"I’m from Huntsville, Alabama, which is a military town. Right now I’m in my residency in psychiatry at NYU. Prior to med school I had no experience with this field. I imagined it to be this very boring thing. I use the example of when we’re on the subway and recognize people who probably have a severe mental illness. Before, I never really thought about them as people needing treatment. I just thought, ‘These people seem scary.’ Being in the field now, I realize how much that mental illness can affect the way people live—they’re not just crazy, there are a lot of processes happening, both physically and mentally. And there are so many ways it can be treated, from medication to therapy.
During med school, I found social media to be this really cool community you could create for yourself. I started to get on [Instagram] and talk about what I’m doing as a psychiatrist. People would say, ‘Can you tell me more about this, or that,’ so I started doing these weekly talks. I get on Live and I’ll pick a topic, like anxiety, or how to navigate complicated relationships, or what to do in toxic spaces. It ends up being really interesting. Also, here in Brooklyn, a friend of mine owns a yoga studio called And Yoga. Together we started a workshop called Serving Myself, and the concept is self-empowerment. People think about self-care as like, going to get your nails done, but it’s really about learning what’s going on inside in regard to how you feel, and what you’re thinking, and if you’re starting to move towards things you really want in life. It’s about changing the way you think about things. So we host these workshops, pick topics, and incorporate some aspects of talking about mental illness while we do yoga and meditation. That’s been really fun.
In our workshops, a lot of the participants would talk about struggling with body image and weight. While we’re not focused on telling people to do yoga to lose weight or get a more toned body, we talk about how it’s empowering to be able to verbalize that’s what you’ve been struggling with. And then we hear other people say, ‘Yeah, I’ve struggled with acne,’ and ‘I’ve struggled feeling confident.’ There is power in the group in that way. My personal philosophy about beauty is that I like to feel as natural as possible. Part of that is because I found that when I would try to do different things to be on trend, I just didn't feel like me. I think it makes you feel more confident when you can figure out your own hacks for yourself. That makes me feel good. If someone is really striving to change the way they look to make themselves feel better, I think that can be problematic in terms of how their mood can be—it can make them anxious or depressed. The more a person can be comfortable in their own skin, the more the confidence is there. If someone is really struggling with their body image or hair or skin, I would almost encourage the person to start with that, the thing they don’t like the most. Start with just trying to not change it. Then everything else will kind of fall into place.
I have eczema, and I would try to use all of these different products to cleanse my skin. My skin reacted every time with a dry spot or rash—I thought it was helping. When I went to my dermatologist, he was like, ‘Just stop.’ It’s Dr. Carlos Charles here in New York. Now I use Cerave moisturizer and cleanser, and I really love witch hazel. Growing up, my mom would always have me do a once-over with the witch hazel. I still use that. The Cerave [cleanser] is water-based, but it doesn’t lather. You want that lather to feel like you’re cleaning well, so I’ll get this little tool called the Foreo when I find that I’ve been wearing makeup and need something to scrub a little deeper. I have a medication when [my eczema] gets really bad, but I don’t have a lot of flare-ups anymore. Honestly, it’s only when I’m stressed. So I keep it really simple and do the same thing morning and night. Because I wear product in my hair, if I’m not careful, I'll get breakouts on my forehead. Then I use a little Atralin that my dermatologist prescribed to prevent acne–that’s the brand name, but it is a prescription medication like Retin-A. It’s really good, you can only use a pea-sized amount once a day. I use it in the morning, but I really should use it at night. I put it on first, and then layer it with moisturizer and sunscreen. I use Neutrogena [sunscreen], just because I think they were the first to have the one for face. I think it’s like some ridiculous SPF, like 90, which I don’t think is even possible. [Laughs] Sometimes I’ll use a rosewater spray and then a face oil with rose. It’s from Donna Marie, and a friend recommended it to me for my wedding. It smells good, and I find that my face feels softer in the morning.
I use Glossier Skin Tint in Deep—since I work in the hospital a lot, I find full coverage is not realistic for the kind of work that I’m doing. There’s a Nars concealer stick that I use in Amande on my undereyes and a few areas that are darker on my skin. I use Glossier Boy Brow, and on my lashes I use this mascara from Benefit called They’re Real. I usually just wear a neutral lip color—I really like the Fenty Beauty Gloss Bomb. If I want more, I may do a cat-eye. L’Oréal has this little eyeliner with a spongy tip, and I can do a wing tip with that really easily. Then I put on blush—Glossier Cloud Paint. I use the more burgundy one, Storm. I’ve also been using Dawn, which is a more orange-y color. The other day I had it on and I walked outside and my husband was like, ‘Oh my god, you look like a little butterfly!’ It’s really bright, and I love that. Nars has a really deep red that I put on when I want something a little more.
There's this new line that I use called Curls Dynasty—I really like the packaging. With natural hair, if you’re doing it when you’re showering, you need products that can get to your scalp. With this stuff, they put it in a spout so I can get it onto my scalp, which is the most important part. Then they have this Organic Oil Blend that you put on at the ends, and that gets the hair shiny, but it’s also a really nice natural conditioner. The line is really good. I also use Shea Moisture, and they have a curl moisturizer situation that you put on at the end. If I’m wearing my curly fro, I wash it practically every day, because when I sleep it just gets so flat and squished. With curly hair, there’s a lot of breakage that happens. That’s the only downside. I’ll do braids sometimes, usually in the summer. My friend Medilla braids hair, so I’ll just go to her house to get them done—she's great. She’s very into natural, holistic kinds of things, so she’ll soak the hair that she uses for the braids in something that gets all the buildup off, which prevents your scalp from feeling itchy. Usually the hair is treated with some type of chemical. She cleanses it and she uses this flaxseed gel—she’s just really into maintaining your hair under it. I have a couple of silk pillowcases, so I can change them out a few times a week. They can lead to breakouts if you don’t change them enough. That’s why my hair is always a mess in the morning, because I don’t cover it, I just sleep on it. I don’t like to fool with bonnets—it’s just easier when I travel, I can take my pillowcase with me.
BODY AND FRAGRANCE
Dove is always consistent and I like that. I use the body wash and a little loofah. Sometimes, because I grew up in a household where your legs had to be shiny, I’ll use the gel baby oil, and sometimes I’ll mix that with my lotion if I want to be shimmery. If you did not have shiny skin, my mom would be like, ‘Come here,’ and she'd lotion me up with baby oil. If you were going to church, you had to look presentable. I don’t wear fragrance—part of it is because they don’t like you to wear it in the hospital, just because there are different people coming in. I’ve gotten out of it—before, I used to love to wear Chance by Chanel. But the last eight years, being in medicine…if you wear anything that smells, people will look at you funny. Instead I use essential oils in my diffuser. I was inspired by Muji—that store has such great fragrances—but I bought it on Amazon because it’s so convenient. There're a bunch of essential oils, and sometimes I mix them. Like orange and vanilla, I love that.
On my nails I started using the SNS New Gel. My nails were long already, so they just covered them. It’s a gel that they dip in the powder, and it’s hardened with vitamin E, so when they remove that, there is a process I think that happens where your nails are supposed to be a little protected under it. Anyway, I like it! I usually go to Element Beauty—there’re a couple of them—but there’s a little nail salon near the hospital that I’ll go to on my lunch break. I went in there and I said, ‘Oh my gosh, I broke a nail, can you fix it?’ And she convinced me to do this. She was like, ‘Next time, shorter.’ I think she just had so much work to do."
—as told to ITG
Jessica Clemons shot by David Cortes in Brooklyn on July 20, 2018.