St. Petersburg native owns her Black beauty and encourages other dark-skinned women to do the same.
BY ALEXIA MCKAY
Symone Seven always knew her Black was beautiful.
And when you meet her, who can disagree otherwise? Her sun-kissed chocolate glistens in springtime, Afro-Bohemian fabrics and her thick, black coily hair falls around her smooth, oval face like a natural crown. Like royalty.
“I decided super early that I’m beautiful and nobody can tell me otherwise,” said the Atlanta based photographer.
Growing up in St. Petersburg, the 23-year-old says her mother kept her surrounded by Black positivity and beauty.
Black and proud
The walls are littered with Black art; Black angels, figurines and sculptures decorated the tables and counters, like a local neighborhood Black Lourve. You could not help but walk inside her home as an African American and immediately start to feel empowered.
“The living room is all Obama, from head to toe,” she said. “Obama pillows, Obama big posters, Obama bobble heads.”
The first novel she ever read was “The Color Purple,’’ which is also her favorite movie. And every Barbie doll she had was Black, from back in a time where you had to search every nook and cranny of a city to find a melanin Barbie.
So, by the time she went to school, she was more secure in her own skin than most adults today.
“They (the kids) were like, ‘You’re so dark.’ White people and other Black people,” she related. “For me I was shocked, but because I had that foundation, I was like ‘OK, my mama said something else. And I knew her my whole life and I just met you,’ so somebody was wrong.”
A Black Cinderella
Today, as a creative photographer living in Atlanta, Seven channels that confidence into her work. For the past two months, she has been transforming herself into Disney princesses.
It’s a project she had planned a year ago but had been procrastinating about until the coronavirus hit.
“Once quarantine hit, I said, ‘OK, this is the perfect time.’ So, I put it out and it became what it became.”
Her first princess character she portrayed was Cinderella on April 3. “Little Black girl, you are princess too,” she wrote in an Instagram caption.
“I wanted to capture that feeling of nostalgia,” Seven says about her Cinderella photo. She wanted Black girls to look at that photo and feel the same magic and empowerment she felt when she first saw Brandy portray the Disney character in the 1997 musical, alongside Whitney Houston as the fairy godmother.
“Little girls, they love Disney princesses, even to this day I still love my Black Cinderella (Brandy),” she shared.
‘Bigger than me’
Since then, Seven has recreated self-portraits for at least 13 princesses so far. They include Sleeping Beauty and Maleficent, Rapunzel, Tianna, Ariel, Pocahontas, Jasmine and most recently, Snow White.
“My followers say, ‘Girl, you are a princess’,” she said. “And I was like, ‘Girl, I’ll be that for you if that’s what you need. I’ll be that for you.”
Symone was featured on ABC’s “Good Morning America’’ back in April. ABC, of course, is a part of Disney. She says the company is aware of her using their princess likenesses and are OK with it.
But she didn’t create these beautiful images for national notoriety. “It’s bigger than me,” she stated.
She creates these portraits for Black women like her mother, who today is an essential ER nurse in St. Pete and who Seven says grew up as an outcast in her family because of her dark skin.
But once her mother had her, she made a promise that her daughter would never experience the discrimination she felt growing up.
“They [Black women] would be like 50 years old and be like, ‘I never felt beautiful until I met you,’” she related. “I had to really think about how come I didn’t have that hang-up and it really made me reminisce to my childhood and be like, ‘Oh, it’s my mom.’ ’’
She creates the images for young Black girls whose parental guidance comes more from the internet than their own homes.
“A lot of those kids,” she said, “they don’t have that strong mom and dad figure. Maybe Grandma raising them and Grandma’s old, so they just have the internet. And I was like, man, if only they knew they had other options.”
“They [kids] might be raised just by the internet and if they’re seeing certain things over and over and they’re looking in the mirror and seeing a difference, that’ll really mess with somebody self-esteem.”
The princess process
One of her followers has a 5 or 6-year-old daughter. She tells Seven that her daughter makes her pull up her IG profile every day.
“She just really likes seeing somebody who looks like her, doing something else, doing something that she likes.”
Creating a Disney princess is not as easy as the flick of the wrist of a fairy wand. Each photo takes at least eight hours to complete. Seven’s editing days start as early as 6 a.m.; it takes about two hours to prep, 20 minutes to shoot, and the rest of the time is spent retouching and editing, using photoshop.
And she confesses that she hates being photographed. But if it means being able to share those points of beauty and confidence her mother instilled in her, it’s worth it.
“I have to put myself out, I have to give them their point of reference, I have to show up for them because somebody showed up for me.”
Seven is also the author of two e-books about photoshop and hosts weekly, online classes to teach people how to use the program for their own businesses.
To learn more about Symone Seven, visit symoneseven.com.
Alexia McKay is the publisher and editor-in-chief of RoyalTee Magazine, a quarterly publication for millennial, minority entrepreneurs and influencers. She also is an editorial assistant for the Florida Courier. Find more of her content at royalteemagazine.com.