Dinner with Bevy, Part 2
What: Beauty, Bullying and Bullshit
Where: Harlem’s Red Rooster
When: A bustling Saturday night
ME: Do you think that beauty is important in 2013?
BEVY: Beauty is very important but there are all kinds of beauty. I love that people are starting to say, “You look pretty!” because, guess what, I’m an average-looking woman. I’m an average woman and yet I get to be on TV in a very glamorous way. I think it’s really revolutionary.
ME: I don’t think you’re average-looking at all, by the way, but to what extent have you used the way that you look to your benefit? You’re beautiful, you have an amazing body. How much has that counted?
BEVY: Professionally, it has served me in that I've opened people’s eyes to another form of beauty. As you know, in the fashion world people do a lot of apologizing if they don’t look a certain way. Everyone’s always on a diet. No one’s ever tan enough. I don’t live in that world. You’re the purveyors of that and you’re buying into it?
As much as I like the way that I look when I’m made up, in my downtime, I make sure not to be all done up. If you get used to seeing your nose contoured, seeing yourself with your lashes done, drawn-on lips, and having your hair down to the middle of your back, when you see the real you, you’re gonna be horrified. You better look in the mirror everyday and see who you really are.
When I worked at Vibe there was a cover subject who was appalled by the way she looked on the cover because she was like, “That’s not me.” It really was her, but her stripped down. In her mind she looked like her photo-shopped self.
ME: When I was at Vibe I had a rough time. People liked me more after we became friends. Please explain.
BEVY: I felt very connected to you because I grew up with two parents that were older and wore classic clothes; we would shop at B. Altman’s and Bonwit Teller. We wore shoes that were good for our feet and this was in the 70s in Harlem when everyone was wearing polyester and bad shoes. I had to acquire an urban persona so that I wouldn't be bullied. I’m always looking out for other people in that same space. I was a great person, but I wasn't given a chance because they were like, “You girls talk white.” There were horrible things that happened when I was growing up. So when I saw that going on with you, I said, “Let me go and see if it’s what they think it is.”
ME: And then we shared a cab ride home and that was it.
BEVY: And that was it.
ME: I definitely wasn't black enough to survive Blaze.
BEVY: I wasn't black enough for Blaze either! My first day at work for Vibe was at the Magic convention and I showed up — you know, I came from an all-white advertising agency — and I went to the Vibe/Blaze booth. Because I’m a professional person I had on professional clothes, like a skirt, a jacket of some sort, and some high heels, but definitely not hip hop. And I went up to them and I said, “Hi, I’m Beverly Smith and I’m the new fashion manager at Vibe.” And they were like, “Her?” They really tried to question whether I was black enough which makes me laugh, because,of course, the people who were doing the questioning couldn't walk a mile in my uptown shoes!
I was only at Vibe for five and a half years. But before that, I had been working in all-white environments for thirteen years. I only worked with black people in a black environment for a very short time compared to the rest of my career. When I went out on my own and I started creating this new life for myself, I was introduced to Upright Negroes (see Dinner with Bevy, Part 1). All my really meaningful, connected relationships were with white people, so I didn't know all of those amazingly powerful blacks, people who were Links and Jack and Jill.
So fast forward, I get these amazing opportunities and I go out on my own to do various things with lots of black organizations because they hear about my pedigree. I go as I am and people who don’t know who I am, you can see the quizzical look on their face, trying to figure out how I got into the room.
Susan Fales-Hill invited me to see Misty Copeland dance Firebird. The majority of the black women were cool towards me. I didn't care. I understood what it was about. One of these dames don’t look like the other! I sat there and had the best time and when intermission came, I chatted with the people who wanted to chat with me and left the rest alone. When they realized that I knew a lot more people than they would've expected me to know, then they were curious. But you should be curious because I’m human and I’m nice.
ME: People don’t love to talk about class, but it affects everything that we do in this country. At this stage in your life and career what does money mean to you?
BEVY: Money is a means to an end. I always say I want to use my power for good.
ME: I've watched your career and I know that you've made decisions that weren't necessarily based on money. So you can sometimes turn down the money and end up more powerful at the end of the day?
BEVY: Oh, most assuredly. If I had stayed at Rolling Stone, I have no doubt that I would've left there, gone somewhere else and become an associate publisher and then a publisher at a major magazine, because I have way too many friends at all the major magazines to not garner that kind of a gig. But what I do right now, I’m infinitely more powerful than I would be if I were a publisher at a great magazine.
ME: What are the ingredients that make you more powerful in this position than you would've been had you become a publisher?
BEVY: Look at all the ways that I’m able to touch people’s lives. There’s a freedom in everything that I do. Power is freedom. Everyday I wake up and decide what I want to do. No one dictates it to me. Even when I’m contractually obligated to do certain things it’s still on my terms. It’s magical!
Whoopi Goldberg represents total and absolute freedom. She gets to be on daytime TV every day and be her natural and truest self and make money doing it. I’m in awe of her. She’s one of those people who I only want to meet in an amazing way. I want to host a dinner for Whoopi Goldberg, but it can only happen if I continue to do the work. The work serves the dreams. You cannot jump ahead because you know Sherri Shepherd and say I wanna meet Whoopi Goldberg. You wanna just meet her and say “Hi”?
ME: Harlemites are sort of like the French in that they know whether you’re faking it or making it, yes?
BEVY: There’s a really fierce bullshit meter that goes on in Harlem that I’m very thankful for. Today I saw In God We Trust about the Bernie Madoff scandal, about how his secretary had no idea that he was doing this horrific Ponzi and money laundering scheme. That’s insane. I see through things like that. I’m never overly impressed by the wealthiest person in the room or the person that everyone else wants to know. I’m very side-eye when people can’t tell me who that person is and why they’re in the room. “Oh that’s just so and so.” Yes, but who are they? “Oh she’s fabulous, she’s everywhere.” But what does she do? “She’s amaaaaazing. I think she does something like…” And I’m like, see that’s a Ponzi scheme right there! Watch, ya’ll gone see.
I don’t like that. In Harlem you have to stand for something. That’s why I always come back to doing the work. As long as someone can Google me and see my work, great. I’m a happy camper. So God Bless Kim Kardashian for being able to build a fortune and an empire for no other reason than being an amazing character, but that’s not my story. I know a lot of people are like, “How’d she get on TV?” Well, if you do your research, you understand how Lil Brown Bevy got on TV. This wasn't a fluke.
ME: Would Kim Kardashian ever be invited to a Dinner with Bevy?
BEVY: A client would have to really force me to do it. I can’t say never, because what if she becomes this amazing philanthropist? What if I meet her and she’s really much more than what she seems?
The reason why I’m not so concerned about the fast buck or about the fast pop of fame is because I know the type of company I want to keep and the people I admire. The people I admire deserve their success and are authentic people. So when I run into a Bill T. Jones in the street and I’m able to talk to him about how I want to do a dinner for Super Fly (which is a new play he’s trying to mount) and then he’s with his partner, Bjorn Ameling, who was Patrick Kelly’s partner and they’re like, “They just did an amazing Patrick Kelly retrospective at the Philadelphia Museum of Art,” and I’m like, “I did a dinner for the Barnes Foundation,” that means the world to me. There are a lot of people who want me to do dinners for them that are not the kind of people I want to do dinners for.
ME: How do you turn those people down?
BEVY: I say, “Oh no honey … I’m not going to do that.”
We stop to thank the sharp maitre d’ for the lovely dessert he’s brought us. Bevy looks up and smiles, “Thank you baby!”