For the 12th BEAUTYfull post, we are widening our beauty net… And I am thrilled to shine a spotlight on talented singer and actor, Mijon Zulu. Mijon is a perfect balance of fabulous and charming — and our first-ever male subject. He describes himself as “a passionate person that likes to perform to feel engaged and alive” and this photoshoot is testament to Mijon being full of life and having boundless energy and spirit.
BEHIND THE CONCEPT: What is BEAUTYfull™
Spread beauty. It’s our mission. And our goal in spreading beauty is that it reaches everyone. We believe beauty comes in all ages, races, genders, features, abilities, sizes, shapes, body types… in all the unique elements that form each of our unique whole. There is a FULL spectrum of BEAUTY and we all exist in it. With our own personal experiences, stories and voices. And with that, originated the concept of BEAUTYfull™.
For our 12th feature, we introduce to you Mr. Mijon Zulu!
THE 12th SUBJECT: Mijon Zulu
Mijon’s mother is from Barbados and father is from Zimbabwe and Zambia. He was born in Rockland County, NY, and as a child lived in Zimbabwe, then moved back the states for high school, college, and, now, life. “I am kind of from all over the place, but I think I balance it well.”
Mijon is also currently balancing classes, auditions, rehearsing, waiting tables and performing. He recently filmed a pilot created by a team that met through the famed NY UCB (Upright Citizen’s Brigade) called Finding Fabulous, where he plays “a sassy stylist who is so full of his sense of self and fashion that he pretty much bulldozes over everyone he meets.” Mijon squeezes in a cabaret show between his auditions and in his limited free time (yes he has a little!) plays competitive volleyball, paints and draws.
When I asked Mijon why he wanted to participate in our project, his answer wowed me.
I love everything about this project and wanted to take part. I think that humanity and vulnerability are beautiful and I think it is amazing that people are offering their images to something like this. There is so much body and age shaming in this world that most of us end up with some sort of self-hate. As a performer, you hear a lot of stuff that might make most people wonder why they are even trying to make something happen. A while ago, I met with a model recruiter and was called fat and told to hit the gym. The recruiter also showed us images of models from a fashion show and told us that we should make that our goal. I was shocked and pissed off. I was not fat and I know that my Afro-centric thighs will never look like Clement Chabernaud – a white French male supermodel. I know that there is something special in me. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be in this crazy industry, but I have had to learn to trust that whatever I have works for me and I am happy with that. I just want to feel healthy and look like my “own special self” – a term my favorite acting teacher taught me. I wish everyone would find their special self. I always love that Marianne Williamson quote, “…We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous. Actually, who are you not to be?” I think this project answers that question perfectly.
Read on for more thoughtful and inspiring sentiments in Mijon’s full interview below.
THE INTERVIEW: Mijon on the origins of his dapper style, the two current standards of male beauty, why he feels weird posting photos with wrinkles, how he overcame teenage insecurity from being overweight, and why substance trumps perfection.
Where do you think men get their cues about how they “should” look?
This is an interesting question. Obviously, we have our fathers and male relatives if we are lucky. My father taught me how to tie a tie. I remember sitting in his room while he put on his suit before work. The shirt and socks always went on before the pants so that it was easier to neatly tuck in the shirt. He was a well dressed man and never thought that was weird or not manly, it was more about self-respect and respect to your family. I remember when he came to visit me while I was at boarding school and he didn’t like my outfit. He gave me a disappointed look and said something along the lines of “you have stopped getting dressed.” I was thoroughly ashamed and have probably been overdressing ever since. If someone says I am dapper, I think my dad is somewhere on the other side smiling down on me.
Can you describe the idealized standard of beauty/attractiveness for men as you see it today? What does the perfect man, as defined by Hollywood, entertainment and social media, look like?
I think male beauty is interesting. We sort of ride a line between being attractive but trying not to work too hard for it so that we are still manly. “I woke up like this” may have actually started on this side of the aisle. Many men wake up early, work out, buy nice things, go to the barber, et cetera, and at the same time, some don’t. I believe that everyone should aware of how they look. There is nothing that I love more than seeing someone discover their personal style.
We live in an interesting time. I think men have two major beauty standards. The first is the “man boy”. He is slim, but has strong arms and a six-pack. Then, we have the “manly man” who has more scruff, is stockier and – ideally – has strong arms, a six-pack and big shoulders. Think of the difference between a Rob Patterson and Chris Hemsworth. Or, in my case, Michael B Jordan and Idris Elba are better examples. Also, in general, if women have the hourglass, men have the V. You want broader shoulders than your hips and you want your clothes to fit well. Obviously, these are just stereotypes, in reality, we are neither of these things. We are round, bulky, just a beanpole, et cetera, and people love us away. Go figure.
One other important thing that a man needs is confidence. When we look at men who are attractive, they rarely seem to put a lot of effort into it. They just have it. In that sense, men have quite the difficult standard of not looking like we try too hard.
How do you think most men compare to this standard, or feel about it? How do you personally?
We all fall terribly short of this. I cannot even grow a full mustache or beard! It is just not possible. I think that a lot of men spend a lot time wishing they had it easier and the ones that don’t probably find something else to feel insecure about. I have my idea of what looks good on me and I just try to maintain that. If you stare too long in the mirror you’ll start to see things most people never notice, so I avoid sizing myself up.
When you were younger, was it important to see men in Hollywood or advertising or in music or the modeling world who looked like you or reflected you?
I was actually quite lucky to spend my childhood in Zimbabwe where the majority of people were black. So, there were a lot more examples of people who looked like me. My mother was also really amazing in the sense that she gave a lot of books, made me watch old movies about George Washington Carver, Paul Robeson, Sidney Poitier, MLK Jr and Arthur Ashe. She really wanted me know that I could achieve anything I dreamed and that there were other black people that have paved the way. I hope every young child gets some of this. As a child, I cared less about beauty and more about achieving something.
Then, as I got older, I went through many different phases as my body changed. One of them was being overweight and it really crippled my self-confidence at the time. My parents were heart-broken as I had been a happy child before I hit puberty and I think that a lot of my unhappiness had to do with not seeing myself as worthy because I didn’t fit into what I thought was attractive. I do remember wishing that I could be as commanding as a Denzel Washington and Sidney Poitier. I had no idea what it might take to get there, but I remember hoping that if I just worked hard enough, I could change myself into something awesome. Looking back, I think that whole way of thinking is pretty sad. But, puberty is crazy, so I guess it couldn’t be helped.
Is it important to you now?
Now, I think that it is nice to see more black men in the media, but we are still not always celebrated for beauty. In 2016, Dwayne Johnson (the Rock) was the first non-white Sexiest Man Alive since Denzel Washington in 1996. However, I try to not put too much into physical beauty. It really annoys me that young people look to Hollywood, Music, and Sports for role models of beauty. Those people are not normal people. In a way, it doesn’t always feel like real beauty to me. I want substance from my beautiful people. When I was a kid my mother tried to make me think about people like George Washington Carver and Martin Luther King Jr. She wanted me to be a great leader and achieve something. I think that achievement is really important. I think there is no point in relying on pretty. It fades. You have to have something underneath.
How do you think social media plays in with both impossible (and in many instances, retouched to perfection) physical standards on the one side and the democratization and diversification of those standards on the other? How does social media affect your views on your appearance?
Social media is crazy when it comes to beauty. As someone that briefly studied Graphic Design, I can usually see airbrushing and it really annoys me. It usually doesn’t make you look better. It makes you look like someone else because they are reshaping you. It is fine to clear up a blemish, but not if that is not what you look like. I think that social media is making people afraid to age. However, we cannot be 16 forever and I think it is pretty sick to look to adolescence for beauty. What annoys me even more is that I feel weird posting photos with wrinkles because I don’t see other people doing it. We also see a lot of images of people working out and ‘transforming”. It makes me feel like we are all just afraid to be ourselves.
What I do love are the body positive people that are out there. My friend Courtney actually started her own brand, Courtney Noelle, that is super body positive and she created a whole community that celebrates women’s curves. I am so proud of her because she showing the world that curves can look fabulous. Her brand is sort a “Size Inclusive” Nasty Gal.
What I also love about social media is that people are getting to choose to celebrate whatever they want. Just look at gay men and the whole “bear” or “scruffy” movement. The metrosexual era of idealizing manicured men has been totally flipped on its head. Bigger, hairy men, natural men are being celebrated for being themselves.
Who were your first icons, physically speaking? Who do you view as an icon now?
My dad actually. He was a huge athlete. He was almost recruited to play professional football (soccer) when he was in high school, but his dad made him go to college. I kind of always wished that I would become as athletic as him. It didn’t happen.
Currently, I don’t really have any male icons. I don’t want to look like anyone else.
What do you love about yourself physically? Why?
I love my long legs. They always look athletic, even when they are fat – haha. They are naturally muscular and have always been strong. I love my eyes, they are from my mother and I think they are beautiful like her. I also love that my eyes give away a lot of my emotions. I cannot hide my feelings and I don’t want to. I just want to be me – unfiltered.
What have you felt pressure to change or alter, or have you otherwise struggled with or felt insecure about?
Like I said, I had a really tough time with body-image in high school. I felt a lot pressure to change because I just hated myself. It took a long time to change that relationship, but I am glad I did.
I still hate my shoulders and arms. They have also felt weak and soft. I have tried lifting weights and doing push-up challenges, but both of those attempts resulted in shoulder injuries! Haha! So, now I just try and only workout to be strong enough for my life. Meaning, I don’t work out. I just play volleyball and do yoga. The strange part is that after making this switch, my arms look better than ever. So, go figure.
When do you feel beautiful? What makes you feel beautiful?
I feel beautiful when I am happy. When I sing, play sports, have the company and conversation of a good friend, and when I dance. I actually spent most of my 20s dancing at Mister Sunday or Tiki Disco – two deep house outdoor dance parties that happen on Sundays. When I get carried away, there is an infectious joy that I have and I proceed to make everyone around try to have just as much fun. I think is why I get invited so many weddings. I just have fun with it and like to share that fun with other people.
When don’t you feel beautiful? What makes you feel not beautiful?
I don’t like being angry and I don’t like being deprived of sleep. I feel and look my worst whenever these two things are combined. I also don’t like being ignorant, it is just embarrassing. I always feel more beautiful when I can talk about things I know and find interesting. Also, I have to be real and say that I always get a little self-conscious when I gain weight during the cold season. It happens every year, but I usually spend a day or so wondering, ‘What the hell is going on?’ Then, I get used to it and it doesn’t matter until summer is looming and I want to get ready for the beach.
What is your beauty regimen? Has it changed over your life?
My beauty regime is quite simple:
- Eat lots of leafy green vegetables and drink water to keep skin clear.
- Moisturize everything: Body lotion, day cream, night cream, eye cream.
- Shave everyday to keep a fresh face.
- Mask once a week to shrink pores and restore moisture.
- Apply under-eye concealer on rough days. Yes, men can use help too, and I am over being ashamed about feminine and masculine things. If it works, don’t knock it.
Who is beautiful to you?
Power and poise have always been beautiful to me. When I think of beautiful people I think of Michelle Obama, Viola Davis, RuPaul, George Clooney, Princess Diana, Marilyn Monroe, Bill Clinton, Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep, Morgan Freeman, Nelson Mandela, Barrack Obama. These are examples of people who seem to have a class of their own that they aspire to. Perhaps I am obsessed with greatness, but I like to think the greatness I admire is a greatness for the sake of creating something better. I’ll take that over someone that is just hot any day.
What is beautiful to you?
I think that beauty is an authenticity that has the power to make you feel something. When we are really open and honest we have power to change the world. You can be attractive or hot, but beautiful? No, m’am. Beauty is something that endures. When I fall in love, it usually because there is something about the person that makes smile, there is something that I respect, and there is something that I hope to emulate. Just look at Adele at the Grammys this year. Have you ever seen a woman so beautiful and completely herself at all times? She looked healthy, her makeup was elegant, and she still the same person as when we first met her. Dedicating her win to Beyoncé, stoping a performance because it wasn’t how she wanted it to go, and then nailing everything! She was all of us in that moment and that was beautiful. We are all so tired of perfection. People love beauty, but I know we are hungry for something real. At least, I am.
For more BEAUTYfull interviews, click HERE.
Lauren Cosenza is the creator and editor-in-chief of DIVAlicious, a trusted beauty/fashionexpert, an on-camera personality and spokesperson, a leading NYC-based professional makeup artist, a published contributor and writer, a brand consultant, a product junkie and an insatiable style seeker — with a former life at Cosmopolitan and Shape magazines.
Serving up style with a side of attitude, her site DIVAlicious gives women (and men) the confidence and permission to be fabulous. The site, with a goal to SPREAD BEAUTY, is filled with must-have products, pro tips and tricks, how-to DIY tutorials, makeovers, style inspiration and insider access. Topics range from beauty, fashion, culture, career, fitness, wellbeing, men’s and unisex offerings.
Stephanie Stanley (or Stephania, as her Greek family calls her) is a New York City-based advertising and editorial photographer who specializes in fashion, beauty, and lifestyle. Her work can be found on ELLE, Harper’s BAZAAR, Cosmopolitan, Esquire, Marie Claire, TODAY, DailyCandy, and TeenVogue. Her client list includes Levi’s, JCPenney, Clean & Clear, Microsoft, Olay, Banana Republic, Old Navy, Garnier, TRESemmé, Estée Lauder, Nexxus, GAP, Secret, and more.
Stephanie holds an MFA in Photography from Parsons and lives in Brooklyn with her husband and puppy, Ophelia, where she can be found running along Brooklyn Bridge Park and enjoying chocolate croissants from the local Italian bakery (typically in that exact order).