Norma Kamali On What She's Learned About Beauty In Her 70+ Years (& How She Gets That Glow!)

Contributing writer By Norma Kamali
Contributing writer
Norma Kamali is the author of I Am Invincible, fashion designer, beauty founder, and wellness expert.
Norma Kamali
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The iconic fashion, beauty, and wellness maven Norma Kamali recently released a new book, I Am Invincible. Part memoir, part advice, part collection of inspiration, the tome is a must-read for anyone who is interested in longevity, creativity, passion, and purpose. Here, an excerpt on her relationship with beauty.

Beauty is at its best when it is authentic. The true essence of beauty is that we are all unique. Don't try to be someone else's beautiful; be the most beautiful you! My personal experiences with self-esteem are no different from other women's. I grew up in an Irish Catholic neighborhood with who I thought were the most beautiful children. They either had curly blond hair and big blue eyes or red hair and green eyes or dark hair with pale freckled skin. I had brown hair and olive skin, and my nose didn't turn up; it just kept growing. I certainly questioned my look and often felt like an ugly duckling because I was different. Beauty, to me, was defined by their terms.

As a teenager, I decided that since I was not pretty, I would come up with unique looks that were of my making. I created hair and makeup styles influenced by the elite fashion magazines of the time: teased hair, individual lashes, strong Jean Shrimpton eyeliner, and pale lips. Most 16-year-olds were not following the fashion magazines; they were finding influence in the more plentiful celebrity magazines that featured styled portraits of Sophia Loren, Marilyn Monroe, and for teens, Sandra Dee and Ricky Nelson. Yup, I'm dating myself here big-time. 

I put every ounce of artistry I had into my hair and makeup—which took an hour and a half to do—as an almost daily creative project. I would wear clothes that differentiated me even further from my peers so I couldn't be judged by the prevailing standards. Hello! I found my talent and my own style, but I still never personally identified as beautiful. 

Why you should find your own path to beauty & self-esteem.

The beauty and fashion industries have perpetuated myths of ideal beauty, convincing us that beauty is not who we are as individuals but what we should aspire to look like. The products women are convinced they need in order to be good enough, pretty enough, and young enough are the very things that often make us feel inadequate. Self-esteem is everything when it comes to reaching our potential. Having it undermined by advertisements of false promises affects a woman's self-worth from an early age.

Today, an appreciation of the authentic self is inspiring more and more women to embrace their own singularity. No one else has what you have, and that is your power.

Similar to fashion, beauty is very much about developing personal style: a signature that gives you confidence and reflects your identity. It evolves through time as you mature and experience life.

Each of us makes a choice about how we enhance our individuality. You are saying so much about who you are by how you wear your hair and makeup. It is certainly a valid opportunity to create the image you want to project; however, there are alternate beauty choices, as well. I always feel that a smiling face with a twinkle in the eye tells such a great story about the people we meet. For me, this is the image that forms the first impression. Makeup either adds to or complicates that story. 

It took me time to appreciate the difference. I wore makeup throughout my 20s and 30s. I didn't have a clear sense of who I was yet. I loved doing my makeup. I felt like I was playing a role in the different looks I wore. I hid behind my makeup mastery. This was my pretend self. My hair and clothing matched the fun fantasy of that period of my life.

At a certain point, I realized that the more empowered I felt as I gained experience through life, the more I wanted to show my true self. How much makeup do you need if you are living a healthy lifestyle? Most probably, there is very little to cover up. The older I got, the more I realized my skin looks so much better when it glows naturally. I felt confident enough to go makeup-free if I wanted.

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How she takes care of her skin, hair, and makeup.

Today, my beauty style is based on taking care of my skin. I have been following the same routine since 1993, when I decided to stop wearing foundation. When I met Horst Rechelbacher, the genius behind Aveda and an outspoken pioneer of the natural and clean beauty movement, he shared his knowledge about the suspicious ingredients in many cosmetics and brought my attention to issues within the beauty industry. Working with chemists, I developed a skin care concept using safe ingredients that cleanse, exfoliate, moisturize, and create a glow. Since I decided to go bare and stick to an easy plan, I feel good about my skin.

Ever since Horst's reality check about the amount of lipstick women may inadvertently consume each year, simply by applying it, and its potential impact on health, I've stopped wearing my trademark red lips. I learned that nail polish was no better, so I have bare nails now, too. I accent my eyebrows and lashes, dab on some lip stain, and I feel: That's me. My ethnicity presents dark shadows under my eyes, so I use dots of highlighter as a brightener. This simple solution works best when I am eating properly, sleeping well, and working out.

All in all, I approach my personal care as easy care, same as my collection and my personal style: timeless and comfortable but fun and expressive at the same time.

I only started to wear glasses at 50, so I designed eyewear that is flattering for most face shapes, and I have been wearing the cat-eye tortoise frames for some time. I added tinted lenses so I can use them both at my computer and outdoors. My blunt-cut bangs, which have become a trademark over time, work well with my square face. Instead of trying to nuance the shape, I am going with it! I rinse my hair every day after working out, so it needs to be a style that is easy to maintain and as close to my natural texture as possible. My hair is straight but frizzy at the same time. I used to have it flat-ironed, but after so much breakage week after week, I gave it up, and now that it is healthy, I am letting it grow naturally. After a lot of research, I finally created a three-in-one shampoo, conditioner, and styler that tames the frizzies and keeps my hair shiny and smooth. Now I am free to take a shower, smooth in some product, and be on my way.

My question is, what works for you? What reflects your sensibility and treats each of your features as a best asset? Natural skin, groomed brows, a swipe of mascara, and bangs I trim myself are my preference. Have you found yours? 

Excerpt from the new book I Am Invincible by Norma Kamali published by Abrams © 2021 Norma Kamali

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