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#BeyondClassicallyBeautiful! US-Based Nigerian Journalist Abi Ishola Creates Photo Story in Support of ‘Classic Black Beauty’



Abi Ishola Beyond Classically Beautiful - BellaNaija - January 2015

In September of 2014, the New York Times published an article on the hit TV series How to Get Away with Murder which stars Viola Davis, and described her as “an angry black woman” and “less classically beautiful” in comparison to her light-skinned counterparts like Halle Berry and Kerry Washington. This article sparked a lot of controversy in the media on the definition of ‘classic beauty’ spurring the hashtag #LessClassicallyBeautiful.

It was then that US-based Nigerian multimedia journalist Abi Ishola started a photo story campaign to prove that beauty cannot be put in a box and classic beauty has not limit. According to her style blog which celebrates the fashion of women of colour –;

I was immediately inspired by all the beautiful brown women who took to twitter to show off their own beauty with the hashtag #LessClassicallyBeautiful in solidarity with Viola Davis, but as I thought about how diversely beautiful black women are, I couldn’t accept that label. From there, the idea for “Beyond Classically Beautiful” was born.

For this photo story, I enlisted several gorgeous women who worked the camera to perfection. I teamed up with my husband who’s an amazing photographer and my cousin Yetty Bames, an insanely talented beauty stylist.

Viola delivered a speech after receiving the award for the ‘Favourite Actress in a New TV Series’ for her role in How to Get Away with Murder a day ago at the People’s Choice Awards 2015; in which she thanked Shonda Rhimes, Betsy Beers, and Peter Nowalk for “thinking of a leading lady who looks like [her] classic beauty.” That phrase revisited the NYTimes article and still has women of colour standing up for their classic beauty.

Abi Ishola Beyond Classically Beautiful - BellaNaija - January 2015002

The campaign images feature a diverse number of women namely; Dana Oliver (Fashion & Beauty Editor), Christina Bright (Video Blogger), Mame Diop (Student), Funmi Okusi (Model), Nia Groce, Ofunne O, Vonecia Carswell & Dionne Harper; speaking out against being put in a box.

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See more campaign images on

In a video interview, Abi explained how after reading the New York Times article she thought; “here we go again, another person, another publication, trying to put black beauty in a box“. Watch for more!

Photo & Video Credit
Photography: Kunle Ayodeji
Makeup & Styling: Yetty Bames
Hair: Geneva Clark
Videographer: Duane Ferguson
Models: Dana Oliver, Christina Bright, Mame  Diop, Funmi Okusi, Nia Groce, Ofunne O, Vonecia Carswell & Dionne Harper


  1. adibee

    January 9, 2015 at 1:38 pm

    These girls are gorgeous!!

    • TheRealist

      January 10, 2015 at 1:04 am

      No, they not! LOL!!

      Seriously, it only goes to show that physical beauty is truly “in the eye of the beholder” but we frankly need to get over this need (or is it politically correctness) to tell each and everyone that they are physically “gorgeous!” The world does not need every single person to be “gorgeous” (and certainly not as much as we need all folks to be beautiful), and it is exactly this diversity in shapes, sizes, color and personal taste that makes this world such an infinitely interesting place,

  2. Fre

    January 9, 2015 at 1:58 pm


  3. mx

    January 9, 2015 at 2:29 pm

    finally true beauty is celebrated….to all my black queens #youarethebest….i have always been a dark skin admirer.

  4. rio

    January 9, 2015 at 2:36 pm

    were all d yellow fever..bleachers were una dey???hope u can see confident women.if u r naturaly light skin i love u,but if r among the millions of bleachers hope u get your self esteem back someday.

  5. kenitola

    January 9, 2015 at 3:14 pm

    black is beautiful,always

  6. Mo

    January 9, 2015 at 3:27 pm

    This white folks be getting me confused. Isn’t this the same media that celebrated Lupita, and made the movie Annie.
    We should all get past this dark skinned vs light skinned beauty, I think its getting exhausting having to justify our colour. I mean isn’t that was makes it all beautiful, the diversity?

  7. Tunmi

    January 9, 2015 at 3:30 pm

    Yes!!!! Now can we get someone like them in the MBGN competition. These women are gorgeous.

    I notice something, I have never seen a Nigerian look odd/out of place/bad in native clothes. And neither have I seen a brown/black person look bad with natural hair.

  8. Tosin

    January 9, 2015 at 4:08 pm

    The abi ishola girl is so hot (lush HAIR, killer cheekbones) that I’ve no interest in seeing any more. I bet they’re nice and beautiful too.
    Just do you.
    Fug beauty.
    It’s all made up anyway.

  9. mark

    January 9, 2015 at 4:17 pm

    i love my women black…i love the look of chocolate in my arms..d media has been deceiving women making them think men prefer yellow girls.i dont know who told them a guy finds u attractive because u r fair,dnt get me wrong naturally light skin are beautiful,but a woman who bleach is irritating..if u doubt me ask most boys.bleachers use deodorants alot because these creams makes them smell funny…ask

    • Respect

      January 15, 2015 at 6:46 am

      You’re ma typa guy!

  10. AA

    January 9, 2015 at 6:05 pm

    While I understand why this was done (and these women are beyond gorgeous btw), gosh does everything have to become a movement or a statement to be made! Sometimes I ask myself, who are we trying to convince the people who put us in a box or ourselves? (Yes I know some young girl somewhere might see this and think I am beautiful too and accept who she is) but let’s face it, people will always have their ideas about beauty and people will forever be put in various “boxes”
    Can we just LIVE and ENJOY who we are without the need to make statements I think that’s more convincing.
    I could be totally off but I’m tired of seeing posts were it seems we are constantly trying to validate and justify our inclusion in this big world!!

  11. Bayo

    January 9, 2015 at 6:36 pm

    Spot on! I wonder why every time the word black is mentioned some so called blacks just goes up in an uproar. Take Black Friday as an example.


    January 9, 2015 at 7:39 pm

    Beauty comes in all God given shades! Love it!

  13. tim

    January 9, 2015 at 10:54 pm

    Bella Naija, na wah for you o. The “angry black woman” comment was directed at producer Shonda Rhimes.

  14. Bunmiamara

    January 10, 2015 at 1:08 am

    Great iniative,they are all BEAUTIFUL!!!!!!!!!!!!

  15. kate

    January 10, 2015 at 9:22 am

    I am glad to see this and who is to say what is “classically” beautiful? You are all women who would stand out in a crowd in my opinion. I am a 61 yearold pink skinned strawberry blonde who would rather look like any one of you.You are all gorgeous. I am happy I found you. Keep up your wonderful work.

  16. Ade

    January 10, 2015 at 10:12 pm

    Africans are not ‘black’, we are BROWN skinned-in various hues and shades. Caucasians are not ‘white’, they are peach skinned in various hues and shades. Black/white connotes some kind of superiority of the ‘white’ over the black. Africans, stop calling yourselves ‘black’ already. God bless you.

  17. Cathrine Banda

    January 12, 2015 at 8:03 am

    I do agree with AA, its not everything that happens to us black people that we have to stand up and make a “statement”. I think we should just continue to be ourselves and be proud of ourselves on a normal basis or we will end up having false confidence that will be passed down to the younger generation who will end up being proudly false of their confidence. Just be yourself and be proud of yourself, “statement or no statement”. I am proudly Cathrine Banda, black and beautiful

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