Mikki Taylor, beauty director and cover editor for ESSENCE, is all about the business of beauty—inside and out. “For me, beauty in the deepest sense is about total well-being. How you feel [and] what you are about is more important that how you look,” Taylor says. It’s a point she clearly makes with her book, Self-Seduction: Your Ultimate Path to Inner and Outer Beauty (Ballantine Books/One World). Featuring celebrities including Halle Berry, Erykah Badu, Queen Latifah as well as regular women who have that celebrity quality. Taylor takes women on an exploration of self. “I am offering woman a new life resolution,” Taylor says. “I want to give women alternative solutions to define their own path. At the end of the day only you know what’s going to work best for you. Self-Seduction gives you a myriad of options and then pushes you to ask the questions and define the answers for yourself.”
With a career that travels from model to fashion coordinator for the Tahari clothing line to ESSENCE (first as accessories and home-sewing editor in 1980), now as an influential beauty director and cover editor, Taylor says her first inspiration came from her mother—hairstylist, makeup artist and wardrobe coordinator for legendary vocalist Sarah Vaughan. “Growing up in that kind of show biz life [under] the influence of my mother, [who was] creating a look for an icon, certainly had its impressions on a young girl,” laughs Taylor. “And just watching my mother’s own style—she was really clear about who she was and what worked for her. She instilled in all of us that it really doesn’t matter what others are doing [because] styles come and go. [But] know who you are.”
We sat down with Taylor, who not only personifies the definition of beauty but also shapes it, and chatted about her new book Self-Seduction, the book’s message and finding your inner and outer beauty.
How do you feel now that the book has been published?
I am thrilled beyond measure. The joys of bringing something like this to life are really unequalled. I’ve had Black women’s needs and desires in my ears for so long and to be able to do a book and just talk to them and to bring to them the kind of information that I know they are hungry for, that is an awesome and gratifying thing to do. I am at a loss for words to describe the joy but I’ll tell you my cup is running over.
I love the title. How did you come up with “Self-seduction”?
Self-seduction is really about loving yourself in the highest order. It’s about committing to those acts that honor and edify you. A decade or so ago, I really saw black woman trying to get their spiritual arms around that. I noticed that our affirmations were more centered on I’ll do this as opposed to I can, I hope or I might. I saw this kind of positive vibe spreading among us, not all of us but many of us, and so that’s the kind of thinking that went into this. [Self-Seduction] has everything to do with how you treat yourself and how you regard yourself.
You have said that the needs of Black women have been on your mind. Was that one of your inspirations for this book? Are there any others?
My observation about Black women is one of the reasons I wrote the book. My other reason is that I found that there weren’t [any books] out there for us at this time. For example, when you go into the bookstores, there are self-help books in one category and the mechanics of beauty—how to do your make-up or hairstyling—in another. And women don’t look at [beauty] like that; women look at themselves as a whole. Beauty is something that comes from within first; it is not something you do, it’s something you possess. It’s something you already are, so why do we need to separate these two things. A woman who is in charge of her life is always tending body, mind and spirit. She is always centered; she is always being on purpose. She is always looking at the state of her emotional beauty because that drives everything else. I also think that when it comes to inner and outer beauty that if you don’t have both, you are really selling yourself short. To have physical beauty and not have inner beauty is like a bag of hot air—nothing substantive. If your emotional beauty is in the right place, you can’t help but have outer beauty. So I personally could never come out with a book that didn’t deal with [both].
You talk about tending mind, body and spirit, which speaks to inner and outer beauty. How are the two connected?
Your inner beauty and outer beauty are inextricably balanced. I spend a lot of time talking about that in Chapter 2, the “Time for Self” chapter. For example, we talk about body, mind and spirit, but more often than not we talk about tending your body, but then we have some spiritual poverty. Or we have things in our mind that we don’t examine, tend or nurture, and so often [women] don’t even hear their own pleas for help. [Sometimes we] really do need to pull over to the [side of the road]—metaphorically speaking. Halle [Berry] said she mediates everyday [because] she’s listening to the voices of others all day, and she needs to hear her own thoughts. See these are ageless things, but all these things make up your beauty. If body, mind, and sprit are not in harmony, if they are disconnected, so are you. When you are in touch, when these things are in harmony, when your inner and outer beauty are in sync, you know when to say no. You know when you are in overload, and when you can’t lend self out to anything else.
Why is it so hard for Black women to take “me” time?
It’s a combination of things. We were brought up with the notion that care is something that you give to someone else, not something that you turn on yourself. We were brought up [to think] that too much focus on self was self-centered or conceited, when in fact it is not so. What I want women to realize is that self-nurturing is an order of life. It is something you must tend to. Whose hands would you put that in? Who knows what your needs and desires are better than you? I am asking us to get to know ourselves on a front-row seat basis and what makes our lives soar. Too often, we don’t ask that question. That’s why the first chapter is “Are you Living the Life you Want.” If you haven’t asked yourself that question, then there is nothing else in this book for me to say to you. Part of owning your life is taking responsibility for your actions. Self-nurturing—what is that again but doing what self-edifies you. It’s in your best interest to do that. We have to put ourselves back on top of our priority list.
What is the most important thing you’ve learned throughout your beauty career?
I guess the importance of being on purpose and staying in touch enough to know when you fall off track, so that you get back on. Being in tune with my body, mind and spirit because the important thing is to tend all three. That’s really key because you can go through life going along with the program and never really [live your own life]. You can go through life and never have the courage to be yourself and all that entails. I was telling someone earlier today, when my mama was ready to go blonde, whether it was a trend for black women or not in the ’60s, she frosted her hair. She didn’t need anyone’s confirmation to make that move. So being on purpose, knowing what works for you everyday, in everyway, is important.
Bottom line—what do you want your readers to come away with—what is your message?
Commit to those acts that honor and edify you—come away with that affirmation because that is what’s going to help you move through the journey affirmed, fulfilled and fabulous. That is what it’s all about. It’s not just about a new lipstick or a hairstyle, or dress size—the main thing is to be on purpose and staying clear on that. Purpose is what I am about always.