Misty Copeland: "Representing Black Women in Beauty Means So Much to Me"

If there's one way to describe Misty Copeland's beauty philosophy, it's all about self-love. The dancer, who made history in 2015 when she was announced as the first black principal ballerina at the American Ballet Theatre, has faced a lifetime of comments telling her she doesn't have the "look" for ballet (read: tall, white, no curves). After proving everyone wrong, she's made it a mission to help other women embrace what makes them unique, too. That's why it was such a big deal for her when she fronted her first-ever beauty campaign as the face of Estée Lauder's Modern Muse ($68) back in August.

We recently got the chance to sit down with the dance icon to talk at length about her beauty tips and left feeling completely inspired. Yes, she dished about her favorite drugstore buys, where she gets her facials, and what her top hair products are. But she also spoke from the heart about why she doesn't listen when people tell her to shave her hairy arms, why she's proud of her foot calluses and nose, and how she went from always straightening her hair to wearing her natural texture more often.

Read on for the 10 things we learned from Misty.


She was always told her looks wouldn't fit into the ballet world.

"Especially in the classical ballet world, there are so many restrictions and so many things people think you have to be. It's been that way for so many generations. You have to be tall. You have to be thin and not have a lot of muscle. And white. So, I think there's been so many hurdles. For me, it's been about being the best dancer that I could be in the body and the package I was born in.

"I'm 5'2" and, having a very muscular build, a larger chest, being African American, and not starting out dancing until I was 13, [because of] all of these things, I was told it's not possible. You can't pursue this career if you have all of these working against you. So, I want to prove it's not about the package you come in. It's about what you produce and how you make people feel. People come to the theater because they want to escape. They want to see beauty. And it doesn't have to all be in the same cookie-cutter package."

She's learned to embrace her natural curls.

She's learned to embrace her natural curls.

"Growing up and being in a household with black women, from the age of 7 or 8, I was being taught how to straighten my hair. And slick it back. And use a lot of gels. And hairsprays and things like that to get it 'perfect.' I feel like as I've gotten older, I've learned to embrace my natural curls and to just be more natural, especially when I'm not stage. I just allow them to have a moment to heal. When you're pulling it back so much all the time, no matter how you do it and how nicely you try and treat your hair, it has to be tight. So, you're going to have breakage and damage. It's about really allowing it to just be, when I'm not on stage.

"I love Vernon Francois shampoo ($26) and the spray bottle conditioner ($28) that feels really organic and natural. That's one of my favorite shampoo/conditioner products. Then I use Shea Moisture; they have this leave-in conditioner spray ($11). I just spray that immediately after I get out of the shower and it's really good if I wear my hair natural and curly."

She hates overcontouring for one very important reason.

She hates overcontouring for one very important reason.

"Something that I'm really conscious of is not letting makeup artists, especially when I'm on stage, do too much contouring that's going to change the way I look. I want to look like myself. I think it's especially important for young, minority girls to embrace what they look like. To embrace their ethnicity. That's something that's been really important for me. Don't touch my nose! This is who I am. This is what I look like. And that's beautiful, too."


She won't let pedicurists mess with her feet, either.

"People don't understand or appreciate — they're just so caught up on what the outside should look like — but I've worked for 20+ years to build up the armor and the calluses on my feet so that I can do what I do. To me, I think that's beautiful. I get a lot of comments about my hairy arms. And my feet. And I'm like, 'This is me.' I say embrace it. I'm not going to change something about myself because someone else doesn't think it's right or beautiful.

"So, when it comes to my feet, I don't want people to mess with my calluses or corns. It's my protection. That's how I can dance on pointe for 10 hours a day and not be in as much pain as I would if I didn't have those calluses. That's why young dancers' feet bleed and they feel more pain because they haven't built up that protection. So, at most I clip my toenails and I paint them, and I'm like, 'This is a ballerina's foot.'"

She favors a simple beauty routine overall.
Getty | Noam Galai

She favors a simple beauty routine overall.

"I've always been very subtle. I've never been that girl that was trying out different makeup and trends and things like that. I'm super natural and pretty basic and bare on the regular. Even growing up, the most I wore throughout high school was clear mascara and lip gloss. But learning to do my makeup on stage gave me a better understanding of my features and how to highlight things."


Even her stage makeup consists of four main products.

"Again, I'm really basic. I have some products — I think it's called Star something [ed note: it's likely the pro-dancer-loved Mehron StarBlend Makeup ($14)]. It's a heavy-duty base that I would never wear outside of the theater. That's something that I really rely on. It lasts through sweating and harsh lights on your skin. Then, I'll use MAC face powder ($29). MAC eyebrow liner ($21). I use Stila eyeliner pen ($22) — that's really good. I like easy. I don't want to have to worry about it too much."


She loves drugstore false lashes.

"I get my lashes from Duane Reade. I go through so many! Ardell ($5) I used to use a lot more, but Kiss ($4) is there so much that I always use it. I feel like they're good quality, big, and dramatic. I'll use them a couple of times, depending on the performance. If I'm doing something like Swan Lake, where I'm dancing for four acts, I'm sweating so much. And, sometimes crying afterwards. I have to throw those lashes out. As soon as they get too wet and deformed and the shape isn't right, I get rid of them."


Perfume is always her finishing touch.

"[I wear perfume] even in rehearsal! There's just something about it that makes me feel like I'm completing this character and making it feel like I'm ready to go out there and be glamorous and perform. It's kind of all part of putting on the costume, the makeup, the tiara, a wig, or a dress. I've never had any complaints from my partners yet, which is good. No one is getting nauseous! My husband is like 'WHY' because I don't like to do a little bit [on my wrists], I like it all over."

She takes off her stage makeup using one polarizing product.
Getty | Rabbani and Solimene Photography

She takes off her stage makeup using one polarizing product.

"[I use] the little blue package with the little wipes — I think it's Neutrogena ($9). I get a lot of flak about that because people say it's not good for your skin. But it's so easy for me. One or two wipes, then I have nothing left. No residue or anything. Then, I face wash. I've been going back and forth between Mario Badescu ($16) and La Mer ($90). I'll use La Mer sometimes in the morning then I'll use Mario in the theater, I keep it there. I do get facials here and there. I go to to the Mandarin Oriental spa a lot in New York City. In California I go to where I got married, it's right on the beach in Laguna, The Montage. That's my go-to whenever I'm LA."


Fronting a beauty campaign is important to her because representation matters.

"Representing black women and having an opportunity with a brand like Estée Lauder means so much to me. It's exposing more people to the fact that you can be a black woman, and you can be feminine, strong, and represent a brand like Estée Lauder. I just feel like it's the right direction. Young girls are able to see [my role] as something that's attainable to them. [They can] see someone who represents them and looks like them be represented in a beauty line. That's doing so much for the next generation of young women — to [help them] feel that they're beautiful, too."