The role of literacy in creating an equitable society for women is not on the agenda of most beauty events — but Amanda Gorman, who shot to fame as the youngest inaugural poet in the history of the U.S., is not your average beauty brand ambassador. So no surprise that less than two weeks after being named global changemaker of Estée Lauder and curator of Writing Change, its literacy initiative, that Gorman was speaking passionately and purposefully as part of an introductory event Lauder hosted to engage key individuals who are creating change within gender equality in the public and private sector. As substantive as Gorman’s work is, style plays an important role in her life as well. Earlier that week, she had cohosted the Met Gala, wearing a custom Vera Wang gown, a constellation of silver makeup painted across her face. Here, she spoke to Beauty Inc about turning ideas into action, the power of redefining beauty on one’s own terms and how companies can help everyone realize the beauty within.
What does beauty mean to you?
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Amanda Gorman: Beauty means being your fullest self, and doing that unapologetically. When I see someone living confidently in their own existence, I don’t think there’s anything more glorious than that.
Do you think your generation is redefining the notion of beauty, and if so, how?
A.G.: Gen Z is absolutely redefining beauty. So often, the terminology of beauty has been something that’s been prescribed to us, meaning you must look x way — you shouldn’t look y way. But Gen Z is taking back our beauty and speaking truth to power, and saying that our own definition of beauty doesn’t come from an exterior force, but actually comes from within.
What role does beauty play in your life?
A.G.: Beauty is a way to make sure I’m staying true to who I am. I feel the most beautiful when I feel the most Amanda light. And the more I lean into that spirit, and the entire light that I am, the more that I feel that beauty is being used for a purpose and with intentionality.
How do you describe your style?
A.G.: My style is inspired a lot from being someone who was raised in California and sunny Los Angeles. I love bright colors, I love being a vibrant force in the room. I also love being a Black woman. So I love wearing my hair in different natural styles and I love playing off of my deep brown skin. I also like looking to classic models to see the ways in which women have used fashion as sources of power. That might be looking at Maya Angelou and the different styles she wore on stage or looking at Audrey Hepburn. She was slight looking, which could give an unobtrusive assumption to her character, but she approached fashion with such a sense of power and identity that even as someone who could look as frail as a swan, she took up so much space in every photograph. I try to embody that sense of fearlessness in my own style.
What were the factors that influenced you to say yes to Estée Lauder?
A.G.: What excited me the most was the idea that we were going to come together to do something that was both unorthodox on the side of a beauty brand, but also unconventional in the role of a poet, meaning that we really tried to reevaluate what it means to use such a large media platform to influence change. That type of microphone is so rarely afforded to poets, and it’s what made me so enthusiastic, that we were going to sit at the intersections of who I am as a fashionista, as a poet, as an activist, as a literacy advocate, and put our makeup and money where our mouth is.
What does being a changemaker mean to you, both in terms of beauty and the broader world at large?
A.G.: My definition for the two are very similar, because they have to be. Being a changemaker means leaving a space different from the moment that I enter it. And so what that meant in this partnership with Estée Lauder was that we weren’t going to approach it from a traditional schematic. From the get go, the more conservative idea of a beauty ambassadorship was thrown out the window. It meant that in our meetings and discussions, we were trying to find an organic way to build this role from the ground up, with neither expectations or limitations of what that would be, in the hope that it would establish a schematic and a model for people to follow in the future.
How would you like to see the industry evolve?
A.G.: I’d like the opportunity, particularly for women and nonbinary people, to be included in the beauty industry with multidimensionality. So often, especially for those who identify as women, when we’re in the beauty space, it’s about our bodies and how we look. And we’re rendered to be tropes of ourselves. Very rarely does a beauty partnership mean that you can be both pretty and smart, that you can have a voice, that you can have ideas, that the entirety of the spirit you’re bringing is just as important as what you’re bringing to the photograph or the brand or the campaign. I’m really looking forward to the beauty industry focusing — it might sound clichéd — on the beauty within. That’s what my relationship with Estée Lauder was about. No conversation was ever about how I looked or what my skin was like. It was about what does having someone who looked like me mean in terms of representation, diversity? What does it mean to have someone who is me, a poet and a thought-maker, represented in that way in the beauty industry?
You said, “This is my moment to tell the world what needs to be done.” What needs to be done?
A.G.: There’s a moment, particularly in every young woman’s life, where she shuts off the listening device of the world telling her what she needs to do, and instead, turns on the megaphone of her speaking back to that. When I talk about this moment of telling the world what needs to be done, it’s more so about me learning not to shut off my inner voice and my inner sense of duty, and instead turning up that volume. One of the main things that I’m looking forward to in term of action items being built around this partnership is approaching literacy as a pathway to education, equality and empowerment. Often we look at literacy in a very limited scope, where it’s just an appendage of the educational system. What we’re trying to do with our Writing Change fund is say that literacy is so much more. It’s crucial for democracies, and we see statistically what it means for women’s health. We see the ways in which it changes women’s conceptions of who they are and what they’re capable of doing. And so marshaling literacy as the weapon it is for equity around the world is one of the pillars of action that is so important to us.
What kind of feedback did you get from your community and your fans after this was announced?
A.G.: I was really grateful and impressed with the amount of positivity that the deal was met with, because I knew it was unconventional and something different. I really wanted people to understand what I was trying to accomplish, so I was pleased to see that people said it’s something they’re excited to see in the beauty space.
What does success look like to you?
A.G.: Often we categorically think of success as excess, a lot of money, a lot of fame, a lot of attention. For me, It’s actually the opposite. Success is being grateful for what you have. It’s being happy at the place that you’ve arrived and also at peace with the journey you’re on. So it doesn’t look like any specific agenda in my head, more so a sense of real joy, uninhibited joy that I get to be who I am and do what I do.
During the rise of the pandemic, we saw an increased focus on self care. How do you nurture your mind, body and soul?
A.G.: I’ve taken to meditating every day when I can to center myself in the mornings, and then in the afternoon I take long walks and let myself daydream. I also think there’s nothing more relaxing and recalibrating than reading poetry with a hot mug of tea.
Makeup-wise — your looks tend to be playful, expressive and individualistic — how do you create your looks?
A.G.: With makeup, I’m always trying to lean into my natural features to play them up rather than change or modify the face I’m already bringing to the table. In the end, I tend to land on looks that both feel authentic and bright; so that means color and often highlighter at the inner corners of my eyes. Particularly since I wear a mask so often now, I like to make the most of the upper part of my face that can be seen.
What is your leadership style and how is it evolving?
A.G.: I love leaders who lead based off of empathy, compassion and equity. More often than not, it’s women leaders who lean into these attributes of leadership. As a poet, I remind myself that while my voice is important, just as significant is my commitment to listening and observing. The more I open myself to the words of others, the more my words will open the world.
You’re inspiring to so many people — who inspires you?
A.G.: I’m inspired by so many strong women in my life, from my mother, who is a force and my biggest cheerleader, to those who paved the way for me to be here in this place right now, such as Maya Angelou, Oprah Winfrey, Toni Morrison, all of whom I admire deeply. Their commitment to change, and bettering the world in new ways, is a constant source of inspiration for my work and life.