Meena Harris is the definition of a woman that does it all. Harris is a Harvard-educated lawyer, New York Times bestselling author and the founder and CEO of Phenomenal Media, which brought the Tony award-winning musical A Strange Loop to broadway and recently purchased satire site Reductress. Not to mention she’s a mother of two and the niece of Vice President Kamala Harris. So, her radiant beauty is far from her biggest accomplishment, but we still appreciate it.
Harris has recently teamed up with Ulta Beauty’s new Beauty& campaign. The campaign aims to widen the lens of beauty and help people define beauty for themselves. “It’s been fun getting to think about beauty in different ways, both how we define it and how we create it,” Harris tells us. As part of the campaign, Harris and two other creators developed unique T-shirts. “Something as small as a T-shirt can actually be a powerful tool of communication and self-expression,” she says.
This campaign seeks to widen the lens of beauty and help everyone reclaim it for themselves. Has there been a time in your life when you felt outside of the “standard definition” of beauty? If so, how did you move past that?
“I don’t know that I necessarily felt outside of the definition, but I think I was aware that when I was growing up. For example, the images of beauty in the media were not necessarily something that I saw myself in. I really gravitated toward this very specific Barbie whose name was like Kira Hawaiian Barbie. And I think it’s because we sort of both looked like each other. I saw myself in her. I think it just goes to show a very basic point about the power of representation.
My transformation has been from beauty being defined as something that I express to others in order for someone else to perceive me as beautiful, versus doing something that helps me to perceive myself as beautiful or to find that inner confidence and that inner beauty. Beauty as an outward expression versus beauty as an inward expression. I used to be someone that would not leave the house without at least having mascara on or feeling like I had dark circles under my eyes and wanting to conceal them with concealer.
I would say probably coming out of the pandemic and in COVID and just at a time where we were all just kind of like letting that shit go and really returning to simplicity [helped]. It’s getting through the day and making it through Zoom after Zoom. I don’t know where it came from other than that. I just became very comfortable not wearing any makeup at all. It’s something that I’ve continued to embrace in a way that I didn’t at all before. I’ll make TikTok videos not wearing makeup, and I would never have done that in the past.
I think there’s another point there too, that it wasn’t just my own personal experience and evolution and focusing more on skin care at that time, but also I was seeing other people doing it. I think with TikTok there’s that different filter of being unvarnished and authentic and people waking up and filming a video. Seeing other people doing that reminds you there’s very much a universality even beyond the skin-care standard. It’s doing whatever makes you comfortable. So I think that’s been my biggest journey, the no makeup. But then I also love makeup. I’m very intentional about makeup. I love doing full glam and going to events, but I also love not wearing makeup, so that’s been fun.
Back to this campaign, the power of getting to see other people doing that but then also having tools and learning about different skin-care products that can support me in doing that, whether it’s SPF or serums, and learning about different steps that can be taken and having a real skin-care practice. That comes from something that I was able to derive through my own confidence and sense of beauty about what made me feel good and not being worried about if somebody thought I looked tired.”
Do you have a favorite SPF?
“Tinted has a great SPF ($32) that has no white cast, which historically has been really challenging with SPF, so that’s one I really love.”
You’re very busy with multiple jobs, kids and a family. What are some products you use on days when you’re just doing a quick get-out-of-the-house routine?
“I would say definitely mascara. That’s a big game-changer. I’ve also been doing no foundation, just bronzer. It feels much lighter, and you’re just kind of creating more contour but not putting on full foundation or concealer. This is a recent thing where I was like, ‘Oh, let me try this. What if I just use bronzer everywhere?’ I think it’s been successful. And then highlighter. I know that it’s not as trendy anymore, but it adds more depth and contour, and it’s easy. It doesn’t feel like you have to do the whole full face.
I’ve gotten really into oil cleansers. I’ve been really thinking about the health of my skin and having a really good routine for cleansing and moisturizing. Another is taking makeup off, so Lancome has eye makeup remover ($65), but I use it all over my face.”
What kind of message about beauty do you share with your kids?
“I think about this also in the context of my kids books. In Ambitious Girl, I really focused on the word ‘ambition’ and knowing that that’s used in very specific ways in society. I think beauty is similar. I would say that I haven’t taken the step of defining beauty for them. Instead, I really think about how we can help to build that inner confidence and really emphasize the beauty and fun and creativity in us being different and celebrating our differences.
I think it’s really aligned with this campaign. It’s not a makeup campaign. It’s a campaign about how we think about these societal standards and really reclaiming and redefining them and for some people maybe not defining them at all and just saying ‘I have my own standard, it’s how I claim it for myself,’ and not subjecting it to somebody else’s concept of beauty.
I think about this a lot in the context of my older daughter. She sort of unexpectedly, at a very young age, was making comments about long hair. She has very curly hair and was taking her curls and straightening them by pulling them down or pasting them on her cheek in the bathtub so they were straight and long. It made me realize she must be hearing me say something about how my hair is long.
So I started thinking, ‘Okay, how do I reframe this to tell her how much I love curly hair and how cool curly hair is and that it should be something that she derives confidence from instead of wishing to have something that is not unique to her.’ Not necessarily defining it as ‘This is beautiful and this is also beautiful,’ but just saying ‘This is unique and amazing and something that brings me joy,’ versus defining it as beautiful or not beautiful.”
This campaign is all about celebrating beauty’s power as a force for good. How do you see beauty as a force for good?
“What has been really fun for me and phenomenal with this campaign is really challenging ourselves to think about what our definition of beauty is in the context of the Beauty& campaign. I really draw inspiration from a Toni Morrison quote, she said, ‘Beauty was not simply something to behold; it was something one could do.’ That resonates a lot with me, this idea that beauty is not something just to be admired or consumed. It’s something to be created.
In that way, it can be a call to action and a force for good. In the context of the Beauty& campaign, the action of reclaiming and redefining on our own terms what beauty means and what beauty standards we ascribe to. I think this campaign is challenging people to ask themselves that question but also encouraging people to celebrate our differences. There’s a lot of focus on celebrating our similarities. But we should also be celebrating our own unique selves and finding different ways of expressing beauty and sharing that. And so, that’s how I really think about it and the definition in the context of this campaign.”
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