Zoë Kravitz on Diverse Beauty and Being Comfortable in Her Own Skin
"For young women who look like me, it’s important for them to see a reflection of themselves in the media. It’s also essential to show young women that beauty is all kinds of things. To see the same type of woman over and over again…that can weigh on the psyche."
Petite, elegant, charmingly freckled and slightly hesitant: These are my first fleeting impressions of Zoë Kravitz when we settle in for our interview at YSL’s pop-up Beauty Hotel in Paris. But she immediately breaks into a warm smile when I congratulate her on the success of Big Little Lies at the recent Golden Globe Awards. This awards ceremony, which is considered the lightweight version of the Academy Awards, took on an unexpected gravitas with the launch of Time’s Up and the black dress campaign.
The decision to create what Meryl Streep described as a “thick black line” wasn’t about Hollywood elites telegraphing their virtues from the red carpet. This sartorial signalling was part of a much larger and more meaningful initiative to end sexual harassment and gender inequality and discrimination in Hollywood and beyond.
The subject matter was heavy, but Kravitz says the feeling on the carpet was positive and there was a great sense of community. “Even though there is a lot of work ahead of us, it was a very exciting night to have things out in the open,” she explains. She was there, of course, after her turn as yoga-teaching, envy-inducing Bonnie Carlson on Big Little Lies, the critically acclaimed HBO series that co-stars Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern and Shailene Woodley.
That evening, Kravitz, who is a YSL makeup ambassador, wore a black gown from the brand. Like the other women and men who participated in the black dress campaign, she says it was her way of expressing her desire for equality for women in all walks of life. “It is happening in every industry,” she says. “Women are being sexually harassed and being forced to take it because they are, say, single moms or immigrants. There are so many different kinds of situations where women are being forced to be quiet. For me, the idea of wearing black was to give a voice to those who didn’t have one at that moment. It was just a dress, but it represented more.”
“There are so many different kinds of situations where women are being forced to be quiet. For me, the idea of wearing black was to give a voice to those who didn’t have one at that moment. It was just a dress, but it represented more.”
Frances McDormand spoke of this moment representing a cultural seismic shift, but Kravitz is a little more circumspect. “I guess we’ll have to wait and see if things kind of stick,” she says. “I think it takes a lot of time and concentration to start a movement.” It also takes an incident. Last year, it was the inauguration of U.S. President Donald Trump that sparked women’s marches, and most recently it’s been the highly publicized harassment incidents that prompted the creation of Time’s Up. Kravitz’s embrace of the movement is partly formed by a history of which she is obviously aware.
“There is stuff from the 1950s that is still hanging around, you know,” she says. “Like ‘Be quiet; speak when spoken to’ and that it is more feminine to be quiet and cute. But this is an interesting time right now. I think women are realizing that you can be a force and still be feminine.”
The harassment issues she’s referring to include the recent series of allegations and accusations against entertainment figures, such as former Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, as well as other prominent men in politics, the media and the fashion world.
Kravitz, 29, grew up adjacent to that powerful A-list orbit, as the daughter of actor Lisa Bonet and singer-songwriter/producer Lenny Kravitz, but she says her family has always kept her grounded. “A lot of women in my family are very strong people,” she says. “I try to surround myself with real people—people who will be honest and tell me if I’m being crazy or a diva or if I have a bad idea. Sometimes when you’re ‘a celebrity,’ people stop treating you like a human being.”
“If you’re afraid of failing, or afraid of being judged if you fail, it’s hard to get to the good stuff.”
But Kravitz also knows that being grounded depends on one’s professional situation, too—like hers in January 2016, when Big Little Lies began filming. At first she was intimidated—and felt very much out of her element—at the prospect of working with women she has long admired. “I need to be around people who I feel safe with, whether it’s in a personal environment, a work environment or a creative environment,” she says. “You need to be around people who support you no matter what so you are able to speak your mind and take chances. If you’re afraid of failing, or afraid of being judged if you fail, it’s hard to get to the good stuff…. That’s what was so great about Big Little Lies. It was such a positive community of people. Everyone was able to shine.”
She hopes she encourages the same sort of confidence in others that she has found thanks to her roles as YSL makeup ambassador, actor and musician. “I hope I can inspire other people to be themselves,” she says. “Being ‘the other’—I know what that feels like. I really hope to be a reflection of just another human being—not a perfect person—and remind others it’s OK to be different.”
Kravitz knows that being a biracial woman and a star comes with immense responsibilities, even though she wishes such differences were irrelevant. “I’m a human being, and you’re a human being,” she says. “I wish the story could end there, but we haven’t totally reached that point yet. It’s not necessarily about changing the world, but for young women who look like me, it’s important for them to see a reflection of themselves in the media. It’s also essential to show young women that beauty is all kinds of things. To see the same type of woman over and over again…that can weigh on the psyche.”
She adds that it’s important for women to remember that being beautiful and sexy is not all we have to offer. “We have hearts, brains and intuition, and we have a lot of other things to put forward besides being beautiful,” she says. “But feeling beautiful is really important because it helps you to get through the day, to feel good about yourself. Being beautiful is the opening, not the be-all and end-all.”
You can get an in-depth look at the products used to get Zoë’s look on our upcoming cover here and you can get a mini version of one of the products she wore by going to YSLbeauty.ca/FASHIONmagazine and entering the code YSLxFASHION.