Beauty Lessons From 13 of History's Most Iconic Black Women

Proof that Black Girl Magic is nothing new.

Virginia Lowman Feb, 05, 2016

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You probably remember her best from her role in A Raisin in the Sun, but Ruby Dee wore many hats. She was a poet, activist and journalist who made her fame as Ruth Younger on the silver screen. Dee had flare and such a feminine edge and though she was incredibly beautiful, she believed that, "The kind of beauty I want most is the hard-to-get-kind that comes from within— strength, courage, dignity." We hear you Ms. Dee!

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Foxy Cleopatra was everyone's girl crush growing up. Her full hair, high cheek bones and feathery lashes taught us to love all of the quirks of being a Black woman. To get her glow, consider highlighting your cheekbones and nose and topping your lashes with two coats of your favorite volumizing mascara.

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Billionaire, boss and media mogul, Oprah Winfrey has become a household name by chasing her vision and being versatile. America's go-to woman in the know has taught us to embrace our desire to be beauty chameleons. Whether you rock curls or a sleek bob, flaunt it and make it your own.

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With nicknames like "Black Pearl" and "Bronze Goddess, Josephine Baker made a name for herself being beautiful. Women the world over copied her signature finger waves and dark lips.

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Madam C. J. Walker was the Oprah of the 1800's. As America's first self-made millionaire, she taught us the importance of caring for our crown. Walker made her fortune selling hair growth treatments that she formulated and mixed herself.

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When you're the first Black women to cover American Vogue, you've earned your bragging rights for life in the beautysphere. Johnson's August '74 Vogue cover changed the face of Black beauty forever and encouraged an entire industry to recognize women of color. She taught us the beauty lesson that when it comes to beauty, "less is more" and a little blush goes a long way. At 63, she's still the ultimate beauty girl and heads up her own wig line.

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Black Pather, Black Feminist and John Lennon's muse for the song "Angela," Davis exemplified "Go big or go home." Her beauty lesson to us was all about hair— the bigger, the better.

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Kim K's contouring has nothing on Grace Jones. The iconic beauty and model was the first to teach us about the magical use of shadows in makeup.

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Before Beyoncé, there was Mary, and before Mary there was Tina. Who didn't want to copy her voluminous mane and ashy blonde locs? She was the first to make us question whether blondes really do have more fun. The sultry crooner is our first (and forever) hair crush.

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No wonder Tracee Ellis Ross is such a rockstar, look at her bombshell mama! Diana Ross rose to stardom as the lead singer of The Supremes. Her 'mo' bigger, mo' betta' approach to dramatic, lengthy lashes became a beauty staple the world over. 

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Ms. Parks taught us many things (you may recall a time when she refused to give up her seat on a bus), but her lessons in life extended far beyond civil rights; she taught us a few things about beauty, too. The epitome of strength and class, from her ever chic, ever sleek updo's to her perfect pearl pink lipstick. We learned that a woman always stands tall and always gives good lip.

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Honestly, what haven't we learned from First Lady Michelle Obama? Her whole life is a lesson in beauty and style.

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The Detroit-born model became the first African-American model to cover British Vogue, and is a true testament to power of will. Having survived a tumultuous childhood, she re-shaped her life in her late teens and moved to NYC to pursue modeling. Her quirky beauty made her a standout in the industry and she quickly rose to fame, as makeup artists played-up her wide-set eyes with the use of graphic liners. 


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