What is “pretty”?
That’s the question Antonia Opiah, founder of media company Un-ruly, set out to answer when she set off on a trip across the globe to create a documentary series on global beauty. We sat down with Antonia and chatted about the “Pretty” series, taking risks, and quitting your day job to move to Paris.
What exactly is Un-ruly and why did you decide to start it?
Antonia: Simply put Un-ruly is a place for Black hair. We celebrate the health, versatility and beauty of Black hair–all types of Black hair. I created it because I personally wanted a place online like it, a place where I could go and get hair inspiration because I like to change my hairstyle a lot. Having come from a digital marketing background, I had the skill set to build Un-ruly and build it quickly, so I did!
What are some challenges you faced when creating Un-ruly?
Antonia: I almost want to say that there hasn’t really been any. If there has been, I haven’t noticed. I’ve always responded really well to challenge. I will say that quitting my job to work 100% on Un-ruly was VERY scary. I was used to getting a paycheck twice a month and all of a sudden that was gone. I had to live off my savings and it didn’t help that I had moved to Paris at the same time. (More about that here if it strikes your fancy). It took about 6 months for that fear to subside and for me to adjust to this new way of life… you have to really dance for your supper when you work for yourself and there’s a lot of pressure that comes with that. I hadn’t really considered that before I made the big plunge and I’m glad I didn’t because fear might have held me back. But fear fades and humans have a natural ability to adapt. So things have been pretty smooth so far (knock on wood).
Antonia: Why Paris…I came for the same reason most people come to Paris—the glamor, the romanticism, the architectural beauty and the CROISSANTS…really the croissants!!! There are none like them anywhere else.
What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
Antonia: I’m going to show my true nerd colors here, but I really enjoy tackling a huge to-do list and crossing things off of it! I enjoy reaching people and being able to create work that resonates with other people. But I also really love just building things and seeing something that was just a thought turn into a plan on paper and then into something real. I love bringing my thoughts and ideas to life.
Can you tell us a little bit about what the Pretty series is?
Antonia: Pretty is a documentary series about global beauty. We’ve been visiting women in cities across the world, namely Paris, Milan and London and speaking with them about beauty standards in their country and city and their own personal relationship with beauty.
What inspired you to take on this documentary project?
Antonia: Beauty and appearance takes up a lot more space in my mind than I would like it to. I appreciate beauty but also am bothered by how much value is placed on it. We really do live in a world where women are valued by how pretty they are and then on top of that there’s a very narrow definition of beauty, which indirectly says, ‘if you don’t fit this particular standard, you are not valuable as a woman or person.’ And the crazy thing is the world treats you accordingly, beautiful women have certain privileges. Some careers are made out of beauty alone. And women who aren’t considered beautiful are often invisible. I kind of want to break the link with beauty and a person’s worth and I’m hoping to do that by giving viewers a chance to hear each woman’s story and with the repetition of certain themes across the episodes.
What’s been the most surprising discovery to you as you’ve gone through filming the Pretty series and meeting women from around the world?
Antonia: I’ve actually always agreed with Nathan Biberdorf who wrote an article for the Huffington Post, “Not Everyone Is Beautiful”. I agree with him about letting go of “beautiful” and that we’re usually looking for another word when we say beautiful. But in speaking with about 24 women so far, and really getting to know each one, spending hours editing each girl’s footage, I really become well-acquainted with some of the characteristics that make each person the only person in the world that’s them and it’s hard to not see that as beautiful. So there was a personal little paradigm shift there for me.
What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned from creating Pretty?
Antonia: Building on the previous question, I’ve started to listen for beauty more than look for it. And I think that’s the biggest problem with the current definition of beauty, it’s really so narrow. We haven’t really scratched the surface of what is beautiful and we’re limiting our own experience as a result.
What’s the best beauty advice you’ve ever received?
Antonia: I really liked Minna Salami’s definition of beauty. She defines beauty in three ways—political, surface and genuine.
If you could give a piece of advice to college women, what would it be?
Antonia: There’s so much I’d say… perhaps on a philosophical level I’d say… everything in life is a product of what you put into it; school, work, your life, in general, is all a product of how you decide to shape it. There may seem to be outside forces at play, things beyond your control, but (in the Western world) there’s always something you can do to affect what you get out of life.
Then on a more practical level I’d say… make sure you have as much fun as you can in college. College is definitely a good time to play hard just be sure to take the time to know what career choices are out there. There are so many different jobs out there and ways to make a really comfortable living and not a lot of people know about them (which is one of the reasons why we have a Working Girl column on Un-ruly). So just be sure to start exploring how you might want to make a living now and if you can’t decide what you want to be, just try anything.
What can readers look forward to seeing from Un-ruly in the future?
Antonia: We have a lot planned for the second half of the year. We’ve got another exciting video series coming up and we’re working hard on simply creating content that’s really worth consuming.
If you like what you see, be sure to check out Un-ruly’s other documentary series, “You Can Touch My Hair”: