You may know her from the Shondaland hit-series How to Get Away with Murder, or from her role in Birth of a Nation. Her talent is undeniable and so is her beauty. Aja Naomi King is currently featured as the April 2018 cover story for Glamour Magazine where she opened up about what beauty means to her and the impact that conventional beauty standards have had on her personally and professionally.
"When you're growing up in [minority] communities, you begin to question whether you are beautiful. And when you see an image of yourself being reflected from a magazine or a commercial or show, and that person is being touted as beautiful, then you get to look at yourself and think, 'Oh, that means me too.'"
Black features are often celebrated, just not black women. Black women are teased for their full lips, wide hips, and dashingly melanated skin tones; but when a woman from another culture has these attributes, the features that are often minimized on black women are suddenly deemed captivating and exotic on other women.
Seeing Aja and other brown-skinned celebrities thrive despite western-traditional beauty standards is monumental for little black girls. We are finally able to see images of ourselves projected in mainstream media, and not as a mammie, sidekick, or a slave, but as the badass leading lady.
I think that we can all remember ourselves as little black girls, searching the shelves of the toy store to find 10 types of barbies and only one Christie doll; or searching TV listings for one of the few shows featuring characters that look like you. The 33-year-old actress said that the lack of representation of black characters in the media is what led her to pursue a career in acting.
"I had shows like 'The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air', 'Family Matters', 'Sister Sister'. But I noticed when I got older, there was nothing for my sister, who is eight years younger than me. Where were all the slice-of-life black characters in black communities?"
Although there has been seemingly been a gap in representation in mainstream media, Aja credits women like Shonda Rhimes for taking a step in the right direction.
"You look at all her shows, and it really is such diverse casting. It's done wonders for me: 'Scandal'. My God. Seeing Kerry Washington's face on the side of buses in New York! She got to play the smartest woman in the room. And watching Viola Davis in the pilot of 'How to Get Away With Murder' was tremendous—so honest and so baring, seeing this high-powered black woman taking off her wig. She holds nothing back. It's so hard for people to look at those outside of their own race and understand them. The shows have helped change that."
"I think we're at a place now—I know for myself, I can't speak for everyone—where the power is in knowing that I have a choice. I don't have to conform to anyone's idea of what blackness or beautiful is. Hi, this is Aja today, going out into the world. What are you gonna do about it?"
Her confidence and sense of self is evident in the graceful way she asserts herself and owns her beauty. According to Aja, she got it from her Mama.
"Growing up, I observed it in my mother—for a young black woman in the job market having to prove herself, makeup became a thing that said, 'I am flawless, and you cannot critique that.' I watched her use it as a kind of armor. And I was able to grow into that boldness as well. There's nothing like walking into an audition room and knowing that you are immediately being judged. But I used makeup to control the bad lighting or the camera quality."
Aja's recent collaboration with L'Oreal Paris adds to the proof that the world is taking notice that there is undeniable beauty in diversity. The actress is the newest face for the long-standing beauty company and she believes it will show "every black girl all over the world that a dark-skinned black woman is beautiful."
"I am so excited to help others find and believe in the beauty of who they are because everyone deserves to know their own worth."
Actresses like Aja, Viola Davis, and Kerry Washington are among the leaders of the Black Female Renaissance who make sure that little black girls see themselves reflected in mainstream media and say, oh that means me too.
We have a feeling that this is only the beginning for Aja. Read the full cover story here.
Featured image by Getty Images
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Taylor "Pretty" Honore is a spiritually centered and equally provocative rapper from Baton Rouge, Louisiana with a love for people and storytelling. You can probably find me planting herbs in your local community garden, blasting "Back That Thang Up" from my mini speaker. Let's get to know each other: @prettyhonore.
This article is in partnership with Sensodyne.
Our teeth are connected to so many things - our nutrition, our confidence, and our overall mood. We often take for granted how important healthy teeth are, until issues like tooth sensitivity or gum recession come to remind us. Like most things related to our bodies, prevention is the best medicine. Here are five things you can do immediately to improve your oral hygiene, prevent tooth sensitivity, and avoid dental issues down the road.
1) Go Easy On the Rough Brushing: Brushing your teeth is and always will be priority number one in the oral hygiene department. No surprises there! However, there is such a thing as applying too much pressure when brushing…and that can lead to problems over time. Use a toothbrush with soft bristles and brush in smooth, circular motions. It may seem counterintuitive, but a gentle approach to brushing is the most effective way to clean those pearly whites without wearing away enamel and exposing sensitive areas of the teeth.
2) Use A Desensitizing Toothpaste: As everyone knows, mouth pain can be highly uncomfortable; but tooth sensitivity is a whole different beast. Hot weather favorites like ice cream and popsicles have the ability to trigger tooth sensitivity, which might make you want to stay away from icy foods altogether. But as always, prevention is the best medicine here. Switching to a toothpaste like Sensodyne’s Sensitivity & Gum toothpaste specifically designed for sensitive teeth will help build a protective layer over sensitive areas of the tooth. Over time, those sharp sensations that occur with extremely cold foods will subside, and you’ll be back to treating yourself to your icy faves like this one!
3) Floss, Rinse, Brush. (And In That Order!): Have you ever heard the saying, “It’s not what you do, but how you do it”? Well, the same thing applies to taking care of your teeth. Even if you are flossing and brushing religiously, you could be missing out on some of the benefits simply because you aren’t doing so in the right order. Flossing is best to do before brushing because it removes food particles and plaque from places your toothbrush can’t reach. After a proper flossing sesh, it is important to rinse out your mouth with water after. Finally, you can whip out your toothbrush and get to brushing. Though many of us commonly rinse with water after brushing to remove excess toothpaste, it may not be the best thing for our teeth. That’s because fluoride, the active ingredient in toothpaste that protects your enamel, works best when it gets to sit on the teeth and continue working its magic. Rinsing with water after brushing doesn’t let the toothpaste go to work like it really can. Changing up your order may take some getting used to, but over time, you’ll see the difference.
4) Stay Hydrated: Upping your water supply is a no-fail way to level up your health overall, and your teeth are no exception to this rule. Drinking water not only helps maintain a healthy pH balance in your mouth, but it also washes away residue and acids that can cause enamel erosion. It also helps you steer clear of dry mouth, which is a gateway to bad breath. And who needs that?
5) Show Your Gums Some Love: When it comes to improving your smile, you may be laser-focused on getting your teeth whiter, straighter, and overall healthier. Rightfully so, as these are all attributes of a megawatt smile; but you certainly don’t want to leave gum health out of the equation. If you neglect your gums, you’ll start to notice the effects of plaque buildup, which can irritate the gums and cause gingivitis, the earliest stage of gum disease. Seeing blood while brushing and flossing is a tell-tale sign that your gums are suffering. You may also experience gum recession — a condition where the gum tissue surrounding your teeth pulls back, exposing more of your tooth. Brushing at least twice a day with a gum-protecting toothpaste like Sensodyne Sensitivity and Gum, coupled with regular dentist visits, will keep your gums shining as bright as those pearly whites.
Deanna Robinson, a health and wellness advocate and professional based in the Washington D.C. area has been helping Black and brown women reach their fitness goals for more than a decade. And with her brand of self-love and faith, she's redefining just what "fitness" means when it comes to women of all shapes and sizes.
There's definitely a need for women like Robinson, especially since recent research shows that between 47% and 55% of Black consumers' needs "are not being met" in the wellness space, and the U.S. fitness industry hit $32 billion last year and that it's important for Black women to see themselves prominently in the space.
As a health and wellness programming expert, licensed nutritionist, mom, wife, and former all-women's gym owner, Robinson has built up a body of experience that has culminated into doing something she loves via the FabBody Retreat, an experience for women ages 30-60 to be enriched via group activities, good food, and connection in the backdrop of tropical peace and tranquility.
This year's retreat was held in Grenada, with special guest and TV host icon Free Marie (BET's 106 & Park). Next year's event will be held in St. Maarten with plenty of opportunities to enjoy beach vibes, authentic and healthy dishes, and all the pleasures of being among other fabulous Black women seeking holistic wellness in paradise.
"My God-given purpose is to help serve, connect, and heal Black and Brown women," she said, taking her experiences serving corporate and individual clients via projects like the NFL's "Fuel Up To Play 60" initiative and the Nike Training Club live experience, to do just that.
xoNecole caught up with her to talk about why she chose the fitness industry, her success in launching and running the FabBody Factory, and how she's pivoted to use her skills to build impact on a larger scale in health and wellness.
xoNecole: What sparked your interest in a career in health and wellness?
Deanna Robinson: I have always been involved in sports, always been active in cheerleading, dance, [and] gymnastics. In my college career, I was a competitive cheerleader at the University of Maryland, College Park, and I've just always been passionate about physical activity, health, and fitness. I double-majored in kinesiology and public and community health, and it's always been a passion for me about others being well.
Out of college, I wanted to be a personal trainer, and I interviewed at a big-chain gym. I was really excited about getting this job, but when I had the interview, they informed me of what the split was—what the client paid, what I'd get as a personal trainer, and what the gym got. And I just thought it was a ridiculous split. I've always been into entrepreneurship as well, and doing things on my own terms, so I actually opened up my own gym in the community I grew up in called the FabBody Factory, an all-female gym in Upper Marlboro, Maryland.
I was able to hire several trainers, offer group classes and personal training, and one of the things I was always a big proponent of is making sure that they got a better cut than they would get at larger chains.
xoN: Talk a bit more about that in terms of starting a gym, especially one that caters to women. What was the process and motivation?
DR: I have worked out in big-box gyms before and just never felt comfortable. It was always really uncomfortable working out in a huge gym where men would be gawking at you or try to get your number when you're trying to focus on yourself in that moment. So I always wanted the FabBody Factory would be a safe haven where we didn't have to worry about our titties flopping when we're doing jumping jacks, it was just for us by us, and we could just [be] comfortable making ourselves a priority.
I was almost talked out of doing something like that because people would say, "You're cutting off half of your potential clientele," but I never had an issue. Women flocked to the gym, and I'd sometimes have to split classes. I might have to do part one of a class at one time and a second another time. It was majorly successful. Ladies loved it. And on top of this being all-women, it was all Black and brown women.
Culturally, we get each other, so it was a big social thing for us, too. We were able to fellowship with each other and get fit at the same time.
xoN: Your brand includes the concept of a 'Fab Body.' What does that mean for you---and just wellness---in general, for Black and brown women?
DR: FabBody in itself is not a look at all. It's more of a mindset and a willingness to invest in your mental, spiritual, and physical self. In promoting the FabBody Retreat, I actually had someone DM me and ask me, "Do you have to have a 'Fab Body' to come on the retreat?" and my response to her was that you do have a 'Fab Body.' Everyone has a Fab Body. It's more of a state of being—a sound, healthy mind, body, and spirit. It's not about aesthetics at all but about overall improvement.
xoN: You decided to pivot from owning a gym, which you ran successfully for more than a decade, to your current role in health and wellness programming and launching the FabBody Retreat. How did this come about?
DR: My gym closed last year, and the reason was because of where I saw myself going and where I wanted to be in the next 10 years. A lot of my time at the gym was selling and getting people to register for classes, and it wasn't as lucrative and fulfilling for me as it had been in the beginning.
Now I'm doing more consulting work with larger companies. One of my passions is programming, and that is where I see my future going. I'm moving more toward passive income, coming from my being able to use the knowledge I have from years in this industry and putting together programming that can reach the masses versus individuals.
xoN: What can people expect from the FabBody Retreat next year, and how does this venture continue your love for advocating for health and wellness among Black and brown women?
DR: One of the things that really sets this event apart from so many other retreats is that I have married everything that is important to me: wellness, my faith, and my community. God is a huge part of all of the events we do, and all are interwoven with faith-filled, intentional activities, and I think that's what makes it different. On Sunday, we do a service on the beach, and we always have a guest speaker—someone you can relate to where you don't feel like you're being preached to. It's an awesome experience, unlike any retreat I've seen.
It's definitely rooted in faith, but at the same time, there's a balance. We'll get on a boat and have a cocktail with an umbrella in it, and then we'll go back to wellness. There's a healthy balance.
Find out more about Deanna Robinson via Instagram @deannarobinsonfit and more on the FabBody Retreat via the website.
Featured image courtesy