(The Root) — As the new face of Fashion Fair's True Finish line, Nassali Kiggundu is poised to challenge all of the assumptions made about black beauty. Johnson Publishing Co. CEO and former White House social secretary Desirée Rogers handpicked the statuesque beauty of Ugandan descent after spotting her working as a barista at a Starbucks in Los Angeles. "Her natural beauty was mesmerizing, effortless and individual," said Rogers of Kiggundu, who sports a clean-shaven head. "She is the epitome of the True Finish woman — who celebrates their natural and independent beauty in their own way."
Three weeks after that coffee shop meeting, Kiggundu received a call saying that Rogers, whom the model refers to as "Ms. Desirée," wanted to bring her to Chicago to participate in the Fashion Fair True Finish campaign. After the first photo shoot, she said she didn't want to take off her makeup. "It looked so good. I didn't feel like I was wearing any makeup," Kiggundu said. "I just felt really beautiful and blessed."
She joins Cover Girl's new pitchwoman, Grammy-nominated singer Janelle Monáe, and Solange Knowles, the current face of Carol's Daughter and Rimmel London, as new spokesmodels representing black beauty and fashion across the globe.
The Root caught up with Kiggundu and chatted with her about the new gig with Fashion Fair, a cosmetics line that has been staple for black women for decades. Kiggundu's journey is inspiring as she ushers in a look that is long overdue.
The Root: How did you develop your personal sense of style?
Nassali Kiggundu: My sense of style developed kind of by default. I would go to stores and malls, and it was all too hard for me to find something to wear. Here in L.A., we have a good garment district where we can piece outfits and things together. I just started collecting clothes in a carefree way for something I could wear on my motorcycle, whether it's a skirt or dress or wedge heels. If I can ride my bike, then I'm perfectly fine.
TR: Did you ever have dreams of becoming a model?
NK: I've always wanted to become a model because I wanted to be an example of my type of beauty. It was hard for me to find someone who looks like me to emulate because of beauty conventions that were the opposite of me. I was emulating other people, imitating and changing my style up a little bit. In terms of the confidence and the inner beauty, I had that and wanted to … go against the grain. I would love to be that example for somebody, even if it's just one person.
NK: I cut my hair two Christmas Eves ago because I wanted to change my look. It was part of me wanting a greater change in my life because I had been changing other things, like not having a television. I just wanted to know that I could do things on my own and have my own influences and that it would be OK.
It took me a while to cut my hair because I never thought that I would want or feel comfortable with short hair because of the convention that with hair you're more beautiful. I have cousins in Uganda who look beautiful with short hair, who were also influences on my style. The less I started caring about conventions, the more I wanted to do something dramatic. It has been liberating. This is me.
TR: Why do you think that hair is such a sensitive topic for the black community?
NK: People that we believe to be beautiful — their beauty usually has something to do with their hair. You feel confident with hair — I had hair, tracks — all of that and you feel confident. Then you start feeling like it's a necessity, which is the problem. When you feel like you need it and you have to have it, you don't feel good about yourself.
Black women have beautiful hair, but we aren't really wearing it the way it is supposed to be worn naturally, which is why we're having hair damage and breakage from processing it. It's a sensitive topic because it's such a major part of our identity.
Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., is editor-at-large for The Root. Follow her on Twitter.
Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., a media scholar, is digital editor in chief at Grady Newsource and a faculty member of the Cox Institute of Journalism, Innovation, Management & Leadership at the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia. She is founder and editor in chief of the award-winning news blog the Burton Wire. Follow her on Twitter here or here.