Flipping through Bobbi Brown’s latest book, Beauty from the Inside Out, you’ll notice the makeup section is all the way at the end, practically an afterthought. That’s because Brown’s newest chapter in life is more about inner beauty than outer appearance. “In all my books, there were things about how food and drinking water and lifestyle are going to make you the best version of yourself,” she tells SELF, but the advice was complementary to a central focus on cosmetics. This time, she wanted to go all in. “I really tried to talk my publisher into letting me do a full-on health and wellness book,” she says. “We had to compromise and put some makeup in the back of the book.”
At the end of 2016, Brown announced that she was leaving her eponymous makeup brand. To say beauty industry insiders were shocked would be an understatement. After two decades as the first and last name in makeup for many women, Brown had expanded her presence even more in recent years. She served as the editor-in-chief of Yahoo Beauty‘s ambitious editorial relaunch in 2014 and still found time to for a personal blog, Everything Bobbi, where she gave readers an inside look at the inspiration behind her product launches as well as her sartorial favorites. But behind the scenes, Brown’s mood was shifting. Makeup no longer felt to her like the be-all-end-all of beauty, and the trends of the day were starting to wear her down. “It was not an overnight decision,” she says. “I was able to move into something I believe in 100 percent and not have to argue with people about another contour palette that I refuse to do.” As of January 1, Brown officially stepped away from her role as chief creative officer of the brand, her name the only remnant of her influence.
Brown started the Bobbi Brown brand 25 years ago as a side project while working as a freelance makeup artist. It was the ’80s, and hot-pink cheeks and neon eyeshadow were the norm. Brown wasn’t feeling it. She thought most makeup just didn’t work on the women she was dolling up in boutiques or for magazine covers without some mixing or tweaking to tone it down. “Most of the makeup on the market I had to fix. There was nothing that actually looked right on people’s faces,” she says. “I met a nice guy who was a chemist, and I told him about a lipstick I wanted to make that looked like lips.” So he made her a range of 10 lipsticks—mostly nudes and classic reds. “Then, it kept going from there.”
And by “kept going” she means it became a beloved international brand that was bought by Estée Lauder in 1995. Soon, you couldn’t go into any mall or department store without seeing a Bobbi Brown Cosmetics counter. The company became known for creating products that solved real problems, from dark circles to sparse eyebrows. “I think a woman should look like a better version of herself, no matter her age or skin color,” Brown says. And that philosophy was evident in her cosmetics launches. She favored concealers over contouring and neutral lipstick over trendy hues like navy and emerald green.
Brown also had a devotion to creating product for a range of skin tones when most brands’ shades stalled out around biscuit. To her, including deep brown options in her line was common sense, not a business move. “I don’t care that you don’t sell a lot of the darker colors,” she would tell her team. “I would always say, ‘Go find customers that can wear those colors.’”
It is this laser focus on timeless makeup products for every woman, every day that has made the Bobbi Brown brand a household name, and has made Brown herself a beauty icon. But last December, after years of pondering a change, Brown says “the timing came together” for her to step away from the makeup counter and bring her years of experience to a more holistic approach to selling beauty.
Her new book is sort of like an introduction to another side of Brown that has been overshadowed by her makeup expertise.
After growing up on corned beef sandwiches (she’s from Chicago, originally) and yo-yo dieting through the ’70s, Brown learned how to listen to her body. And she saw the effects of a more wellness-centric lifestyle on her outer appearance. “I slowly started changing my eating habits and realized I felt better. And you know what, I didn’t have the dark circles under my eyes when I wasn’t eating cookies and candy.”
She describes Beauty from the Inside Out as “an evolution of figuring it out and trying to teach people.”
“For me, looking better isn’t about going to the dermatologist and saying, ‘What are you going to shoot into my face today?’ It’s about how can I feed the inside of my body,” she says.
The first chapter in her new book is all about superfoods with recipes like avocado dip and salmon bowls, which she partnered with Lily Kunin from Clean Food, Dirty City to create. Later sections cover exercise and meditation. (Brown has a standing strength and conditioning workout three times a week and loves to walk through her New Jersey neighborhood.) And she’s got an entire chapter on confidence. “So many women are insecure. You can’t compare yourself to other women. You can’t compare yourself to actresses and supermodels,” she says. “Confidence to me is about being comfortable and not trying to be someone that I’m not. It’s an empowering thing when you figure that out.”
The last two chapters of the book are reserved for makeup tips. Brown’s made it clear that just because she’s stepped away from the industry doesn’t mean she’s giving up her love of makeup. “There’s nothing better than being in a room with a team and a photographer and faces and makeup. It’s what I love and honestly it’s who I am,” she says.
Now that she’s “retired,” Brown is busier than ever—doing exactly what she wants, and nothing she doesn’t. “There have been so many incredible opportunities that have come to me. I can actually do what I believe and say what I believe,” she says. “I have an incredible open mind, and there’s a whole new world out there.”
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