There's an undeniable pressure that society places on us to fit in and have the "ideal" physical appearance. The pressure begins early in our childhood and continues throughout our lives through a variety of influences including TV, school, friends, family, and relationships. For the average person, you either rise above it all and shake the pressure or you enhance your physical appearance with everyday adjustments like makeup, new hairdos, and fashionable clothes.
Yet, for the unique individual born with a physical birth defect, such pressure becomes nearly impossible to disregard.
Entrepreneur and celebrity stylist Ashlee Muhammad is one of those people who could only change but so much about her day to day physical appearance. With the use of her increasingly popular fashion sense and her passion around embracing the skin that you're in, she conquered societal "norms" and refused to let anyone else limit the love she had for herself. Ashlee's evolved self-confidence birthed the launch of "BeEyeconic," a self-love initiative featuring custom designed, intentionally replicated, reconstructed designer bags.
Through BeEyeconic, Ashlee used her creativity and personal experience to share a much-needed message with the world. Her mission? She wanted to crush the influence that "designer" equated to someone "being better" and "doing better" than the next person. It was about proving you can be your best self simply by embracing being yourself.
Embracing herself was something that Ashlee had a lifelong complicated relationship with. The entrepreneur endured feelings of self-doubt, inadequacy, and just feeling unpretty. And a lot of it was rooted in a birthmark that left her blind in one eye, which resulted in a blue/gray discoloration in her left eye. Bullied all throughout her childhood, and even into adulthood by her previous partner, Ashlee spent a large part of her life hiding behind the emotional security of her eyeglasses and even contemplated medical reconstruction for her eye a number of times.
She grew up in Harlem during an era where self-sabotage was highly encouraged and loving yourself was hardly ever a topic of conversation. Never initially having reasons to aim high and set many standards, Ashlee was content and accepting of whatever she had direct access to. And after high school, while most of her peers were preparing to attend college and begin new lives, the teen mom had to make the decision to focus on working right away in order to take care of her infant daughter. Insecurities had landed her in a relationship where she found comfort in the mere thought of someone wanting anything to do with her.
It would damage her self-esteem in unimaginable ways.
She only survived half a day before leaving her first job, but later enrolled in a medical assistant program while working part time at Harlem Children's Zone. She eventually landed a position in the medical assistant field, but as personal and relationship circumstances shifted, she would be forced to relocate to Atlanta only for fate to bounce her right back to NYC working with her previous company. This blossoming entrepreneur had no idea that everything happened as it should and, while in her new position at Harlem Children's Zone, she'd discover her true gift of creativity.
Ashlee's natural yet individualized fashion sense and artistic skill progressively caught the attention of everyone at work, earning her several leadership tasks. Over time, the only barrier to her realizing her full potential was that her work life starkly contrasted her personal life. Despite having a daughter she both loved and cared for, her relationship with her daughter's father was beyond toxic. It only intensified in the level of hurt and poison it seemed to inject in her life and self-esteem as time went on. "He would call me a 'one-eyed ugly bitch,'" she recalled of her partner at the time.
"He told me that no one would want me with my eye, and I believed him."
Love from a partner can make or break any of us, and in Ashlee's experience, she was forced to believe that she was not only incapable of being loved but also incapable of loving herself. It wasn't until she gravitated towards things that ignited her creativity and brought her joy, that she found the strength to leave her partner. "I knew that once I learned to love ME, I would make better decisions and wouldn't allow certain things in my life to continue."
"Unlike everything else In my life, loving myself did not come easy. It was very hard work. [It meant] day in and day out, challenging myself to do things outside of my comfort zone."
Breaking free to focus on herself had unexpectedly molded her to later attract someone who would exhibit the true meaning of unconditional love for self and others.
Through a growing friendship at work, Ashlee found her current husband, Mustafa Muhammad. There was a natural bond between the two ordained soulmates. Mustafa encouraged her to indulge more into her talents while she spent time at home taking care of their newborn twins years later. She credits her husband as being one of the reasons she began seeing herself in a more positive light. "While the road to loving myself was hard, Mustafa's consistent encouragement was very, very necessary for every aspect of my emotional growth," she explained.
From that place of light, love, and growth, BeEyeconic was born.
The pieces that comprised of her Broke Little Rich Girl collection would be the beginning of her self-love movement. With the eye-catching design and the message behind the creation, BeEyeconic became increasingly popular on Instagram, providing Ashlee with the platform to launch her next self-love designs: Eyeconic Merch.
She leaned on the artistic direction of her husband and together created the EyeConic Merch logo. The BeEyeconic logos featured the face of the late great artist Jean-Michel Basquiat with two different colored eyes, and another logo of Ashlee's face with a triangle emphasis around her blinded eye. These designs replicated Ashlee's physical birth defect while using both herself and an icon who too struggled with emotional battles.
BeEyeconic seamlessly meshed together art and the powerful message of self-love.
Today, under the creative leadership of well-known industry movers and shakers like celeb stylists Jason Rembert and Binkie, Ashlee travels the U.S. helping to style celebrities, including Winnie Harlow, Cardi B, Khalid, and Molly Qerim. Her creativity has been used to work high profile industry shows and events such as the MET Gala, Coachella, ESPN's First Take, and The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon.
This mom of three and bonus mom of two conquers all of the above and still soars as a superwoman who never loses sight of the many reasons she now has to love herself. The abundance of love and encouragement from her family, children, and husband all help Ashlee prove to the world that love stories are real and your once upon a time doesn't have to make your happily ever after impossible.
You can catch Ashlee working with some of your favorite icons while continuing to spearhead the BeEyeconic self-love initiative and merchandise, collaborate with 5001 flavors and Harlem Haberdashery, and build the Happily Ever Muhammad Partnership and Marriage podcast/brand with her husband, Mustafa.
She hopes to continue her work and be able to advocate for self-love on a larger platform across NYC and beyond, fulfilling her ultimate goal of having people "accept themselves as they are and embrace every inch of their individual beauty."