I am SO excited about our fifth BEAUTYfull subject… like BEYOND excited… she is someone who can light a room with her smile and spread joy with her infectious laugh… but first…
BEHIND THE CONCEPT: What is BEAUTYfull™
Spread beauty. It’s the diva way.™ It’s our mission. And our goal in spreading beauty, the diva way, is that it reaches everyone. It is inclusive, not exclusive. We believe beauty comes in all ages, races, genders, features, 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 thought, originated the concept of BEAUTYfull™.
For my fifth post in the series, we shine a spotlight on Miss Nikki Mendes.
THE FIFTH SUBJECT: Nikki Mendes
From her writing to her daily “dance-it-out” moments, Nikki Mendes is an artist at heart. She describes herself as equal parts fierce and silly. Nikki is from Rockville Centre, Long Island. “Specifically, I’m from Meehan Lane, a neighborhood that was called The Projects. We were in the west end of The Rock. At times, it felt like the outskirts.” Growing up in RVC, Nikki says, made her afraid to not be the best version of herself.
Nikki reached out to participate in the BEAUTYfull project because it made her think of her younger self. She thought for a long time that she was on the outside of the beauty spectrum. Excluded, not included. Nikki had a gap between her teeth since the 5th grade. “For a long time, I hated it. No one directly told me that there was anything wrong with my teeth. In fact, dentists told me I didn’t need braces. A pro wouldn’t lie, right? I just didn’t see it on anyone else, so I thought they must be wrong.” Nikki was also obsessed with Janet Jackson and the cast of 90210, who didn’t look the way she did. But as she got older she became aware and mindful of the connection between inner and outer beauty. Nikki shares, “I now know that so much of my perception has to do with what’s on the inside, so I don’t attach myself to the spectrum in the same way. It has been a long journey though, and I occasionally backslide. So I thought I’d be a good fit for the series.”
THE INTERVIEW: Nikki and her perspective on inner beauty, outer beauty… and twerking in the mirror.
What do you love about yourself physically?
I really love my smile and my eyes. My eyes apparently have always been large and expressive. I could say the same about my smile.
What have you felt pressure to change or alter, or have you otherwise struggled with or felt insecure about?
I was part of a dance company briefly. I love dancing. I mean love it, as in I try to get some of that action everyday because I know I’m the best version of myself when I’m doing it. As part of that group, where I’d felt the best in my body, no matter the size, I was told to lose weight so that I would fit into the general sameness of the crew. I was also told that I’m a good dancer, but I needed to tighten up my body. I felt deflated immediately and clearly only heard the last part of that sentence. So I think I’ve always had an issue with my weight. More self-inflicted drama. My plan is to re-audition this year.
Describe the idealized standard of beauty for women as you see it today. What does the perfect woman, as defined by Hollywood, entertainment and social medial, look like in 2016?
The perfect woman had better steer clear of Hollywood in 2016. Generally, Hollywood won’t let her exist for very long. Cynical, I know. On the other hand, I’m glad to say that the standard of beauty, as I’ve seen it in entertainment, is more inclusive now than it has been in the past. Until women are running Hollywood though, there will always be the need for changes. I just got the new Essence magazine, with Lupita Nyongo on the front cover AND in the Lancome ad on the back. I love that! When I was growing up, I distinctly remember there not being many dark skinned black women on magazine covers and in the popular beauty campaigns. I loved Iman, Naomi Campbell and Alek Wek, but they were supermodels; an unattainable “other” by definition. It’s nice to see Serena Williams getting love for her body in the same way that Ronda Rousey does. It’s also nice to read Mindy Kaling’s musings about the best makeup for brown skin. Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad to see Kate Hudson and Kelly Ripa doing their things too. Inclusion is key. Shout out to the Hollywood Reporter for its cover story with “The Great Eight”.
How do you think most women compare to this standard, or feel about it?
I think that most women feel better when they can relate to the standard. Then, they are able to feel like they are represented. As I mentioned, that feels more likely to me today, than it has in the past. It’s not just a race thing either. The press that Serena and Ronda get for their bodies looking and being strong is empowering. I love Ashley Graham and the attention she’s getting too. I have as many friends who look like her as look like the typical standard of beauty. It’s really all good when everyone can feel validated and acknowledged.
If you had a crystal ball, what do you see in the future for beauty?
I would love to see things continue in the direction they’ve been going. I feel like I don’t see enough Asian and Indian faces in major campaigns across the landscape. I would love for that to change. Long term, I think it would be nice, when I see an ad with a diverse group of people, to not have to celebrate it. It would be great if that were just the norm.
Who were your first beauty icons? Who do you see as a beauty icon now?
I mean, how much time do I have to create this list? My first icons were Janet Jackson, Diana Ross and Lauren Hutton. My icons now, are those same women. My admiration for them has grown so much and I have to say that I’m now each of their biggest fans, if that’s possible. Janet Jackson was the first celebrity whose image I closely monitored, damn near documented, over the course of her career. I loved watching her as a little girl on “Good Times” and “Diff’rent Strokes”. When she grew up and became Miss Jackson, I was floored. That was the first time I thought about aging as an opportunity to re-invent oneself. Diana Ross was iconic for me because I was obsessed with the movie, “Mahogany”. She was a model and a diva. Her hair was fabulous and she was best friends with Michael Jackson. I also loved that she had her children around in feature stories. So, she seemed like a normal mom and a superstar. Lastly, the fabulous Lauren Hutton was someone I discovered when I started to notice that my smile was unique. She’d been a supermodel with a gap, who was forced to close it. She was having a resurgence in the 90’s and I was all about it. If she was beautiful, then so was I.
What is your beauty regimen?
My regimen has changed over the years. I went from being a Proactiv girl, who rarely wore makeup, to a product queen. I use Target products everyday to clean my face and wear primer so that my face is a little matte. I can be so oily. Great for the aging process, not great for the t-zone. I relax my hair, and change it as often as possible so that I don’t get bored. I cut it really short a couple of years ago and loved the change. A quick note to anyone who’s going to make the big cut; if your hair is short, you actually have to do it. So, I’ve grown it back to give myself some ponytail flexibility. I’ve always loved mani/pedis, so that’s something I’ve continued. I tend to go nude on the hands, so that when I’m speaking New Yawk-ese, and flailing my hands around, it’s not as jarring. Also, those colors match with anything. I love perfumes too. I tend to switch them up every season and work with a couple within that season. Right now, I’m wearing Amazing Grace by Philosophy and Jo Malone Mimosa & Cardamom.
When do you feel beautiful? What makes you feel beautiful?
I tend to feel most beautiful after a post-workout shower. I’ve gotten stronger and am usually grateful in those moments because I’ve made it through – whew! – and I’ll probably be strong enough to do it again tomorrow. Dancing would be the activity that makes me feel most beautiful. It has nothing to do with how I look. It’s a soulful, spiritual connection. I’m elevated to my best self, and even if I miss a step, I’m where I’m supposed to be.
On a more shallow tip, I feel fine as hell when I’ve gotten a good tan. I think my skin looks great with some extra brown.
When don’t you feel beautiful? What makes you feel not beautiful?
I used to compare myself to others a lot. Someone else always had straight teeth, perfect skin, a flat stomach and a big butt. I used to let myself not feel beautiful. I can honestly say that I’m conscious about not playing that tape in my head anymore. Some of my friends make fun of me for it, but I look in the mirror everyday and tell myself that I’m looking good. I give the mirror a little twerk action and I keep it moving. Anyone who works with me, can vouch for my impromptu twerking sessions.
My not beautiful moments tend to be more of an internal thing. When I feel like I’ve not been compassionate enough or empathetic enough, it’s just ugly. I know that ugly inside leads to ugly outside, so I do my best to check it, before that dark cloud comes.
Who is beautiful to you?
So many people are beautiful to me. I really love Lupita Nyongo. She’s so beautifully brown and regal looking. She looks elegant all the time and I know that’s not an easy thing to do. She makes it look effortless though. She also seems grateful and humble.
I’d also honestly have to say my mother. She has long blonde dreads, that she tosses over her shoulder. She also has the most amazing skin you’ve ever seen. She used to go for birthday facials. The aestheticians told her to stop wasting her money. Who says that?! I’m told that I’m looking more like her as I age, which is nice as I sit here with spot treatment zit cream on my face. She uses the berry scented bath gels on her body and face. I’m getting a zit just thinking about it. Anyway, fingers crossed for the future.
What is beautiful to you?
Beautiful for me, is about self-love. There’s a humility to it, but you have to tell yourself that you’re beautiful. Tell yourself, in the mirror, that you’re valuable to this world. It was hokey for a while, but I used to have affirmations taped to my bathroom mirror. I’d say them out loud, while I was putting in my contacts and washing my face. One day, I had to take the sign down. The next morning, I started saying something else. I felt better about my life in general, just from putting my worth out there, before anyone or anything could tear it down. Nowadays, the affirmations aren’t even on the mirror. I save the mirror for my twerking. The affirmations come as I open up my curtains. I’m grateful to have woken up to a day that’s sure to be a blessing. With that in mind, my body is a blessing with this gap-toothed smile because it’s mine. My feet are painful and flat but look how far they carry me. It’s all beautiful. It’s all me.
For this post I used the products featured below. Please note this post is not sponsored. All thoughts are unbiased and my own and the subject’s own. Products were provided for editorial consideration and/or my use as a professional makeup artist. All photos are property of DIVAlicious and Stephania Stanley Photography.
Lauren Cosenza is the creator and editor-in-chief of DIVAlicious, a trusted beauty/fashion expert, 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).