My Beauty Uniform: Brooke Williams

I first met Brooke Williams—a photographer and blogger—when she was an editor at the original Domino Magazine. She’s funny and talented with a seriously amazing head of hair, and has been one of my style icons for years. Here, she talks about the magic of oil, wonderful advice for little girls, and what it’s like to be taller than her husband…

First off, what’s your daily beauty routine?
I am a total creature of habit and have been doing roughly the same thing for as long as I can remember. Every morning, before anybody else is awake, I do a short (5- to 7-minute) meditation to start my day with my feet planted firmly on the ground. I like the cleansers from the organic line Red Flower. You absorb so much through the skin, so it really pays to be mindful of what you’re spreading on your body. Ingredients are so important! I already use their ionizing flower mist and I’ve recently gotten hooked on their new serum. I use just a couple of drops instead of a moisturizer and my skin feels great.

Do you wear any makeup?
Not much, but I’ll put on lipstick if I need a pick-me-up or want to look like a grown-up (I like YSL no 54 Prune Avenue—I’m a sucker for that gold packaging) and a bit of mascara when I’m going out. I keep my fingernails neutral, but I love a splash of color on my toes—right now I’m feeling Blagger, a vibrant cobalt blue from Butter. It reminds me of Legos!

When in your life have you felt most beautiful?
I feel most beautiful when I’m underwater—perhaps that’s the Pisces in me. Other than that, I’d have to say my wedding day. I was happy in the same way that I was when Ada was born, but I had my hair and makeup done and was wearing a beautiful long dress and carrying flowers. My makeup was super minimal, but I did have a pro apply it, so at least for that one evening, I looked all nice and polished-like. Oh, and I had my toenails painted white with red flowers on the big toes. I figured I may as well go whole hog on my wedding day!

Have you always felt comfortable being taller than your husband?
I never ever thought I’d marry someone shorter than me, though at 5’11”, I’m not sure why the possibility had never crossed my mind. But then I met Josh, and all relative height considerations flew right out the window! I don’t remember ever being bothered by it or even thinking about it at all. Though every once in awhile when I see us in the mirror I am taken aback by how much I loom over him. Plus my hair doesn’t help! Just because I am now committed to spending the rest of my life with a man whose eyes come up to my chin doesn’t mean I’m willing to give up the collection of heels I’ve amassed in my 35-some-odd years of being single in NYC. I wear them when I’m going out on the town.

Do you have any funny beauty tricks?
Ok, this is embarrassing, but I’ve started using Bag Balm on my feet at night before I go to bed. It’s a thick lanolin-based rub used by farmers to keep cow udders soft. My heels, which are traditionally like sandpaper, are now all smooth—like I’ve just had a pedicure!

What’s your most regrettable beauty moment? (We all have one!)
In college (why is it always in college?) I experimented with wearing a fake long ponytail. I wanted to look like Sade. I also wore pinstriped pleat-front pants. The whole thing was a horrible mistake.

What’s your favorite part of your overall look?
I suppose my favorite part of my look is my hair. For most of my childhood, I went to beauty parlors and had my hair straightened with chemicals, which was horrible for all sorts of reasons. When I finished school and struck out on my own, I cut off all the processed hair and started from scratch. I’ve been wearing this kind of crazy natural afro ever since. I really can’t imagine ever changing it!

Is there a beauty product that has more-or-less changed your life?
I have two—both of them oils. First up is plain old organic coconut oil. At the end of every shower I rub a bit of this rich oil all over my skin. It’s got almost no scent, has all sorts of healing properties and is really inexpensive. My skin is quite dry, but this is the most effective moisturizer I’ve ever used. The second product is Dr. Alkaitis Treatment Oil. It’s billed as a skin product, but I use it on my hair and let me tell you, my hair has NEVER felt so soft. The ingredient list reads like an amazing garden salad which of course appeals to the naturalist in me! It’s pricey, but a little goes a long way. Then I just shape my hair with my fingers and hope I don’t look too insane when I leave my house.

Brooke Williams beauty uniform cup of jo

What’s your bedtime routine?
My fantasy self goes to sleep at ten, after having done an evening meditation, washed my face, used some kind of wondrous lotion or night cream, checked in on my peacefully sleeping daughter and then hung out in bed with my husband for a little while sharing bits of news from our day. The real me is lucky her teeth get brushed before diving under the covers in a panic because it is past midnight and tomorrow begins at 6am.

What have the women in your family taught you about beauty?
My mother taught me the importance of getting enough sleep (she can sleep till 11am…I’m so jealous!) and of sunscreen. She made us wear sunblock back in the day, when everybody else was wearing baby oil and tin foil and trying to get that savage tan. And I also remember as a kid watching my paternal grandmother [pictured above] do sun salutations on her porch in the summer. I had no idea what yoga even was then, but I was fascinated. She was one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen. She was a force.

How do you talk to your daughter Ada about beauty? What lessons do you hope she learns from you?
Ada is one of those kids who is constantly being told she is beautiful by strangers. My biggest fear is that it goes to her head and she starts to think she can get away with all sorts of stuff just because she’s cute. So what I’ve tried to do is define beauty as a holistic state, rather than a set of physical features. Beauty comes from the inside, from how you treat people, from your attitude towards the world around you. From being strong and confident and generous. That’s what I hope she takes in. But also, I’m not against playing around with your look, trying fun new hairstyles or getting your nails done or putting on makeup, as long as it’s seen as dress up and a game. Also, Ada inherited my grandmother’s eye shadow kit and she’s much better at doing a fancy eyelid than I could ever hope to be!

Thank you so much, Brooke! We love you! (And now I’m off to order Bag Balm:)

P.S. My friend Courtney’s beauty routine, and 15 hair tutorials.

(Photo of Brooke in the pink dress by Kava Gorna. Photo of Brooke on her bicycle by Anna Wolf for Cup of Jo. Striped tights photo by Jill Platner. All other photos courtesy of Brooke Williams. Interview by Caroline Donofrio.)

  1. Robin says...

    LOVE. Her attitude is even better than her style. Yes yes yes.

  2. Mo Kilgallon says...

    Well I guess I just found my girl crush. Everything about this woman is amazing. She totally and completely ‘owns’ herself and I love that. Brooke’s beauty shines through because she’s comfortable in her skin and you can can tell.

  3. I really liked this interview, very down to earth

  4. Thank you for this. You are so lovely. And your grandparents are so beautiful and strong; that picture brought tears to my eyes.

  5. “Then I just shape my hair with my fingers and hope I don’t look too insane when I leave my house.”

    Totally my hair philosophy too!

  6. Wow. Brooke, you are gorgeous. I love your approach to beauty. Just, wow.

  7. Beautiful interview. I love the photos with the guitars too and her green sneakers in the pic with the bike!

  8. Wow, she is such an incredible beauty, inside and out. So inspiring! I miss being around such gorgeous stylish women daily since I moved out of NY!

  9. Wow, she is such an incredible beauty, inside and out. So inspiring! I miss being around such gorgeous stylish women daily since I moved out of NY!

  10. what a wonderful post. thank you for sharing. P.S. I love bag balm!

  11. what a wonderful post. thank you for sharing. P.S. I love bag balm!

  12. I LOVE this interview! I agree with her on the coconut oil–cheap and effective. And that photo of her grandparents is STUNNING.

  13. Susan (and anybody else who is wondering) coconut oil won’t stain as long as it has really been absorbed into your skin before you put on any clothes. By the time I’m out of the shower, toweled off and in my bedroom I’m usually all good!

  14. Love this series (along with all of your other posts observing people in their everyday lives!)!!

    I’m a lifetime Bag Balm user and agree with its amazingness 100%. I also can’t wait to look into Red Flower products!!



  15. I’m curious – will the coconut oil stain your clothes or sheets?

  16. bag balm rocks! I was introduced to it in preschool believe it or not. that famous green tin is a lifesaver especially in winter.

    gorgeous woman and her daughter is as well! inside and out.

    & just the fact that it worries her just a bit that her daughter is always being told she’s beautiful ensures it won’t go to her head. she’s being raised right :)

  17. Brooke is absolutely-beautiful with gorgeous hair(good genes do play a part:),thanks Joanna!


  18. love this post, and your blog in general! would love for you to take a second and browse mine! It’s similar covering Lifestyle, fashion and general trends!

  19. “Beauty come from inside, from how you treat other, from your attitude towards the world around you.” I couldn’t agree more! Thanks for sharing!

  20. loved this! brooke is definitely one of the most beautiful people i’ve ever met, both inside and out.

  21. She is great, I love how it worries her that people tell her daughter she is beautiful all the time and that that may affect her behaviour. I also love that she doesn’t wear alot of makeup, i choose to go bare faced almost everyday myself

  22. Love her! Thanks for featuring a natural curly girl:)

  23. Great post. It’s rare to find someone so confident, both inside and out.

  24. I’m trying out bag balm for my feet.
    Thanks for the tip!

  25. Lovely post! She seems like a fun lady with a great family.

  26. Lovely post!

    Bag balm contains an antibiotic (a quinolone sort of like ciprofloxacin/cipro or levofloxazin/levaquin)… These are amazing antibiotics that can be life saving when taken orally – and are an absolute necessity for ill people with penicillin or cephalosporin allergies- but using them daily, even topically(on the skin) could breed resistant (meaning they no longer die in the presence of that drug) organisms on your skin.

  27. I so loved this. Thank you Joanna, and Brooke!

  28. I so loved this. Thank you Joanna, and Brooke!

  29. I so loved this. Thank you Joanna, and Brooke!

  30. LOVE seeing a woman of color on here. She is absolutely stunning and down to earth. Thank you!!

  31. LOVE seeing a woman of color on here. She is absolutely stunning and down to earth. Thank you!!

  32. LOVE seeing a woman of color on here. She is absolutely stunning and down to earth. Thank you!!

  33. LOVED this! She is gorgeous, and I absolutely loved what she said about a holistic approach to beauty. Lovely.

  34. I love how she defines ‘beauty’ for her daughter. I’d like to do the same for myself! And for my eventual kidlets :)

  35. Joanna,

    I love that you frame these posts in a kind of feminine tradition: an invitation to discuss the beauty routine. But what these posts really evolve into is something much more current, much more meaningful to me. They translate as incredibly honest portraits of real women, living and being their authentic selves; the opposite of photoshop and magazine covers. These posts seem to be antidotes of submitting to imposed female-beauty ideals. The details of beauty presented in these posts seem to be playful discussions of minimal and wholesome products and accessories of comfort: the things that help you enjoy life and the people around you more. For example, balm for cracked heels so that we can walk longer along the sides of the ones we love.

    I love it Joanna, thank you.


  36. Joanna, I’d love to read about your beauty uniform! You always look gorgeous in the photos you post :)

  37. Joanna, I’d love to read about your beauty uniform! You always look gorgeous in the photos you post :)

  38. What a great feature! I’m going to paste, “define beauty as a holistic state, rather than a set of physical features” to my bathroom mirror! Such wise mantra for life.

  39. I liked this interview a lot. Really great.

  40. LOVE this series! The questions you ask are very thoughtful, and that photo of Brooke on the bike is GORGEOUS.

  41. Loved this interview, especially what she tells her daughter.

    Also, my dad and grandfather have used bag balm on their contractor/sign painter hands for years and years. Loved to see that she uses it as well.

  42. Re: Ada always being told she’s beautiful, my dad dealt with this with my sister and I by always saying, “Yes. And smart and powerful, too.” It became a mantra, one that’s burned into me, and one that others have found inspiring (which makes me so happy to hear!):

  43. Absolutely love this post. Thank you, Joanna! If you get a chance do check outmy hair experiment at Dare, Diary! The Hair Experiment. I’m now on Day 114:)

  44. Seems like a very cool woman. Is no one else bothered by the picture of her on the bike with her baby on the front carrier?
    Bothered is the wrong word; I wish the streets were safe enough to ride like that, and I hope in her neighborhood they are. I also hope she doesn’t fall down, though. Ride safe, Brooke!

  45. The mother of one of my mom’s coworkers makes coconut oil herself and gifts us some, such a sweetheart! It’s great and doesn’t smell like what we know as coconut, it has more of a light burnt smell, I guess since it’s homemade, but it’s not annoying or anything. I mostly apply it on my hair’s ends overnight, and I started applying it on my super dry and itchy legs and it has worked like a miracle! I started using it since lotion wasn’t being enough and I’m glad I did.

    Also, if I ever have kids, I’ll be using a similar approach on beauty. I remember a post you did on how little kids always get compliments on how pretty they are, instead of how funny or smart they are, when in reality looks can only take you so far.

  46. I love this post…she’s just so lovely!

  47. What an inspiring post! Brooke just oozes happiness and confidence through this post, and I can’t imagine how awesome she is in real life. There are some awesome tips and quotes that she shared :)

  48. And my Mom swore by Bag Balm when I was little, so this feels very homey. :)

  49. I love how both of the women you’ve featured so far have inspired me to be more comfortable in my own skin, without a lot of hoop-di-la. They’re both so beautiful, and natural, and full people with rich lives that value beauty but don’t put it at the center. So lovely!

  50. I really enjoyed this piece and was glad to see diversity as well. I have been using natural oils on my skin and hair for at least a year now and boy, what a difference! I highly suggest everyone add natural oils to their beauty regimen!

  51. wow, i love her attitude and style. you always present such an interesting, uplifting series – i appreciate it!

  52. I need a Lego pedicure with some Bag Balm, stat! Thank you!

  53. Hooray for diversity! Thank you!!

  54. Bag balm, my grandparents swear by it for everything! Brooke is fantastic, and I am really loving these posts!

  55. Bag balm, my grandparents swear by it for everything! Brooke is fantastic, and I am really loving these posts!

  56. Hooray for tall ladies wearing heels! I am 6’1″ and still wear 4″ heels regularly…they are essential for pulling together a look when it’s hard to find the rest of your clothes long enough! I just wish people didn’t feel the right to comment on it all the time…just the other day I overheard two women in a restaurant discussing how inappropriate it was for me to wear heels because I was flaunting my height. What am I supposed to do, crouch down?

  57. Brooke is not only beautiful but kind and generous too! …Our daughters go to the same school and one day out of the blue she says to me “I have some clothes that Ada has outgrown and want to give them to you.” I was so appreciative of this random act as she and I are merely acquaintences and the fact that she thought of our family really made me smile…not to mention the clothes were super cute! Thanks Brooke!

  58. Oh gracious. She is so lovely…as well as her daughter AND grandmother. I’m sure her mother is a stunner as well.

    Beautiful post. And yes, I’m off to get some Bag Balm as well. Now…if only she had a trick to pass on that killer head of hair of hers.

  59. Brooke is just beautiful. Curious, anyone else on here in Atlanta?

  60. Beautiful. All of this.

  61. Yes! She is wonderful. I especially love her thoughtful comments to her daughter about the true nature of beauty. Please feature her again sometime!

  62. Brooke-I grew up in Vermont and New Hampshire and have many friends whose families own dairy farms and Bag Balm is actual quite common to use on skin where I’m from-particularly hands and feet and elbows. You’re not alone on that one!

    The City and Us

  63. This comment has been removed by the author.

  64. Love this post! Feels like Brooke is a good friend.

  65. Her grandparents look so……..dignified!

  66. Loving this new series so much! Keep ’em coming! xo

  67. Love her effortless beauty! Cute family as well. I like this series, Joanna!

  68. Bag Balm rocks. I put some on my poor peeling nose this morning!

    I have tried to do the coconut oil thing, but I really do have a little bit of an issue with the smell. You do get a bit more used to it with time, but I can’t seem to fully get over it. Do you happen to know what brand Brooke uses? I have tried Nature’s Way Organic.

  69. Thank you for choosing women to feature who are people of substance as well as physically attractive. I really appreciate that. Love your blog, Joanna–I’ve been reading for years now.


  70. Loved this, Brooke is awesome! My boyfriend is over three inches shorter than me. I too would have never said that I would date a shorter guy, but sometimes I’m surprised when I really take a look at him that he isn’t 6ft tall because he seems so much larger in my viewpoint of him as a person.
    I asked once if it bothered him, he looked at me and said, “Yeah, having a tall, hot blonde on my arm when I walk down the street is the absolute worst” I guess that sums it up.

  71. Loving this series! I’m also going to buy some bag balm! I love what she is trying to instill in her daughter about beauty. My daughter is 2 and strangers are constantly commenting on her looks as well, while I understand they are trying to be kind, it also bothers me a bit because she is so much more than physically beautiful. I don’t want her to get the idea that being “cute” is what’s important. I wonder, do mothers of boys deal with this too?

  72. So lovely! I love nothing more when it comes to hair than women rocking what they naturally came by, especially when it comes to hair like Brooke’s, and she has a stinkin’ cute little girl too boot!
    We use coconut oil in our house quite a bit as a skin moisturizer, we have really dry weather here in winter. We use it as a stand alone or what I really love to do is melt it half and half with organic beeswax and a few drops of essential oil like wild orange for good smell, then let it cool in muffin tins to a solid bar. We use it as a lotion bar straight on our skin or in the shower for extra absorption.

  73. Just make sure you get an all natural/organic coconut oil… the kind that you actually cook with. That way you can be sure that there is no added perfume. Also, it’s sort of like butter in that it’s solid till it gets warm. Just scoop a bit out of the jar and it’ll melt over your skin. You guys are going to love it!

  74. I’ve seen her picture before but did know her name and such. Thanks for sharing your friend with us!

  75. so glad you guys love brooke, too—she is so funny and wonderful. :)

  76. i know, susan, i was surprised about that, too!

  77. Such a wonderful interview, with refreshing insights on beauty. I always thought coconut oil would have a strong smell. I might have to check it out!

  78. jm says...

    What a wonderful sounding person Brooke is! This is one of my favorite posts ever. I am going to try that coconut oil – my skin is super dry. Thanks, Joanna!

  79. RB says...

    This is just fantastic — thank you, Joanna, for such inspiring and interesting work! Brooke is indeed quite a beauty, both inside and out. I hope to instill the same beauty-outlook in my young daughter.

  80. Beautiful! Love her style, especially the bike photo with her child, makes me crave riding my Pashley :) Thanks for sharing

  81. Wow how inspiring! I love her take on holistic beauty. This is such a wonderful series, thank you for including some racial diversity too!