Beauty Beyond Binaries is a biweekly column about the intersection of beauty and identity on allure.com by writer, TV host, and activist Janet Mock.
Since I began Beauty Beyond Binaries in May, I’ve written essays that explore many aspects of beauty, from the concepts of “pretty privilege” and using self-preservation as a form of protest to my personal triggers around haircuts. Though I love being able to express myself and share my experiences, I’ve also been eager to bring voices beyond my own into this space. It is part of the reason I made RuPaul’s Drag Race finalist Peppermint our first BBB profile subject (I have more to come!), and why I’ve requested your voices.
In an effort to include even more perspectives, my editors and I asked readers on Allure’s Instagram account and my Facebook page for their most pressing questions, spanning hair care to self-care. While I am not a beauty or health care professional, I have navigated my way through pervasive beauty standards and personal style, as well as the tangles and dryness of my curly fro. I hope that sharing how I got through — or am continuing to get through — will be helpful to you.
Below is my first attempt at answering your questions. And please keep them coming! There’s plenty of advice to go around.
I’m a trans WOC, and I struggle with dysphoria tied into white beauty standards. It feels like the media, surgeons, and other trans women encourage TWOC to conform to white beauty standards in order to “pass”. So how do you combat dysphoria while embracing your natural beauty? Thank you!-Neha R.
We are all inundated with images that present a limited scope of what is considered beautiful. For American women, the closer she is to whiteness/paleness, cisness, thinness, and femininity, the more she is considered beautiful. These physical ideals shaped and heavily impacted how I saw myself as a brown-skinned black and native Hawaiian trans girl with frizzy, curly hair and a large forehead, especially as my physical appearance began to shift during puberty between ages 13 and 15. This marked my most intense gender dysphoria as I compared myself to images of what felt like the most unattainable white cisnormative beauty.
I was able to make it through with affirmative friendships, images, and vital medical care. As a teen, I surrounded myself with other trans girls of color who were my friends and peers, and we were able to navigate our transitions together in sisterhood, piggybacking on one another’s health care, sewing body padding, finding safety by socializing in groups, experimenting with makeup and hair tools, and throwing harmless shade at one another.
Seek affirmative images where you can find them and surround yourself
with your own mosaic of brown girl beauty.
Because none of my friends were black, I turned to images of black women in the media — Destiny’s Child, Janet Jackson, and Lauryn Hill were my beauty idols. I pasted their images onto my bedroom walls, and I sought refuge in their hair texture, their deep, rich skin color, the shapes of their bodies. I would recommend that you seek affirmative images where you can find them and surround yourself with your own mosaic of brown girl beauty.
Most vital, I also gained access to hormone replacement therapy at 15 which helped me feel more at ease in my body and more confident in my form. Eventually, I began to reveal the girl I knew myself to be, and I was able to blend in which provided me a level of access and safety as a trans girl of color. I was also seen as attractive in most spaces, and these are conditional privileges that are not granted to many trans women, specifically other low-income trans girls of color who do not have access to necessary medical care, from HRT to cost-prohibitive procedures like facial feminization surgery, which can cost upwards of $100k.
None of our experiences with our bodies and these ideals are identical, so there is no one-size-fits-all solution to combatting dysphoria. But I will say that affirmative relationships, images and access to healthcare are resources we should all have access to. And what’s exciting about being alive and trans today is that we are not limited to the media’s narrow perception of trans womanhood that I grew up with on TV and film (just think of Silence of the Lambs and Jerry Springer) — we are creating our own images with our own celebrities. How great is it that trans girls of color can grow up in a world with Torraine, Vivek Shraya, Maya Monès, Isis King, Anjali Lama, Juliana Huxtable, Angelica Ross, Amiyah Scott, Leyna Bloom, and Laverne Cox, who started #TransIsBeautiful.
I just want to know: what is your hair-care regimen??! It’s vital!-Chloe E.
I would advise you to follow this routine: condition, cut, and condition!
I wash my hair about three times a week, twice with a non-sulfate, non-sudsy co-wash treatment (my favorite is Hair Rules Cleansing Cream) and once with a sudsy shampoo, like Davines OI Shampoo. If you have coarse curly hair like mine, it can tend to be very dry at the ends, so I recommend heavily conditioning your curls after each wash (right now I’m obsessed with MarulaOil Light and Curls Coconut Sublime conditioner).
I am more of a wash-and-go kind of girl for my daily routine, but that does mean that I don’t use tons of products. Leave-in conditioners, like AG Fast Food, and Cantu’s repair cream, as well as creamy styling products (I love Miss Jessie Pillow Soft Curls and Moroccan Oil Intense Curl Cream), are your friends, so I recommend using them. I also like to spritz a root-lifting spray (I love the one from TIGI Catwalk) at the root of the hair at my crown for volume, then usually let it air-dry most of the way — the less heat, the better! — before blow drying it with a diffuser. I then take off the diffuser, flip my hair upside down, and blast it on high with cold air.
For special occasions, if you want to achieve a more polished, high-volume look, you could use a small curling wand with a heat protective spray (like Kenra’s Blow-Dry Mist) for definition and maybe use some curly clip-ins for even bigger hair (lots of people rave about Kurly Klips). To preserve your style, you can sleep with a silk bonnet to maintain my curl definition and keep product off of your pillowcase.
Getting your hair cut every 3 to 4 months is essential, as well. I would recommend finding a stylist, like Anthony Dickey at Hair Rules salon, who specializes in curly hair care. He cuts it dry by blowing it out so he doesn’t miss a single strand. And if you want to add some color to your hair, it may be smart to ask your colorist to add a strengthening Olaplex treatment to your color. As former stylist Ms. Tina Knowles Lawson told me, “Good hair is healthy hair!”
What is a piece of advice you wish someone would have told you as a trans youth of color? And why? (P.S. I am a 17-year-old trans girl, who admires and looks up to you very much.)-Stella K.
First off, thank you so much for this affirmation, Stella. When I was younger, I wish I would have been told more often that I was right and nothing was wrong with me, that I was deserving of everything this world has to offer, and that my visions for my future were worthy of pursuit. So often, young trans folk — especially those from low-income, people of color communities — are met with barriers every step of the way. These include, but are not limited to: low-resources schools; poverty; hostile home environments and neighborhoods; and a lack of affirmative images, messages and role models.
Surround yourself with people who listen to you, nod when you speak,
and smile when you enter spaces.
Today, I am saddened that trans youth of color are still navigating similar obstacles that I had to navigate as a young person. I, alongside many others, are fighting for a world where young people like you are able to move past survival and are able to dream bigger and have grander visions for a thriving future. I would advise any 17-year-old to surround yourself with people who listen to you, nod when you speak, and smile when you enter spaces. We could all use people who will advocate for us as well and stick up for us when folks are problematic AF. So, I’ll end this by saying: You are right. You are deserving. So dream even bigger.
How did you cultivate your personal style?-Nicolette M.
My personal style really started in my teens when I gained purchasing power to actually buy my own damn clothes. For so long, my parents dictated what I wore, which largely was their way of containing me within the gender binary. When I finally got a part-time job at the mall working at a women’s clothing store, I used my employee discount to buy all the things my teenage girl desires allowed me to. Most of my style was cultivated through popular culture and magazines so I was trendy AF. I would spend hours watching TV, perusing Tower Records for album cover art, clipping out images in magazines, from Vibe and Honey to Teen People, which was my bible then. Girl groups, from Destiny’s Child to Blaque, and female artists like Aaliyah, Brandy, Lauryn Hill, and Lil’ Kim were pivotal.
As a teen, I really gravitated toward trends with clothing from brands like Baby Phat and Juicy Couture, eventually elevating my personal style through vintage shops in Honolulu and New York City in college and grad school. Vintage shopping allowed me to experiment with classic and even daring silhouettes, to move beyond fast fashion (though I used to love me some Forever 21!) and to appreciate a well-made garment that could help me build my wardrobe.
Today, I would describe my style as classic, in that I appreciate clean lines and silhouettes, but also playful, daring, and sexy (I am all about celebrating my curves). I don’t have as much time to sift through the racks of vintage shops, but I love to shop contemporary collections at Nordstrom or Bloomingdales, small curated boutiques like Intermix or Opening Ceremony, and online sites like GILT and ASOS. My go-to brands are Christian Siriano, Jonathan Simkhai, and A.L.C., and I’m obsessed with the styles of Rihanna, Solange, Zendaya, Shiona Turini, and you, Nicolette.
Do you have a question you’d like to see Janet answer? Ask it on Allure’s Instagram account or Janet’s Facebook page for the chance to see her respond to your Q!
Read more stories from Beauty Beyond Binaries:
- Being Pretty Is a Privilege, But We Refuse to Acknowledge It
- Being Carefree, Black, & Beautiful Is a Real Form of Protest in America
- How Haircuts Were Used to Control My Gender Presentation
Watch Jacob Tobia explain what makes them feel beautiful: