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Beauty is more than skin deep. Particularly for Black women.

“I came of age in the black power/civil rights era,” Mikki Taylor told The Root in 2010 after she announced that she would be stepping down as beauty editor of Essence magazine after 30 years.

“My mother grew up in the Jim Crow era. I grew up when black women in the church, on the street, still wore white gloves. This gave me a fabulous worldview that was rare for a young black girl. So in many ways, I did not have the so-called ‘black baggage’ of what we were supposed to look like. I saw black women as beautiful and elegant long before it was en vogue to do so. I have lived to see the various stages of our blackness–from being called n*gger, colored, Negro, to black and African-American … We were the women who had begun to live the dreams of our elders.”

She has described her role in media as “serving” Black women. Nowadays, we see more often the Lupitas, Nias, Rihannas and Alicias snagging beauty contracts and representing those lovely darker skin tones to a wide spectrum of beauty consumers.

But still, Black women struggle to see the depth of their beauty reflected back at them. And it’s always been reassuring to know that Ms. Taylor was out there, presenting in the most artful ways possible all that is gorgeous and fabulous about us. Mikki Taylor spent decades being a Beauty Boss, so it’s only appropriate that would be our first-ever selection in this category.

MadameNoire: Describe your job.
Mikki Taylor: My job is to empower women and motivate them to celebrate their beauty and own their lives to the fullest. As Author, Speaker, Beauty Authority, President & Creative Director, Mikki Taylor Enterprises, LLC and Editor-at-Large, ESSENCE Magazine, I have the ability to reach all types of women and work to ensure that they are heard, empowered, and supported within and without. In my work as President & Creative Director of Mikki Taylor Enterprises, LLC a branding an consulting firm, I’m helping companies play a role in this effort and move from brand awareness to brand engagement with African American women, the most brand-loyal audience in the nation. So whether the day ahead sees me on-air, on-stage or simply at the desk penning an empowering book like: Self-Seduction: Your Ultimate Path to Inner and Outer Beauty and Commander-in-Chic: Every Woman’s Guide to Managing Her Style Like a First Lady, to be on duty everyday somewhere in the world in service to women is simply an extraordinary calling that keeps me thrilled beyond measure!

MN: What do you enjoy most about your job?
MT: The ability to impact women’s lives is a role I cherish. In this tech-paced, nearly haywire world, where beauty and one’s worth is evaluated from an ever-changing perspective, I know it is critical that you know who you are and it starts with loving and celebrating the “you” that God created! It is important that each of us know that God was satisfied with everything He designed. My job has allowed me to speak to countless women about celebrating their intrinsic beauty and the importance of moving through the world empowering others by the full assurance of who they are and what they’ve come to contribute.

MN: What has contributed most to your professional success?
MT: My Creator who called and empowered me to serve. I always tell people that I am simply a hard working girl from Newark! But I’m clear that the work I’m doing isn’t by chance but rather divinely ordered. I’m also clear that hard work plays a major role in being successful in any arena, and everyday I show up ready to do the work with distinction. I think it rests upon each of us to master our purpose with distinction. Being successful also lies in how you treat others and value relationships. I’ve heard it said that “it’s lonely at the top.” I don’t think empowered women can afford to be “lonely” at any level in life. I think it’s essential that we establish a support system and refute the notion of moving through our successes in isolation – research has proven that deprivation of empowering relationships results in detrimental behavior, limited thinking and daunts your growth. Last but not least, I don’t waver in my convictions and I remain true to my authentic self. As such, people know that I am genuine and sincere and that my word is who I am.

MN:How has your industry changed since you started your career? How do you keep up with those shifts?
MT: When I first began in the fashion and beauty industry, women of color did not have a voice or a publication dedicated to them; the span of products that addressed our needs and desires were deplorable. African American women were seemingly the voiceless and invisible consumers. With publications like ESSENCE we became a living, breathing, power-wielding tour de force and companies had to acknowledge us. It has been a mission for me to not only play a role in the shifts but help companies understand and anticipate our needs and desires.

MN: When did you know this is what you wanted to do?
MT: From the moment I could talk! Coming of age in our house you couldn’t miss the fact that beauty and style were of the utmost importance. My mother was hairdresser, makeup artist and personal stylist to one of the most amazing voices of the 20th century, Sarah Vaughan. They traveled the world together and my mother brought makeup, magazines, fashion and more back from the incredible places where “Sass” performed. And she styled us, as did my maternal grandmother who lived with us and kept yours truly styled and dressed to the nines! And as a result I would change my clothes, my hair, nails– everything to make it an expression of who I was. So that was my first influence. My mother also had a beauty salon right in the heart of Newark and watching the women come and go I realized they were getting more than a great hairstyle– they were getting affirmed and inspired as they shared their beauty secrets and passion for personal style and this taught me early on that “beauty” is our most emotional purchase and that it transcends how we look and speaks directly to who we are. So I knew early on that this is what I was destined for.

MN: What’s your best advice for anyone wanting to make a career for themselves in your industry?
MT: First you must know who you are and define what you want to contribute. If you don’t have a clear definition of self, how will anyone take you seriously? Then you must know the industry and where you want to make an impact. If you want to become an editor you must choose the area in which you wish to serve, what the role entails and identify the path to get there. You’ll want to hone in on your goal with laser focus. Networking is also extremely important and how well you develop those essential interpersonal skills and the ability to market yourself as a brand and make known your interest has everything to do with getting to your “next.” How can you expect somebody to invest in you if you can’t succinctly expose your talent? I also say this: Never turn your nose up at an opportunity – you don’t know where the path leads or what the Creator has in store for you- your job is to show up ready and begin the journey that leads from where you are to where you desire to be. Who knows- what you may see as a meaningless job can be a real stepping-stone to where you want to be. I say, make it count- be willing to be the personal assistant: Go to work for somebody you can really learn from in the field you want to be in.

MN: What makes you a boss?
MT: The ability to successfully lead. I believe leadership is about building and bringing value everyday you’re in the position to make a difference. As such I love linking arms and aims with people who are fully invested in being visionary — it just happens to be categorized as work and I’m in charge of guiding how well we dream!

MN: Can a woman have it all? How do you define that?
MT: I don’t think wise women want it all! What’s really important is having what matters and that’s different for each of us. Nothing worth having comes without sacrifice though. I lead a blessed life in that I have an amazing and supportive family and work that allows me to reach countless women and see the world, but that also means that I have make choices. When my children were younger I brought them to the office with me and had their crib right in my office, but that also meant that I was not privy to many publicity events and creative dinners. When they were school age that meant I had to take many “red-eye” flights back from the west coast to be there for those important ceremonies in their lives. There have been times when I’ve had to kiss hubby through the phone when my heart wanted to be there in person. But I’ve always known that I’m right where God intended me to be and I know the blessing of having what matters.

MN: “Lean in” or “lean back”?
MT: I am confident enough to neither lean in nor back, but sit up straight and rule!

MN: Should we “ban bossy”?
MT:I don’t think so. The message that Beyonce is sending is meant to empower young girls who when are assertive in school or in other forums, are classified as bossy.  But there is a difference between assertive and bossy and we must clarify this for our daughters.  An assertive woman knows that she has a voice but doesn’t have the answers to everything and she’s no less empowered. She knows how to listen and then speak and as such she is respected and admired.  A bossy woman moves in accord with her own agenda without listening.  She believes that she has all of the answers.  So we must identify the signs and teach the difference in the minds of those we care about by praising their assertiveness while working to insure that they acknowledge and consider others.

MN: Heels or flats?
MT: Bankable heels by all my faves- Manolo Blahnik, Jimmy Choo and Christian Louboutin.

MN: Who’s the one person – dead or alive – that you would like to meet and why?
MT: I would like to take “high tea” with Josephine Baker and talk about how strong and beautiful she felt after coming “home” and speaking at the March on Washington in 1963 where she said, “You are on the eve of complete victory. You can’t go wrong. The world is behind you.”

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