Yara Shahidi on Confidence, Fragrance, and Growing Up on TV

Photo Illustration: Aly Lim
Photo Illustration: Aly Lim
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Yara Shahidi is currently at a crossroads. After six seasons of her hit TV show "Grown-ish," she has only one episode left to shoot. Having completed her ultimate goal of graduating from Harvard University in May 2022, the possibilities for what's next are endless.

"A lot has been on the table," Shahidi tells POPSUGAR. "I have less defined moves, but [I'm] more so excited to figure out what I enjoy." She's been busy doing a little bit of everything, from set designing to executive producing and booking her fair share of beauty campaigns. Her latest gig is for the new Jean Paul Gaultier Divine Eau de Parfum ($160), which celebrates femininity. But Shahidi's definition of that word is a little different from what you'd find listed in Webster's Dictionary.

"There's a Marianne Williamson quote where she talks about when you let your light shine, how you give people permission to do the same," Shahidi says. To her, divine femininity is less about looking or acting a certain way and more about being "so comfortable in who you are, or to at least strive to be as comfortable in who you are, that it gives the people around you permission to do the same." This has more or less been Shahidi's approach to beauty since she was a little girl.

BLACK-ISH - Walt Disney Television via Getty Images's
Getty | Bob D'Amico/Disney General Entertainment Content

"Beauty has always been about having fun," Shahidi says. She began filming the sitcom "Black-ish" when she was 13 years old and quickly had to adjust to spending those formative years in front of HD cameras. She recalls experiencing breakouts (as many teenagers do) and having foundation layered on her skin to cover it up. Briefly, it made her feel like she was incomplete without the complexion makeup, but her mother worked to undo that subconscious programming right away. "It's been so freeing ever since to approach beauty from a perspective of, what do I want to express?" she says. "It allows me to approach beauty from a place of agency versus from this place of necessity."

While most people express themselves through their hair, makeup, and nails, for Shahidi, fragrance is an equally important medium. One whiff of the new Gaultier Divine perfume, and she's somewhere by the water, surrounded by love and light. "There is this really cool element to it that feels like you're at a beach," she says. "I've always been such a fan of jasmine and lilac and those light flowers that just scent the air, so there's something really familiar about it because of that."

If you haven't noticed, Shahidi loves to think deeply about her beauty choices. "I love references," Shahidi says. "I was actually just showing my friend how many mood boards and Pinterest albums I have." One of her top beauty icons is Solange Knowles because "she's a key example of being so grounded in who you are that she's able to pull off looks that I feel like most of us wouldn't even be able to imagine."

Cate Blanchett is another inspiration for her, as is Josephine Baker. "I've paid homage to [her] at the Met, but she's somebody whose looks I've generally always turned to as inspiration," Shahidi says. She enjoys bringing people like Baker into the room through beauty because it helps honor another area of her interests, and "[Baker] deserves to be in this conversation."

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 13: Yara Shahidi attends The 2021 Met Gala Celebrating In America: A Lexicon Of Fashion at Metropolitan Museum of Art on September 13, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for The Met Museum/Vogu
Getty | Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for The Met Museum/Vogue

A topic Shahidi recently explored in her Ted Talk is who we'd all be if we followed our curiosity and didn't allow ourselves to be swayed by external feedback. Though she's gotten pretty good at blocking out the noise now, she knows what it feels like to try to force yourself to fit in a certain mold.

"I was on the speech and debate team in high school, and it was all young women, primarily of different BIPOC backgrounds, and I realized everyone straightened their hair to get ready for competitions," Shahidi recalls. Though she was never told outright to do so, it was like an unspoken rule. "I remember just feeling unfinished in my curly hair or feeling not as professional or complete." After recognizing this habit, she says she had to "move through my discomfort, and ultimately it's come to a place now where I just don't feel like myself without my curls."

Still, that's not to say she doesn't occasionally find herself trying to "fit the part," be it on red carpets or for other engagements. "We still work within such confines over what's 'beautiful' or 'attractive,'" Shahidi says. "There are so many times I've shown up with the goal of being attractive and just felt uncomfortable — I haven't honored who I am. And in realizing that what I find attractive about people is their comfort with themselves, I've been able to strive for a different definition."