Dawn Richard on the Darker Girlâs Battle with Beauty

Photo credit: Emeranie

Dawn Richard is all about the unexpected. Since her shuffle from girl group Danity Kane to Diddy-Dirty Money, she’s consistently served up attention-grabbing, offbeat visuals. Now on her solo grind, the songstress is satiating her group of cult fans with her latest EP, Armor On. She accompanies her R&B pop bangers, or what she describes as "praise and worship music" with warrior-inspired looks, and a fearless attitude about Black beauty. She shared with us some of her thoughts on dark skin and the media. Dig in.

EBONY: You’ve said many times before that you don’t consider yourself a “typical beauty.” What were some of your experiences in Diddy-Dirty Money, a group featuring two chocolate beauties?

Dawn Richard: They didn’t understand two brown girls. There’s this dark girl with a thick frame and another brown-skinned skinny girl with a butt. It’s a different kind of beautiful. It’s not your aesthetically comfortable version of the media’s idea of it. When you think of a Black girl in pop or R&B culture right now – if you close your eyes – a dark girl wouldn’t be the first girl to come to mind. Estelle wouldn’t pop up first. Kelly [Rowland] wouldn’t pop up first. Even though they exist, they’re not as celebrated.

EBONY: You’re very eclectic and beautiful. But, based on your last comment, do you feel that darker beauties sometimes choose the more “eclectic” route, as opposed to the sexy route to attain a certain level of beauty?

DR: I think eclectic is more beautiful than beautiful, because “beautiful” is typical. Gorgeous and sexy are standard. You very rarely hear about someone looking unique, eclectic or exotic. That’s why with this EP, I chose dancers in all shades of brown, especially dark. When they all got together, the first thing they said was ‘Look at all of this chocolate!’ To say that as dancer that has danced background for many different artists, it meant that this is obviously something that’s missing in other videos.  

EBONY: Agreed. Let’s talk hair. You’ve been rocking the bowl cut for a while. But I do remember when you did the faux hawk with the blonde sides. So, what’s next?

DR: Well, I had to leave the short hair for a minute because I felt like too many people were rocking it.

EBONY: It definitely became very popular for a moment.

DR: But I knew I wanted it back for the EP. The whole look right now is very much a modern day Joan of Arc. I like playing the androgyny to the fullest. I love powerful, strong looks. Man! They just don’t want to see a brown girl with short hair! I think they’re scared of it.

EBONY: It’s fly, though. What makes you say that?

DR: Well, think about all of the brown girls that start out with short hair and then immediately transcend into that long, flowy look. It’s like they can’t take seeing our features accentuated.

EBONY: Is your cut inspired by any celebrity muses?

DR: One of my favorites right now is British actress Tilda Swinton. I love her because she pushes the envelope of what she looks like. She pushes the male influence so much. Grace Jones did that and she did it with such eloquence. You can be beautiful and have short hair. Models do it all of the time and we think it’s brilliant.

EBONY: Who are your top beauty icons?

DR: Daphne Guinness. Alek Wek — she’s a walking Hershey bar. Tilda Swinton, she just does it for me.