Yara Shahidi on "Undefining" Beauty, Incorporating Diversity, and Unibrows

Updated 06/13/19

The words "we don't integrate, we recreate," are displayed plainly in Yara Shahidi’s Instagram bio. It's those very words that lassoed my attention as I began to research the young 19-year-old activist and Hollywood star. "Many times when we talk about inclusion, it's through the lens of acculturation or assimilation," she tells me earnestly. "A larger conversation I’d love to have is this idea of 'undefining' beauty." I pause and take a minute to wrap my head around the distinction between "redefining" and "undefining," as she put it.

The first has to do with labeling something with a new definition, while the latter is forever indefinite, inexact, and open-ended. We don’t live in a society that responds well to leaving anything to the unknown. Instead, there are codes, rules, and constructs in almost every aspect of our day-to-day. Though they're surely necessary in some areas, they feel too rigid—not to mention overly-simplistic—when applied to something as deeply personal as the idea beauty. So, as Shahidi suggests, how radical would it be if we threw the whole term away?

This declaration might feel bold—audacious, even. But part of me thinks that's where her age comes in. Shahidi is just 19 and already possesses creativity, bold determination, and mindful innovation in spades; it's the reason she's unanimously won America's affection through her role as the precocious Zoey Johnson on the hit show Blackish, and now it's spin-off, Grownish. Where one might usually assume her thoughtfulness and quiet confidence is because she's wise beyond her years, I'm claiming the exact opposite.

Shahidi is leading the charge of a generation that operates at a lightning-fast velocity compared to those past, fueled by an unwavering certainty that their voices can, and will, make a difference—and so far, society is all the better for it. It's no surprise, then, that she was chosen as the face of Bobbi Brown’s newest campaign, which centers around confidence, celebrating individual beauty, and female empowerment. A spokesperson for a beauty brand who wants to do away with the idea of a concrete notion of beauty?

If anyone can make us believe it, it's Yara.

Below, find her thoughts on inclusion, James Baldwin, and walking in her truth.

Yara Shahidi
Emily Soto for BYRDIE

On her ambassadorship with Bobbi Brown...

"I use their foundation, but more importantly, my family does too. I know it doesn’t only work for me, but it also works for my mama, my aunties. It’s a staple in the industry. I was excited about the partnership because of the brand's philanthropic component as well. It was really important for me that this was a genuine collaboration. And I think that comes through in the campaign we shot, but also because I was able to choose three organizations for the brand to send donations. I chose The Pretty Powerful Fund.

 I love that it's in their mission statement to be inclusive and to try and be impactful in everything they do. It led to an interesting, fun campaign."

On her favorite Bobbi Brown products...

"I love the Crushed Lip and the foundation. As a young woman out in the world, often times I can tell when a foundation is cake-y or sitting on your skin. Bobbi Brown's formula isn't like that. It's amazing to have something that is so light and blends in really well. Sometimes I get fancy for events, and other times I go with some oil on my face and Chapstick and call it a day. The formula is nice because it's buildable—so you can add more coverage if you want to feel fancy, or, on a more casual day, if I just want to glide through and with a little coverage.

I love their Crush Collection because I am lip gloss-obsessed. If I don't wear anything else in the day, trust that I have lip gloss on and that I've brushed up my eyebrows."

Yara Shahidi
Emily Soto for BYRDIE

On her skincare routine (and breakouts)...

"I go through phases. As somebody who has to wear makeup five days a week on set for months at a time, skincare is really important to me. I remember my first skincare product was Cetaphil when I was little. Right now, I wash my face probably two to three times a day—in the morning, then again after being out during the day for long periods of time, and then again at night. I have a great dermatologist and a great facialist, Dr. Grimes. I’ve been going to her since I was four years-old. She is a world-renowned expert, especially as it pertains to autoimmune diseases and skin.

She has a holistic view of dermatology. On my off days, if my skin is dry, I use rosehip oil or a Bobbi Brown moisturizer. Sometimes I put their under eye cream all over my face because I love how thick it is, especially with the ever-changing weather. It creates a nice barrier."

On keeping her unibrow...

"I really only take it off when it's time to be Zoey on Grown-ish. It's important to me because it is me. It’s who I am. I'm somebody who proudly castor oils my brows to make sure that they're healthy and growing. It’s a part of Yara that I appreciate carrying through. It may seem small, but I appreciate it. So many times in the realm of beauty, what is and isn't considered 'beautiful' is very traditional. With this campaign, instead of connecting makeup to beauty, we set out to connect it to this idea of joy.

When people approach the products on the counter, I hope they're choosing the color they love. Whatever product speaks to them. It's using makeup to express what you want to be."

Yara Shahidi
Emily Soto for BYRDIE

On diversity in the beauty industry...

"I've seen lovely progress, and I appreciate what I’m seeing, especially in terms of brands being intentional about what they can do and what they can show. My family is an entire spectrum of brown with various undertones and we all need different shades. Every brown is so unique to each person, so in that way you can tell when a brand has spent time (and when they haven't). You can see when they've studied it. And, in terms of the actual images being put out, I feel like it's important to get increasingly more expansive.

Show us new images of what it means to be beautiful and create a new association."

On "undefining" versus redefining...

"I think James Baldwin said, 'Progress relies on how quickly I can become white.' That’s something that spoke to me. We’re in this era of redefining. ‘Let's redefine what this means, let's redefine what that means.’ But the issue is when you redefine something, you're defining it. You're putting parameters on what it can or can’t be. When I look at the amount of times we have redefined the same thing throughout the years, it's because we keep putting adding new parameters, and then realizing that somebody is inherently excluded.

Let's throw it all out. In that, each person has full autonomy to define what beauty means for them." 

Yara Shahidi
Emily Soto for BYRDIE

Related Stories