For the 13th BEAUTYfull post, we are thrilled to share a more global beauty perspective through our latest subject and Estee Lauder strategy exec, Nilukshi De Silva. Nilukshi, with her big saucer eyes and contagious smile, speaks to us passionately about the broadening standards of beauty and the progress she is seeing in the industry. She also shares insights from having experienced two sets of beauty ideals, first from growing up in Sri Lanka and then living in the US since college.
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 13th feature, we introduce to you Nilukshi De Silva.
Special note: All photography by Stephania Stanley. Concept, makeup and interview by Lauren Cosenza. Shot in Long Island City.
THE 13th SUBJECT: Nilukshi De Silva
Nilukshi De Silva grew up in Colombo, Sri Lanka where her parents and family still live. She worked hard to get into college in the US and while at Mount Holyoke, worked 2-3 jobs and did several unpaid internships. Nilukshi graduated and continued to work hard to get employed in the US as an international candidate requiring a work visa. Being “a woman, a person of color and a foreign employee all at the once can be quick tricky.” Still, she found a way to transition an internship in NYC into a full-time job with the help of a senior executive and has since worked in marketing and social media.
Nilu currently works at the Estee Lauder Companies on their Consumer Engagement Strategy team. She has always loved beauty and shares that working for such an iconic company has felt surreal. Especially given that her journey started in Sri Lanka and led her all the way to New York, via Greyhound bus, where at first she did not know a single person.
Outside of work, Nilu loves running and dancing. “A dance party at my apartment is not an uncommon occurrence.” And she recently got engaged to “a wonderful man that’s my best friend.”
When asked why she was interested in participating in BEAUTYfull, she replied…
Platforms like the BEAUTYfull project are so incredibly important. Especially now more than ever because young women across the world need to know that they’re beautiful and will be accepted just the way they are. It’s important to shine a light on how we communicate about beauty and women to the younger generation, as well as our own, to show that we are all equal and loved and to make sure we give each other a voice. I also wanted to support Lauren because I think what she’s doing is amazing. We, collectively as the voice of BEAUTYfull, can push and challenge the gender norms and ideals of beauty that’s forced upon as society.
Read on for Nilukshi’s thoughts on the state of beauty and her personal beauty experiences.
THE INTERVIEW: Nilukshi on Bollywood versus Hollywood influences, social media as a tool to spread positive and inclusive messages, and why living a healthy lifestyle is beautiful.
Where do you think you (or all women) get their cues about how they “should” look?
A lot of it is cultural. That’s why it’s so hard to overcome and push past. For example, being dark-skinned is not considered beautiful across many Asian cultures and this is something ingrained since birth. So instead of learning to love your skin and feel confident at a young age, you learn to sort through the hundreds — no thousands — of lightening products advertised to you because you think it’s something that needs to be “fixed”. How do you overcome something like that when there’s such a lack of education and it’s rooted in so much history? And for a long time the media has only amplified these types of messages and way of thinking instead of challenging and dispelling them. Now, thanks to platforms like BEAUTYfull and many others that are actively working to change the norm in the beauty industry, we can at least start to have a conversation about these topics.
Can you 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 media, look like?
The ideal woman STILL to date is the tall, blonde, skinny type with light skin. However, we have come a long way recently. More and more people and brands across the beauty industry and many others as a whole are trying to stand up to this one idea that was created so long ago. There’s still a very long way to go, but at least we’ve started to have the conversation and show women that represent different body shapes and colors in Hollywood and across social media, so it’s a start. We’ve also started to question what it really means to be “feminine” which I think is an important thing to add.
How do you think most women compare to this standard, or feel about it? How do you personally?
Because of some very strong women – and men – we’ve finally seen more diversity and inclusion in media today. We have a long way to go but for me personally, it’s been great to finally see some progress. As a Sri Lankan / South Asian woman living in the U.S. it’s also been wonderful to see the changes in how South Asians have been represented. We are no longer the stereotypical nerdy scientists, taxi cab drivers, 7-11 shop owners with heavy accents, and meek women that abide by their husband’s rules that we have often been reduced to in Hollywood. Shows like Quantico and the Mindy Project are slowly shifting perceptions of South Asian women as sexy, fashionable, funny and strong. It’s showing people that we are like so many of you – proud of our heritage but have a mind of our own.
When you were younger, was it important to see women in Hollywood or advertising or in music or the modeling world who looked like you?
Yes, of course! But this was rarely done in Western media. Growing up in Sri Lanka I naturally watched a ton of Bollywood and that had its own challenges. Sadly across both Hollywood and Bollywood, women were often objectified and reduced as supporting roles for men. And while there’s nothing wrong with showing women as mothers, wives, sisters and friends it was all most roles consisted of. It was challenging to find a role that portrayed women outside of these roles for so long.
Is it important to you now?
Yes, and I do think we’re moving in the right direction. Did anyone see the recent Vogue diversity issue?? Ironically the cover and issue had very little diversity and what was supposed to be a representation of the modern American woman ended up being one of the most conventional. It’s times like these I wonder just how much progress there really is. After all, it’s 2017. I want my children to grow up knowing they don’t need to change themselves to look like someone else to feel good about themselves or be accepted in society. I want to see that for myself. We often talk about how true beauty is within oneself but when it comes to reality that’s sometimes hard to find. That’s not what’s represented in today’s world sadly. Showing only one kind of beauty is not a real representation of the world we live in and I’d like to see that change and stay that way for myself as well as our future generations to come.
How do you think social media plays in with both impossible – and in many instances, retouched to perfection – beauty standards on the one side and the democratization and diversification of beauty standards on the other? How does social media affect your views on beauty?
Social media, like anything else, is a medium of communication. If we use it correctly we can spread any message we want the way we want to. We as humans need to stand up for one another and spread love and support instead of bully each other. Brands not just in the beauty industry but in general have a responsibility to represent the world we live in today. There are a lot of brands that have been proud to show gay couples, interracial families and women of all shapes, colors and sizes as part of their message, which is a step forward in the right direction.
What’s also interesting about the social media landscape especially now is that it’s actually becoming a way for people to stand up and speak up against the beauty norms and bullying that have been around for so long. It’s starting to help bring people together– it could’ve been the recent political situation, but whatever the case it’s been great to see some people use it to spread love and positivity.
Who were your first beauty icons? Who do you see as a beauty icon now?
My grandmother and mom. They were so beautiful and graceful gliding around in their colorful sarees. I was lucky enough to have both the Western and Eastern / South Asian influences as a child. I grew up seeing all sorts of beauty and in turn, it made me so open minded– I didn’t have one definitive idea of beauty. I did however love Linda Evangelista. I also loved a lot of Bollywood actresses and continue to do so. Liya Kebede is also one of my all time faves. She’s so incredibly beautiful and comfortable in her own skin, which I think is so empowering and sexy.
What do you love about yourself physically? Why?
My small, slightly curvy frame and big eyes – they have worked in my favor. I was also very mischievous as a child. I have a lot of scars on my legs playing sports and just getting into trouble – I have one scar that’s about 4-5 inches long on my right thigh where I had to get stitches. People have often suggested I do something about that to cover up because it’s not attractive to have such marks especially for a woman. But I love it. It reminds me of all the fun I had as a child. And it’s never occurred me to cover it considering I grew up wearing shorts in 100-degree weather.
What have you felt pressure to change or alter, or have you otherwise struggled with or felt insecure about?
Like so many women, my weight fluctuates. I definitely feel very self-conscious about that. Even if I put on 2-3 pounds, which is not really a big deal, I definitely feel pressure to get the weight off immediately. I also have natural curly hair, which I wear straight all the time. While the perception of curly hair is starting to change I do feel that straight hair is still so much more acceptable in professional settings.
When do you feel beautiful? What makes you feel beautiful?
When I’m dancing around in my PJs at home. I have dance parties all the time in my living room and that’s just a fun way to feel good and relax. I also love kickboxing and running. I feel great and strong after I’ve gone for a run or boxed up a storm! Also my fiancé… It’s nice to have someone that encourages you to be strong and be true to yourself.
When don’t you feel beautiful? What makes you feel not beautiful?
When I haven’t run or gone dancing in a while. And sleep deprivation doesn’t help either. I also can’t eat the same way I used to when I was younger. Anything greasy and it shows on my skin!
What is your beauty regimen? Has it changed over your life?
Since I work in the beauty industry now, I have more products to play with than I need. It’s been fun to experiment and pamper myself a little bit. I also discovered some products like the A&R serum that are must-haves especially as I get older. My go-to look is eyeliner and mascara. I try to accentuate my eyes a bit and leave everything else pretty natural. Good or bad this has been my look forever and I think it still works!
Any beauty advice you’ve been given that you particularly appreciated?
Drinks lots and lots of water. My mom is always telling me to drink a lot of water and eat healthy. I have a big sweet tooth so she’s always been on me to make sure I stay healthy and eat well. Not something I always appreciated when I was younger but as I grow older I understand the value of it so much more now.
Any that you particularly did not?
Because I have a darker skin tone, people always tell me to get out of the sun. This goes back to the Asian beauty norm of preferring lighter skin especially on women. I never liked that nor did I understand how to fully do it since I grew up on an island!
Who is beautiful to you?
Women – and men – that live a healthy lifestyle and stand up for who they are and feel comfortable in their own skin. I think it’s important to stress the healthy lifestyle aspect – because in today’s world where we are fighting so hard to be seen and heard as individuals and be accepted just the way we are, the message of leading a healthy lifestyle can get lost. As long as you’re healthy, who cares what size, color or shape you are? This doesn’t mean you have to only eat salad and run 20 miles daily. It just means to be aware of what you put in your body and how you treat it – everything in moderation as my mom would say.
What is beautiful to you?
Embracing your true self and learning to accept your flaws. It’s not realistic to expect to love every part of you and be ok with every feature of your body. I think it speaks volumes to be okay with not being okay. No one is perfect and that’s okay. Life is so short. Don’t waste it in front of a mirror looking at what isn’t there or what isn’t right. Smile at yourself, put on your favorite outfit – and makeup if that makes you happy – and go live your life.
Please note this post is not sponsored. All thoughts are unbiased and my own and the subject’s own. All photos are property of DIVAlicious and Stephania Stanley Photography.
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).