Last month a major newspaper sent a photographer to take pictures of me to promote my new book JOIE: A Parisian’s Guide to Celebrating the Good Life . Ten years ago, I would bring together the entire glam squad to give me work. Instead, I had a soothing pre-shoot massage the day before, then continued with my morning ritual of applying the French Pharmacy Elixir, followed by some YSL Mascara and Fenty Ma’Damn Matte Red Lipstick. It’s an easy beauty routine I stick to now, no matter the occasion—and I attribute it to the last twelve years of my life in Paris. It’s worth noting how much this culture has challenged and changed who I was to be who I am, especially in how I think about beauty and health.
At 2011, I moved to Paris with seven hundred dollar braids and green contact lenses to disguise my dark brown eyes. When I lived in New York City, I was always going for the superstar and supermodel look I aspired to in my 20s. I longed for Beyonce’s luscious flowing hair and Naomi’s long, slender body. (I’ve tried every fad diet to achieve that figure – most of which require seriously unhealthy calorie restriction and pungent elixirs that put me in a bad mood for days). What’s more: I hate my wide nose and gaps in my teeth, and have spent hours researching the possibility of changing them. My approach to self-care is limited to a constant search for treatments and products to cover up, alter or eradicate what doesn’t meet mainstream beauty standards.
My thoughts on beauty and health at the time were also heavily influenced by my upbringing and identity, growing up in Texas as the child of Nigerian-Jamaican immigrants. My mother and aunts were very fond of slathering on thick lotions and oil-heavy creams and jellies, but only because our skin needed it. No one in my family spends money on face creams with vitamin C or hyaluronic acid. The thought of costly treatment or traveling alone is seen as selfish or a waste of money. That being said, Nigerian women, especially those who immigrated to suburban Texas, do care about their hairstyles. As a result, I spent many years of time, energy and money on my hair. In retrospect, my relationship with it was the same as my relationship with beautiful women in New York — complicated and less fun.