This past September, the premiere of Shonda Rhimes’s How to Get Away with Murder was met with a now infamous article in the New York Times. In it, critic Alessandra Stanley characterized Rhimes as an “angry black woman” and referred to series lead Viola Davis as “darker-skinned and less classically beautiful” than Scandal’s Kerry Washington. Those words kicked off a series of responses that began with the hashtag #LessClassicallyBeautiful, and continues with journalist Abi Ishola’s “Beyond Classically Beautiful” project.
Ishola, who runs the style blog Scripts and Sightings, was compelled by the words—and her own history experiencing similarly bigoted judgment—to start “Beyond Classically Beautiful,” a photo series capturing the diverse beauty of African-American women and their personal thoughts about what “beauty” truly means. With her husband Kunle Ayodeji as photographer and her cousin Yetty Bames as stylist, Ishola has profiled women such as Huffington Post Style executive fashion and beauty editor Dana Walker, video blogger Christina Bright, and model Funmi Okusi.
Additionally, there’s a twofold meaning behind the project’s name. “I chose the phrase ‘Beyond Classically Beautiful’ because…how can anyone put beauty in any category, or label beauty at all?” Ishola says in the project’s trailer. She discovered a hidden message in the name, thanks to input from Bames: “Be Classic.” “When you consider the definition of classic,” Ishola continues, “which means ‘of the highest standard,’ how can we say that they’re not that?”
“Beyond Classically Beautiful” shows that black women of all complexions, shapes, and sizes are able to embrace their own beauty with confidence and pride—even if mainstream media is still slow to embrace them. A series of t-shirts, designed by Ishola and worn by the women in the photo shoot, is available for purchase on Etsy.