I’m originally from Upstate New York and went to really small schools my entire life. Coming from these tight communities, getting to know people in really deep ways has definitely shaped me to be considerate of others. I’m somewhat of an empath, maybe to a fault at times, but I’m definitely proud of this quality. It also comes from my mom.
My mother is the person who has shaped me most. She immigrated from Jamaica when she was 6 and lived here without her mother for over a year. So she’s always made a conscious effort to make me feel very, very connected to her. She nurtures through love and laughter, and has always allowed me the space to experiment and explore without fear. I definitely believe that has instilled a level of comfort within me. I’m able to feel confident in this industry despite being a tall, plus-size Black woman, which is definitely not the norm. All because my mom was able to create an environment of comfort and understanding.
I always knew I wanted to move to New York City, so really only applied to schools here. I ended up going to Barnard, a women’s college that is a part of Columbia University. In my last semester of college, I signed with my agency and now I split my time between modeling and doing freelance PR for GANNI, a Danish womenswear brand. Since I divide my time, each day can be so different from the last. But I always wake up with the potential to create new connections, to collaborate with interesting people, to work on creating something new.
I see creativity as a manifestation of thoughts and ideas. It’s how I share my point of view, and it has become central in allowing me a sense of relief and a space for my musings to come to life. Walking around New York, there’s a constant stream of new ideas for all of us. Different ideas. I’m constantly saving inspiration but I also try to avoid my style being too trend-driven. I definitely feel like I’m a good trend forecaster and I pick up on trends early that then become prominent in collective visual language. Creativity is key in how I share what I’m thinking and interpreting from and with the world, and sometimes that is through an outfit or a makeup look.
I hope we’re getting to a point where we don’t need a collective definition of beauty. Beauty can be something natural or accidental, and exist without the intention of being noticed. It can also be crafted and manufactured and labored over. Both of those are valid. For me, beauty goes beyond what we can see—it comes from within. It’s a celebration of and acceptance, a coming to terms with one’s self. That may sound a bit negative—“coming to terms”—as in almost settling, but I think it’s more of an understanding and sense of forgiveness of who you truly are and what is and what exists. You can drive yourself crazy constantly desiring to be something else; but beauty stems from accepting those things you maybe would have preferred to be different.
I feel most alive when I’m with friends and loved ones because I think talking, laughing and challenging one another’s points of view makes me realize that there are so many voices, journeys, opinions, and experiences. The sharing of perspectives and finding ways we feel the same and ways we diverge is so interesting. I’m working on allowing myself to be more present and maintain a sense of perspective. A lot of the time, when I face a roadblock or burden of some sort, it’s super easy for me to spiral and remember every wrong thing that’s happened. I do this terrible thing where I try to link all my terrible experiences and doubts together.
I wish years ago I’d realized that everyone is concerned with themselves that they’re really not concerned with you. I’ve been in a lot of situations where I walked away wishing that I did put myself out there. In the sense that I didn’t feel comfortable enough to share my true self. This year, I'm trying to make the most of my time and enriching it with small actions. Instead of listening to the same songs while I’m cleaning or commuting to work, I’ll listen to podcasts that are stories about tastemakers in my field to learn in a more bite-size, approachable way so it doesn’t feel like I’m starting at square one to become more cultured. Finding a way to cultivate moments where I feel like I’m learning, making progress, and bettering myself without also playing into ideas of imposter syndrome.
In my life, I never want to stop learning or growing. I want to continue taking in information, being flexible in my perspective, and live with a willingness to hear others’ points of view. For humanity, my greatest hope aligns: more openness and understanding for different views and ways of life. My best advice is just to live life for yourself. When I reflect on what truly matters, at the end of the day, it’s always that I’m just proud of what I have done and I’m happy with the way I’m living.
Imani Randolph photographed by Carolyne Lorée Teston.