Here’s the Powerful Story Behind This Sorority’s Viral #MelaninIllustrated Photoshoot
Reunions are always cause for a boatload of photos, but when members of one class of sorority sisters got together to mark another five years since graduation, their resulting photos—hashtagged #MelaninIllustrated—almost immediately went viral. And for good reason: With a carefully coordinated photoshoot, each woman wearing a swimsuit in her own shade of nude, they collectively made a major point.
The reunion—and the themed photos with coordinating outfits—are something of a tradition for those in the pictures. Known as “line sisters,” the women are from the 2007 Delta Sigma Theta pledge class at Florida A&M University. Since graduation, they’ve gotten together every five years. This year’s trip was to Costa Rica.
The photos from this year’s reunion are striking not only because of the women’s empowered poses, collective aura of confidence, or the clever twist on a certainSports Illustrated issue—but also because it’s only recently that mainstream fashion and beauty brands have started acknowledging that “nude” is a different shade of brown or beige for every woman. And there’s another reason too, as one of the sorority members explained.
Finding the right swimsuits was just first step in preparing for the shoot; the sisters also received an impromptu swimwear-shoot posing lesson from Shardia Washington, a cheerleader for the L.A. Rams.
“We didn’t want to do the typical on-the-sand beach photo because beauty to us is about bringing your personal best to the table,” Doneghy said. Rather than the usual submissive, lying-down, or rolling-in-the-foam poses, the Delta Sigma Theta sisters chose to stand and face the camera in poses that exude a level of self-possessed confidence.
“The media has a way of telling us what beauty should be,” she said. “We say beauty is being confident. Knowing that you are good enough—especially our African American sisters who may sometimes feel overlooked and underrepresented—that is beautiful in itself.”
When asked about a follow-up shoot, Doneghy says that she and her sisters aren’t sure if they’ll be leading the charge any time soon: “I think we really wanted to seize the moment that we were in. At our 15-year reunion, we might go in a totally different direction and find a new way to celebrate.”