Chicago-based photographer Anjali Pinto is one of my favorite people to follow on Instagram. I discovered her after the story of losing her husband Jacob went viral. On New Year’s Eve 2016, Jacob died suddenly of an aortic dissection — a rare heart condition. I’ve come to admire her grounded outlook on life and loss, and the way she uses her platform to uplift marginalized voices. Here she shares her no-fuss morning routine and her favorite way to relax…
Did your relationship to your beauty change after Jacob passed away?
Definitely. After three and a half years, the shock of his death has worn down, and I’ve tried to figure out what it was about our relationship that made me feel so loved and admired… in large part, it was just acceptance. And if I don’t have his acceptance to rely on, how could I build that feeling up for myself? It ebbs and flows, but having the reality check that health is not a guarantee and to be grateful for what your body is capable of — that has allowed me to view my own fat as a gift. I get to enjoy food and enjoy life. I’ve been chubby since I hit puberty and if I don’t accept it I’m going to die hating my body, and I don’t want to be in that position.
What do your mornings look like?
I hate getting ready in the morning, so I always shower before bed — I’ve done that since I was a teenager. My morning routine is clearing the sleep out of my eyes, splashing my face with water and getting coffee as soon as possible.
Do you have a favorite evening moisturizer?
My former studiomate makes beauty products, and I use her facial oil in the lemon clove scent, as well as this facial toner — they’re both very hydrating. Then I use Nuxe Huile Prodigieuse body oil on my neck, chest and arms, and it makes my skin satiny soft. My friend gave it to me as a gift from Paris. It adds gloss to your hair, too, so I spray it all over. I use it both as a moisturizer and a fragrance — of fresh orange blossom and vanilla.
Tell me about your tattoos! They’re gorgeous.
I started getting tattooed at 25, by Esther Garcia. Her craftsmanship is otherworldly! Since my husband’s passing, I’ve added a lot to my collection, mostly from memories or symbols of our life together. They make me feel more myself.
I love your hair. What products do you use to take care of it?
I used to try all sorts of fancy shampoos, but have settled on TRESemmé $4 shampoo and conditioner because they leave my hair softer and less frizzy. Then I almost always air dry it — but I also like to French braid and can do that on my own.
Let’s talk makeup. Do you have a go-to routine?
I start with Laura Mercier tinted moisturizer on my face and neck, which is pretty sheer, but it evens out whatever redness I might have. I sometimes use an under-eye concealer, to cover the dark circles under my eyes; then I use Ecobrow in Penelope on my brows. I apply a matte lipstick — I love a matte lip! My cheaper go-tos are Smashbox in Primrose and Fenty Beauty in Single.
Do you have any personal rituals to help you feel beautiful?
I wasn’t deemed ‘athletic’ when I was young, and was told that exercising wasn’t for me because I was ‘bad at it.’ I have found in adulthood, however, that I love anything that is low and slow. I love biking and swimming and walking. I don’t like sprinting or long-term strenuous endurance but I can ride my bike or swim at a slow pace for a very long time. As far as self-care goes — does masturbation count?
Going from a loving relationship where we both had our sexual needs fulfilled, to being suddenly alone, I relied a lot on masturbation to feel connected to myself, to soothe myself to sleep, and to feel alive. It reminded me that I could access pleasure even in the darkest parts of my emotional struggle. That’s been huge for me, and I try to be open about that because there’s still a taboo around masturbation.
Have any of your beauty routines shifted being in quarantine?
Well, I rarely put on makeup, my nails are unpainted, and I’ve shaved my legs once in three months. Frequent baths have become a way I relax.
You started a photo project on Instagram, fielding questions from your followers about their relationships to their bodies, and ended up turning it into a zine called Body Talk. It had an amazing impact on many people, including me. How did you decide to start this project?
I wanted to make nude photography, but didn’t want it to be inherently sexual. I wanted to foster conversations around existing in a body — the good, the bad and the mundane. There are many experiences that we endure alone because of the shame surrounding our bodies, and in opening up people’s eyes to how other people look naked, I can remove some of that shame.
What did you do before photography?
I used to work for a corporation which was highly lacking in inclusivity and awareness; I felt like my political beliefs or ideas of what equality really looks like were not welcome there. When Ferguson happened and I was at work, I didn’t even feel like I could talk about it with anyone because nobody understood or seemed affected by it — it was a really isolating experience. I realize the discomfort I felt at work was minuscule compared to the microaggressions and racism that others likely felt there. Looking back, I wish I had done more to speak up and advocate for others, and not allowed my discomfort to silence me. In leaving that job, and working for myself, it was a load off my shoulders to speak freely. A lot of times if people don’t know a Black photographer they’ll hire me, because I identify as a woman of color. I started thinking, ‘Am I the best person to do x, y, or z job?’ and made it my prerogative to be connected with creatives in Chicago who are Black, so I can pass along those jobs to them.
Tell me about your boyfriend, Uche. You guys seem so sweet and funny together!
We met two years ago through OkCupid. I knew he was handsome from the photos, but I had no idea how open and tenderhearted he would be. He is incredibly patient, which is required for loving someone that has lost a spouse.
How have you and Uche been doing in quarantine?
Quarantine has been pretty challenging for us. The pandemic meant that our Airbnb went dry, and we ended up having to move unexpectedly. I was a ball of stress and tears. Uche’s trucking away at school, which has all been moved online, meaning some days he’s at the computer for 12 hours at a time. I felt really alone at times, at home listening to the news and getting more and more anxious. But now, I have found a way to fundraise and contribute to some local organizations, and I’ve been grocery shopping for families that don’t have easy access to stores right now. Getting out of the house and contributing to my community has made all the difference in my overall mood and wellbeing.
You’re having a baby soon! How are you feeling about everything as a first time mom?
I am so excited to meet our child. When I feel her kick, I imagine her little limbs and how nice it will feel to hold her on my chest. We are still unpacking from the move, but I look forward to decorating the nursery and getting ready to nest. With the world’s focus and amplification of Black voices, I am in a process of learning and listening. I’m bringing a Black child into the world, and with that gift, there is also a responsibility to self-reflect and examine my own biases and the ways I have benefited from white supremacy. Having an African partner or Black child does not absolve me of racism, and motivates me more to having difficult conversations with friends and family about how to be actively anti-racist.
What is your beauty philosophy?
Getting older and experiencing loss have helped me to feel more accepting. I dream of a world where every person sees and appreciates their own beauty. I want to help other women feel beautiful, just by their existing.
Thank you so much, Anjali! You are incredible.
(Photos courtesy of Anjali Pinto/Instagram.)
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