I have a Caribbean background, with strong ties to the North of England. I am a proud Yorkshire Lass, and I love living in Yorkshire.
As a young woman, targeted by teenage magazines, I was bombarded – like most women – with statements that we should look a certain way and weigh a certain amount. Largely European celebrities were held-up as icons – the vision of what beauty should be, with their ‘must-have’ pale and perfect skin and perfect hair.
Those images are carefully constructed by their PR and management teams.
However, as a young teenager, I didn’t know that. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel the pressure to conform. It was hard, but my mother – a woman of Caribbean and Asian descent – purposefully ensured that our house was full of African American magazines. So, from a young age, I saw beautiful, successful black women, of all shades with all hairstyles – plaits, natural, you name it! I had black dolls, Asian dolls, and white dolls, but more importantly, I saw images of women of colour all over our house. This was very positive for me, especially as a young girl of colour.
I gained an idea of my own beauty and cultural potential from the positive images in those magazines. This allowed me to experiment with makeup until I found the makeup that worked with my skin tone.
My mother held dinner parties and many of her friends gathered together were women of colour with successful careers. For me, as a young woman, they were powerful role models. Especially when I was told by my teachers at my Yorkshire middle-class high school, “Don’t even think about working as a journalist” and “people like you don’t get writing, journalism or media jobs”. I was told that the BBC would never feature someone who wasn’t white or middle-class. Being told I was the ‘wrong’ colour was offensive – especially by a tutor, who should know better. But I embraced my colour, my big brown eyes and my Caribbean body shape. I celebrated my curves.
Despite the odds, I knew that my determination and my mother’s and her friends’ advice would ring true, and I would carve out my writing and media career. And rejoice in my beauty – external and internal – body and soul.
I have unusual eyes, so I found eye-liner and shadow that highlights my big brown eyes and enhances them. On my lips, I applied wonderful shades, which ‘spark up’ my face, I’ve been told. I use products and colours that complement and work with my skin tone, creating a natural and refined look that celebrates my ethnicity.
My beauty journey has allowed me to love my body unconditionally, as I advance in age. When you feel confident inside, it shines through on the outside. Everyone is different, and working in the media, I’m acutely aware of celebrities needing to sell their image to push sales. Their images bear no relevance in my life, and I make my own choices.
To my younger self, I would say, “Be yourself. Don’t try to copy the mass media’s perceived vision of what beauty looks like. Celebrate your ethnic looks. Be your own Beauty Queen. Celebrate and embrace your own beauty.”
I glorify in my plaits or wear my hair naturally. It’s me. It’s who I am. I make no apology for celebrating my natural beauty. All women are different – that’s what makes each of us unique.