Celebration of the LGBTQ community during the month of PRIDE (and beyond!)
It’s time to give others a chance to define what’s beautiful. In this PRIDE month series, we're exploring the question "Imagine what life would be like if we were all able to define what beautiful is for ourselves?" In celebration of Pride Month, we’ve teamed up with some of our LGBTQIAP identifying friends and asked them to share their story of beauty all Pride Month long. In case you missed the first installment of this series, click here to start from the beginning.
We saved the fifth and final interview to share with you this week. As we approach the 4th of July holiday it has us thinking, “What is freedom without the ability to be unapologetically yourself regardless of your sex, the color of your skin, gender, sexual orientation or religion?”
In the final week of our Pride series we introduce JC. We hope that each of these stories have reminded you to embrace what's beautiful about you. We believe that the possibilities for beauty are endless, and acknowledge that this is just a small representation of the myriad of ways beauty can manifest.
All pronouns OK
"Every day is a gender reveal party. Beauty is freedom."
What does beauty feel like to and for you?
I want to start off by saying that we're living in a time where beauty needs to be looked at and embodied in a much deeper, internal way. Prior to the massive movement for protecting black lives and a global pandemic, I would have said, "Beauty feels like getting to express yourself with a fierce new eye shadow!" or "It feels like being seen for who you are!" Those things are definitely true. But my way of internalizing beauty on a deeper level, in a way that also encompasses those previous definitions, and is radical for the times is: beauty is freedom.
The most beautiful I have felt was in healing moments. As a gender-nonconforming person, things like experimenting with eye-shadow or being seen by others have been liberating. However, those all require somebody else. Now that I've basically been wearing the same five t-shirts for the past four months and have only been seen by my parents, I've learned to connect beauty from the inside out.
When things were 'normal', I was much more concerned about trying to do things 'right' by living up to what I thought society viewed 'gender non-conforming' as. And that's just it: I don't conform, so why am I trying to put myself in a box? When has that EVER worked for me? It definitely didn't work for me when I tried to be a gamer and got really into Mountain Dew and Hot Topic, so why would a dangly earring and shaving my facial hair to meet non-conforming standards feel beautiful now? (By the way, I still live for buying select merch at Hot Topic). Those are all limits we or society put on ourselves to fit-in. The opposite of freedom.
Moreover, I cannot talk about freedom without addressing my privilege also. While I'm a non-black Latinx POC, my self-exploration is a huge privilege. For many POCs and trans people, conforming to a binary and fitting-in is survival. But fundamentally, that's what these protests and pride is all about: FREEDOM. The ability to be yourself without conditions, including the ones we've self-imposed on ourselves.
To feel beautiful is to have the space to explore yourself so deeply, without judgments and external harm, that we all are able to connect to and express our most fully realized selves, freely.
What would you tell your younger self? At what age and why?
(A little letter to my younger self)
Little Jose Carlos Zepeda,
You are fourteen years old right now, it sucks, but you need to know how freaking brave you are. By the way, it's me, I mean you, I mean, I am you when you're twenty-eight years old.
OK, so, it's Freshmen English class and you just did all the research and are presenting on what your dream career is. You chose: model. Excellent choice. You know how to smize, have gorgeous unique curly hair, and can basically pull off any style of sunglasses. You're set! But wait, why's the entire class, including the teacher and your secret crush, laughing at you? Is it because of your weight, or your acne, or because you're gay, or the dark circles under your eyes? Honey, screw them. They're doubting your gorgeousness because they'd never be brave enough to expose themselves the way you just did and because they live in fear. You, my beautiful little freak self, are not scared. In fact, pretty soon you'll be posing and twirling in front of cameras quite a bit.
BUT, it's still going to take about fourteen more years to realize that your weight, skin, and dark circles are beautiful and are NEVER a factor in how people perceive you. Yeah... That insecurity, that shame, it's going to get internalized for a while. And unfortunately, this stupid English class, an unsupportive father, and this new horrific demon voice that's making you believe all of this is true, won't make it easier. But don't fret, my darling. The road to here is well worth it.
That same bravery it took to admit to the class that you wanted to be a model, even though you looked nothing like what was on TV or in magazines, is the same bravery that will help you persist and thrive in everything you do. Hone into that strength and never let anyone, including yourself, get in the way. The world needs your wild, colorful self!
C'mon, Tyra! Let's get to work.
JC Zepeda (A.K.A. you in 2020)
What do you wish to see change in the representation and action of the beauty, wellness, and skincare worlds?
I want to answer this question not just for beauty brands, but all brands. Now more than ever, we see how companies financially benefit from pride and various other cultural recognitions. Over the years I've been lucky enough to go to pride parades all over the world: Seattle, Madrid, San Francisco, Tucson, Los Angeles. But unfortunately, the message behind pride has faded for me over the years.
My first pride was in Phoenix. As a little suburban queen, I was thrilled when I saw how happy, big, and welcoming a community of all different colors and backgrounds could be. Back then, there wasn't an onslaught of major companies creating platform shoes with rainbows and glitter on them. People showed up to celebrate themselves, honor those that passed and paved the way, feel liberated, and to make their presence known. While visibility from brands does help, we also need accurate representation, especially in minority representation including black, trans, and indigenous folks.
We may be seeing a bit more variety of skin tones, men, and trans models representing our beauty brands, but it's still not enough. We need these companies to, A. Provide resources and financial aid for the representation that's helping create their brand image, B. Vow to sustain and expand their newly found pride, and C. Honor the queer BIPOC legends that created the trends we're all gagging over and benefitting from today.
What we choose to put on our skin, how we chose to represent ourselves, and how these companies behave is political and spiritual. Brands, please do not use our identities just to make a profit and continue to link our identities with economic value. Don't make me feel like my existence is less worthy once rainbow sneakers aren't trendy anymore. Use your platform not just to elevate shoes, but elevate your consumers.
Who are your beauty role models? Can you tell us why or how they inspire you?
The list for this could be infinite, but in honor of black liberation and pride, I want to commemorate trailblazing talent that's greatly influenced me.
GRACE JONES: My fellow Taurus Sun with a Libra Moon. She gives you the fiercest faces, looks, performances, with such style and control. Back in the day, she didn't have makeup that was made for her but she still turned it out. A star, through and through. I mean, c'monnnnnn.
PEPPER LABEIJA: My queen of Paris is Burning. While I recently found out that the documentary was controversial (white woman documentarian who apparently didn't give back to the community after the movie's success), Pepper stayed with me. Like many suburban babies, this movie introduced me to the ballroom. The resilience, passion, and creativity with the resources these people had really goes to show that you do not need a lot to be beautiful and live whatever fantasy you desire. Pepper's legacy, and the entire ballroom culture, is how shows like RuPaul's Drag Race are successful today.
ANNIE TURNBO MALONE: An inventor and entrepreneur who created a cosmetic empire for black women in the early twentieth century. While she may have been villanized in Netflix's Madame CJ Walker short series, history tells us otherwise. Walker studied under Malone, took her product, called it her own, and left her mentor in the dust. I highly recommend listening to this story to anyone on this podcast.
SOLANGE: Do I need to say much here? Or can I just link you to her wedding portraits?
JANET MOCK: A person of MANY hats with amazing books and looks to match. We're all honestly so lucky to have her in Hollywood doing all the things. She's a classic beauty and a fantastic role model for trans people of color.
There are PLENTY more out there, but I admit, this prompt is one I will be looking even further into myself. Thanks for reading! Donate to your local bail funds!
For the month of June 2020, Apoterra Skincare donated 1% of all sales to the Transgender Law Center (TLC). TLC changes law, policy, and attitudes so that all people can live safely, authentically, and free from discrimination regardless of their gender identity or expression. TLC is the largest national trans-led organization advocating for a world in which all people are free to define themselves and their futures. Grounded in legal expertise and committed to racial justice, TLC employs a variety of community-driven strategies to keep transgender and gender nonconforming people alive, thriving, and fighting for liberation.