Issue 006: Skin

Radiant by Definition

By Zakkiyyah Najeebah

I’m sure we all have those close friends that carry their skin and bodies with such radiance that their presence makes you want to hold your head a little bit higher and reclaim your own light.

I spent some time with my close friend Theodora at the beach some time ago, and when I look back at these images, I’m reminded of the beauty of black skin. I’m amazed at how our melanin absorbs the sun with such ease and gratitude. This skin that is proud...without apology and without shame. Theodora flaunted around the beach with such confidence and self affirmation that it was a note to remain as carefree and black as possible. By any means necessary.

It warms my heart when I see black women carry their skin and bodies with such appreciation, knowing that we live within a paradigm that does not praise our skin...or appreciate it. I’ve always viewed us as people of the sun, and my truth and affirmation of black skin is that we’ll always be radiant by definition. 

Jewels From The Hinterland: A Conversation on Black and Brown Bodies in Nature with Photographer Naima Green

Interview by Lauren Ash | Photography by Naima Green

I have to admit; this conversation is one of the most powerful features we have had on Black Girl In Om thus far. The work that Brooklyn-based photographer Naima Green is engaged with is deeply important for all of us as human beings on a planet that shows signs of dis-ease, but particularly for black and brown people. My hope is that in encountering Green's touching work, more of us will be moved to think about the role of representation and accessibility in art, environment/place/space, and environmental activism. Read on, and be sure to follow Green's journey on Instagram @naimagreen and on her website www.naimagreen.com.

LA: Your Jewels from the Hinterland series is a focus of yours at the moment, yes? Can you please share your vision with this project, as well as some of the ways you see it manifesting?

NG: The series began in photographic form in 2013 as a way to visualize and process my personal experience. Three years and 50+ portraits later, I absolutely want this project to be a book. Fragments of the work, collections of six portraits or less, have been shown in galleries in New York, D.C., and Martha’s Vineyard but the entire series has never been seen together. I have not even seen all of the work together because I am still shooting and do not start my postproduction process until late fall working through the winter.

LA: When I look at the images from your Jewels from the Hinterland series, I sense that your intention is to honor and exalt people of color, in particular black folk. Most of the portraits convey individuals staring directly at the camera. At the same time, each individual seems to share the focus with the environment; almost blending with the greenery behind them. In one image, light and shadows dance off of the individual's skin making her appear like the bush she is next to. In another, the individual's skin tone and dress almost makes her fade into the plants that she is comfortably residing in. Can you speak a bit more about your approach when selecting individuals to be a part of your series, as well as your approach when selecting where they will be photographed? What is your artistic intent to communicate with these images?

I absolutely seek to celebrate and honor the beauty and power of Black people. I also try not to limit myself in my own definition of Blackness. Those who participate identify themselves as belonging to the African Diaspora, and there is a beautiful range within that. I have photographed people who identify as: Cuban and Jewish, Jamaican, Black, Dominican, African American, Antiguan, Puerto Rican, Nigerian, and the list goes on. This project seeks to be expansive in its visualizations of Black and Browness and that is not limited to one particular place. When asking individuals to participate I am drawn to their sense craft, their aesthetic — people who I find to be visually stunning — and those who might support my intentions behind the series.

While honoring participants, I also am recognizing the place, the city, green space, all of it. Green spaces in New York vary. There are two approaches when selecting a location for a shoot. I try my best to collaborate with participants in a space that is convenient for them, such as a park or community garden they spend time in. However, I also have a list of parks and green spaces, and want to shoot across all boroughs. With all things, there is a negotiation that happens.

LA: Do you consider yourself an environmental advocate or even activist? If so, how?

If believing that all people should have access to and feel both comfortable and safe in green spaces makes me an advocate, then perhaps I am. We need green spaces in cities. We need a break in the hard architecture, in the stone, brick and metal. We need to see and experience natural growth. Fortunately, green space and the urban landscape are no longer talked about as binaries, but there is not a wide discussion around communities of color and green spaces in New York.

LA: Would you consider your work womanist?

NG: In her collection of essays “In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens,” Alice Walker explores what it means to be a womanist. She describes a womanist as “a black feminist or a feminist of color;” a woman who is not separatist across gender but committed to the “survival and wholeness of an entire people, male and female.”

Yes, this work, my work, is womanist.

LA: How did you come to embrace the term hinterland and why do you feel it is important to define it for those who engage with your work?

Let me first define the project: Jewels from the Hinterland is a photo-based series that investigates questions of place, belonging, and perceived cultural identity within the African Diaspora. I have made, and continue to make, portraits of creative individuals in and around New York City, where figures anchor overgrown fields with abstract forms and vibrant colors. Those who choose to participate are creatives who find comfort in verdant environments. As nature grows around the individuals, so does the city landscape, like a continuous grid. In these photographs are city dwellers who identify with natural green spaces, regions where Black and Brown urbanites are not expected to inhabit. Our hinterlands.

So what is a hinterland?

ˈhin(t)ərˌland/ (noun) 1. The often uncharted areas beyond a coastal district or a river's banks 2. An area lying beyond what is visible or known.

For me, this twofold definition is seamless. I felt like my experience growing up in and around green spaces was never seen or expressed in the media. So, for me, my life was lived in a hinterland. Places that those in our community knew about that were very real and legitimate for us. But on a larger national consciousness, felt like an uncharted area. The beauty of this project is the ability to unify the participants through place and green spaces even though we all have incredibly different lived experiences and histories.

There are dominant and pervasive narratives that suggest Black and Brown bodies can only exist in hard, concrete, urban environments. I seek to add to the narrative by documenting growth in lush environments; and by showing the evolution of Brown bodies in green spaces, which was traditionally limited to depictions of work. I ask my participants to confront these ideas, the viewer, and the camera by gazing directly back at me. This gaze explores the nuances of ownership, confrontation and belonging.

LA: What contemporary artists of color, not necessarily photographers, do you consider to be playing and exploring the same topics you are?

NG: When I started shooting I was deeply inspired by the aesthetics of Deana Lawson. I have been revisiting her work this year. After viewing Kehinde Wiley’s retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum I see parallels between his use of floral motifs and the way he re-imagines the art historical canon with Black and Brown figures.

LA: How does your work relate to self-care and self-love? Both as a process for you, as the photographer, as well as for the work you're creating for other people of color to interact with?

Blackness is constantly being contested. Whether it is Army bans on hairstyles, children murdered, or teenagers being assaulted at pool parties — Blackness is often, if not always, challenged. Art making is my way to process that contestation and confront it. I have to create a tension, a rub, and a resistance to institutional messages.

As I have shared and discussed the work with wider audiences, it has been wonderful and daunting for me to talk with people who have never seen what I am creating. Someone said, “we never see Black girls in flouncy dresses on swings” when referring to my photograph of Aja Monet. While I make these images primarily for myself and communities of color, it is important for many types of people to see these photographs. However, in talking about self-care, it is not my job to teach everyone that Blackness exists in this way. I can create and visualize, but the onus is on the individual to see, research and be present with the work. 

LA: Thank you, Naima. I am deeply honored to be a part of your vision and to witness your work unfold.

Melanin

By Temi Coker

I decided to focus on the beauty of people with a dark complexion. I believe all shades of black are beautiful, but I’ve heard a lot of people downgrade the beauty of dark skinned woman. In my series, I highlight the beauty of being a dark skinned woman. My hope is that this series of photos allow viewers to see just how beautiful all shades of black are.

I asked my friend Lolade to be my model. She’s an amazing person inside and out. Upon viewing the pictures, I could tell that Lolade’s confidence was at an all time high. I’m not saying she wasn’t previously confident, but I think that seeing herself the way I saw her made her realize that Black, of all shades, is indeed beautiful. I hope this series helps others embrace their skin, treat their skin with love, and have confidence in who they are.

PHOTO: DAN JOYCE

PHOTO: DAN JOYCE

Temiloluwa Oshomoshi-Ofuje Coker, Temi O. Coker for short, was born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria and moved to America in May of 2004. He resides in Texas and at 22 Temi is a high school photography/video teacher, and a freelance graphic designer, photographer and musician. He has always had an affinity for creativity, eloquently expressed through his love of music and photography. Photography has taught him that, sometimes, failure sprouts growth—allowing him to take chances in his art. He believes God has blessed him with the gift of telling stories through pictures and seeing the beauty in things that are taken for granted. 

Temi believes one of the first steps in life should be to love yourself by embracing your flaws and honing in on your strengths and individuality. Temi stands by this acknowledgement of self as the key to making people of color see their worth and improve community. No need for competition. We are all on the same team. 

Follow Temi on Instagram @temi.coker and on his website www.temicoker.me.

Coconut Beauty from the Inside Out

PHOTO: LYNNETTE ASTAIRE

PHOTO: LYNNETTE ASTAIRE

By Lynnette Astaire

To tell you the truth, after my recent 10 day detox, I am pretty coco’d out. But in the spirit of this month’s issue, I must share two of my favorite ways to maintain my skin. No matter where I am I try to incorporate coconut in some form. These days it’s becoming more widely available and in better quality. Most of the mainstream attention on coconut goes to the oil, which is a huge beauty trend, but to me, like most things, the best work is done on the inside first.

Coconut Oil for Skin

Now here’s the little known thing about coconut oil and skin. On a scale of 0-5, with 5 being the most acne causing, coconut oil lands at #4 on the comedogenic chart. Despite this, it is still an excellent cleanser and moisturizer for many people with non-sensitive skin, especially during the drier, colder months. 

A more effective way to get the external benefits of coconut oil is internally of course. Drinking raw coconut oil “straight” has been the new wave recently. Benefits are said to include healthy digestion which is important in keeping skin clear. For those that need a “chaser,” add about a tablespoon to make a creamy coffee or chai. I also add it to certain smoothies, especially my Sweet Potato Pie recipe. Although many factors go into the bioavaibilty of nutrients at any given time, the coconut oil does help to absorb the fat-soluable beta carotene/Vitamin A of the sweet potato, which is essential for skin moisture and sun protection

Also, the anti-microbial properties of coconut oil include several fatty acids, in particular lauric acid which contains anti-microbial properties that help to suppress the symptoms of cold sores/herpes.

Since all oils are essentially processed foods and are 100% fat, with the exception of above, I try to use as little as possible. When choosing a coconut oil, make sure you choose a raw organic coconut oil that is unrefined, unbleached, made without heat processing or chemicals, and does not contain GMO ingredients. 

Coconut Water for Skin

Although many tropical folks use coconut water topically to cleanse, tone and moisturize the skin as well use its anti-viral properties to treat infections, the water also does wonders on the inside. Besides being ultra-hydrating and mineral rich, coconut water contains a good amount of collagen building antioxidant Vitamin C and a small amount magnesium helps to fight wrinkle causing free radical damage.

If you are in an area that sells actual coconuts, please go for it! In fact, major chains like Whole Foods will even open your coconuts for you and give you a container with the meat and water. The truth is most people drinking coconut water these days have never even tasted a fresh coconut but trust that (as of this writing) Harmless Harvest tastes most like the fresh stuff! Although I haven’t had most of the brands in Europe, my current favorite is GoCoco.
Any other brand is hit or miss in terms of taste and nutrition. This article breaks down the unfortunate truth about many leading coconut water brands out there.

The ULTIMATE way to receive the benefits of coconut water is by doing a coconut water detox. It’s become one of my favorite cleanses. I now offer it as a part of my retreats and upcoming e-book (to detox at home) so be sure to join my mailing list to receive upcoming information on both. 

PHOTO: LYNNETTE ASTAIRE

PHOTO: LYNNETTE ASTAIRE

Lynnette Astaire is a lifestyle expert and raw food chef with 15 years of vegetarian, vegan and raw food experience and 10 years of juice detox fasting experience. She holds a bachelor's degree in Fine Art from NYC's School of Visual Arts as well as certificates in health. She has conducted lectures and workshops internationally and regularly consults clients in juice detox fasting and raw food preparation. Visit www.livelynnette.com for more encouragement on clean eating and creative living. 

 

Skin Food

By Tracey Coretta Ferdinand

I’m obsessed with sea salt, botanical oils, and natural skin care products. Looking back at my childhood it’s easy to understand why. I grew up in Tobago, an island in the West Indies. Organic fruits, salt water, herbal remedies, and plant based oils were a natural part of my daily life. Living off the earth meant using plants for skin care as well as food.

One of my favorite rituals involved watching my grandmother make coconut oil from scratch. We’d use the oil in our hair and on our skin. The process was exquisite. She’d grate dried coconut, massage the bits into water to create coconut milk, let it sit a few days to separate, then heat after skimming to extract the coconut oil. The smell throughout the kitchen while she made batches was delicious. I’ve been in love with coconut oil ever since.

Another favorite ritual was spending the day at Store Bay beach. My older sister and I would exfoliate in the sand and pretend we were at expensive spas then jump into the salt water to wash off. Of course my skin care rituals have evolved from the sun filled days of my childhood. Now my routine usually involves a warm shower, essential oils infused dead sea salt scrubs, and organic coconut oil moisturizer.

Yet the same care and attention my grandmother used to create natural skin care products is the same attention I use to craft my Tracey Coretta Organics skin care line. My mission is to encourage people to think about the products they buy for their daily skin care routine in the same way they think about the whole foods they choose. You eat clean because you deserve to be healthy. Well, your skin works hard to keep you healthy so she deserves to eat clean too.

PHOTO: AARON RICKETTS

PHOTO: AARON RICKETTS

Tracey Coretta Ferdinand is a love disciple who believes we carry medicine within us in the form of self-love. She is a fierce advocate for framing holistic wellness within this context. Her work is rooted in the understanding that love has the power to transform our health improvement strategies since it requires adopting an ethic of radical self-care. Tracey Coretta holds a master’s degree in Africana Women’s Studies from Clark Atlanta University and a bachelor’s degree in English from Ursinus College. She is also a certified 200-hour vinyasa yoga instructor. Her writing inspires sustainable lifestyle transformations guided by self-love and self-care. Her mission is to encourage women and girls to cultivate vibrant lives by exploring creative wellness practices. Tracey Coretta loves the sun, the ocean and lush plant life. When she’s not outside celebrating her divinity in nature she’s writing, cooking, or practicing yoga. She is thrilled to be a part of BGIO's wellness collective. Born and raised in Trinidad and Tobago, Tracey Coretta is currently based near Philadelphia. 

The Week That Changed My Perspective: Veganism, Compassion, and Mindfulness

By Lauren Ash | special recipe contributions by Jenné Claiborne

Photography by Zakkiyyah Najeebah

On our trip out to New York City, we (Lauren and Zakkiyyah) were enormously blessed to be able to spend most of our week with one of the kindest souls we’ve ever encountered: Jenné Claiborne, Founder of Sweet Potato Soul a vegan-oriented lifestyle brand (inclusive of an amazing and inspiring YouTube channel) which inspires women to live healthier and more delicious lives. Staying with Jenne, and planning our Food Church soulfood gathering with her, we gained incredible insights into what veganism meant, what a vegan lifestyle truly looked like, and who could be vegan. I feel so excited about my revelations and knew I had to share some of them with all of you! Read on, and be inspired.

Far Rockaway Beach: Vegan Snacks and Mindfulness 

On Monday, we got lucky! We were invited to Far Rockaway Beach with Jenné, and Millana Snow, the Founder of women’s oriented wellness community SERENE Social. Before heading out, Jenne cooked up some delicious vegan treats in under an hourincluding the time it took us to go to the grocery store! Not going to lie: I was impressed. This was just one misconception that was set straight early on during our week of awareness around what veganism meant and what a vegan lifestyle truly looked like: vegan food doesn’t have to take forever to prepare! 

Here’s just one of the tasty dishes we brought to the beach. Prepare yourselves, people. It. Is. Tasty. (Scroll through the photos at the top of the page to get a look at this tasty dish.) 

Refreshing Cucumber and Avocado Salad

By Jenné Claiborne (click here to see just why Jenné loves this salad so, so much!

If you plan to use this salad as a topping for veggie burgers, or in a falafel wrap (yum!!), dice the cucumber even smaller (about ½ centimeter cubes). To seed a cucumber scoop out the seeds and membranes with a spoon. I usually cut the already peeled cucumber in quarters, once lengthwise, once widthwise, so it is easier to handle. 

Author: Jenné | Serves: 4

Ingredients

2 large cucumbers, peeled and seeds removed, and diced into ¾ centimeter thick cubes

1 ripe peach, diced like the cucumber (keeping or removing the peel is up to you. I leave it)

1 ripe avocado, flesh diced like the cucumber

¼ cup red onion, minced

¼ cup fresh dill, chopped

½ tbsp apple cider vinegar (plus a splash for good measure)

1 tbsp lemon juice

¾ tsp sea salt

¼ tsp cayenne pepper

Instructions

Place all of the ingredients into a large mixing bowl, and stir well to combine with a large spoon.

Season to taste with a dash more sea salt, vinegar, or lemon juice if necessary.

At Home with Jenné

Okay, so you might be thinking: veganism is cute and all, but what do you eat when you’re just eating for yourself? When there’s no audience around to make something impressive like cucumber avocado salad? Well, we asked Jenné just what she eats at home and got her to fill us in a bit, as well. Our favorite at-home recipe? Her Everyday Buddha Bowl, a tasty, savory, and (bonus) easy protein-rich meal for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

Everyday Buddha Bowl (the colors in this Buddha Bowl really make you want to eat it)

By Jenné Claiborne

The big key to making this Buddha bowl quickly is cooking your grains, legumes, and veggies ahead of time. I do this about twice a week, so that it only takes me 5 minutes tops to have this delicious bowl. The sauce is really great, so you may want to double my recipe ;)

Author: Jenné | Serves: 4

Ingredients

2 sweet potatoes, cubed & roasted

2 cups cooked brown rice or quinoa

2 heads broccoli, chopped and steamed or roasted

2-3 cups cooked black beans (or 1-2 14-oz cans)

1-2 cups kimchi or sauerkraut

fennel seeds, black sesame seeds, and chili flakes

Tahini Miso Sauce

1 tbsp light or yellow miso

¼ cup tahini

juice from ½ a lemon

3-5 tbsp water

dash of cayenne pepper

Instructions

Combine the sauce ingredients in a bowl, and stir until smooth and creamy. Add more water to thin if you like.

Place the sweet potatoes, rice, broccoli, lentils, and kimchi in bowls. Top with tahini miso sauce, fennel seeds, black sesame seeds, and chili flakes.

Take a picture and post your photo to Instagram, Facebook, Twitter using #sweetpotatosoul ;)

Lauren again! Thankfully, Jenné has also started coming out with fantastic “What I Eat in a Day” videos on her YouTube channel. Check them out!

Food Church NYC

Drumroll, please. This was such a moving gathering with some fantastic women in the room who joined us to discuss mindfulness, a holistic vegan lifestyle (what’s that?) and...to eat some bomb vegan soulfood. Conversations like this are important to me because after my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer earlier this year, I know that I need to make some changes in my diet to be preventative with my health. Not only do I want to eliminate all processed sugars and most, if not all, meats, but a plant-based diet really appeals to me for so many reasons! 

To answer the question I posed in the previous sentence: a holistic vegan lifestyle is one that truly encompasses all aspects of your life. I’m not just talking about food here. I’m talking about a complete paradigm shift. An anecdote: Zakkiyyah complimented Jenné on some cute shoes earlier in the week. Jenné said “aw, thank you, it’s so hard to find them!” It was then that I remembered: oh, yeah. Veganism extends into your wardrobe, too.

When sharing more of her story for the “why” behind her holistic vegan lifestyle, it became very clear to me that Jenné’s choice of adopting veganism was because of her compassion for all living things. For me, I saw a concept embraced in yoga in Jenné’s practices: ahimsa, or nonviolence toward all living things. Jenné is one of relatively few people who I can say with certainty cultivates this mindfully each and every day. Here is one of the tasty dishes we mindfully created with Jenné for the Food Church gathering I’ll remember forever. This dish is what I'm ending with, but stay tuned for more on my vegan adventure (that's what I'm calling it)! This is only the beginning. 

Vegan Crabcakes

By Jenné Claiborne

My favorite dish from [My Little Harlem Kitchen Vegan Brunch] are the “crab” cakes. Made with hearts of palm, chickpeas, and Old Bay seasoning these cakes are a hit with everyone I’ve served them to. The secret to making these delicious and authentic is the Old Bay and hearts of palm. Hearts of palm has a texture very similar to crab meat, soooo… And Old Bay is a seafood seasoning! Seriously delicious.

Author: Jenné | Serves 4

1 can chickpeas

1 can hearts of palm, chopped into large pieces

1 jalepeño, seeded and minced

¼ cup vegan mayonnaise (I prefer Just Mayo)

2 tbsp Old Bay seasoning

1 tsp ume plum vinegar

1 tsp dijon mustard

1 cup panko bread crumbs + ½ cup for coating

Place the chickpeas, hearts of palm and corn into a food processor and pulse to combine and mash. Don’t over process it though, you still want some crabby texture. 

Scoop the chickpea mixture into a large bowl and add the other ingredients. Stir well to combine.

Place the remaining ½ cup of panko in a shallow dish.

Heat an oil coated skillet. Form the “crab” mixture into small patties–making sure to pack the mixture tightly, and then coat in the panko in the shallow dish. Pan fry for 3 minutes on each side.

Do this with the remaining batter. I usually fit 5 patties on the skillet at a time. When they are cooked, transfer them to a plate covered with paper towel.

Serve with a dollop of vegan mayo and fresh greens. 

Black Girl Happiness

By Lauren Nixon | Photography by Chelsea Keat

A few months ago, I taught a class to a group of upbeat 9th graders. From the beginning, they had established that I was a vegetable-toting weirdo, albeit a weirdo that they respected and listened to.  We had a good time, shared many laughs and challenged one another.

In our time together, we discussed food and culture, food and identity, and food and media. During one particular session, a student attempted to describe a food advertisement to me. When, I told him that I hadn’t seen the ad and that he’d need to go into more detail, he inquired about just why I hadn’t seen it.

“Well, I don’t have a television,” I said.

Without missing a beat, I heard gasps and chuckles and saw my students’ eyes jutting out of their skulls in amazement, in confusion, in horror.

“So, what do you do instead?” asked another student.

“Well, I spend my time hiking, and reading, and practicing yoga, and hanging out with my friends,” I responded.

It took all of a millisecond for the class to break out into shrieks and cackles that poured into every crevice of the room. For a few seconds, as their laughter seemed to seep into every cell in my body, I felt like I was in 9th grade again—the weird girl, the girl who was misunderstood, the girl who was too much of this and never enough of that. I attempted to breathe through it, to return back to my adult self, to not confuse my past with my present.

As the class simmered down, a sweet young Black girl, simultaneously confident and soft spoken said, “I want to do that. I want to get healthy. I want to get rid of my t.v. like you. You just seem so...happy.”

Everything inside of me shook. Everything inside of me wanted to scrap my lesson for the day and pull up a chair next to her and talk. She was awake in a way that I wasn’t when I was 15. She was vulnerable and brave for admitting that she wanted to give away her television set—a pretty valuable item in the eyes of many 9th graders. This sweet faced Black girl, probably about 15 years younger than me, looked me in the eye and saw my light...in front of an entire class of 9th graders. Beyond all of that, though, she recognized that happiness is something that she, too, deserved and wanted to work toward.

“Thank you. I am. I am happy,” I told her.

That night, I went home and cried. I cried because I was happy. I was happy for me and for her. I was happy that she could see my light, and that she realized that she, too, deserved to glow.

In a few years, I will probably forget her face and name. She will most likely forget mine. But I will not forget the moment that I shared with her. And I will cross my fingers that she remembers the day when she realized that happiness is her birthright. I hope that she works toward the happiness that she deserves—claims it, grips it, and wades in it every time it moves through her life.  

PHOTO: SOPHIE SARKAR

PHOTO: SOPHIE SARKAR

Lauren Nixon is a Food and Wellness Educator who guides youth and adults in creating healthy, nourishing relationships with local, sustainable food through cooking instruction and educational workshops. She has had the pleasure of working with sustainable food and environmental education organizations including FoodCorps, Urban Nutrition Initiative, Raices Eco Culture Micro Farm, Johnson's Backyard Garden, Hidden Villa, and many more. Follow Lauren on Twitter @LaurenNNixon or at www.laurennixon.com.

Her

By Noemie Tshinanga

Here’s to the girl who longed to be noticed.

Who wore her skirt a little higher and her top a little lower whenever she went out.

Who had to make sure her makeup overshadowed the glasses on her face.

Who sat on the bed and watched, as the rest of the girls were getting ready.

(Damn, they’re beautiful)

Who took pictures of them, because if she took pictures with them, she’d stand out.

And while she and the girls may have entered the bars with linked arms, they exited hand in hand with the guys who noticed them.

But not her. She walked alone.

Here’s to the girl who stared at the mirror asking over and over, why not me?
Who studied Instagram like a textbook. Took screenshots of what she thought was beautiful.

Who analyzed the arch of their brow, measured the length of their hair, and calculated the proportion of their chest-to-waist-to-butt ratio. 

Who noted the bodycon dresses and glowing faces.

Who compared and contrasted and came to the conclusion

that there was no way she could look like them.

Here’s to the girl that’s starting over.

The one who is stripping off every insecurity and highlighting the beauty within them.

The one who is dancing on her own in the middle of the dance floor.

The one who is embracing every blemish on her body, and stubble on her eyebrows.

The one who only wears lipstick everyday but adds eyeliner for special occasions.

The one who compares the past and the present in order to move forward in the future.

The one who no longer needs attention, nor craves it.

The one who finally feels beautiful being her.

Here’s to her. Here’s to me.

Here’s to acceptance of being comfortable in my own skin.

PHOTO: NOEMIE TSHINANGA

PHOTO: NOEMIE TSHINANGA

Noemie Tshinanga is a curious, loving human being who wants to create for the rest of her life. She spends most of her time in some form of creation whether developing websites, designing visual aesthetics for brands, or capturing the life that surrounds her with her camera. Follow Noemie on Instagram @noemiemarguerite and view her personal website: www.noemie-marguerite.com

I Am Not This Skin I Love

By Nkechi Deanna Njaka

I love my skin. But I haven’t always.

“Don’t play in the sun.” My mother used to say this to me during the summers growing up. At first listen, I was confused; I loved the sun. I was even born on the longest day of the yearclearly I was not only meant to play in the sun, but also worship everything about it. Still, I didn’t want to question my mother.

Very young, I knew that my mother's advice had less to do with protecting me from skin cancer and had more to do with protecting me from darkening my skin. “Tar baby” is a term she would use to describe the consequences of being outside in the sun too long.  I could tell by her tone that she was deeply concerned with my skin being dark and that dark skin was somehow inextricably linked to bad and wrong. As a result, I learned two things rather quickly. First: avoid the sun, because it makes the skin darker. And, second: the color of my skin is a nuanced discussion about my identity to the outside world.

Unconscious awareness of the subliminal messaging of “don’t play in the sun,” in contrast with a conscious awareness of how I relate to my skin, is an interesting topic to write about. For almost 30 years, I have looked at myself in the mirror with mixed emotions regarding my skin. I have looked at my face with an analytical eye contemplating my own power, privilege, economic status and concept of beauty as it pertains to the color of my skin. Colorism is a term almost as old as I am. Coined by the legendary Alice Walker in 1982,  it is an important consideration to bring into the discussion and equally important to note that it is not a word synonymous with racism.

Now while I know that this is a very harsh message for a mother to send to her daughter, I have empathy for my mother’s root concern. She grew up in the south during the 1950s and 1960s, and she had very light skin (she was called fair and yellow) that benefited her. I believe that in her own way, she was trying to protect me from the subtle systems of oppression that exist in colorism. Not only would I experience colorism in our hometown suburb outside Minneapolis, Minnesota where we were the only family of color in our neighborhood, but I would also experience a form of social oppression affecting almost all my interactions throughout my life. I don't think she consciously understood the impact it would have on me and my relationship to my skin outside of that context.

I AM NOT THIS HAIR, I AM NOT THIS SKIN, I AM THE SOUL THAT LIVES WITHIN.RUMI

Recently I've been thinking about “Black is Beautiful,” “The Melanin Queen,” “Brown is the new Blonde,” “The Melanin Goddess,” and similar statements. I love these affirmations. But we must be honest with ourselves that these declarations are extremely external and do not necessarily address the issues of colorism. Sure, I know color is relative just like everything else, but why should skin be? In order to have a healthier relationship with both our skin and the color of our skin, we need to start with ourselves. What is really truly valuable has been my ability to accept my skin as it is, and to look at it with deep love and appreciation.

A healthy relationship with our skin begins with actually having healthy skin. Skin-love through intentional beauty products, the sun, sweating and gratitude are the four major ways I have repaired the complicated relationship I had with my skin.

Beauty

Our skin is our greatest organ, covering around 18 square feet of our bodies. Consider the next time you coat yourself with a lotion made up of chemicals or soak yourself  in a toxic tub, remember that your precious skin absorbs a very large percentage of what you put on it. Therefore, it seems obvious to mention that what we put on our skin is equally important to what we put in our body. Both affect the wellbeing of our entire being.  My solution for this is that I try to buy chemical-free and animal-free beauty products whenever I can. You can also be mindful about how certain nutrition affects the skin. For example, I notice that my skin is more clear when I consume healthy fats (olive oil, avocado, coconut, almonds) and when I stay hydrated.

The Sun

The sun is the star at the center of our solar system and is by far the most important source of energy for life on Earth. I will continue to worship and play in the sun. Despite what my mother said, we need to be in the sun.  With proper sun exposure, skin plays a large role in manufacturing Vitamin D. Most Americans, and specifically people of color, are Vitamin D deficient. So, actually, all of us  need to be playing in the sun more (and most likely taking Vitamin D supplements). Vitamin D is so important! It is incredibly vital to our immune system.

Sweating

We all know that sweating is a good thing. I generally get a pretty good sweat doing various activities like dance, yoga and SoulCycle to name a few. Recently, I have been obsessed with sweating using infrared sauna technology. These types of sweat sessions can help purify the skin by eliminating toxins from the pores. They also  increase circulation, resulting in clearer, softer and healthier-looking skin. If you’re new to infrared saunas, I would recommend starting out with 5-minute sessions at 160-180 degrees Fahrenheit and slowly work your way up to 15- to 30-minute sessions when you become more comfortable with the heat.

Gratitude + Sensuality

The final way that I love my skin is through gratitude and sensuality. I do all the pampery things that fall under the category of self-care and self-love. I get regular massages, I take long epsom salt baths, I spa, I steam, I get facials. Daily, I make it a point to embrace the beauty of my skin and how it is a part of my entire being. My daily rituals might be as simple as applying organic coconut oil to my skin after each shower or by dry brushing to exfoliate.

THE WOUND IS THE PLACE WHERE THE LIGHT ENTERS YOURUMI

By letting all the light from all the love heal and restore me, I have been able to reconcile the complicated relationship I have with my own skin. From here, I am able to see others not through the lens of the color complex or other forms of colorism, but rather through a lens of beauty. 

PHOTO: FINO BALANZA

PHOTO: FINO BALANZA

Nkechi Njaka is the founder of NDN Integrated Lifestyle Studio where she curates lifestyle and wellness content for brands and individuals. She is a woman of color, deeply concerned about personal and global well-being. Nkechi holistically approaches her wellness with mindfulness, movement, nutrition and style. She attended Scripps College in Claremont, CA where she majored in neuroscience and dance and went on to complete an MSc. in Neuroscience at the University of Edinburgh. She attended the Institute of Integrated Nutrition and holds a certification in Holistic Health and Nutritional Counseling. When not involved in NDN projects, you can find Nkechi teaching Mindful Movement or Mindful Style classes + workshops, taking a yoga or modern dance class or choreographing independent work. She creates, curates, coaches and collaborates in San Francisco, California.

Black is Black

By Eric Michael Ward

Skin, in its simplest description, is simply the outer covering of our bodies. It seems so miniscule when defined as such, right? But let's dig a little deeper. Physically, skin serves as a barrier to matter that shouldn't reach inside of us, while architecturally skin serves as the walls of our temple that protects everything sacred inside. Mentally, we've seen skin be contorted into some pseudo-measure of success. For example, the lighter you are, the more successful you are, and tragically even, the more successful you will be. Consider the ongoing joke of a black man marrying a white woman as the ultimate stamp of, "bro you made it" ideology. Success? Eh.

We even witness our worth being ascribed to us based on our skin. The darker we are, the lower we are as a human being, or we aren't even viewed as human at all. What a paradigm, right? How dangerous would our world be if it actually operated under such a brutal law? Well, the answer is around us. But I've learned that there is much more to our skin. With a simple observation of our skin, we can see family; we can see nativity; we can see: LOVE. Our skin, rich in melanin, symbolizes success. Our skin symbolizes worth. Civilization. Arithmetic. Science. Faith. Origin. Our skin embodies strength. Perseverance. Life. Why else would our skin shine with the sun? I say it's time we shift the popular paradigm. How amazing would our world be if we praised melanin, instead of demonizing it?

PHOTO: ERIC MICHAEL WARD

PHOTO: ERIC MICHAEL WARD

About Eric Michael Ward Who knew that taking all of those family pictures during road trips and recording everything that caught my eye would start to pay off someday? God knew. Did my dad know that introducing me to Spike Lee Joints at an early age would foster and affirm my love for the black aesthetic? Did my mom realize that introducing me to Alfred Hitchcock films would enhance my already annoying habit of innovating and thinking outside of the box? Although my early childhood dreams of becoming a movie director never came true, God has still used my gift to see in other mediums. Photography is that perfect avenue for someone who is tired of talking, and yet wants everyone to listen. As a writer, photography is what allows me to see the world and communicate in ways that I usually could not. Inspired mostly from the students I teach as an high school English teacher, the gospel and hip hop and jazz and soul music my ears have known since I was a young boy, and the simple yet complex species we simply call, “people,” I am elated to be a black artist and thankful to be created to create.