Meet Sophi Saint Louis, the groundbreaking 19-year-old model, beauty influencer, writer and make-up artist using her @okaysophi social media platform to demand true visibility and fair treatment from the beauty and fashion industry. She talks to the equally inspiring Livia Rose Johnson, a casting director, model, artist, and prominent figure in the Black Lives Matter movement, about her change-making work.
Sophi Saint Louis and I first met when we were both part of a group chat that pushed Black influencers to check their rates and make sure they weren’t getting lowballed. Sophi is consistently using her social media platform of over 700,000 followers to empower an unapologetically bold generation, willing to go beyond expectations and break conventional boundaries. She holds beauty brands to account for their so-called “inclusivity” from her TikTok account, @okaysophi, and her viral series testing out which brands provide colours for darker complexions has been used by her audience as a definitive guide to shade-inclusive brands. We caught up after this shoot to talk about actively changing notions of inclusiveness and representation.
Livia Rose Johnson: What does being bold and beautiful mean to you?
Sophi Saint Louis: Honestly, I think it means doing what you like. If you’re bold, you’re doing something that makes you stand out, and you’re doing it beautifully.
LRJ: I feel that. In 2021, as a woman of colour, I feel like the bold and beautiful rings a little differently. When it comes to stereotypes, how do these negative narratives affect your ideas about being bold and beautiful? How do you work with that, especially when it pertains to self-love?
SSL: I try my hardest not to let that restrict me. It’s always going to affect me because I don’t fit the societal beauty standard. When I was young it used to bother me a lot. Being a dark plus-size woman, [it] was not the image people wanted to see. Now I just keep pushing. The standards are always going to be there, so why should I let it impact me?
LRJ: I feel like a lot of people have talked about the use of dark-skinned women in the entertainment industry and how [they’ve gone] from being underrepresented to being more represented. How do you think the women at the forefront right now should go about preserving their authenticity when getting those opportunities?
SSL: Honestly, I feel like they should take advantage of it, but it kinda sucks that people [still] don’t want to see dark-skinned women in media. Dark-skinned women have been around for a long time, it shouldn’t [only be] now that we’re being represented. The way to preserve authenticity by not just signing the “ideal” type of Black woman. When you look at dark-skinned women in the media, you notice they’re mostly women that have 3B hair, button noses or some sense of society beauty standards; [they’re] people who are more digestible to the media. That needs to change.
coat and skirt by Marni
LRJ: How do you think social media plays into [all this]? Has it enabled you to check the industry?
SSL: Social media allowed me to speak on how the industry needs to progress. Especially when I did the make-up reviews. When I was younger, no foundation matched me; it used to look really light or orange. So I tested companies to see which one had a foundation shade for me. What’s the darkest shade? I realised that a lot of foundations don’t match me because I’m a dark-skinned woman, and foundation should be [for] everyone. Social media also made me realise a lot of young girls with my skin tone appreciate my videos and look up to me and want me to continue doing what I’m doing. But there are a lot of negative sides. People don’t like seeing a dark-skinned plus-size woman. I get a lot of hate and death threats.
LRJ: Just for being you?
LRJ: That’s why it’s so important to be your most authentic self, because people are always going to be negative. What are some ways you foster a sense of wellness in your own headspace? Especially to maintain being bold and beautiful, because sometimes social media doesn’t make you feel that way?
SSL: I can go on walks or look at myself in the mirror and tell myself, “I am beautiful, I am this, I’m not this.” Because the only opinion that should matter to me is my own. I try to disconnect myself from social media sometimes, taking little breaks from my platform to just do something simple, like taking a self-care day.
LRJ: Think about the people you represent on social media. What can you say to them in terms of really dissecting those words, “bold and beautiful”? What would you say to someone who wants to get into this industry and has dealt with all the things you’ve dealt with, like tokenisation?
SSL: Keep doing the things that you personally like. Don’t change yourself for nobody. I know commentary gets annoying, but at the end of the day it’s going to be worth it. Just keep pushing and loving yourself. Do the things you love on your platform.
coat by Max Mara
LRJ: What impact did colourism have on you?
SSL: I when it comes to colourism in society, it’s around in every environment. People are so used to hearing things from the people around them, seeing things on TV, people making jokes, listening to music about dark-skinned women. It’s the people around them that taught them to be colourists. Sometimes they don’t realise they’re being colourist.
LRJ: It’s so ingrained in society. Comments like, “You have good hair,” “Oh, I like your skin” – how do we dismantle that? Because that kind of commentary is so prevalent in the entertainment industry, too. Do you have any words on how we should combat that in day-to-day life?
SSL: This question is so hard because it’s an everyday thing which happens all the time, and people don’t even realise what they’re saying. [But] I think it’s good to address it, because there are people who can be educated and learn to stop saying things like that.
LRJ: Call them out, you know? Like, “Hey, you’re being a colourist.” If you focus initially on the people around you and make sure they’re in the right mindset, it creates a ripple effect, just by checking the people around you.
SSL: I realised that sometimes you really do need to call people out, because they’re only going to continue saying that stuff. It sucks to have to always educate people, but sometimes it can be worth it.
skirt by Thom Browne
LRJ: It’s tiring. Like, yes, we want to educate people. We want people to be aware of societal problems, but it’s not our job and it can’t be our livelihood. We need allies to be like, “Hey, that’s not OK.” Because Black people have done so much in terms of educating, of changing the narrative, pushing stereotypes and boundaries. We shouldn’t have to educate people on why what they’re saying is oppressive.
SSL: I also think some things in the media need to change.
LRJ: I understand. If the media stopped portraying stereotypes, it would help [stop] the implicit biases and stereotyping that happen in everyday life.
SSL: Yeah. Growing up, I was so used to commentary about my skin tone. [I felt like] I needed to bleach it; it was too dark. And it just gets tiring. People would portray me as the loud girl, the ghetto girl, and I was pretty quiet.
LRJ: So people were projecting a narrative on to you based on how you look and not getting to know your actual personality. Has that been a big issue for you?
SSL: Yeah. It’s annoying, because if I raise my voice I’ll be portrayed as loud and aggressive; I have to talk softly and be very calm in every situation.
LRJ: It goes back to what we were saying at the beginning of this talk. It’s either you’re the bold, beautiful Black woman, or you’re the loud, aggressive Black woman, or you’re the oversexualised Black woman. It’s like you can never be you in your skin.
SSL: That’s why I try not to be part of the stereotypes. Especially when I’m on social media, I try my hardest to do things that everyone says look bad on dark-skinned women. Like, I’ll do bright colours because people used to say they don’t look good on us.
dress by Bottega Veneta
LRJ: That’s cool. So you intentionally do things to challenge them. Do you think that kind of thing can be liberating?
SSL: Yeah, and I got lots of DMs that said stuff like, “Wow, I would never have thought to do this as a dark-skinned woman myself.” You’d be shocked, a lot of dark-skinned women are scared to do things because they are told it won’t look good, or we shouldn’t be doing that.
LRJ: People are so entitled. That honestly blew my mind. You can’t even wear the things you want to wear without people being like, “That doesn’t look good.”
SSL: Especially being plus-size. Obviously, I’m gonna wear whatever I want. I’m not going to change my style just because people tell me to, but I’ll still get commentary like, “Oh, you shouldn’t be wearing that because of your body type,” or, “You shouldn’t be showing skin.”
LRJ: That’s crazy. You remember those good outfit-versus-bad outfit columns in magazines? Did you ever notice that race and size was involved? Because I did.
LRJ: It’s like, ‘Who gave you the right to go and publish what you think is good and bad based on stereotypes implemented in society? Do you know how much harm you’re doing?’
SSL: The comments that I got when I was younger still affect me. Even to this day I have moments when I look at myself and I don’t like my skin tone or the way that I look.
coat, socks and shoes by Prada
LRJ: [We’re] taught that loving ourselves is contingent on how we look. Going back to being bold and being beautiful, though, I feel like through this conversation we have shifted the meaning and figured out that it’s beautiful to challenge what’s “normal”. Because we are challenging a system that has put us in a box, and when we don’t fit the box, we get ridiculed and punished. I feel like putting in the effort to really love yourself, [even] with all these systems in place, is what it means to be bold and beautiful.
SSL: Yeah. It’s [about] reminding yourself daily that you are beautiful and you can do this. You have to keep pushing, especially as a Black woman.
LRJ: You really do.
Top image: Sophi wears fringed verst by Etro. Taken from 10 Magazine Issue 67 – Bold & Beautiful – out now. Order your copy here.
TRUTH AND BEAUTY
Photographer Kennedi Carter
Fashion Editor Julie Ragolia
Text Livia Rose Johnson
Model Sophi Saint Louis
Hair Jadis Jolie
Lighting technician Joey Abreu
Photographer’s assistant Miguel Mori
Set designer Maria Sobrino
Transcribed by Salma Ababneh