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Aja Naomi King Talks Nonconformity & The Black Identity

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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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