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Liya On Beauty

9 years ago by

At Cannes, I had the opportunity to meet one of my favorite models, Liya Kebede.

Of course I find her beautiful, but I also think she has a fascinating personality. And, since we were meeting for L’Oréal, who she’s an ambassador for, we talked about beauty tips (she’s got a thing or two to teach me) but we promised to meet up again soon to get to know more in depth. So, here is a little introduction to the sublime Liya.


When was the first time you wore makeup?

I think the first time was when I was in Ethiopia. I was like 15 or 16. I think that’s when I first put makeup on – and I had terrible makeup on! My parents were very strict. So, no makeup. Nothing allowed.

I think the first time they allowed me to have makeup on was on my graduation night.

Wow. How did that shape your idea of beauty?

Well, my mother didn’t put a lot of makeup on, but she used to always wear lipstick.
She always had red lipstick on and, every morning, I remember, it was such a thing for her to put it on. I don’t think I’m that great at it, but I used to really be fascinated just watching her put on this lipstick. It was such a ritual, and it looked really great on her. And that’s all she put on, and that kind of stayed with me. I always thought: I want to grow up and put on red lipstick every day.

She was very particular with that and with perfume.

You were born in Ethiopia. What is the cultural ideal of beauty there? What is considered beautiful?

Women take very good care of their hair, and I actually think we have really good hairdressers. So women have great hair in Ethiopia – and really great skin! But they do very little on their skin. They use a lot of organic butter on their hair, which is kind of amazing. When I go there, I do it because I think it nourishes your hair a lot. 

But, since I was there growing up and now, I think even the idea of beauty has changed a lot. Obviously, the westernization of the world has changed things. Everybody is going to the same idea, which is kind of a shame.

When you left Ethiopia, and started modeling in Europe and America, was that a shock?

I came to Paris first when I was about 18. I stayed for about 3 or 4 months. That was my first attempt at fashion modeling, and it was a shock.

In Ethiopia, when we were modeling, it was just being part of a cool club. There were very few designers and not really any photo shoots, just local fashion shows – and we used to do our own makeup and hair. We’d bring our own shoes. And then I got to Paris, and I’m like, “Wait, what is this?” It was so professional. Everybody is beautiful and tall, and it was hard to think, “Oh, I’m gonna make it.”

It was discouraging. You’re young and you come in with your little twinkle in your eyes. Everybody’s looking at you like, “Oh, hello….” And you’re like, “Hmmm… Am I in the right place?”

You have a lot of insecurities.

How do you deal with those insecurities? 

I think it depends on the day. After a while, you kind of get used to just being comfortable with how you look, and I think you do the best you can with what you have. I think you start finding what really works for you, and I think it’s really finding something that you’re really comfortable in – and I think, then, you’re okay.

If you reach too much outside of yourself, that’s where you also add more insecurity in a way. It’s a lifelong project, but I think you get better at it as you get older. More comfortable with who you are.

So, stay true to yourself.

As a L’Oréal ambassador, you’re presenting an idea of beauty. Do you have a message, something you would say to young women?

It’s very complicated. 

I know at 15 you don’t know so much about yourself, but it actually depends on the girl. Some girls are really already very built, and comfortable with themselves. I think those girls always do okay. Again, it’s trying to find comfort in who you are. And really loving the sort of weirdness and the particularities of yourself, and taking that as something actually positive instead of negative, because the idea of looking like everyone else should not be in your head, and I think that’s what happens in the beginning.

So, ideally you want to be able to tell that to girls so that they find their individuality and see it as a positive and not as a negative. You’re not trying to conform because that’s what kills you. You just want to find your own thing and then play that out. So, even with makeup, at the end of the day it’s always about finding the one thing that works for you – not what works for her


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