A Brown Girl Beauty Retrospective


image courtesy of jayforce.com

A Brown Girl Beauty Retrospective

by Dre Brown

Back in the day, my parents grew to expect a familiar pastime on occasional Sunday nights. My sister and I would interrupt their regularly scheduled news or football game by posting up in front of our vintage floor model TV for an impromptu Brown family variety show of sorts. Singing and dancing was a given. It was the costume design that would be the big surprise in each performance. Led by imagination and creative ingenuity, we'd pull together the wares of our wardrobe, toy box, and broom closet to fashion our looks. One performance get-up stands out in my mind above all. Determined to get the full effect of our choreographed dance moves, we opted to crown ourselves with big T-shirts, pretending they were waist-length locks. We sashayed, flipping the sleeves over our shoulders like tousled tresses. There we were, two little girls emulating what we'd seen from some of our favorite show-stoppers. Kids surely do the darnedest things.

Thinking back on how my childhood imagination spurred my earliest beauty experimentation, I'm inclined to wonder where my ideas of beauty came from. No doubt the images that filled that old floor model tube had much to do with it. Thanks to TV, I recall then innocent notions of being the prettiest meaning having the longest hair and fairest skin. From idolizing Lisa Bonet's Denise Huxtable character from The Cosby Show for her fine wavy locks to wondering if Saved By the Bell's Lisa Turtle would be as popular if she looked more like Tootie from The Facts of Life, it isn't hard to see why I'd jump at the chance to turn my pajamas into hair extensions.

Years later, I recall abandoning those stereotype-driven childish thoughts for a fascination with iconic brown beauty, made famous by starlets I grew enamored with through my new obsession with Black nostalgia. I flooded my head with a collection of brown girl imagery from movies and music. In went visions of Josephine Baker's bold banana dance accentuating her African heritage, brown skin and ethnic bodily features, and Ella Fitzgerald's poise-filled performances and confident curves. My once media-skewed thoughts of brown girl beauty began to take new shape.

A retro seed was planted in me. Old album covers soon became my go-to sources for beauty inspiration. I didn't realize how bold brows could accentuate a brown girl's unique bone structure until seeing Etta James and Tammi Terrell donning this fierce look with effortless elegance. Soon my fixation on mainstream beauty's silky flowing manes met its match when I fell in love with Nina Simone's fab kinky braids and 'fro. And I'm not surprised that nearly every time I glide on my boldest red lip color, the hook of Patti LaBelle's "New Attitude" ditties through my head as I think of how she rocked her signature scarlet pout in the '80s.

It's evident I've grown to carry these iconic brown beauties with me like a trusty lip gloss. They've helped craft how I see our diversity, uniqueness, and versatility and on every face I flatter and between the lines of each article I write lies a bit of their sparkle. What throw-back Beauties are stowing away in your makeup bag?  

Driven to infuse each encounter with joy-inducing laughter, Dre Brown seeks to offer those she reaches both something for the eye and for the soul. Based out of New York City, Dre splits her time between makeup artistry, hair styling, strategic marketing, writing and entrepreneurship. Follow her exploits on her blog: a Dre in The Life and her Beautylish series "Confessions of a Nouveau Natural Woman"