Only two percent of women from around the world consider themselves beautiful, according to a study by Dove that examined how women define beauty.
African-American entrepreneur Ardre Orie is determined to increase that percentage exponentially while helping women recognize and redefine their beauty.
While growing up in Florida, Orie was fortunate to have a mother who told her she was beautiful. Even as a kid, she thought her dark complexion was beautiful — until children told her otherwise. Her struggle with beauty resulted from what others have said.
“I don’t think we’re born to feel un-pretty or born with low self-esteem,” Orie says. “The struggle with beauty can manifest in many ways – through finances, dating and emotions.”
Although her mother was a positive influence, Orie said her father’s absence, as well as witnessing household domestic violence, contributed to her struggle with beauty.
“I remember my father not picking me up, not contacting me,” Orie continues. “I felt like I did something wrong, or something was wrong with me.”
Those painful memories were the catalyst for her first endeavor. Orie comes from a line of educators, who inspired her to get both her undergraduate and master’s degrees in special education. She has always wanted to help other people. So, she created a mentor program at every school where she has worked. As part of the program, each teacher was paired with a student who was not in their class.
When she became assistant principal at one school, one of her unique tasks was to keep African-Americans boys in school (in that district, Black boys were being heavily suspended from school). She found that many of them didn’t know how to behave, so she began teaching them etiquette and manners. To her surprise, the boys really enjoyed it, which motivated her to create something even bigger.
“I wanted to create something outside the school system that would provide mentorship and etiquette training,” she said.
In 2009, Orie started the nonprofit Pink Wish Foundation and focused on girls. She eventually left her job to relocate from Florida to Atlanta with her family and was immediately thrust into entrepreneurship. Her nonprofit excelled — it started with 50 girls and grew to 500. But she had neither seed money nor investors to keep her nonprofit afloat. She brainstormed with her two young daughters for ideas.
“We all came to the conclusion that we love lip gloss,” Orie explains.
I Love Me Cosmetics was born. To continue the messaging of her organization, each lip gloss case is adorned with words like ‘Confidence,’ ‘Heroine in Heels,’ ‘Charisma,’ ‘Bossy,’ or ‘CEO.’
During photo shoots for I Love Me Cosmetics, Orie noticed a few of the models complaining about their appearance. She realized then that no woman is exempt from self-esteem issues.
“I wanted to do something about that,” she says.
Orie started spreading her message by creating #ConciouslyBeautiful. She continued that message with her first book, Consciously Beautiful: I Am Enough, in which 21 women and teen girls discuss and share their struggles with colorism, eating disorders, molestation and domestic abuse. Orie’s second book, A Heroine in Heels, feature women’s stories about their past struggles and how they have overcome.
In an effort to further discuss women’s problems and create additional channels for her message, the passionate entrepreneur leapt into the world of theater. She wrote a stage play, “Lipstick Monologues,” with an all-female cast. After the third show, Orie decided to create a stage play for men titled, “The Heart of a Man.” This all-male stage production discusses all the things that women want to know about men and the struggles they face silently, including self-esteem issues, sexuality, finances, cross dressing and interracial dating.
During her successful book launch for Consciously Beautiful at Barnes and Noble, Orie decided to film women discussing beauty and their internal struggles with beauty; this led to her documentary I Am Consciously Beautiful.
The 37-year-old leader was born to empower, and her work continues to evoke much-needed conversations and dispel the media’s definition of beauty.
One of Orie’s biggest events – The Beautiful Mile — debuts March 26, 2016. The one-mile walk will take place in Atlanta and allow women to create their own messages to the media. A few teams have already registered at TheBeautifulMile.com and plan to carry signs with messages on topics such as motherhood, complexion and being single. The inaugural event will include a breakfast, benefit concert, an interactive mirror display and the screening of I Am Consciously Beautiful documentary.
And this summer, I Love Me Cosmetics will create on-the-job training opportunities for teens and allow them to learn about entrepreneurship while earning money. She also plans to shoot and direct the documentary The Heart of a Man soon.
Orie believes that there’s no quick fix to women realizing their beauty.
“One, we have to address what our past hurts are — past boyfriend, family member; two, we have to address media but not blame media. We need to have filters and know what is real and what is not real. Define our beauty for ourselves.”
She continues, “Three, we should always work on educating ourselves – getting degrees, learning any acquisition makes us more powerful. No one can take that education away from you.”
For Black women to be the best example to their daughters, Orie wants young girls to know what self-love looks like.
“I won’t say I need to lose five pounds to get into this dress; kids watch everything. I want them to work hard at embracing themselves and help them build filters,” she says.