As we move forward in the continuing theme of the Outre Woman of the Year, we’re shifting the focus of our lens from the movers and shakers of our industry, to the faces that grace the products. Aïssata and Melinda Berry are the models. These two, each dynamic in an electric and individual way, stand at the intersection of colorism and womanhood, and have used their medium to show the world that dark skinned women are beautiful. We sat with them to discuss their thoughts on navigating the world of modeling, self-care, and what Beautiful Hair for All means to them.
How do you feel when it’s said that dark-skinned women aren’t beautiful? How would you say this opinion has had an impact on your career as a model?
Aïssata: I feel offended when people say dark skinned women aren’t beautiful. And those statements come from black people- ourselves. It comes from us, which is crazy to me. I feel like things have to change. That impacted me when it comes to modeling because I have to do certain things to show girls that they should love and appreciate the skin that they’re in, whether they’re dark skin or light skin or whatever they are.
Melinda: I totally agree. The only time I heard that dark skin girls aren’t pretty is when it’s coming from my people. No, everyone’s pretty. Everyone’s beautiful. Impact-wise, I feel like it comes into play when I go into casting calls or auditions, because I see predominantly caucasians. I see some black girls, but half of those black girls are mixed.
How has modeling with Outre helped you in your modeling career?
Aïssata: I used to buy Outre all the time. I felt the same way when I’d see those beautiful girls’ pictures like “Oh my God, they’re so beautiful! I want to be on it!” I always thought models have to be tall. So I’m like, whatever. Then they reached out to me, and they give a lot of opportunities to women of color like us which I love. Ever since the first time I worked with [Outre], I feel like working with them made me more confident when I go on set. I’ve done a lot of shoots before, but [they’re] just regular shoots. This is actually in stores, so I have to bring my A-game. Being on camera with them definitely made me more confident overall when I go on shoots.
Melinda: Yes! I feel unstoppable.
Aïssata: Yeah, we are unstoppable.
Was there ever a time in your life when you didn’t love your appearance? What did you do to turn that around?
Melinda: Recently, with social media and people doing enhancements, I was noticing that they’re getting so much exposure from being overly sexualized. They’re getting all these likes and all these comments, how come I don’t look like that? It came to a point where I was like, what am I doing wrong? Now, I’m seeing a bunch of black girls, and people are embracing their hair and their color and who they are.
Aïssata: As of recently, I didn’t feel that way, but definitely when I was younger. Everyone’s attracted to the lighter skinned people- straight hair, long hair. And I remember I permed my hair and lost all my beautiful curls because I thought what was beautiful was straight hair. I damaged my hair just so I could feel beautiful. Over time, I grew out of that and my mindset changed. As I grew older, I grew more confident.
When do you feel the most beautiful?
Melinda: I feel the most beautiful when I’m home with no lashes on, no wig on, no makeup, and just with my animals- and my boyfriend. That’s the most beautiful I feel.
Aïssata: To me, feeling the most beautiful is when you feel the most confident. I feel the most confident when I take care of myself and spend time with myself. So whether I’m bare-faced, I have my hair scarf on in my pajamas, or I’m actually doing my makeup or whatever it is. When I’m spending time with myself, and taking care of myself, I feel really confident and beautiful.
Which models do you look to for inspiration?
Both: Naomi Campbell.
Melinda: Tyra Banks as well. Coco Rocha.
Aïssata: I look for models who break the standard of beauty. I feel like that’s really inspiring. Like Winnie Harlow, for example.
What messages do you try to convey with your work?
Melinda: I try to convey an open spirit. Free and natural. That’s it.
Aïssata: I try to show that, the whole dark-skinned thing, we are beautiful. I get a lot of DM’s from girls who say “You make me love my skin,” and that makes me feel so good that I’m able to do that for young girls. I really love that.
Do you think your childhood self would have ever thought she’d grow up to be a model? What would you say to yourself as a child that you needed to hear, but no one ever told you?
Melinda: I did know that I was going to do it, because I had a lot of supportive family and friends. When I was younger, all my friends were like “You’re so pretty you should do modeling, you should be a model. And now, I’m actually doing it. I’m actually living my dream. I’m actually happy. So, I would tell myself “Listen to those people. Do it. Work hard and you’ll see.”
Aïssata: I didn’t see myself doing it at all because I was short! This is completely off the track of what I wanted to do before. If I could go back, I’d say “The stars are the limit. You can do anything that you want to as long as you put your mind to it and work hard. Anything is possible, basically.”
What does the phrase “Beautiful hair for all” mean to you?
Melinda: I think of what makes you happy, what makes you feel comfortable. Whatever you want to wear, or how you want to wear it and what color you want to wear- do it.
Aïssata: It means just that “Beautiful hair for all”. When it’s shaved, it’s curly, when it’s bald. Whatever it is, there’s beautiful hair for it. Everyone, not just the dark skinned or light skinned. Everyone.
Melinda: Yep, everyone.