‘The simplicity of a black-and-white photograph captures the beauty of a solitary little Black girl. A half-smile dusts her full lips and her eyes cut to something outside the frame of the picture we aren’t privy to see. She’s kiddie cute, but she has distinguished eyes, like she has the potential to say or notice or believe something more insightful than we’d ever expect from someone her age. Her jump-off-the-screen familiarity pulls us in. Most of us don’t know her, but she looks and feels like us.
This is the work of The Beautiful Project, an organization using photography to give Black girls a platform to celebrate the unique brilliance that lives inside of them and transmit it outwardly. The creative brainchild of founder and photographer Jamaica Gilmer (a Howard University-educated photographer) and writer and educator Pamela Thompson (a graduate of Loyola University), it’s a contribution to both the arts and the social effort to help Black girls feel bold about their she’s-so-bad selves.
Using a formula of photographic storytelling and snippets of personality, Gilmer, Thompson and their team have created the “Black Girl Triptych,” an online photo exhibit consisting of three pictures and three quotes for each young lady featured. The exhibition’s profiles range in age from five to 18, reside in all parts of the nation, and represent every rich shade of brown. The concept was born years ago, but debuted this spring in a collection that’s as endearing as it is culturally relevant.
“In the past 10 years or so, we have found girls by reaching out to organizations, elementary and middle school counselors, friends, colleagues and families who have participated in The Beautiful Project along the way,” Jamaica Gilmer explained. “Our photographers are now located around the country, and we rally to do this work from afar.”
The commonality that threads the collective of girls is uninterrupted joy. It’s on their faces and in their statements. It’s in the loving remarks their family and friends make about them. It dances across their expressions and bubbles up in their grins. And it makes you grin right back.
Arielle, a lean, athletically built young lady with eyeglasses and a mouthful of pretty, near-perfect teeth was asked: What’s your most beautiful feature on the outside?
“People tell me it’s my smile,” she answered. “And I believe it.”
Indeed, it is quite dazzling. That she sees it, embraces it, affirms it and knows it for herself is beautiful, too.
Gilmer is presently looking for photographers to contribute to the expanding body of work, ensuring that even more Black girls are included in the pictorial tapestry of empowerment being weaved on their behalf. The project will release different exhibits and initiatives—for us, about us—every four months, which will be featured in the website gallery. In addition to that, The Beautiful Project leads workshops giving girls the opportunity to discuss their beauty and the too-often unloving misrepresentations of it in the media and their communities.
The movement is about snatching ownership of self-perception and creating confidence in a landscape that puts too many prerequisites on how we feel about ourselves. How differently would many of us regard our lips, hair, skin, butts, breasts, frames, our whole outer selves, if someone had thrown a floodlight on our wonderful early on? Some of us are doing damage control as adults for things we were told way back in elementary school.
The Beautiful Project invites us to celebrate girls who look like us and, in the process, feed into our own self-love. “More and more,” Gilmer adds, “we will invite Black women and girls around the world to pick up their cameras and pens to join us in this work as image makers and writers.”—Janelle Harris
To enjoy the gallery of photographs or learn more about the initiative, visit www.thebeautifulproject.org.