In collaboration with creative agency McCann, beauty company Ulta Beauty worked with one of their “original muses”, poet Jasmine Mans, to produce an ‘Ode to Black Beauty’ for their Black History Month messaging. Alongside this visual poem, filmed for Ulta’s social campaign, the beauty company also announced a $50mn investment to improve its DEI efforts, with over $8mn going directly into the marketing for the company’s Black-owned, Black-founded and Black-led brands.
Jasmine has been in a partnership with beauty company Ulta for around a year, starting with the poet providing her voice for the company’s ‘MUSE Anthem’ film. She was introduced to the MUSE campaign initially by TONL founder and creative director Joshua Kissi: “He explained the project and I jumped on board immediately. I would also meet [Kitchen Table founder] Gabrielle Shirdan who wrote my script, and would later invite me to do my next project.”
A few months after the release of Ulta’s ‘MUSE Anthem’ video, Jasmine was contacted again by Gabrielle Shirdan, who presented her with the idea of an Ulta campaign that celebrates Black beauty. Suggesting why the beauty company were interested in working with the Newark native (and now Newark Public Library’s resident poet) again for a second campaign, she says: “She [Gabrielle] wanted to curate something personal and poetic for the audience.” This, of course, was the ideal opportunity for the Black poet - who studied African American Studies at university - to contribute her widely celebrated words to a project for the States’ Black History Month.
Taking us through her creative process when she wrote the ‘Ode to Black Beauty’, Jasmine explains that she had total creative freedom to produce a piece of art that allowed her to truly express her feelings. She says: “There were some lines that had to be cut for the sake of performance and time, but both McCann, and Ulta, were very open and allowed me to write freely.” Due to this freedom, Jasmine was able to write with the same process as any of her other poems - using her genuine inspirations and thoughts, regardless of the occasion that the campaign was based around. “I am never writing to commemorate Black History Month. I am a Black woman, so I get to write about my lived experience and that of those before me. For Ulta, I got to write about my own beauty. It's not forged, or different because it is February.”
An experience that many Black women will recognise and find relatable, Jasmine describes her relationship with beauty as sometimes feeling ‘like a rollercoaster’. She says: “Sometimes you are deeply in love with yourself and other days, you’re not.” The poet explains that social media has become one of the factors that now holds a significant weight within this dynamic, as it plays its part in setting expectations and trends in the fickle and fast-changing worlds of beauty and fashion. “Social media also plays a big role in why me and so many Black girls wake up and feel like they haven't met the beauty standard,” she says.
Conversely, Jasmine also acknowledges that we currently live in a time where progress is being made and people of all kinds of body types, skin colours and appearances are finally being represented and recognised in the beauty industry. “Today more than ever, we are seen. There are products made for us, because they were made by us.” Relating this ever-changing self-perception of beauty and industrial progress to her poem, she continues: “This poem was a reminder that we don’t always feel perfect, but we’re always beautiful.”
The film of the performance of the poem was shot in Jasmine’s home in Newark, New Jersey - an intimate setting specifically chosen to show the poet’s lineage of generations of Black women. She says that “it was emotional to see so many relatives sharing this moment” with her, as the creative team gathered old family photos and built a collage from them to display behind Jasmine for the performance. However, the most difficult part of the film for Jasmine - as it is for many self-critical artists - was watching herself back. “That’s always hard. I often wonder if I did it right, or if I'm pretty enough.” She says, although she emphasises how irrelevant this judgement is when compared to the message that the poem is communicating and the reward of creating a ‘story where Black girls can see themselves’. “In the end, that matters the least. The story matters, the bravery does too.”
As well as a message of solidarity and celebration from Ulta to its customers this Black History Month, Jasmine hopes that the poem and film help women of colour feel seen and beautiful: “I hope we can remember that our beauty is not based on the standards of social media. I hope women desire to investigate the women in their lineage who set trends, stood out, and survived so that we could feel a little more free.”