From Acclaimed Photo Series To Black Beauty Movement: See How We Got Started


After the New York Times published an article that called Emmy Award winning actress, Viola Davis “less classically beautiful” than lighter skinned black actresses, I assembled an amazing team of creatives to produce this photo story.  The first person I called was the photographer, Kunle Ayodeji, who happens to be my husband.  “Let’s do something to celebrate black women,” I said.  He was immediately sold.  We shot the photos against a plain backdrop having each of our beautiful models deliver strong poses.  You know what they say, less is more.  Speaking of less being more, Yetty Bames of Yetty Bames Beauty and I spoke about using minimal makeup so all the models would look like themselves.  What better way to showcase real beauty?  And how could you do a project like this without filming it?  Duane Ferguson who has an amazing eye and stellar videography skills did an awesome job of capturing the mood in studio that day.

What made this series even more outstanding were the 8 models who shared their personal stories on beauty and identity.  They set this ongoing project in motion in the best possible way.

In case you missed it or you need a refresher, scroll down to read their stories which, in my opinion, exemplify the true definition of classic beauty and beyond.


Beyond Classically Beautiful: Behind The Scenes



Beyond Classically Beautiful: A Photo Story

Beyond Classically Beautiful: Dana


“My definition of beauty is when I’m at my happiest moment.  Classic beauty is whatever you see in the mirror and you’re happy with.  No one else should be able to define classic beauty for you except you.”

Beyond Classically Beautiful: Funmi


“Beauty to me is unique. It’s much more than race and gender or color. To me it’s just personality. Loving who you are as a person.  I think beauty is just like a flame. It’s an unquenchable fire that comes from within. And you have to just allow yourself to let it flow.”

Beyond Classically Beautiful: Christina


“My definition of beauty is feeling comfortable in your own skin and not needing anyone to call you beautiful but when someone does call you beautiful you understand where they’re coming from.  If you call somebody a ‘classic beauty’ you’re saying that beauty looks like this one thing, and everything else is outside of what that is, so I don’t believe in classic beauty.”

Beyond Classically Beautiful: Dionne


“Beauty in things exists merely in the mind which contemplates them.”–David Hume 1742

“All my life I’ve heard people say, ‘she’s a pretty dark skinned girl,’ [which I think] is a phrase that could scar a young lady for life.  Thankfully, the women in my life taught me many positive self image lessons at an early age.  I was raised to know that I am beautiful because of my complexion and my opinion of myself was the only opinion that truly matters.  Because of that I’ve learned to see the beauty in everyone and things regardless of my likes and dislikes.”

Beyond Classically Beautiful: Mame


“I used to get bullied when I was younger so I didn’t really feel as beautiful as my classmates because I was darker toned than everyone. But as I grew up I learned to embrace my complexion. I’m me and nobody is like me.”

Beyond Classically Beautiful: Vonecia


“I would define classic beauty as simplicity and sometimes conformity.  My beauty goes beyond classic beauty because it is not masked with the opinions or standards of others. It has room to breathe, to be different.  It is truly free.”

Beyond Classically Beautiful: Nia


“I do not let society’s standards of “beauty” define my life or my decisions concerning my body, my style or any other physical and material elements. I’ve learned to stay true to myself despite what society thinks I should look like or dress like, while at the same time, not letting my physical appearance be the only substance that speaks to who I am and what I have to offer.”

Beyond Classically Beautiful: Ofunne


My beauty goes beyond the idea of classic beauty because it is different, unique and is all my own. I have dark skin, but a yellow undertone. I have dark brown kinky hair and a broad nose with huge eyes. I used to even have a gap, which I regret closing when I got my braces. My beauty may not resonate with the status quo but it is what makes me, me. And I think that in and of itself is beautiful.


Art Direction: Abi Ishola–
Photography: Kunle Ayodeji–
Makeup + Styling: Yetty Bames–
Hair: Geneva Clark
Videographer: Duane Ferguson

Dana Oliver
Mame Diop
Christina Bright
Funmi Okusi
Nia Groce
Ofunne O
Vonecia Carswell
Dionne Harper

Music (video): “Put me On” by Naira–

Thank you all for the beauty you brought to this project!

Abi Ishola
Abi Ishola


Abi Ishola is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Beyond Classically Beautiful, the acclaimed photo series turned multimedia platform. On any given day, you can find her tucked away in a perfectly lit Brooklyn coffee shop working for several hours. Then she dashes off to pick up her daughter from daycare. Abi is also a TV Producer, a proud FIT Alum, Nigerian-American, and a soul searcher.

  1. Do something on older black women. We have survived the extreme negativity of those who sought to make us feel less than because of the color of our skin or our prominent features. I am 60 and can now totally enjoy being who I am and what I look like. It has been a journey for me.

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