Beauty and its intersections.
Past Masque Up Entries
11 Summer Essentials
My Favorite Sunscreens for Dark Skin
Winter Skin 101
8 Acids That Will Fix Your Skin and Your Life
A Conversation on Beauty
Setting the Tone
Some Scars Are Cool. Some Scars Are a Pain in the Ass.
Learning Curves: A Skincare Guide
Pores: Not That Big of a Deal
Masque Up by Alesia Pullins
A Conversation on Beauty
I spoke with two makeup enthusiasts Fanta Sylla and Kyrell Grant about their definitions of beauty, their favorite products, and idols.
I’ve always thought of beauty as a state of being, in constant flux, as opposed to the superficial and sterile act of vanity it’s often portrayed as. For some people it certainly is the latter and that’s fine, but for me it’s like a limb, an essential part of my life. I’ve learned and continue to learn so much about myself through the way I interpret beauty. Whether it’s my mother’s strict skincare routine of Noxzema and water, or my grandmother who had a vanity full of perfumes and pearls ... it’s all left an impression on me. Beauty is a deeply personal thing that shifts across identities and cultures, and is unique to everyone it touches, and it should be celebrated as such. With this in mind, I’m always interested to see how people we don’t often see reflected in discussions of beauty, not unlike myself, incorporate beauty into their lives. So I took my questions to my friends Fanta Sylla and Kyrell Grant, who were kind enough to travel beyond the surface with me on what beauty means to them.
Fanta is a writer who lives in a suburb of Paris. You can find her on Tumblr at fansylla.tumblr.com.
Kyrell is a freelance writer based in Toronto, and you can find her on Twitter.
What is your definition of beauty?
FANTA: Beauty is how one consciously chooses to appear in this world or how you choose to make an impression on yourself, but also on others. It’s constant work and sculpting, beauty is not fixed, it’s something fluid, but also a reflection of self.
When do you recall first taking an interest in beauty?
KYRELL: My interest in makeup feels like a very recent development. I never wore makeup in high school mostly because I did not have the money and my exposure was to a lot of drugstore makeup that didn't have the range of colours.
FANTA: I first took an interest when I was in the U.S. to study. I was spending a lot of time online, and I found the discourse on makeup and beauty refreshing. You could find a virulent criticism of beauty with people pulling Foucault quotes and then the same people would reblog makeup tutorials and looks. It really helped me in thinking about different kinds of beauty. There is the beauty that is imposed, oppressive, unachievable. And then there is the beauty that is the ritual part of almost all cultures, that is about having a natural relationship with your body.
How has your idea of beauty shifted over the years?
FANTA: I had this stance that makeup is superficial. Tumblr completely destroyed that, just like it destroyed many preconceived ideas I had about many things. On Tumblr beauty is inescapable, there is such a focus on appearance and it can be very alienating because the same bodies that are heralded as beautiful in our society are also the ones getting a lot of attention. But at the same time, in the #Blackout hashtag on Tumblr you can see all types of bodies, all the bodies that are erased from mainstream culture and the ones that are damaged by oppressive ideas of beauty. They think about beauty and wear makeup and it’s not always to conform, it’s also to have fun. The fun aspect of makeup was completely missing for me. Beauty really allows you to know more about your body.
KYRELL: Now I understand how makeup can be used subtly. I’m realizing you don’t have to do a full face of makeup because there are no real set-in-stone makeup rules.
What are your favorite beauty items, practices and rituals?
FANTA: Lipsticks definitely. I love eyeliner too and blushes. When I have some, I like putting rose water on my face in the morning. But my favorite ritual is simply washing my face at the end of the day.
KYRELL: My favourite product is lipstick. It’s so simple, but damn the impact of any dark lipstick particularly NARS or Make Up Forever. I also have stayed loyal to the Stila All Day Liquid Eyeliner. Skincare wise, Team Kiehl’s all day. I also love the Origins Out of Trouble 10 Minute Rescue Mask and Paula’s Choice BHA Skin Perfecting Liquid.
Are you more into skincare or makeup or would you say it’s equal?
KYRELL: I definitely am more invested in skincare. I had very bad cystic acne and I started doing a lot of personal research after the products prescribed to me by a dermatologist didn’t work. I just wanted to not have to spend money on foundation.
FANTA: Both even though my skincare routine is very simple. I used to work in fast-food and would eat there every day and it destroyed my skin. I went to see a dermatologist, had a treatment and she recommended the Laroche-Posay Effaclear line and I swear by its purifying foaming gel. I have very sensitive skin so skincare and makeup have to go together.
Makeup-wise, what is your favorite look? What is your everyday look?
KYRELL: My favourite makeup look right now is a face full of the NARS Multiple in South Beach. Highlighters all day.
FANTA: Usually I just draw in my sparse eyebrows, make an eyeliner wing and then experiment with lipsticks. I have big lips so I tend to focus on them. My favorite look when I go out is a black smokey eye and nude/pink lipstick, but I also love a dark lip. I also love blue eyeliner on black women.
Giannina Oteto rocking blue eyeliner
Fanta what are your thoughts on “French beauty,” as in trends seen on popular beauty sites? What is your idea of French beauty?
FANTA: I wrote an essay about it for Golly Magazine last year, and basically talked about how French beauty was just another area much like cinema, literature, television that reflects France’s incapacity to integrate and acknowledge black people’s existence. When I was in the U.S., even in a white environment, I could go to Walgreens and find a foundation that was my shade. Really not the case in France where white femininity is the default. I had to wait a long time before seeing Lupita Nyong’o’s face in Lancôme ads.
Are there any West African or West Indian beauty practices and products that you love?
KYRELL: Wildly enough none of the women in my family wear makeup. If you ask any of them about beauty they’d likely say “natural is key.”
FANTA: I like putting shea butter on my hair. I’d love to use all of the oils my aunts in Mali put on their hair but I can’t in my context. I love the scarification practice that is a bit lost now. My mother has a scar next to her eye and it’s beautiful. My grandmother had huge scarifications from her hairline to chin, and it was supposed to be an ornament, but when I was a child I was like what? Now I get it, and it’s another thing comforting me in the idea that beauty can be strange and also differs according to cultural contexts.
What are your insecurities around beauty? What do you feel positive about?
FANTA: Well, I am dark-skinned black girl who was raised in a house that upheld colorism and I also spent too much time at the movies absorbing white standards of beauty, so I’m trying to decolonize as we say. I try to not hold beauty as the thing that measures my humanity while at the same time acknowledging its power, its necessity. I am positive about a generation that wants to see other faces, bodies represented and that will change things for the future. I like whatever Kayla Foxie is doing. I love black women on YouTube like Jackie Aina who are doing their thing, who are beautiful and funny, take beauty seriously but don’t take themselves that seriously. It’s refreshing.
KYRELL: My biggest insecurity is that I still have no idea what to do with eyeshadow.
What do you want to see more of within the world of beauty from products and ideas and writing? What do you want to see less of?
KYRELL: I never want to see anything relating to contouring ever again and I do not care about eyebrows. I would love to see more dark skinned black women doing anything.
FANTA: Less Kim Kardashian, but she’s not going away so I can only dream about it. I’d like to see more black women doing collaborations, like with Colourpop for instance. Also more black women owning brands. I’d like for writers to be a bit more honest about trends and where they come from. Nine times out of 10 they come from creative working class Black women and not some unimaginative rich white girl who has a team thinking and creating for her.
Who are your beauty idols?
Do you have any advice for people just getting started, particularly people with dark skin tones and limited access?
FANTA: When it comes to beauty sometimes I don’t want to care about it and it’s exhausting, but I can’t ignore the joy of buying a lipstick or when I find a good look. It’s a real feeling. My advice would be to do what you want. Do some research, remember that it’s about experimenting, that there are so many looks one can create, that it can be fun to invest in beauty. Check Tumblr, and YouTube and Pinterest. You’ll find people who look like you.
KYRELL: Swatch everything, ask for samples, try products in natural light, read product reviews. If you’re using a foundation, less is more - trust me. Find people on youtube with your skin tone. So much of makeup is trial and error so you might fuck up, but it’s okay. Makeup wipes are very real.