Stop Being What Others Expect You To Be
I unapologetically and literally love Hebrew culture. Since I strive to be the non-white evangelical version of a Bible follower (some of y'all will catch that later) and Christ was King of the Jews (a king whose family fled to Egypt at one point in his journey; I'll leave that right there—Matthew 2:13-23 and 27:11), that's a huge part of the reason why. Anyway, because of that, I have quite a bit of Hebrew art in my home. One is a picture of a baby, in the womb, with Scripture in Hebrew surrounding them. When I asked the Jewish artist what it meant before I purchased it, she said that, according to Jewish culture, it is believed that a child is perfect while inside of their mother; this includes them having all that they need to know about the Torah (which is basically the first five books of the Bible). Once the child is born, it is simply their parents' responsibility to remind them of what they are already aware of. I adore that. A child is just how they should be on the day of their birth. Parents are simply supposed to make sure they thrive with what is already within them.
Lawd. If only more parents looked at raising their children that way, right? I've shared the quote "adulthood is about surviving childhood", numerous times on this platform because, it's right. Between a lot of us having narcissistic parents or parents we had to raise, our boundaries being disrespected or even violated at a young age and then encountering people along the way who try and turn us into anything and everything but a dope ORIGINAL individual—it can be a daily struggle to avoid being what others expect/want/sometimes even demand, so that we can simply be freely—whew—ourselves.
If hearing all of that hit you somewhere in the pit of your stomach, let me first offer up a Scripture that I hold dear within this particular lane—"He fashions their hearts individually; He considers all their works." (Psalm 33:15—NKJV) Then, I'd like to share some things that I've done to make sure to unlearn how to stop being preoccupied with, on any level, what people expect me to be—so that I can be who I was meant to be.
Cue Diana Ross’s “Mahogany” Song, Please.
I don't know when it started that, whenever I think about this kind of topic, I hear Diana Ross singing my ear, "Do you know, where you're going to? Do you like the things that life is showing you? Where are you going to? Do you know?" That's the hook from the theme song from the classic film Mahogany starring Diana Ross and Billy Dee Williams. The reality is that, when it comes to discovering and then settling into the reality of who we really and truly are, it's important to ask yourself the same types of questions that Ms. Diana did in that song. See, it's been a little bit of my observation, sprinkled with some personal experience too, that when you don't have some clear desires, plans and goals for your life, it is so much easier for people to try and get you to be or do what they want or they feel is best for you.
Case in point. I grew up Seventh-Day Adventist (the same faith that Megan Good's husband, DeVon Franklin and, according to her Twitter bio, TLC's Chili is too). Right around my mid-20s, I decided that I didn't want to be a part of a religious denomination so much as I wanted to gain as much biblical knowledge as possible. There are a whole lot of Adventists who tend to think they've got all of the information that anyone needs to know (a lot of denominations and even religions think that way). And you know what? If I had listened to family members, church folks, etc., I wouldn't have come into so much of the knowledge that I have now; stuff many of them have never even considered because they believe they've got all of "the truth". Because I had a particular goal (to get as much knowledge as possible), it was easier to tune out the people who were trying to get me to think how they do, simply because that's how they were raised. I can promise you that, on the spiritual tip, my life is so much richer, fuller and even clearer because I stuck to what I knew was best and right—for me.
Someone once said that if you don't know where you're going, any path can get you there. If you know you have a struggle with living the kind of life that others expect of you vs. the life you know that you should be living, take some time out to think about what where you want to be, in virtually every category—six months, one year, three years and five years from now. The sooner you blaze a path, the easier it will be to stay on it. Even if you've gotta be on it alone.
Then Remember What Murch Said in ‘The Best Man’
If you're a fan of the movie, The Best Man, I'm willing to bet you've seen it a couple of dozen times by now. And if that is indeed the case, I'm sure you recall the scene when Murch and Candy exchanged a particular quote by Audre Lorde—"If I didn't define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people's fantasies for me and eaten alive."
Defining yourself. A part of the reason why I'm all for people writing personal mission statements (annually, if necessary) is because, it's important to have a self-definition; something that you can say is "definite, distinct, or clear" about yourself. Think about it. If someone were to ask you right now to define yourself physically in two sentences, what would you say? How about emotionally? Spiritually? Professionally? Relationally?
One of the reasons why a lot of people fall into the straight-up trap of conforming to others' views and perspectives is because, when you aren't self-defined, it's easy to blend into other people's thoughts and expectations. That's why the people, who are very firm in their identity, oftentimes get the most pushback from others. It can be hard for humanity to embrace those who don't simply agree with something because it's popular or "what everyone else is doing". Yet hear me when I say that when you are the kind of chameleon who becomes whatever you're around, best believe that Audre Lorde's quote will come back to haunt you, one way or another. We're not here to be someone else's fantasy definition. We're here to express the reality of our genuine nature and being. Are you doing that? Are you sure?
Why Do People’s Opinion of You Matter So Much? Really.
Opinions. While most of us know that one definition of the word is "a personal view", another definition that I really want you to sit with is, "a belief or judgment that rests on grounds insufficient to produce complete certainty". What I really like about that second definition is, it's a reminder that a lot of people who have opinions, whether it's about our personal or professional life, oftentimes, don't even have enough information/data/facts for it to even matter.
I remember when I first decided to go natural and get the tattoo that is on the inside of one of my forearms. While I was out discussing my plans with a few other people, one of them (who I'm cool with but am not close to) went on and on about how both decisions would affect me professionally (it was a Black woman, by the way). When I asked them why they thought that, they went on to talk about how corporate America struggles enough with "alternative looks", so why would I make things harder on myself? When I shared with them that I haven't stepped foot into an office since 2000 and didn't plan on doing it ever again, they shrugged their shoulders and nursed their drink. Yeah, you do that.
I also recall when I went into a particular church, right after getting my nose pierced and someone in leadership said that it was unbiblical to have one. "Really?" I said, "Because a lot of brides in the Bible had nose rings." (Rebekah in Genesis 24, for example) And actually, there is a passage in the Bible about God putting a ring in the nose of Jerusalem that inspired this." (Ezekiel 16) They were silent (at least to me) after that. Good.
Listen, only a really arrogant—or super insecure, which is usually one in the same—person would think that they should never care what anyone thinks (check out "Should You Really Not Care About What Other People Think?"). Yet if you constantly battle with people pleasing or having poor boundaries with folks in this particular area, the next time someone offers up an opinion, revisit the definition of the word that I share with you—does that person even have enough information to come at you with what they are going on and on about? Not only that, but is their opinion about to help or harm? Not your ego (because sometimes we need to hear something that will humble us real quick); I mean, the core of your very being. If the answer to either of these questions isn't a beneficial one, I wouldn't care too much about their opinion, if I were you. Their evidence is too limited for it really to matter in the long run.
Can You Filter Perspectives and Advice Properly?
On the heels of what I just said, what about the people whose insights you do care about? How do you handle those? Well, let me start off by saying that I've been very open on this platform about the fact that I'm about an 85 percent recovered control freak. I grew up around way too many of them and so, I've come to realize and accept that, once I put some serious distance between myself and those individuals, I was better able to ease up on those I was trying to control in return. The space has helped me to realize that when you feel like someone is suffocating you via their controlling ways, you oftentimes will turn around and take your frustration out on others by trying to control them too. Being less controlling made me much calmer. Being much calmer has helped me to have healthier filters when it comes to processing perspectives and advice, as well as giving them.
Sometimes, even those who you love and trust are gonna say things that you're not gonna agree with or perhaps even like. That doesn't mean you don't need to take what is said to heart, though. First, ask yourself if this person has a track record of having your best interest at heart. Next, ask yourself if they are intruding into your life or are they welcome in the areas they are speaking on. Third, if something they say triggers you or even flat-out pisses you off, ask yourself if it's about them or is it really about you and your stuff that you need to deal with.
Self-aware individuals know that no one is perfect and we all need accountability. And so, they are open to hearing what can help them to become better people. At the same time, they can tell the difference between hearing something that will improve them vs. what will change them. When hearing from others, make sure you know the difference between listening to what will improve you vs. what will totally change you. The first is helpful. The second? 9.5 times outta 10, it's straight trash. Real talk.
Know Your Purpose. Embrace Who Supports It.
Whew. Please Lord, make sure that this particular point resonates with all who read it. Amen. If there is one thing that I am super passionate about, it's people being extremely intentional about discovering what their purpose is. After all, your purpose is "the reason for which something exists or is done, made, used, etc." and, I don't care what your religion is, if you are a person of faith on any level, it's important to recognize that spiritual warfare is designed to keep you off of your purpose. Because if you're not out here living out the reason for why you exist, what exactly are you doing with your life?
That's why, once you are clear about your purpose on this planet, it's vital that you surround yourself with the people, places, things and ideas that embrace, support, nurture, encourage and value your purpose. On the people tip, these will be individuals who don't try and distract you from fulfilling your purpose. They won't challenge you about manifesting your purpose. And they definitely won't serve as distractors or deterrents when it comes to your purpose.
Some people spend way too much time, effort and energy caring about what people think who aren't allies of their purpose; they are actually enemies. Allies aren't going to stress you out, plant seeds of self-doubt or try and get you to live your life in a way that solely makes sense to them or makes them feel more comfortable. If these are the kinds of individuals you've got in your life, they are toxic—to you and your purpose. It's time to do some serious shifting. Not later—NOW.
Care About What God Thinks. What You Think. AND THEN ONLY OTHERS WHO TRULY MATTER.
Any of us who grew up in the Church, we oftentimes heard that it's important for us to put God and others before ourselves. Personally, I'm a huge fan of how Scripture says to "love your neighbor as yourself", and I honestly don't know how we can do that unless we love our own selves well…first (Mark 12:30-31). Either way, when it comes to breaking the habit of being who others expect you to be, it's definitely important that you put them at the bottom of your priority list when it comes to your self-identity. Care about what you creator thinks (where God is, there is peace; that's a great way to gauge). Then care what you think (being at total peace with yourself is important too). And then, when you are good with those two relationships, you'll be able to better discern who is a good fit for you and your life.
One of the most challenging things in this world is learning how to be your best self and not get caught up in what others expect, simply because they expect it. Oh, but once you master this particular skill, the sky really is the limit on oh so many levels. You won't wait for others affirmation or applause because…you've got your own.
Determine today to be what you were called to be. Not what others expect of you. Then watch, sis. Whew…just you watch!
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After being a regular contributor for about four years and being (eh hem) MIA in 2022, Shellie is back penning for the platform (did you miss her? LOL).
In some ways, nothing has changed and in others, everything has. For now, she'll just say that she's working on the 20th anniversary edition of her first book, she's in school to take life coaching to another level and she's putting together a platform that supports and encourages Black men because she loves them from head to toe.
Other than that, she still works with couples, she's still a doula, she's still not on social media and her email contact (email@example.com) still hasn't changed (neither has her request to contact her ONLY for personal reasons; pitch to the platform if you have story ideas).
Life is a funny thing but if you stay calm, moments can come full circle and this is one of them. No doubt about it.
On set inside of a mid-city Los Angeles studio, it’s all eyes on Chlöe. She slightly shifts her body against a dark backdrop amidst camera clicks and whirs, giving a seductive pout here, and piercing eye contact there. Her chocolate locs are adorned with a few jewels that she requested to spice up the look, and on her shoulders rests a jeweled piece that she asked to be turned around to better showcase her neck (“I feel a bit old,” she said of the original direction). Her shapely figure is tucked into a strapless bodysuit with a deep v-neck that complements her décolletage.
Though subtle, her quiet wardrobe directives give the air of a woman who’s been here before, and certainly knows what she’s doing. At 24 years young, she’s a “Bossy” chick in training— one who’s politely unapologetic and learning the power of her own voice.
“I'm hesitant sometimes to truly speak my mind and speak up for myself and what I believe,” she later confessed to me a couple of weeks after the photoshoot. “It's always scary for me, but now I'm realizing that I have to, in order to gain respect as a Black woman— a young Black woman— who's still navigating who she is. And you know, I'm realizing that closed mouths don't get fed. And if I keep my mouth shut just because I'm afraid of what people's opinions of me will be or turn into, then that's not any way to live.”
For Chlöe, the journey into womanhood is about embracing who she is, without succumbing to the perceptions of what others think of her. From the waist up she’s everything you’d imagine. A gorgeous goddess with the kind of sex appeal that some work hard to embrace but fail to exude. But unbeknownst to anyone not on set, her bottom half is covered by a white robe, surprising coming from the girl who boasts “'Cause my booty so big, Lord, have mercy” on her first hit single “Have Mercy.”
But that’s the beauty of Chlöe. There’s more to her than meets the eye. More than what a few sensual photos sprinkled throughout an Instagram feed could ever tell you. Just like the photo-framing illusion of her portrayed from the waist up, what we know about the songstress is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s so much more beneath the surface.
Some hours later Chlöe leans back in a high chair as her locs are transformed from a formal updo to a seemingly Basquiat-inspired one. It’s pure art, and at her request, no wigs are a part of the day’s ensemble. She’s fully embracing her natural hair, a decision that wasn’t always a socially accepted one.
In the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia, (Mableton, to be exact) Chlöe began to explore the foundation of her self-image. At an early age she and her younger sister, Halle, demonstrated a vocal prowess and knack for being in front of the camera that caught their parents’ attention. Soon after, they were sent on a parade of local talent shows and auditions, and eventually broke into the digital space with song covers on YouTube.
It was during these early years that Chlöe first learned that the entertainment industry could be unforgiving to those who didn’t fit a particular beauty standard. Despite the then three-year-old snagging a role as the younger version of Beyoncé’s character, Lilly, in Fighting Temptations, casting agents requested that her natural locs be exchanged for more Eurocentric tresses. Ironic, considering that growing up Chlöe saw her hair as no different than that of her peers. “I remember specifically in pre-K we had to do self-portraits and I drew myself with a regular straight ponytail, like how I would put my locs in a ponytail,” she says. “I just never saw myself any different.”
Chlöe would also learn the true meaning of a phrase that would later become an affirmation posted on her bedroom mirror: “Don’t Let the World Dim Your Light.” After attempting to wear wigs to fit in, the Bailey sisters instead chose to rock their locs with pride, which undoubtedly cost them casting roles. Yet they would have the last laugh when making headlines as the “Teen Dreadlocked Duo” who landed a million-dollar contract with Parkwood Entertainment, and the coveted opportunity to be groomed under the tutelage of a world-renowned superstar.
Credit: Derek Blanks
While that could be the end of a beautiful fairytale of self-empowerment, the reality is that it’s just the beginning of the story of her evolution. For most girls, the transition into womanhood takes place in the comfort of their own worlds, often limited to the number of people they allow to have access to them. But for Chlöe, it’s happening in front of millions of critiquing eyes just waiting for an opportunity to either uplift or dissect her through unwarranted commentary.
Many in her position wouldn’t be able to take that kind of pressure. But Chlöe is handling it with grace. “I feel like all of us as humans, we have the right to interpret things how we want,” she says. “I put art out into the world and it's up for interpretation. I'm learning that not everyone is going to always like me and that it's okay.”
Chlöe isn’t the first artist to receive criticism for her carnal content, and she certainly won’t be the last. In 2010, Ciara writhed and rode her way to banishment on BET when the then 24-year-old released her video for “Ride.” In 2006, 25-year-old Beyoncé received backlash for “Déjà Vu."
"I put art out into the world and it's up for interpretation. I'm learning that not everyone is going to always like me and that it's okay.”
So much so that over 5,000 fans signed an online petition demanding that her label re-shoot the video because it was “too sexual.” Even 27-year-old Janet didn’t escape critical headlines when she shed her image of innocence for a more risqué appearance with the 1993 release of janet.
It’s almost as if public reproach is a rite of passage for young Black women R&B singers on the road to stardom. Good girls seemingly “go bad” whenever they embrace the depths of their femininity, and fans only like you on top figuratively. But Chlöe has learned not to bow down to other people’s opinions, but to boss up and control the narrative. As the saying goes, well-behaved women seldom make history. If sex appeal is her weapon, she wields it well.
On set, Chlöe exudes the energy of Aphrodite in an apple red, off-shoulder dress with a sexy high split. In between shots, she mouths the lyrics to Yebba’s “Boomerang” as it echoes throughout the space in steady repetition at my recommendation. The hour grows late, yet Chlöe is heating things up as eyes stare in deep mesmerization of the girl on fire.
Credit: Derek Blanks
Through music, she explores the depths of her being, a journey that seems to be, at its foundation, rooted in self-discovery. Whereas their debut album The Kids Are Alright (2018) boasts a young Chloe x Halle empowering their generation to embrace who they are while finding their place in the world, their second album Ungodly Hour (2020) shows the Bailey sisters shedding the veil of innocence for a more unapologetic bravado.
What fans looked forward to seeing is who Chlöe shows herself to be on her debut solo album In Pieces. In an interview with PEOPLE, she confesses that releasing her first project without her sister was “scary.” "It was a moment of self-doubt where I was like, 'Can I do this without my sister?’”
Chlöe has never been shy about sharing her insecurities or her vulnerabilities, all of which are laced throughout the 14-track album. “I want people to have fun when they listen to it and to just realize that they're not alone and it's okay to be vulnerable and raw and open because none of us are perfect; we're all far from it. And I think it's healing when we all admit to that instead of putting up a facade.”
The gift of time has given the self-professed “big lover girl” more encounters with romance and heartbreak. Love songs once sung for their beautiful riffs and melodies become more than just abstract lyrics and are replaced by real-life experiences, which she tells me is definitely in the music.
In her single “Pray It Away,” for example, she contemplates going to God for healing instead of going at her ex-lover for revenge for his infidelities. “With anything dealing with art, I am completely vulnerable,” she says. “I'm completely myself, I'm completely open and transparent. So it's pretty much all of me and who I am right now.”
Has Chlöe been in love? That still remains to be said. Of course, she’s been linked to a few potential baes, but dating in the digital age isn’t as easy as a double tap or drop of a heart-eyes emoji. It requires a level of trust and vulnerability that’s hard to earn, and easy to mishandle. To let her guard down means to potentially set herself up for disappointment. “It’s difficult dating right now, honestly, because you really have to kind of keep your guard up and pay attention to who's really there for you. And you know, I'm such an affectionate person and I love hard.
"So when I meet the one person that I really, really am into, it's hard for me to see any others and I get attached pretty easily. And you know, I don't know, it's…it's a scary thing.”
Credit: Derek Blanks
“With anything dealing with art, I am completely vulnerable. I'm completely myself, I'm completely open and transparent. So it's pretty much all of me and who I am right now.”
While broken hearts yield good music (queue Adele), what’s in Chlöe’s prayer is the desire to be happy. What does that look like? Well, she’s still figuring that out herself. “Honestly, I'm the type of person who I don't truly learn unless I experience it. So it's like I can view and watch my parents and watch the loving relationships that I see in my life and be like, ‘Oh, I want that. I would love to have that.’ But then I also have to experience [love] on my own and see what my flaws or my faults might be or see what my good things about myself are. I feel like it's really all about self-reflection. And even though our base is our family and that's our foundation, we are still our own individuals and we have to find out specifically the things about ourselves that may be different from what we saw from our parents when we were growing up.”
Her ideal beau, she tells me, is someone she can feel safe to be her fun, goofy self with, but who also gives her the space to be the boss chick chasing her dreams. A man who understands that just because the world compliments her doesn’t mean she doesn’t want to hear those words from his lips or feel it in his touch. A bonus if he shows up on set after a long hard day of work with vegan cinnamon rolls. You know, the basic necessities. “I like whoever I'm with to constantly tell me they love me and that I look beautiful because I do the same. I am a very mushy person, and if I see something or you look good, I will never shy away from saying it out loud. And I want whoever I'm with to do the same, be very vocal. Tell me that you love me. Tell me what you love about me because I'm doing the same for you because that's just the person I am.”
Until she meets her match she’s married to the game, and for now, that seems to be perfect matrimony.
Credit: Derek Blanks
On stage at the 2021 American Music Awards, Chlöe solidified her position as a force to be reckoned with. It was a full-circle moment. In 2012, bright-eyed and baby-faced Chloe and Halle would walk onto the set of The Ellen Degeneres Show and blow the audience away as they bellowed out their future mentor’s song. Ellen would present the sisters with tickets to attend the AMAs, assuring them that they would be back and had a promising future. Nine years later, Chlöe descends from the sky cloaked in a snow-white cape and matching midriff-baring bodysuit for her debut performance. It’s the first time she’s graced the stage of the very award show that she was once an audience member of.
As she shakes and shimmies and boom kack kacks out her eight counts, it’s clear that she’s in her element. Just like her VMA performance a couple of months prior, and the many more stages she’ll continue to grace, she brings an energy that has earned her comparisons to the beloved Queen Bey herself. An honorable statement, considering few R&B songstresses are getting accolades for their entertainment capabilities. It’s on these very stages, in front of hundreds of astonished eyes and millions more glued to their televisions at home, that she tells me she feels most sexy. Powerful, even.
But off stage, it’s a different story.
It’s more than just the commentary about her image and media-flamed rumors that get to her. Mentally, she’s in competition with herself. The desire to be the best burns at the back of her mind with every performance, every production, and every time she steps into the booth. Before, she could share the weight of this burden with her sister. Being a part of a duo meant she could turn to Halle for quiet confirmation and encouragement without a word being exchanged. But lately stepping on the stage means stepping out on her own. And despite being a breathtaking, five-time Grammy-nominated star, Chlöe doesn’t escape the reality that sometimes we can be our own worst critics.
Over the last year, she’s been coming to terms with who she is on her own while overcoming the fear of failing to become who she’s destined to be. While the world waits to see how Chlöe wins, the real triumph is in every day that she chooses herself and continues to walk in her purpose. “I don't really have anything all figured out, honestly. But what I try to do, a lot of prayer. I talk to God more and I just try to do things that calm my mind down and just breathe.”
To whom much is given, much will be required. She’s been chosen to walk this path for a reason. Once she fully embraces that everything she’s meant to be is already inside of her, she’ll be an unstoppable force. “My grandma, Elizabeth, she just passed away and my middle name is her [first] name. So I feel like I truly have a responsibility to live up to her legacy that she's left on this earth. I hope I can do that.”
There’s no doubt that she will. With a role in The Fighting Temptations at three years old, a million-dollar record deal, a main role on five seasons of Grown-ish, five Grammy nominations, a number one solo record in Urban and Rhythmic Radio, a debut solo album, and starring roles in recently released movies Praise Thisand Swarm (just to name a few), Chlöe’s certainly already made her mark, and she’s just getting started.
Photographer & Creative Director: Derek Blanks
Executive Producer: Necole Kane
Co-Executive Producer: EJ Jamele
Producer: Erica Turnbull
Digitech: Chris Keller
DP: Alex Nikishin
Gaffer: Simeon Mihaylov
Photo Assistant: Chris Paschal
2nd Photo Assistant: Tyler Umprey
Features Editor: Kiah McBride
Special Projects: Tyeal Howell
Hair: Malcolm Marquez
Makeup: Yolonda Frederick
Fashion Styling: Ashley Sean Thomas
For More: Cover Story: Issa Rae Comes Full Circle
Growing up in the early 2000s, it was common to see our favorite music artists, high fashion models, and video vixens revealing plenty of skin with an emphasis on their favorite assets throughout many facets of mainstream media. While overtly convincing young women being sexy was determined by the least amount of clothing one could possibly wear, it caused many of us to become obsessed with our bodies believing that was the only way to be seen, feel beautiful, and most importantly gain the attention of the opposite sex.
Over 20 years later the fashion industry is beginning to shift in ways we haven't seen in decades. Throughout the spring 2023 runway collections, designers debuted enticing looks featuring long hemlines with emphasis on silhouettes and fully covered midriffs articulating sexiness with fashion-forward modesty.
A part of this modern culture shift can be attributed to the current state of our economy here in the United States. As we climb out the last three years of a worldwide pandemic there has been a decline in consumer confidence with predictions of a looming economic downturn. The hemline index theory is what's known in the fashion industry as the theory of recessions correlating to longer hemlines and less flashy clothing resulting in a more conservative way of life. To give a comparison, skirts tend to get shorter when the economy is doing well and people are feeling more confident financially and longer when there's less optimism and uncertainty.
While the theory is debatable in its factual nature, this can be seen throughout history with clothing being of neutral tones and less revealing following the Wall Street Crash leading to the Great Depression and World Wars in the most extreme cases, while bright and jubilant during the 1960s and early 2000s.
When it comes to fashion, less being more is truly subjective, especially to those that believe dressing conservatively to be the quintessential aspect of true elegance, style, and liberation. While seemingly another mainstream fashion trend on the rise here in the United States, for many women around the world modesty is not a trend but a lifestyle. More than maxi skirts, oversized blazers, and baggy trousers, modesty represents a mindset of sophistication while demanding respect for one's body, mind, and soul regardless of one's personal style or religious affiliation.
Even with a modern shift in the sartorial world, modesty has misconceptions of its own. While there’s still a long way to go with modest representation, these fashion influencers are sharing why they believe modesty makes women more attractive and how it’s more than clothes but a way to represent who they are from the inside out.
“Modesty is the core of my self-expression and there's a level of elegance to it that I always found endearing.” - Aïssata Diallo
Based in NYC, Aïssata is a fashion influencer whose style is based on who she is and where she’s from. When asked what inspired her style she shares, “My personal style comes from my inspirations of the inner-city girl mixed in with my faith and culture. I try to blend all of these different components of myself [in]to one aesthetic that screams modern Muslim woman from NYC.” Developing her personal style, Aissata says “modesty” was not in her vocabulary at a young age. “Being new to this, it took time figuring out my personal style, and to be honest the learning is still ongoing but it’s been empowering to keep pushing the envelope with my modest fashion.”
For many Muslim women, modesty can be seen as oppressive from the outside looking in, what many fail to see is that women of the faith have a choice in how they want to be perceived in the world and express beauty in their own way. “What most people don’t realize is that modesty is a personal journey and a decision you have to make for yourself otherwise you’d never stick through with it. Eventually, I got to a point where I wanted to submit to God.”
She continues, “Modesty is the core of my self-expression and there’s a level of elegance to it that I have always found endearing. In being modest you’re going against the societal norm to revel in the power of your choice. It’s also a spiritual thing for me and a way to please God. It’s more than just what you’re wearing on the outside, it’s a lifestyle. The way you carry yourself, the way you think, your heart, your morals, and values. There’s a lot of inner work that goes into it and the outer beauty just reflects it.”
"Dressing more modestly naturally elevated my style." - Aïssata Diallo
Another way modesty defines a woman's beauty is by elevating personal style, shifting from fast fashion to investing in quality items. “In my opinion, modesty enhances a woman’s beauty beyond the superficial and [adds] substance, depth and a level of mystery to one’s beauty.” Aïssata continues, “It also enhances the amount of respect I demand/receive from anyone who sees me. In terms of my personal style, dressing more modestly naturally elevated my style. I used to buy a lot of fast fashion before embarking on this journey and now I find myself only investing in high-quality pieces.”
Furthermore, Aissata explains, “Modesty is personal, and it does not have to be boring and you don’t have to look like an elderly. I’m learning that you can bring parts of yourself and your culture in your modest journey and continue to grow further as you learn more about yourself and your faith.”
“Modestly enhances my personal style because it forces me to pay more attention to the small details of my outfits.” - Asma Shakar
Fashion stylist and boutique owner Asma Shakar is a fashion influencer who describes her personal style as both modest and versatile. “Modesty to me not only means dressing in a way that my body is not shown. It also relates to how I carry and conduct myself as a woman and as a Muslim,” Asma shares. “I think modesty enhances a woman's beauty because it allows for people to look past their physical attributes and focus more on their heart and soul. Modesty enhances my personal style because it forces me to pay more attention to the small details of my outfits.”
Always feeling confident, she continues to elevate and develop her natural style. “I feel like I’ve always been confident in my personal style but it has been developing since I learned the true definition of style.” She continues, “I honestly feel like my personal style is developing every day and probably won’t stop anytime soon.”
As far as negative stereotypes for Muslim women, she states that “one of the biggest misconceptions is that dressing modestly as a Muslimah is oppressive. But when major fashion houses dress their models modestly, it’s fashion. I believe when I dress modestly it’s liberating as opposed to being oppressive.”
“It shows class and a sense of inner confidence.”- Anne
Conservative fashion doesn’t always have to be a religious decision. For Anne, it’s an expression of who she is and how she feels on the inside. “How I dress is a reflection of my mood and energy. I’m always intentional about the way I want to look.” She continues, “There’s an effortlessness and hints of androgyny that always remain as part of my signature style. I enjoy playing in clothes and reinventing myself.”
Her belief in modesty is simple, it’s a choice. “It shows class and a sense of inner confidence. It can also be seen as a reflection of one’s self-esteem. My personal style is predominantly modest because I enjoy the contrast of wearing something feminine with something masculine. I think there’s so much more to look at when you’re fully clothed and dressed well.”
“Modesty enhances a woman’s beauty by shifting the focus to the beauty of other attributes like her smile, behavior, her stance, and/or her words. Modesty isn’t a limitation, it’s the liberty to showcase other sides of you.” - Anne
As a child, Anne states she was always confident in her style which gave her the freedom to express herself and develop into the woman she was destined to become. “I was confident as a child with my style. I was given the space to express myself through clothes. I liked what I liked and there was always a freedom to choose how I wanted to present myself. My mom really nurtured that side of me.” Allowing her that freedom, she learned how to see herself in many forms and appreciate all attributes of herself which gave her the freedom to experiment with style. “I believe modesty enhances a woman’s beauty by shifting the focus to her smile, her behavior, her stance, and/or her words. Modesty isn’t a limitation, it’s the liberty to showcase other sides of you.”
Modesty enhances Anne’s personal style by inspiring her to experiment with layering, structure, and shape. She shares her number one style rule, “If I’m to wear something that shows a little more skin, everything else is to be covered. I think the overall look becomes that much more interesting and tasteful.”
Her overall thoughts on why she encourages modesty are that “it inspires transformation. There are so many ways to enhance your beauty and reinvent yourself whilst fully dressed. Modesty isn’t boring. It’s timeless and powerful.”
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Featured image by Aïssata Diallo/Instagram