Conforming to European standards of beauty has mentally inhibited Black women for centuries. Whether it was television, magazines, or billboards, the people that were considered beautiful looked nothing like us. We’re finally at a point where the definition of beauty is becoming more inclusive – but we’re definitely not where we need to be. 

Misty Copeland, the first Black Principal Ballerina to be appointed at The American Ballet Theatre, shared some of her thoughts on ESSENCE’s The Color Files podcast. We were reminded not only of how far we’ve come, but how long of a journey we have to go before everyone truly feels represented.

As a young girl, Misty loved the skin she was in. Her mother always instilled in her that being Black was a beautiful gift to be celebrated. However, a part of her still felt like she needed to fit in with others.

“Even before I danced, I feel like [my hair] was just something that I never felt like it was beautiful, you know? It’s like I wanted to have my hair straight. I wanted to have bangs like the other white girls around me.”

Now, curls fully flourishing (as you can see in The Color Files’ video episode), Misty has fully embraced her Black Girl Magic and is elated to be able to represent for us in an industry that is still predominantly White. Of course, breaking the mold comes with its own struggles.

“You know, I put in almost 15 years before I was promoted. And I didn’t have this recognition for the first decade of my career. And, if anything, being black will hurt you.” 

Misty is the first-ever African American Female Principal Dancer with the American Ballet Theatre – and she wants it to be clear that her success is due to working hard, maybe even harder than some of her peers, just to get the recognition she deserves.

“I think that for people that just see the success it seems like, you know, “Oh well you’re the one black girl and you’re being seen so of course they’re going to promote you,” and it’s like, “No, honey, it was not that way.’”

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On her off-days, Misty takes the time to mentor young Black and Brown dancers. She takes pride in being able to contribute to the diversification of ballet.

“I mentor a lot of young dancers and especially brown dancers and that’s kind of what I do, whether it’s having one of my little mentees over and us chatting or cooking together, that’s kind of just my life.”

Check out the full episode, featuring Misty Copeland, on The Color Files below.

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