I wasn’t really good at anything and I started getting good at makeup and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m good at something!’ I felt like it helped me gain my confidence. Even though, at the same time, I don’t use it to mask because I feel insecure about my face. I don’t need it every day. … And with a lot of girls, I’ve noticed, it’s just another version of expressing ourselves.”
Afia has already imparted her healthy confidence and perspective to her five-year-old daughter. “She thinks she can wear [hot pink lipstick] to preschool every morning!” Afia jokes. “So it’s literally a battle. But it’s funny. I think she knows she can be whatever she wants to be at the end of the day. If makeup takes her there, that’s awesome.”
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Incredibly, chic wasn’t always the phrase that best described our favorite Orange Is the New Black cast member and all-around demolisher of gender stereotypes, Ruby Rose. But she looks back at her beauty evolution with irony. “I loved a good lip liner, but one that completely contrasted the color of my lipstick: a red lip with a blue lip liner,” she told The Coveteur of her teenage aesthetic. “That was the cool thing. And having a different color eye pencil—doing blue on top and having green underneath. I had so many colors happening at once: It wasn’t appropriate for high school. I had the slits in the eyebrow and henna in the front of my hair. It was really something else.”
So take a page out of Rose’s book: Don’t shudder at your middle school or high school photos, even if it’s difficult (believe us … we know). Instead, know that we’ve all made aesthetic mistakes and that your past beauty blunders are simply the stepping stones that brought you to where you are today.
Rose certainly hasn’t lost her sense of humor. “On a plane, I’ll always put a sheet mask,” she went on to tell The Coveteur. “It’s so mortifying for people to walk past—I look like some sort of crazy Freddy Krueger–type person. The thing I find about flying is that I get so dehydrated, and sheet masks are the best because they’re easy. If I’m in a cheeky mood, I kind of enjoy the fact that a flight attendant will walk past and double take.” Aside from sheet masks, sleep, and plenty of water, Rose swears by Urban Decay Perversion Mascara ($22) to look well-rested and wide-awake.
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Can we take a moment to process that Amandla Stenberg is only 18 years old? She has already become an important voice on issues of sexuality, gender, and cultural appropriation. But that doesn’t mean she’s never struggled with insecurity and identity. Publicly voicing her struggles wasn’t easy, but creating opportunities for dialogue helped keep her accountable and set an incredible example for other people.
As Stenberg said in a Teen Vogue interview last year, “I kind of had a moment with myself, like, ‘OK. Is this what you want to do? Do you actually want to talk about issues? Is it worth it?’ There are still moments now where I’m like, ‘Whoa, this is a lot of pressure.’ But it’s worth it because when people come to me and say, ‘I’m more comfortable in my identity because of you,’ or ‘I feel like you’ve given me a voice,’ that’s the most powerful thing ever.”
Instead of quietly dealing with confidence and body image issues, let’s all make like Stenberg, and strive to be more open with ourselves and others. This way, we won’t feel so alone.
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Taking one look at her razor-sharp bone structure is enough to understand why Hari Nef belongs to the same modeling agency, IMG, as It girls like Gisele and Gigi. Nef is also the first transgender model that IMG ever signed. Nef’s success as a model is significant in itself, but she is also an activist, and she is extremely vocal about issues facing the transgender community as well as those that women everywhere struggle with.
In a Vogue interview, Nef explained why she chose to be public with her transition. “I could have hid in Boston and lived at home for three years. Gone through my transition, taken voice lessons to make my voice more feminine, gotten gender reassignment surgery, and spent time to complete my transition before I made my debut in fashion or film, but I didn’t want to wait!”
Nef is an inspiration for facing the world head on, no matter where you are in your personal journey. As if that message isn’t moving enough, Nef also has a lot to say about gender stereotypes and the pressures that women (both trans and cis) feel to wear makeup. “When I don’t wear makeup, it’s not because I’m lazy, but it’s me making this radical bid for the feminization of my body and being confident in that,” she told Vogue. “I don’t want to say that women who do use makeup or get breast implants or have fake nails are insecure. They’re entitled to that, and they should do that if that’s what they want to do. But for me, there are no answers. It’s just a matter of preference and choice and fetish.”
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For Cipriana Quann, one-half of the online publication Urban Bush Babes, loving her natural hair was a process. In her Byrdie exclusive, Quann opened up about her struggles to accept it. She explains how she fought her natural hair for years, trying to conform to what she thought others viewed as ideal and beautiful. Ultimately, however, she found her greatest inspiration in her mom. “I wanted to represent the kind of beauty I felt most comfortable with and idolized when I was younger, which was my mother’s image,” she told us. “I was done with masking my identity to represent a false beauty to please the standards of others. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and at the end of the day, I realized the most important beholder was me.”
If you’re curious about how Quann cares for that amazing hair, she swears by natural oils like Nature’s Way Extra Virgin Olive Oil ($17) and Jamaican Black Castor Oil ($10) to nourish it from the inside out.
Next up, read the inspiring account of why one editor gave up photo editing apps for good!