The Healing Power of Sisterhood

It is our joy and honor to share a sisterhood story from Shawnda Chapman Brown of Brooklyn, NY, Research Analyst / Social Justice Advocate/ Jamaica’s Mom. She’s the realest. Keep reading below to find out why we think so and see if you don’t agree. We salute you, Shawnda.

My friend Felicia and I still laugh about the time she had to get me out of jail.

The episode lives in infamy alongside the time I helped her harass her boyfriend’s girlfriend at the mall, and the events that followed her introduction to the magical combination of vodka and orange soda. But little does she know, I had wandered into one of the darkest holes of my life and wouldn’t have found my way out of it without her.

I think I was in shock. I sat there on the cold cement floor for hours before I’d even thought of making my call. Who exactly would I call? What exactly would I say? And how exactly did I get here?

It was after midnight and I was in a holding tank that was buzzing with activity. One by one a steady stream of women, like myself in some way or another, got up to make their calls. We’d all found ourselves on the other side of freedom and desperately required some assistance. The cacophony of voices echoing throughout the room made it difficult to hear or be heard on the speakerphone in the center of the cell.

shawnda2016I’d always thought that many things were possible for my life. Marrying Idris Elba – eh maybe. But becoming a victim of domestic violence – not a chance in hell! After all, I’d always prided myself on being a strong woman. To feel better, I would say that my partner and I had been fighting, implying that I had a choice and that most of all, I was no victim. In actuality however, I had been getting my ass kicked with dizzying regularity for months. One evening, I was head butted so hard that both of my eyes turned black. In fact, I’d been beaten so severely that I suffered from spells of vertigo for years after the relationship ended. I suffered mostly in silence.

One of the most difficult things I have ever had to do was to pick myself up from that floor, out of my anger, and out of my shame to call for help – to admit that I needed help. When I did, I called Felicia.

The room quieted as I gathered myself and made my way over to the phone. My pants were torn on one side from waist to hip, skin and panties exposed.

“Hello?”

“Hey Felicia – It’s Shawn.”

“Oh hey girl.” Her voice was like a hug, and I desperately needed one.

“What’s happening? – I’m surprised you’re up.”

“I’m watching a documentary, Bowling for Columbine – have you seen this shit?” she asked.

Our friendship has always had an interminable quality, never limited by time or space. As such, we cackled for the better part of 20 minutes about that documentary, and about being Black in America before she stopped, as if somehow she’d forgotten her manners.

“Wait, what are you doing? – I don’t recognize this number”

“So uh yeah – I’m in Jail”

“JAIL?’

“Yes bitch – jail!” I declared.

“Why in the hell didn’t you interrupt me?” she demanded in response.

As mascara stained tears slid down the red lump beneath my eye, I took a few breaths and began to explain. It was my partner’s birthday. We had plans. I baked a cake from scratch. Scratch. Three layers, red velvet. I decorated it with fresh flowers. Used my last money to buy a present. My very last. He stood me up. Came home to change after midnight. Going to the strip club. So he said. Punched me in my eye when I protested. Like a man. Choked me. Pressed my face to the ground. Wasn’t the first time. Who the hell did I think I was? Police came. Handcuffed me when I refused to talk. They didn’t understand, I couldn’t talk. His family survived on the money he sent home each month. It was literally how they ate. I couldn’t talk. Threatened to kill his ass if he put another hand on me though. Didn’t want him to go to jail. Just wanted him to leave. Instead, I was charged with a Second Degree Felony.

“Damn! Don’t worry girl – I got you!” she assured.

And she did.

As I made my way back to my chilly spot on the floor, the buzzing resumed. Having overheard the entire conversation, the pretty chocolate girl sitting beside me looked up and smiled. “Your ass is crazy” she said “and don’t nobody know it.” We both laughed. She was right.

It’s clear to me now, that in that moment, love and sisterhood saved me. It healed me. It allowed me the space to be flawed, and confused, and human.

Not only did my friend not judge me – she sat down with me in the middle of my mess and helped me to sort everything out. During that tumultuous time we danced, we ate too much, we laughed at stupid things, we learned to make proper cocktails and I learned how to walk away.

Only recently have I been able to understand the true magnitude of that gift. Sisterhood is like a river flowing over and around you, sustaining you, filling in the gaps, allowing you to rest, polishing you, lifting you up and pushing you forward when you are unable to do it on your own. To Felicia and all of the other remarkable sisters that have poured into my river – I am here because of you, I am a better woman because of you and I am forever grateful.

They sang lullabies, wooing us away from our insecurities and fears and hang-ups and let downs . . .

Beautiful black girl, it’s okay to have those curls, it’s okay to have brown skin, you don’t have to be of the world you’re in.

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They sang empowerment chants, strengthening us to confront the lies that have been told about us, encouraging us to face ourselves full on in the mirror again, daring us to remember and know that we are brilliant, we are beautiful, we are bold and we are better, together . . .

Now that I know the truth, time to show and prove. . . Every part of me is beautiful and I finally see, I’m a work of art, a masterpiece. . . I”ll show my picture to the world, I’m not afraid to let it show, anymore.

 

They moaned sacred hymns, original compositions, those that could only be written by black women who know what it is to be misunderstood, mistreated, left out, under appreciated, offering these words hummed out in harmony as a salve, soothing the ache, making us know it’s going to be okay; we do not stand alone . . .

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If she could dance naked under palms trees and see her reflection in the river, she would know she is beautiful. But there are no palm trees and dish water bears no image.

For the length of two hours they used God given instruments; combinations of soprano, alto, tenor, notes in between and notes not yet named, creatively syncopated and composed to confirm our existence, appreciate our presence, and give earnest unto our future . . .

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It was the ultimate act of sisterhood, a story worthy of being told with black, blocked letters on manilla colored pages, but, make no mistake, this was no fairytale. This was real, and they pounded out note upon note, line for line, putting in work to passionately make us to know it is so:

sisterhood is activism.

The Sisterhood Soundscape was an experience. The lyrics have carried me and continue to do so. I hear them in my head and I let them do their work of pushing me forward, making space for me to explore myself, love myself, be myself. We were all so captivated by the work of the remarkable, significantly impressive sisters from the North Carolina Central University Jazz Studies Program Tyra Scott, Dupresha Townsend and Natalie Wallace, under the leadership of the fierce, incomparable, gracious and giving, Lenora Zenzalai Helm.

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To these women, we offer a humble thank you, understanding that there is no gift or words we could render to accurately and appropriately honor them for the myriad ways they blessed all of us that hot summer Sunday in June. They have imprinted on our hearts the messages of sisterhood that keep echoing back to us, like an audible boomerang, relentlessly reminding us that sisterhood says

I see you,
       I stand with you,
                                     I stand for you,
       I will keep you,
                                     I celebrate you.
I will hold you up and hold you down,
      I will walk with you,
                              I will weep with you and for you,
                   you are not alone.

And so, we simply say back to them, what they beautifully cantillated out to us in sweet song, with our right fists clenched tight with conviction and pride over our heart, as our anthem unto one another, determined to stay in the fight and make it, together,

We must go on this way; getting stronger everyday, can’t be too shy to say, that I really love you, sister, I love you.

Our deep thanks to the Beyu Caffe family for supporting the wonder of the Sisterhood Soundscape!

 

“Sisterhood is more than just you and me. It is what us ‘women’ stand for and who we are. It’s the loyalty, respect, and love that we have for one another.”  -Yasmon, Fairmont, NC Image Maker

In Fairmont, North Carolina girls are rising up. We had the privilege of creating with just a few who are rallying to impact the narrative that is shaping how the world frames them. What does it mean to be an image maker? With your pen? With your camera? How do the words you write and the images you capture impact the story you are trying to tell? With the students of South Robeson High School and Fairmont High School we explored their definitions of sisterhood and image making, considering how the two can powerfully combine.

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Our time in Fairmont culminated with a digital exhibit and dialogue at The Stage, Fairmont’s own community playhouse where such a dialogue is welcomed and celebrated. Pamela Thompson, Co-director of the Beautiful Project and Artistic Director of The Stage brought to life how we can position ourselves in sisterhood through a truthful but supportive paradigm. What a time we had with this lovely group of young women. We cannot wait to return to spend more time with this crew!

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Just before the Christmas holiday we were able to sit down and talk with Jasmine Bowles, a thirty something mother of three darling girls, making her way in the world, one daring move at a time. It was our privilege to listen to her story as she shared her way of doing life on her terms, making sure that she doesn’t get caught up in the rhythm of survival but pushes herself to thrive, if for no other reason than for the three pair of adoring eyes fixed upon her each day. Please read on if you’d like to laugh, be encouraged, be inspired and get this Tuesday morning started off right!

 

OK, so to get started, tell us your name and a little about yourself.

My name is Jasmine L. Bowles. I’m 36 and I live in Durham, NC.

I’m very excited about living here. I’ve been trying to get here for nearly 10 years, or for at least as long as my sister has been here. I’m from Maryland. I was born in Delaware and I was raised all over the north— NY, DC, MD, Delaware. My mom was born and raised in Delaware so that was the place you could always go if you were in between something. When we lived there, we were in the lower part of Delaware where the cornfields and beaches were, so instead of going to the pool in the summertime, we would always go to the beach. I can remember when we were in New York, my sister was one, and my mom, sister and I would get up early and ride with my mom to the train station because she worked for the FBI at the time. We were in Deer Park, Long Island. Currently, I work for Frontline Solutions and I am a student. For Frontline I am on the project management support team. I am going back to school for Business Administration and Management. I first entered college in 1996/1998. However I started working at 14 and got a taste of regular money at the pay rate of someone with a degree, so, later, with family circumstances as they were I decided to put college on the back burner and then, vowed never to go back. But Durham has been so freeing that I am going back in February. Once I graduate I may start my own business.

Did you say your mom worked for the FBI?

She laughs, Yes! It seems so weird and funny. I’m not sure what she did there, but yes, she worked for the FBI.

What does a typical day in your life look like (your routine for the day)?

Wooooo Lord! I get up between 6:30 and 7:00 am which is actually late. I take a minute to get myself together, to pray, get a jumpstart for the day. This takes about ten minutes, then I get my girls up and start drop off; one gets on the bus, the other two get dropped off at school, and then I head to work, which is an outlet for me because it’s adult time. After a few hours I head out again to pick them up. I try to get all of my appointments done while the kids are at school. After everyone is home, we come in, talk, dinner, bath and bed, so I can have my sanity again. And that does not change.

Is there anything, anyone or any part of your day that dictates how you look, i.e. how you wear your hair, your style of dress, make-up or fresh face, etc?

I feel like I do. I am very adamant about not being a frumpy mom. I say that because I know that as moms you don’t worry about how you look, you worry about how your kids look and you are the only one who looks like you’ve been caught by a ball of fire. I always go “fresh face” unless I have an event. Otherwise I choose something that makes me feel good but is very comfortable, so I’m not necessarily walking around in stilettos all the time but I do have several pair. I also enjoy going to the salon to get my hair done because those kinds of things are very therapeutic, the conversations, coming out looking good, and feeling good. Oh and it’s good for my girls too, because since I’ve done that, they expect for me to look a certain way or they will call me out in a heartbeat!

Yes! I know what you mean. I sometimes find myself caught up in making sure I get things done, making sure I take care of my girls and my husband and I leave me as the last thing. There were many days that I looked like the fire ball victim. Ha!

We share a laugh here because she is not condemning or judging me. She is encouraging me, all of us, to see the value and joy of self care and count it as much a priority as we do taking care of others.

It’s so funny though because when I was married my husband could have a bad day and not look like it but when we have a bad day it looks like we have been through it! 

How would you define beauty?

I think beauty is kind of tied to your self worth. Through the years, I’ve come to think it’s tied to how you see yourself. So you see people with things in place on the outside; makeup, clothes, and all the pretty looks on the outside, but on the inside she could be very ugly. But when someone has accepted herself on the inside there is a wall that comes down and it’s just very beautiful.

You spoke earlier about the freedom you’ve found in your new home, Durham, NC and, in listening to you speak, I see beauty in this freedom. This change seems to be exposing a very beautiful side of you.

Being in North Carolina, for me, has been a freeing moment, where I finally get to feel and discover things, how I feel, or what I think about things, all the noise has been drowned out the longer I stay. It’s all been so freeing. Maryland is where I spent most of my life. Even if I moved, I moved somewhere else north. It was a safe place. There were great things happening there but it wasn’t the place that, I believe, God would have me stay. When I had an opportunity to come here, I fought it but then when it was really time, everything fell into place and I let go and everything was freeing. Also I wanted to be closer to my sister. And, for me, there is no struggle here. There is no race here.

So what would you say to women who want to move locations: How did you come to the place where you decided, “I’m going, but I’m not running away from anything.”?

I am known to be very strong, very hard, but I have cried more in NC than I ever did in the north! But here is what I would say, self evaluate and assess the common denominator in all situations. When I did this, I discovered that it was me. So I had to figure out why I wanted to leave because 9 times out of 10, to get the change you need you don’t have to go anywhere. I have had to process things by the example of my mom, family members, environment, school setting, but what is the real reason why I want to leave? So I had to self evaluate and assess because if you just take a step back you can get a better view of the whole picture. But a lot of times we don’t want to do that. I wouldn’t be where I am if I had brought all that stuff with me. Before, I was on “the plan.” I am 36, have three kids with my ex-husband, I was searching for the career I wanted, you know, the plan. But now I am here where I am finally saying, this is what I want to do, and get confirmation from God and then, it’s go time. People say you’ve gotta go to school, if you don’t find a husband between that time, you keep going to school, then you find a husband and have kids but then nobody says what happens after that! Then you become this frumpy old lady who looks caught on fire and nobody wants that. 

At this, we both crack up laughing!

I have one best friend since 7th grade and we have been able to walk through this stuff and see this stuff together. Women can be very complicated. There are things that can be miscommunicated all the time. So you have to make sure that you take a step, even if its a quick step, take a step back to think through how things happened and why they happened, what was your part and how do you move forward now.

Would you say that there is any relationship between beauty and power?

Yes! I would because knowing yourself and feeling beautiful is very empowering. And it may not necessarily be status–social or job- but if you’re in control of what’s happening, that is very powerful. When you interact with people, they can see that in you. They say, “she is so dynamic” or “it was a quick conversation but there is so much behind her eyes.” I think that it gets misconstrued but if it is handled the right way, they can come hand in hand. I really feel like right now, I am a Christian, go hard or go home, all day, but I feel like God has given me the power to control my life, under His guidance of course, but He is giving me free will to make good choices with my life and for the first time I feel very powerful. For the first time I can make decisions and that feels very empowering to me.

And does that make you feel beautiful? 

Yes. definitely. And so does my lipgloss. But it gets to the point where I don’t care what other people think. I just am finally able to settle down and accept myself. 

Do you think you’re beautiful?

Yes, and I really want for my girls to understand that they are as well and not materialistically. I know what that is to be looking for it in other things and people and not be able to see it in yourself. That’s really important to me with my girls. I try to tell them they are beautiful and why and it can’t be materialistic. For example, I tell them, you are beautiful because you are compassionate toward your sisters. I noticed the other day that Ahmadie asked me if I thought she was beautiful and why. So I told her and I asked her if I told her that enough and she said yes but I could tell that she needed to hear it more. I have to touch them and let them know from a woman to a little girl. I have written notes to myself and reminders in my phone to tell them and do it often each day because I can get caught up in my schedule and things going on that I miss my opportunity to tell them. 

What makes you beautiful?

I think that I am beautiful because I know what I want and I know who I am.  I am very simple and I think that simplicity is beauty.

Do you think your beauty empowers you? How?

It has created a confidence in me that has changed who I let in my life. It’s my life, and when I step back and look at myself, take time to assess, it builds my confidence and gives me power to accept what I want and reject what I don’t.

Has your beauty ever been challenged?  If so, how did you overcome those challenges?

Oh definitely. Everyone in my family looks very different. We are all the different colors of the crayon box. As a kid I was always that skinny, hairy, light skinned little girl. I mean I was odd; my feet were big, I was tall, I was just odd. But I had an uncle who would tell me all the time that I was beautiful. He would give detail, like your eyebrows, or your feet are getting big but in the long run that is going to be a beautiful feature. So I would have to close my eyes and accept the truth about how I looked but know that that didn’t make me ugly. Even now that I am gaining weight more than before I want to join a gym and women look at me and think why, and that can be very vicious. All the things that were crazy to me when I was younger, now I just think that being able to identify what those things are, well they are MINE, this is what God gave so I’m gonna love it! You don’t have to, but I do. It took a long time to feel that way but now that I do, I love it. 

What would say to your younger self to encourage her to embrace herself most fully and walk confidently in the world?

I would tell her: you don’t need anyone else to tell you how beautiful, powerful or strong you are. If I could have paired up with Christ then, I wouldn’t have needed so many other outside reinforcements to help me know it so that when others would say that I was beautiful, it would feel like confirmation and not new information because I would be sure of who God made me to be. I didn’t know any of that.

What advice would you give to moms?

We can’t take care of anybody else if we don’t take care of ourselves. If I don’t do these things for myself then what am I showing my children? They can’t see me paying the bills, they can’t see me paying the mortgage because they are kids and they don’t understand that. So I have to figure it out and know that everything is going to be okay. It’s not going to blow up if we don’t have dinner on the table at 6 or if we have to choose this job that has us at work all the time and someone else has to help us take care of our kids. Hey, everything is still going to be okay! We have to realize that so that things don’t feel so crazy all the time. I wish I had known all this time that everything is going to be okay and I’m not perfect and even that is okay. The hard decisions that we have to make for our well being, for our family, they don’t have to be an explosion in your mind! Everything is ok. You have to figure out what decisions you have to make, make them and remember that it is okay to ask for help. 

Well said, Ms. Bowles. Well said.

No, it’s not “Woman Crush Wednesday” (wherever that came from) but it’s Tuesday, as good a day as any, to show love to a sister, mother, grandmother, auntie, cousin, or friend who you value. Think about it: what woman or women in your life need to know or would just be glad to know that they are appreciated, loved and well thought of? Once you know who it is, send her a little love note. You can do it privately or post it up on social media for the world to see and celebrate with you!

Too often we bash, size up, and challenge one another. We criticize, tear down with our words, and compare ourselves to one another. Left just to what is seen on the television, we are a batch of broken people who have too few genuine relationships and more enemies than we care to acknowledge. We aren’t really that defensive, are we? Not that insecure, surely? Let the remnant rise up; those of us who are working through our brokenness and striving to be better. Those of us who know that there are women who have stood alongside us, watched us grow, dealt with our growing pains and stayed around to see the beauty birthed from the process. Shout her out today! Gratitude evokes joy. Showing love to your sister not only gives her joy, you get a little taste of it too.

Once you post or send your message, please tag us  @thebeautifulprj on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Let’s light up the world today with love for the beautiful women in our lives!

Found this very charming article and video on Vogue.com. Thought we’d share! Enjoy and click over to Vogue for the full article about Lupita’s braiding party!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo & Video Credits: Vogue Original Shorts

This woman. What can I say? She is a history lesson, a storyteller, an image-maker. She is culture, love, beauty, goodness and so many other things. I cannot get enough of her. Her album, Sing to the Moon, has been on repeat in my ears and in my head for quite some time now and I know that it will only continue to be and increasingly so because the work is timeless. It’s just that wonderful. She woos and thrills with her vocals. She evokes and enthralls with her lyrics. This woman is everything. If you haven’t already, take some time to get to know her and her work.

This video made me smile.

#loveher

 

Photo Credit: Le Poisson Rouge

Video Credit: Laura Mvula Vevo

Her conviction and passion captured me. She could illustrate murals through the rasp in her voice and pierce the soul with conviction when she opened her eyes wide, forming round, heavy scopes of wisdom and truth.  She showed us how to love a man and how to move a man. Loving her man was as much her joy and mission as her work on the stage and screen. Beautiful as she was, she was able to position herself as never to be objectified; no one had her permission to decide who she was. Only she did that, with the expectation that others would oblige. She fought for civil rights for mankind and for the rights of her people. She did not allow fear to stifle or stop her. She seemed to thrive in it. Her small frame was heavy with determination and power and she knew she had influence. No matter what people said or will say, she was a monument.

I’m talking about Ruby Dee.

Talking to one of my sisters the other day about yet another great ancestor ascending into the clouds and she said, “Sometimes I just feel like we’re losing everybody at once.” I told her I know.

I know and I know.

Our faces are only barely dry from mourning our mother-teacher Maya Angelou. As soon as we lift our head to the sun, our broken heart beckons it back down to weep once more for yet another matriarch gone on. But I dared to peek open my eyes and take a look around, in the quiet mourning, I heard a whisper. Can’t you hear it? The great cloud of witnesses is expanding. One more soul is standing on the sidelines, calling our names, beckoning us forward to take our places in the struggle and fight. Fight for civil rights, fight for our children, lend our voices to the cries for help for the marginalized, ready our hands to take the plow, lace up our shoes for the journey ahead for there is yet work to be done. I can hear their whispers. I hear them saying,

Girl, stop worryin’ about what people think of you. Stop worryin’ about if they’ll like what you have to give. Stop worryin’ about if you’ll make it. Stop it! You are here for a purpose. You are Queen Esther, called for such a time as this, equipped, purposed and predestined to cover the deficits that move your heart and consume your mind. All that wonderin’ and worryin’ is but a distraction, to keep you focused on yourself, causing you to miss the bigger picture while you concentrate only on your own imperfection. This whole world, this whole production was put together by the greatest artist of the universe, the Great Creator. He knows it all. In His goodness, grace and mercy, He has given us a chance to participate in His work. It is art but it’s not complicated. Don’t overthink this. It’s paint my numbers and, baby, you already know your color and number. Pick up the brush, baby. Pick up the mic, the book, the math, the camera, the pen, the hammer, the ax, the broom, pick it all up and move. Move, for your time is now and we slid over and made for room for you because we knew that you could do it. So do it.

“Life exacts a high toll.” Ruby would say. “So stand up inside yourself and know that you are God’s child.” Maya would add.

And I would dab at my tears, square my shoulders and say, “Amen.”

 

Photo Credit: Gawker

Khayla, a photographer and, currently, the facilitating social media intern for The Beautiful Project, was recently able to reflect on her time photographing Naa Kordei. Please take a moment to read her thoughts as she shares with us how getting “the winning shot,” wasn’t the jewel she walked away with after spending time with some beautiful little girls.

 

When I first spoke to Naa Kordei about the BGT exhibit, I asked her to identify one friend that she can trust for me to interview. Her eyes immediately lit up as she exclaimed, “Alyssa!! Interview Alyssa!”  Naa Kordei and Alyssa have been best friends since they met on the playground five years ago in 1st grade. Since then, they’ve been inseparable, and are often mistaken as sisters. I knew it was only right to invite Alyssa to the photo shoot.

At the start of the shoot, I could sense the girls’ excitement and nerves. Initially, I had a detailed list of poses and scenes that I wanted to take. For the first couple of shots, I positioned Naa Kordei and her friend in different poses, but something wasn’t right. They politely followed my direction, but they were a bit stiff. I knew the camera made them nervous. To loosen things up, I asked them what type of activities do they normally do when they hang out. “We usually laugh a lot and make music videos,” Naa Kordei answered. I asked to see one of their music videos and, to my surprise, they performed the entire routine. Careful not to distract the girls with my camera, I became a fly on the wall as I snapped photos of Naa Kordei and Alyssa giggling and dancing. They soon forgot that I was even there. It was amazing to see the girls open up and perform freely like no one was watching. During their 20 minute dance break, I didn’t capture a ‘winning shot’ of Naa Kordei and Alyssa. However, witnessing two beautiful young friends, carefree and content in their own skin, was well worth it.

 

Photo Credit: Khayla Deans for The Beautiful Project (Photo Also Featured in The Black Girl Triptych exhibit)

StyleBlazer has a video series on YouTube called How I Made It. It features women of color who are making things happen in the fashion and beauty industry around the world. The series has been out for some time now, so it’s likely that many of you have probably already checked it out. Still, the content and excellence of the film series as well as the invaluable advice shared in the stories of the women before the camera, is timeless. This is how I met Felita Harris, the Senior Vice President of Global Sales at Donna Karan. Yep. If you don’t already, get to know her. And pop over to Style Blazer later for all that’s hot and happening in fashion and beauty!

 

 

 

Photo and Video Credit: Style Blazer Channel on YouTube