When Kheris Rogers was bullied because of her skin color in the first grade, she found strength in affirmations. Her mother helped build her confidence, and Kheris reminded herself daily that the only person’s opinion that mattered was her own.
With that new outlook, the saying that Kheris’ grandmother had been repeating to her and her sister took on a whole new meaning. That’s when Kheris, now 13, decided to start a clothing line dedicated to fighting against colorism and bullying.
“I was like, ‘wow, why am I dark, why don’t I become lighter?’ I wanted to stay in the bathtub one time so I could get lighter,” Kheris said. “When I told my mom about it, she started making me feel more comfortable in myself, saying affirmations in the mirror every day that I’m beautiful [and] it doesn’t matter what other people think of you — only what you think of yourself. You know that you’re smart, creative, special at the end of the day. And that’s basically what my message is behind Flexin’ in My Complexion.”
Kheris said she got the idea for the clothing line because her grandmother constantly told her and her sister that they were “flexing in their complexions.” So, Kheris and her sister Taylor acquired a screen printer and some t-shirts, and started stamping the phrase on clothing. The first batch of shirts, Kheris said, sold out in just 10 minutes. So began Kheris’ journey to being an anti-bullying and anti-colorism advocate.
The line has been worn by celebrities including Alicia Keys to Lupita Nyong’o, and has won Kheris honors like being named one of Teen Vogue’s21 Under 21 class of 2018, and being chosen to participate in a Lebron James campaign for Nike.
Now, Kheris has taken her message beyond the clothing line, going to speaking engagements and sharing her story with her peers on social media. This, she said, helps show other young people experiencing bullying, racism, or colorism that they aren’t alone. One way she helps her peers sturdy themselves against the words of their bullies is the same way she overcame her own detractors: with affirmations.
With so many young people becoming advocates not just for themselves but for their peers, Kheris said she has hope that the future will be ripe with confident young people like her.
“My vision for the future is everyone being themselves and loving themselves on the inside and out,” she said. “I just love my complexion, I love who I am — and everyone should.”
Poppy Northcutt began her career as NASA’s first female engineerin mission control, and the sexism she faced on the job inspired her to pursue a legal career egal career fighting for women’s rights. Now the state president for the National Organization for Women’s Texas chapter and still handling the occasional legal case, she tells Teen Vogue that she wants her multifaceted career to be a model for young women today.
“The idea of having one career in your life — that was what people had 100 years ago,” she says in an interview. “You need to be more flexible these days.”
Northcutt, a pioneering woman in hard sciences before the idea of STEMeducation or jobs even existed, also tells Teen Vogue about how she’s seen sexism change, the importance of doing the hard thing, and more about her groundbreaking work at NASA, which is documented in the new three–partseries from PBS’s American Experience, “Chasing the Moon.”
Teen Vogue: Could tell us a little bit about what led you to your job at NASA when you were coming up through school and how you got that position?
Poppy Northcutt: In high school, I always scored well in math classes, and I enjoyed them. I decided to major in mathematics when I was in college. The stereotypical jobs for women were very limited. If women went to college, they were expected to end up as executive secretaries, nurses, or teachers.
When I got out of college, I started looking for a job in the Houston area and ended up taking one with a contractor for NASA. I hadn’t been planning on going to work in the space program; I just lucked into it. The job title I had when I started was “computress.” I don’t know if you’ve seen the movie Hidden Figures, but that’s the title that those women had as well. But at the time, I had no idea about the history. I didn’t know about the women in Langley.
I mainly just thought that my title was really strange. First of all, I’m not a computer. Secondly, you’re going to gender me as a computer?
TV: Was that gendered title indicative of what working there was like?
I started work as a computress number-crunching for engineers. After I’d been there about six months, I had my first job evaluation. The head of Houston operations told me that they were looking to promote me to the technical staff, which is the phraseology they used for the people doing engineering work. I started working on Apollo in that first year that I worked there.
TV: You were in the mission control center at Houston. What was it like being a woman in a space like that?
PN: By the time I was there, I was used to being the only woman in the room because that was just sort of the normal situation. There just weren’t many women doing technical functions. We did have some women doing computer programming.
TV: Were there any specific challenges you were facing as a young woman doing this incredible scientific work?
PN: It wasn’t just me. It was all women at that time. We existed in a sea of sexism. The waters are a little clearer now. They’re not as murky as they were 50 years ago. But all women at that time, in all the places around the world, were living in a sea of sexism.
If you were the only woman in a particular area, you stood out because you were different and you had the feeling that people were watching you more. Some people may be hoping that you failed.
I was fortunate I worked for a company that was very progressive for the time. You might not think they were very progressive, looking at them through today’s eyes, but if I had been working at one of the other companies, I might not have been promoted. The promotion was very hard for my company to get.
The head of Houston operations told me later was he could’ve more easily fired me and rehired me than to get that promotion because the increase in pay was so great. They have these rigid rules about how big of a salary increase somebody can get, so he had to fight for it. Most people would not have had somebody who fought that hard for them.
Even after I got the promotion, he told me, “You’re still underpaid.” All he could do was to get me to the bottom of that pay category, but he said, “I’m still going to work on trying to improve that.”
That’s a problem women still have today. If you were hired in and underpaid, it is extremely difficult to ever catch up because your future employers so often are basing your new pay on your previous pay.
TV: What made you want to go to law school after you’d worked at NASA?
PN: I had become very conscious of the women’s rights movement, partly because of my experiences being the only woman and with pay disparities. I also became very aware of the fact that I was actually really lucky. Even if I was discriminated against, I wasn’t experiencing nearly as much as most women were in the workforce.
I became involved in the National Organization for Women and was on their board of directors in the early 70s and became an activist. As a result, I was contacted by a new mayor elected in Houston, a new young, progressive mayor. He had made a commitment to appoint a “women’s advocate” on his staff. I was lucky enough to end up in that role.
Part of what I was doing was looking at equal pay problems and other kinds of discrimination. I was looking at the treatment of rape victims by the police and our health department and trying to increase the number of women who were on boards and commissions. I became increasingly aware of how laws affect us and can help close some of these gaps. I ended up going to law school.
TV: It seems like that activist streak carried through your work with Jane’s Due Process, the nonprofit ensuring legal protections for pregnant minors in Texas.
PN: I still work with them! I had worked for the Harris County district attorney’s office, and I was the first felony prosecutor in the domestic violence unit when we set that up. As for activism, I’ve always tried to do something to improve the status of women.
TV: People may think of studying STEM and studying law as very separate paths. What would you say to young people who want to have the range that you’ve had in your career — who have this activist streak and might also be into science?
PN: They should go for it. The idea of having one career in your life — that was what people had 100 years ago. But our life span is greatly increased at this point.
They may also want to change careers, or it may actually be a need. You need to be more flexible these days. I think you need to pay more attention to what’s going on in the world around you in terms of economics and be flexible.
TV: Any other advice for Teen Voguereaders?
PN: My big advice is to go back and read what John F. Kennedy said when he laid out his plan of going to the moon and understand that mission statement — land a man on the moon and return safely back to the earth — was a specific goal. But it was also followed by the reason why: We do it not because it’s easy, but because it’s hard.
We should all look at doing the hard things, especially when setting goals for our careers. Do the things that are going to challenge you. That’s where you’ll really find your potential. And you’ll also make bigger contributions to society as a whole.
In recent years, television and film animation have made headlines for progress in inclusive storylines, including historic same-sex relationships and plus-size superheroes. Unfortunately, though, a new study from the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative discovered that the same spirit of representation doesn’t appear to have spread to those working behind the scenes.
According to the new study, over the past 12 years, only 3% of animated movies were directed by women, Varietyreported. That number is even smaller among women of color — Jennifer Yuh Nelson, who directed Kung Fun Panda 2, was the only woman of color to direct an animated film.
When it came to women directors working on television series, the number improved, but only slightly, Varietyreported. Thirteen percent of animated programs that aired in 2018 were directed by a woman, and just three of those directors were women of color.
In a statement, Marge Dean, the president of Women in Animation, the organization that collaborated with USC on the study, commented on the findings, saying, “This study validates what we have known all along, that women are a hugely untapped creative resource in the animation industry. Now that we have a greater understanding of how the numbers fall into place and what solutions may help rectify this deficiency, we can take bigger strides toward our goal of 50-50 by 2025.”
Even with a continued focus on more diverse characters, the study noted that Hollywood still has work to do. Out of 120 recent films, only 17% had a female character as the star or costar. Television animation actually did better in this regard, with 39% of 100 animated TV series featuring a female lead or co-lead.
In response to these findings, the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative called for “industry-wide efforts” for change, and suggested creating workplaces where women feel welcome, adjusting the use of pronouns to become inclusive of all genders, and encouraging discussions between employees about cultural differences.
This study isn’t the first time that others have called for change in the world of animation. The Black Girl Animators Collective (BGAC) previously spoke with Teen Vogue about their work, and shared their hope for eventually seeing animation that’s representative of everyone.
“In animation, you don’t really see any women at all,” Taylor K. Shaw, BGAC founder said. “You see a few white women, very few women of color, and hardly any black women at all. What we’re doing [here] is transforming the media landscape and making sure that women of color are included in this space.”
Nigerian-American stylist, Ade Samuel has been rapidly rising through the ranks in the fashion industry, growing from her days as an intern at Teen Vogue to styling superstars like Kelly Rowland, Usher, Yara Shahidi and Cynthia Erivo.
To compile the list, The Hollywood Reporter studied the red carpet show-stoppers spotted over the last year, from award ceremonies to movie premieres, analysing which stylists delivered looks that contributed to and impacted contemporary fashion debate.
Ade Samuel, who styled Black Panther stars, Letitia Wright and Michael B. Jordan last year, as well as Justine Skye, Usher, Kofi Siriboe and more, made her debut on this list, ranking a commendable 20 out of the 25.
Lady Gaga’s stylists, Tom Eerebout and Sandra Amador, were among other newcomers, joining old hands like Karla Welch, who styles Tracee Ellis Ross, Sarah Paulson and Justin Briber; and Wayman Bennerman and Micah McDonald, who styled Regina King this year.
Unsurprisingly, as the star’s go-to stylist, it was Michael B. Jordan’s velvet Tom Ford tux that was highlighted as Ade Samuel’s ‘Top Look’. Jordan wore the ensemble to the Oscars last month, accessorised with Piaget white diamond lapel pins to “jazz it up”, she told The HollywoodReporter.
Adidas is back with the latest collection in its series featuring emerging female designers, this time collaborating with New York designer Ji Won Choi, who has given the brand’s iconic track pants and three-striped logo a fresh feel. Lilac, navy, green, and red wide-legged track pants are paired with matching crop tops, jackets, and mock turtlenecks, all with the logo plastered horizontally and vertically in multiples. The clothes make a strong fashion statement but are still cozy, highlighting the duality of Choi’s customer, who she characterizes as “expressive, but with ease.”
Born in Seoul, Choi was partially inspired by her thesis collection at Parsons, where she made heavy use of stripes based on her love for architecture and her Korean heritage. The collection is now available at Adidas flagship locations and select retail partners, including Dover Street Market, Net-A-Porter, Barney’s, Nordstrom, KITH and Urban Outfitters.
Teen Vogue spoke with the designer about the inspiration behind the collection and her advice for upcoming designers.
Teen Vogue: What was the inspiration behind this collection?
Ji Won Choi: It was very much a coming together of my aesthetic, which draws from the architectural shapes of Korean garments and classic Adidas motifs. It was meant to be inspired by my work at Parsons. My thesis collection used the concept of a stripe as the starting point for each garment and incorporated a repeated stripe motif throughout. What could be more natural than evolving this into the iconic Adidas three stripes?
TV: What does the opportunity to design for Adidas mean to you?
JWC: I’m honestly still processing it. It means that my work, which can tend to be more on the niche end, has this massive global platform and a bigger audience than I ever thought would be possible. Anywhere in the world, if someone sees the three stripes, they know exactly what they stand for. It’s an amazing family to be a part of.
TV: How do you want people to feel when they put on your clothes?
JWC: Strong and confident! Expressive, but with ease.
TV: The clothing was showcased in a colorful 3-D maze with models walking up and down the staircases. How did this imagery tie into your collection?
JWC: It was important to me that we incorporate movement into the presentation since that’s a big part of the inspiration behind this collection and all of my work. I knew the presentation couldn’t be static. I really wanted to celebrate individuality and have a diverse group of women representing the collection at the presentation. The end result was beyond imagination — the set designer Ben Cullen Williams brought our vision to life in an incredible way.
TV: Any advice for young designers looking to get their feet wet in the industry?
JWC: My biggest advice for young designers is to have a very clear point of view and defined design aesthetic. Your design aesthetic can always evolve, but when you’re just starting out, it’s very important to have a clear sense of who you are and who you are as a brand.
Naomi Elizée is the fashion market assistant at Vogue and a Teen Vogue contributor. This interview has been edited and condensed.
Nancy Abu-Bonsrah has been accepted into the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine’s neurosurgery residency program — the first black woman to do so in the 30-year history of the program.
“There was a rush of emotions,” Nancy tells Teen Vogue about her initial reaction to the news. She found out on “Match Day,” when medical students nationwide learn if and where they “match” for postgraduate residency programs, which they must completebefore practicing medicine in the United States. A representative from Johns Hopkins tells Teen Vogue the school accepts three to five neurosurgery residents into its program each year.
“The first [emotion] was honestly amazement,” 26-year-old Nancy, who also attended medical school at Johns Hopkins, added. “I could not believe that right there, in that moment, I was going to be given this incredible opportunity to remain at Johns Hopkins to begin my neurosurgical training. Then came the joy and happiness.”
Nancy moved to the United States from Ghana when she was 15, and it was on a trip back to Ghana during college that she realized she wanted to pursue neurosurgery. “I had an opportunity to go spend some time in one of the teaching hospitals, the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital,” she says. “It was there that I experienced the uniqueness of neurosurgery as well as the general lack of access to care. Not only was I impressed by the surgical skill and fascinated by the anatomy, [but] I was also stunned by how overwhelmed the surgeons were.”
That experience inspired her to go into a field that she believes will give her the opportunity to serve others in a meaningful way, and she hopes to return to Ghana someday to do so. “I look at neurosurgery through the light of service,” she says. “Neurosurgical patients are a unique population who put a great deal of trust in their surgeons, and I see that to be a great privilege and honor. […] I cannot wait to go back and serve, not only in Ghana, but in other low-resource settings.”
She’s also committed to serving in a different way: “I am very interested in increasing the number of minorities in the field and would be working toward that goal throughout my career,” she says. As for black female neurosurgeons (the first in the U.S. being Alexa Irene Canady in 1981), Nancy says, “I do not know the exact numbers, but I know that they are too few.”
“In every field, it is always a little easier to see yourself in a role if those you look up to look like you or have had similar experiences,” she adds. “For me, this was the hardest part in my journey into neurosurgery, knowing there were not as many people who were like me.” But she says she’s received “immense support and mentorship” along the way from Johns Hopkins, and plans to pay it forward. “Being part of the Johns Hopkins neurosurgery department is humbling, but I believe that I would be in a unique position to help in mentoring other students.”
37-year-old Tennis champion, Serena Williams is the cover star for Teen Vogue’s December issue.
Serena Williams and Naomi Wadler who sat down for an interview with Lindsay Peoples Wagner, the editor-in-chief of the magazine spoke on Activism, Power and other sensitive issues.
Lindsay Peoples Wagner: There are so many things I want to ask both of you, but one of the immediate things that comes to mind is how you’ve both taken a lot of risks in your personal and professional lives. Why have you been so willing to take risks and speak out, whether about activism or being a woman of color?
Naomi Wadler: Okay, so I want to do all of the events that I do right until I am about to go onstage, because that is when I am like —
Lindsay Peoples Wagner: You nervous?
Naomi Wadler: It’s just great to be able to have the platform that I have, and that Serena has, and that you have, because not everybody has those platforms, and so part of that is being able to lift up other voices, and so that it’s not just somebody who is famous, or well known, or just a public figure.
Serena Williams: You put that really well. We’re in a position where we have the opportunity to use our status and our social network, and to use different platforms that we are on and that we can talk about it, ’cause a lot of people see what we post and see the things that we write. And although it’s so fun to have the opportunity to post lots of fun things, I also find it really important to post and talk about real items that affect us on a day-to-day basis.
Lindsay Peoples Wagner: Serena, how do you handle it all? Your training, your beautiful baby, business. How do you handle it day to day?
Serena Williams: Honestly, I don’t know. I go to bed every night thinking, How did I get through this day? I’m sure a lot of people out there can relate, right? It’s like, this day is over, it’s 10 o’clock, I got through it. How did that happen? That’s kind of how I am. Between… I just started training. Yes, I’m still playing.
Serena Williams speaks on Power and Activism as she graces the cover of Teen Vogue (Photos)
Lindsay Peoples Wagner: We’re ready.
Serena Williams: So, that has been… OK, now I’m training on top of running this fashion company, on top of being a full-time mom. I’m super hands-on as a mom. I just take it as it is and realize that everyone goes through the same thing.
Lindsay Peoples Wagner: I want to talk about confidence. You both are so public, I’m sure you have days where you either get nervous or don’t feel great. How do you pick it back up on those days when you don’t feel so confident that you’re doing the right things or you don’t feel like things are going in that direction?
Serena Williams: I think it’s really important to realize that no day is going to be perfect. For me, that’s really hard because I strive for perfection, and I feel like everything I do has to be great and has to be perfect, because I am a true perfectionist. But that’s impossible. That’s not reasonable. Then I realize that, OK, I had a rough day today, let’s do something to make it better tomorrow. I think it’s important to expect to have some really rough times when you’re going through something, but always know that you can overcome it.