"To thine own self be true" is an expression that's often easier said than done. But as Esi Eggleston Bracey, vice president of Global P&G Cosmetics and the mastermind behind CoverGirl's "My Black Is Beautiful" campaign, and music sensation Janelle Monae agreed in a candid conversation at BET's fourth annual Leading Women Defined summit in Washington, D.C., life is better and success can be easier to achieve when we don't conform, even during times that are neither easy nor breezy.
Such thinking certainly has helped Monae, who worked as a maid while launching her career by selling CDs out of the rooming house where she lived.
Monae grew up surrounded by women whom she describes as "honest and fearless." Sometimes their bluntness made her laugh; other times it hurt her feelings. But she learned an invaluable lesson: that she, too, had a voice and couldn't be afraid to use it.
"It's important to embrace the things that make you unique, even if others are uncomfortable," Monae said at the Feb. 28 event.
Her uniqueness is part of what made her an ideal choice to serve as the newest spokeswoman for CoverGirl cosmetics. Since taking over the brand, Bracey, who was presented the Butterfly Award at the summit's Dorothy Height Luncheon, has made unconventional choices to represent it, including Queen Latifah, Ellen DeGeneres, Sofia Vergara and Pink. In the process, she has brought it into the 21st century while helping young women shape the way they see themselves.
CoverGirl is no longer a brand that feels like it represents women with blonde hair and blue eyes. Bracey, who was the luncheon's honoree, has redefined beauty in a way that enables every woman to feel like a CoverGirl.
"We try to encourage women to reach into what makes them fabulous and work it and rock it. So when we pick our spokespeople, it's women who represent that. Each has something special and unique and they've had some accomplishment or achievement in both their beauty look and in their personas," she explained.
Bracey also has redefined the theory that women can have it all. When asked how she balances her work life with her family life, the mother of two explained that she has just one life. It's centered around six domains she's defined to be happy and fulfilled. They include the passion she feels for her work that has enabled her to be so accomplished; "amour and adore," the closely connected relationships she shares with her husband and children and other family and friends; "Smile High," her children's happiness; essence, which provides balance and calm; and impact, or making a difference.
"The last thing is ooh la la — great shoes, fabulous dining, great vacations — all of that. And when all that's done, I'm fulfilled and happy," Bracey said. "So it's not like professional life and family life — it's like life. And we've got one life. Work it!"
Speaking of working it, Monae shared that her next album, The Electric Lady, will be out this year and will reveal more about her and her feelings about love. It's also a guide to help young Black women become electric ladies, Monae said. While crafting the pieces she talked to girls to learn more about "what's missing, what needs to be said," and hopes it will inspire them in the way that Lauryn Hill and Erykah Badu did for her.
"There needs to be some kind of voice that is speaking out for those who don't feel like they have anybody whose thinking about them or caring about them," Monae said.
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