Going it alone takes guts, especially when you’ve spent over half of your life as the frontwoman of a wildly successful group, selling millions of records and establishing a mountain of platinum hits. Riding solo means that the public’s criticism grows harsher and the expectations become preposterously higher, but Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter pulled off the transition seamlessly.
At the time, R&B trio Destiny’s Child, who started their musical career in 1990 as Girl’s Tyme, were on a hiatus. Michelle Williams’ Heart to Yours and Kelly Rowland’s Simply Deep were both released within six months of each other respectively. Beyoncé was riding high off the success of Austin Powers in Goldmember, The Fighting Temptations, as well as the smash hit “‘03 Bonnie & Clyde” with future hubby JAY-Z.
Meanwhile, the young starlet’s first solo project was quietly bubbling beneath the surface.
Behind the scenes, Beyoncé was patiently waiting for her turn to dazzle critics. The long-awaited Dangerously In Love had been postponed, which allowed the then 21-year-old more time to record additional tracks, including “Crazy In Love.” Determined to carve out her own destiny (pun intended), Beyoncé enlisted several well-known hitmakers, including Rich Harrison, Scott Storch, Missy Elliot and Bryce Wilson, to create the most anticipated album of 2003.
This designer you’ve never heard of was the go-to designer of the midcentury freakum dress, and made sure every Playboy Bunny’s seam was pressed to perfection.
Love it or hate it, the infamous Playboy bunny suit — iconic strapless corset, bunny ears, pantyhose, bow tie, collar, cuffs, and fluffy cottontail — will forever be immortalized in popular culture as a symbol of female seduction and allure.
But what you probably didn’t know was that Zelda Wynn Valdes, a black woman, sewed the original costumes — and that the late Hugh Hefner personally commissioned her to do it.
But of course, there’s so much more to this incredible woman’s legacy than Hefner’s vision and Playboy lifestyle. The eldest of seven children, Valdes (born as Zelda Christian Barbour) was raised in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, where she learned to sew from watching her grandmother’s seamstress. Her first attempt at design came when she offered to create a dress for her grandmother. “She said, ‘Daughter, you can’t sew for me. I’m too tall and too big,'” Valdes recalled in a 1994 interview with The New York Times, but the dress she created was a perfect fit. After graduating from Chambersburg High School in 1923, her immediate family moved to White Plains, New York, where Valdes worked at her uncle’s tailoring shop. In the 1930s, she worked as a stock girl at an upscale boutique, where she eventually became the first black sales clerk and tailor. In 1948, Valdes opened her own boutique, called Chez Zelda, making her the first black person to own a store on Broadway in Manhattan.
In her store, Valdes sold her signature low-cut, body hugging gowns, which unapologetically extenuated a woman’s curves. Valdes’ sexy-but-sophisticated dresses were worn and adored by Josephine Baker, Diahann Carroll, Dorothy Dandridge, Ruby Dee, Eartha Kitt, Marlene Dietrich, and Mae West, to name a few. She even designed Maria Ellington’s “Blue Ice” wedding dress when she walked down the aisle and tied the knot with jazz singer Nat King Cole in 1948.
Read more of my latest piece for Shondaland [here].
Following a massively successful album would be a daunting task for most artists. But in 2008, musical icon Mariah Carey eagerly accepted the challenge when she released the long-awaited E=MC².
The 14-track LP felt like a continuation of The Emancipation of Mimi, which was dubbed as Carey’s comeback album. Earning a whopping 10 Grammy Award nominations, TEOMwas a pivotal career moment, and it went on to produce the smash hits, “We Belong Together” and “Don’t Forget About Us.” Selling an upwards of 10 million copies worldwide, MC silenced naysayers and proved that she was capable of achieving commercial success after experiencing a mini career slump in the early 2000s.
As acts like Beyoncé, Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift started to hit their prime respectively, critics foolishly pondered Carey’s lasting power when E=MC² arrived on this day in 2008, claiming that it offered no new feels from its predecessor. During that time, R&B became stagnant and was experiencing somewhat of an identity crisis, but Carey working with people like The-Dream helped keep the genre fresh. The album was also another step in her journey to creative freedom.
“Basically, I’m freer on this album than I’ve ever been. Some of the songs on the last album were cool but maybe not quite as neat as this album,” Carey told The Sun’s “Something for the Weekend,” explaining the album’s physics-inspired title, which can also be seen as a not-so-subtle nod to the singer-songwriter’s musical genius. In a separate interview, she said, “This album is so much about fun and freedom and just the continuation of me feeling emancipated … people ask me all the time, ‘How do you stay relevant? How do you stay current? How do you make music that people continue to respond to?’ You just keep being real, keep being you, stay true to who you were from the beginning.”
ICYMI, there are numerous reports circulating that the Spice Girls are planning to do a reunion tour this summer — another not-so-subtle reminder that us millennials aren’t getting any younger.
As a 90s baby, I was legit obsessed with the Spice Girls growing up. They were my childhood heroes, and I think the reason they appealed to so many young girls is because they were themselves and each member had something unique to offer, with Ginger (aka Geri Halliwell) and Baby (aka Emma Bunton) being the clear favorites.
But TBH, Mel B was the real star for the simple fact that she was the ONLY Black girl holding it down as Scary Spice in the best-selling female group of all time. The best part? She achieved all that success without compromising her Blackness as an attempt to fit in with her white bandmates.
Little brown girls everywhere recognized themselves when they saw Mel B being carefree and living it up on the screen, paving the way for singers like Rihanna to flaunt their #BlackGirlMagic and unleash their inner badass.
Here are five ways Mel B was the original “unapologetic Black girl.”
1. She rocked natural hair.
The only thing bigger than Mel B’s personality? Her hair. Seriously though, Mel B’s natural curls were always poppin’. Even as an animated fairy in the “Viva Forever” music video.
Oh, and who can forget when she slayed horn-like Bantu knots — a hairstyle that can be traced back to Zulu tribes of Southern Africa? Or this gorgeous braided crown she rocked in the music video for “Stop”? The braided crown was a bold statement since the video appeared to be set between the 1950s and 60s. This was an era when most Black women either chemically straightened their tresses or wore wigs to adhere to white beauty standards.
2. She spoke her mind.
The Spice Girls championed a new wave of feminism, but Mel B was woke AF. Case in point: When Mel B DGAF and shut down a TV host for bringing out a dance troupe of white people in blackface.
“I think they shouldn’t paint their faces. You should get proper Black people to do it. I don’t think that’s very good.”
Side note: Mel B revealed a couple years ago that she and the rest of her bandmates got their famous nicknames during an interview with a “lazy journalist that couldn’t be bothered to remember all our names.” And of course, you can’t be a Black woman who is loud, strong and outspoken without being perceived as hella scary, right? *rolls eyes*
3. She never disguised her Blackness
Who else remembers the photoshoot scene from the movie, “Spice World”? While Emma, Geri, Mel C and Victoria paid homage to iconic figures, such as Jackie Onassis and Marilyn Monroe, Mel B saluted Black icons like the legendary Bob Marley and the original diva Diana Ross.
4. She dared to go braless before it was trendy.
Rih Rih might have inspired millions of women to step out braless, but Mel B did it first, two decades earlier in the “Wannabe” video. Virgin executives were horrified because of Mel B’s, um, erect nipples peeking through her green tank top and wanted to re-shoot the entire thing, but the group wasn’t having it. The video was banned in certain Asian countries because it was deemed too risqué for younger audiences.
5. She was obsessed with leopard print.
Can we just take a minute to show a little appreciation for Mel B’s leopard print ensembles? An ode to the Motherland, baby! Mel B must’ve worn leopard print a million different ways during her Spice Girls heyday, and I loved every single one of them. From the iconic leopard print jumpsuit she made famous at the BRIT Awards to the sequin leopard print pantsuit she rocked at the Billboard Music Awards, Mel B absolutely NAILED every look.
For the June issue of EBONY magazine, I interviewed lifestyle blogger Ashlei C. Turner about why naturalistas love twists as an alternative to box braids and locs as summer gets underway. We broke down the differences between Marley, Senegalese, Havana and Mali twists. Oh, and I see you Solange!
For the April/June issue of EBONY magazine, I dove into the history of hair ornaments and how the look came back strong, from what beaded braids signify in South Africa to the role celebrities such as Miriam Makeba and Solange played in modernizing beaded braids in popular culture. In this particular piece, I spoke with Tanisha C. Ford, author of Liberated Threads: Black Women, Style, and the Global Politics of Soul.
After years of grinding (and plenty of daydreaming), I finally landed my very first byline in EBONY magazine, and I have to say there’s nothing like seeing your name and words in a publication as legendary as EBONY.
On page 43, I dive into the rich yet unknown history of headwraps and why Black women continue to wear them today. Going back to the summer of 2012, I can recall those afternoons when all I did was study the magazine from front to back, dreaming of the day when I would see my words grace its pages. Major shout out to Marielle Bobo, the magazine’s fashion and beauty director, for asking me to take on this piece after noticing some of my online work with EBONY.com’s “Detangling Our Roots” series.
The March issue with the gorgeous Jurnee Smollett-Bell slaying the cover is on newsstands now. And yep, that’s my face there on the Contributors page.
When a PR rep emailed me and asked to send The Mane Choice’s Soft As Can Be Revitalize & Refresh 3-in-1 Co-Wash, Leave In, Detangler for my review, I was excited but hesistant. I had heard a lot about The Mane Choice over the years, but never felt compelled to purchase anything for whatever reason. Tbh, I think I was just frustrated after trying so many “natural hair” products that never seemed to work or do anything special. But then I thought, “Ahh, what the heck?” So, I decided to give it a test drive….
A couple notes before I share my thoughts:
–My hair in its natural state is somewhere around 3B, see “Hair Types” chart below.
–I don’t chemically alter my hair and I don’t go overboard with the flat iron, so I’d say my hair is pretty healthy overall.
–I’ve used this product for about a month now.
What I was looking for in the product: My hair blown out hits the middle of my chest, but I’d like to grow it another three inches at least. Also, my hair dries fast, so I’m always searching for something that retains moisture and reduces frizz — and because my hair tangles easily, I need a product that makes it easy to comb through when wet.
OFFICIAL PRODUCT DETAILS:A 3-in-1 conditioner formulated to revitalize and refresh the hair instantly. An advanced conditioner that can be used as a Co-Wash, Leave In, and Detangler. Adds shine, softness and manageability. Stops breakage during the detangling process. Leaves the hair softer and more elastic.
The nutrient contents of this conditioner makes the hair less dry and less prone to breakage by allowing the hair to hold in more moisture for longer periods of time. When used a Co-Wash this unique formula gently rinses away impurities and product build up. Infused with Biotin and Tea Tree to promote growth and retention. No Mineral Oil, No Petrolatum, No Parabens, No Sulfates, No Formaldehydes.
My thoughts: The product itself smells lovely and the consistency feels like a lightweight lotion and that’s because purified water is one of the ingredients, so this won’t weigh your hair down.
After using this as a co-wash, my hair felt velvety but still clean. According to the packaging, it removes impurities and product buildup, but it’s gentle enough for daily use, which is awesome. Even better, it’s an amazing detangler and my hair was super easy to comb through afterward. The results had me feeing like:
Can’t say that I noticed any extra hair growth since using The Mane Choice, but I don’t think it’s fair for me to make any claims about this since some of its other products seem to lean more toward hair growth, such as the Manetabolism Plus Vitamins and Multi-Vitamin Scalp Nourishing Growth Oil. However, the 3-in-1 is infused with biotin and tea tree — both promote healthy hair growth. Side note: I spotted this fun Length Check T-shirt. 🙂
The Verdict: The Mane Choice exceeded my expectations. It made my natural hair incredibly easy to manage. Detangling was a breeze and my curls never looked or felt better. The only downside? I wish the bottle was slightly bigger. Eight ounces goes by fast when you’re using it as a co-wash, leave-in and detangler throughout the week. Although this product was provided to me by The Mane Choice, I would definitely purchase with my own money. There already several other products I’d love to try like the Crystal Orchid Biotin Infused Styling Gel and the vitamins, of course. Psssst…they even have a Comb Infused Talking Flat Iron! *Sounds like something straight outta The Twilight Zone!*
Price and where to buy: The Mane Choice Soft As Can Be Revitalize & Refresh 3-in-1 Co-Wash, Leave In, Detangler retails for $13.99 (8 ounces) and is available at www.themanechoice.com or at select Rite Aid, Sally Beauty and Target stores.
Disclosure: I was not compensated for this post. The opinions expressed in this post are mine only.
Last summer, I landed my first job out of college. The pay is good, but I continue to freelance. Why? Because I believe in hustling hard. However, in the past few months, I faced some difficult decisions. I let go a client because 1) I wasn’t getting paid enough and 2) The work was no longer fulfilling or challenging. I felt stifled. My decision to leave paid off because I can now focus my attention on stories I’m most passionate about.
When 2016 rolled around, I set some clear guidelines for myself: 1) Pitch better-paying publications, 2) Do not write for anything less than three digits, and 3) Do not write for free—period. I’m at a place in my career where I want to write smarter. Why write 20 stories a month for $30 each when you can write a fraction of stories for more money?
Since I started writing professionally, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve provided my services for free. Luckily, most of those writing gigs turned into paid ones, but it’s not a chance I’d take today. My time and words are too valuable.
Today I’m spilling all the secrets (and some tea) when it comes to getting that fetti as a freelancer. Get comfy and grab a notepad because like Bey said, “Best revenge is yo paper.”
Don’t beat around the bush.
An editor with good intentions will tell you the moment after accepting your pitch whether you will be paid, but don’t count on it. Don’t make the mistake of letting too many emails go by without asking. After reaching an agreement about the story’s details, you can say something along the lines of, “I look forward to writing a great story that you and your readers will enjoy. What is your budget for this story?” Tasteful, but you still get your point across. A legitimate publication will throw out an exact amount. Can’t get a straight answer? Take that as a sign and move on to the next.
Do your research.
One of my favorite websites is Who Pays Writers? because freelance writers can anonymously post what publications pay writers and if so, how much. Type in the publication you want to write for and watch the results pour in. Not only can you see how much that publication pays its writers, but you can also find out how long it took to receive payment, the length of the piece, platform (online, print, etc.), the extent of reporting involved, etc.
The publication you pitch pays $250 per article, but you’re offered $125? Instead of accepting the first number thrown your way, you can bargain. Who Pays Writers is great because it levels out the playing field between editors and the writers who pitch them.
Whenever the New Year rolls around, I renegotiate my rates. Lots of folks shy away from asking for a raise. Just do it! The worst your editor can say is no. Not sure how to ask for one? Here’s an example that worked for me:
As a contributor for XXX, I’ve taken on the in-depth features that tackle the tough topics, including A, B, C, D, and my most-recent story that focused on E. There is more reporting and investigative work required to complete these types of pieces from researching the topic to conducting and transcribing multiple interviews. As you know, I am currently being paid XXX per article, but I’m asking for an increase that XXX’s budget will allow. I’d like to earn XXX per story. Is this possible? Thank you so much for your consideration. I’ve enjoyed writing for XXX and working with you these past few years and look forward to contributing to XXX in the coming years.
Establish a contract.
Many publications prefer to make verbal agreements rather than writing up an actual contract. Why are contracts important? They protect you and the publication you’re writing for. If months go by and you haven’t been paid, you can feel secure knowing you’ve got a contract. Emails are nice, but how well do they hold up in court? I don’t know.
If your editor doesn’t mention a contract, ask for one. It doesn’t have to be long. Most of the contracts I’ve signed tend to be around two pages. Or, draw up your own for a publication you don’t already have a formal contract with using Contractually.
Look at the bigger picture.
Getting checks in the mail doesn’t mean you’re getting ahead. Hear me out: I once wrote for a publication that provided a monthly $50 stipend. I produced around eight pieces per month and each post was anywhere from 800 to 1,500 words. When you break it down, I was being taken advantage of, but you live and learn, right? Always ask yourself: “Is the amount of time I spent writing and researching this story reflective in my paycheck?” If the answer is no, rethink your situation.
With headlines like “5 Sex Positions to Maximize His Size” and “4 Women Get Real About How They Orgasm,” it’s not surprising that people have come to associate Cosmopolitan with mind-blowing sex tips and tricks.
Cosmo‘s Special Projects Director Laura Brounstein was well aware of that when she accepted the position nearly three years ago. Long before her days at Cosmo, Laura spent the first five years of her 21-year-long career (Seventeen, Ladies’ Home Journal, Self, etc.) producing segments for some of America’s favorite television shows. Think The View and Extra. And because everything in life comes full circle, Laura’s television background proved to be helpful when it came time for Cosmo‘s first-ever Fun Fearless Life weekend, a new live event series jam-packed with distinguished panelists aimed to inspire women to live fearlessly.
In case you’re wondering, part of Cosmo‘s revitalization a couple years ago – a significant increase in the amount of substantial, in-depth, well-reported stories – was made possible largely through Laura’s efforts. So yes, while Cosmo may always be associated with its sexier content, Laura and her colleagues are working nonstop to make sure their readers don’t sleep on everything else the 50-year-old publication has to offer.
While Laura has what many consider to be a dream job in an industry that can be incredibly tough to crack, she sees her latest gig as a way to help women everywhere (Cosmo prints in 35 languages and is available in more than 100 countries) realize and accomplish their dreams and take control of their lives while having a blast, which is Cosmo‘s mission in a nutshell.
Here, we pick the brain of the woman who Folio magazine named as one of its “Thirty under 30” back in 2000. Nearly 16 years later, Laura’s still making waves in the media world. In a nearly 40-minute conversation with Laura, the self-proclaimed pop culture and political junkie dishes on why she traded in television for magazines and what it’s like reporting to Cosmo‘s Editor-in-Chief Joanna Coles.
A Royal Point of View: You worked as a producer for many well-known television shows, such as Good Morning America, Extra and The View. What made you switch from producing segments for television to writing and editing stories for magazines?
Laura Brounstein: My last job in television was for a magazine show that had gotten really tabloidy. I spent two years there and learned how to produce and track down any stories and get comfortable with interviewing anybody. It was amazing, but again, it had gotten really tabloidly. More and more, I found myself spending my days standing outside places that somebody might walk out of because we had to grab them for an interview. I was just like, “I don’t want to be doing this. These are not the kind of stories I want to tell and this is not how I want to be engaging with people. This is the not the kind of journalism I want to be doing.” It didn’t feel like a good thing. For people who do that kind of journalism successfully and find a way to tell good stories and find it satisfying, that is great and I respect that, but it wasn’t what felt comfortable for me at that time.
So, I kind of stepped back and asked myself, “What kind of change do I want to make?” and I thought there was something attractive in that moment about going from a nightly show to a monthly publication, where you had a little more time to tell a story. I started looking at media that I thought had a positive voice. Right at that time, I heard that Seventeen Magazine was looking for a new entertainment editor and I thought, “I can’t think of anything that feels more positive and that I have more memories and connections to than Seventeen Magazine.”
A Royal Point of View: You’ve been at Cosmo for nearly three years now. How do most people react when you tell them you work at Cosmo?
Laura Brounstein: I think it depends on who it is. Those who haven’t picked up the magazine in a while associate Cosmo with its sexier content, so I get some fun responses regarding that. A lot of people do know about the legacy and how Helen Gurley Brown changed the media world and the possibilities for modern women’s magazines. It was one of the first magazines to talk about all the avenues of possibilities for women in an unapologetic way and in a way that nobody else was really doing it.
Today, I think people, especially in the media world, know that in addition to our sexy content, Cosmo has some really strong work in terms of women empowerment, career, money and health and we are unapologetically feminist. It’s the first magazine I’ve ever worked at that takes a strong stance on things and I love that. Most magazines are very set on, “Well, let’s look at both sides of the argument,” whereas Cosmo is like, “Of course, we’re pro-choice. Of course, we need access to affordable birth control and medicine and of course, women need to be paid the same as men.” That’s exciting and I think people in the media world know that.
A Royal Point of View: You are Cosmo’s special project director – how is that different than being an editor?
Laura Brounstein: One of the great things about working at Cosmo and working with Joanna Coles is that you can be really entrepreneurial in your job and find lots of different places to contribute. One of the central parts of my job as special projects director is creating the programming and concepts for our editorial events. The biggest one is, of course, Cosmo‘s Fun Fearless Life and that is a live-reader event. We just announced that this year’s Fun Fearless Life event will be on Nov. 20 and it will be at the Hearst Tower. So, I get to come up with the programming and that means finding speakers that I think will be most interesting, inspiring and helpful to women in their 20s, who want to spend their weekend with us and walk away feeling better equipped and inspired to achieve what they are dreaming of. I love that I get to draw on my past as a producer and think about what’s going to make a great show and what’s going to have the most impact. That’s a big part of what I do. Additionally, I edit and write stories for the magazine that are like projects in and of themselves.
A Royal Point of View: Is there a memorable experience that stands out during your time at Cosmo so far?
Laura Brounstein: Definitely. Last year, after all the work of creating Fun Fearless Life out of nothing, there was a moment when Joanna Coles first came out on the stage at Lincoln Center and I looked out and the audience was filled with about 2,000 people cheering and just so happy to be there. That was a huge thrill because it took months of work trying to figure out what this was supposed to be and how to make it valuable and how to make it something people wanted to attend. Seeing everyone enjoying it and getting out of it what we all hoped they would was an incredible moment.
Another one is being able to meet Hillary Clinton and work with her team at the No Ceilings initiative for a story last year. That was amazing.
A Royal Point of View: What advice do you have for up-and-coming journalists who still have the desire to write and work for print when the industry is constantly moving toward the digital side?
Laura Brounstein: People still love magazines. There is a moment in your day where sitting down with a magazine or a newspaper is fantastic and then there are times when you just want to look at Twitter and click through stories. I think a lot of people enjoy getting information and engaging with media both ways. I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive.
There are lot of ways to get to the job or career you’re dreaming of and for me, it was television and PR. More now than ever, especially because we’re so multi-platform, the more different experiences in different areas you have, the richer you’re experience will be and the more you’ll bring to the table. I think worrying too much about taking a straight path to your goals distracts from you great opportunities and moments.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
Follow Laura Brounstein on Twitter and be sure to pick up Cosmo’s current issue on newsstands now! Subscribe here.