the matte project


Beauty Journey: Gugulethu Mhlungu (Gugs)

Full name: Gugulethu Mhlungu

Age: 28

Occupation: Print and broadcast journalist and international BeyHive board member 


I am the oldest of two, my younger brother Sifiso is 10 years younger than me. I was born in Chris Hani Bardgwanath Hospital, and my mom and I lived in Arma Court in Hillbrow until I was about 6 when she married and moved to the Spruitview on the East Rand in Jozi. At the same time I moved to a school in Rosebank, a great public school called Rosebank Primary School. Because I needed to live in the area I moved in with my gran who worked as a maid for an Italian family. So I spent Monday to Friday with granny emakishini and then some weekends with my mother, brother and step father on the East Rand.

Being my gran’s first grandchild I was very spoilt. To this day my grandmother treats me like gold. I basically had two moms who told me that I could do anything I wanted. my mother and gran told me girls could do whatever they want. They were the first feminists I met.


My mother has always been the most beautiful person. To this day, shecould wear a refuse bag and look amazing. 

She dresses really well and when I was young she would make her uniform look like the coolest thing (she used to work for Rennie Travel at some point and they had a uniform). Her shirts were always crisp and clean, her hair was always neat and on point and despite the long distance to work she always looked fresh. She always looked like she was going somewhere. She smelt like a powder and flowers, and she wore dusty pink lipsticks that she would leave on my lips when she kissed me goodbye. 


Because both my mom and gran are lighter in complexion and there were so many images of “beautiful” people that were also light skinned, I grew up believing that lighter women were prettier. This meant I didn’t really rate myself as beautiful. I also had 4C hair which caused my mother great frustration and so part of my idea of beauty involved “taming” my “kaffir hare” and being burnt by super relaxers. So growing up was weird because I thought beauty was something other people were and not me. Puberty, gaining weight and developing into a curvier person didn’t help me either because the images of beauty around me were all skinny. My ideas of beauty have completely changed (thank goodness) particularly around beauty as determining “worth” for women. 

Beauty is political because it remains as a measure of worthiness, based on patriarchal and white supremacist ideas, and often feeds into so many dangerous ideas about women – who gets protected, who suffers violence (although beauty ultimately doesn’t protect anyone), who gets work, who is thought to be worthy – so I find myself thinking about what we actually mean by beauty. 

Also, I get really tired of the shrinking idea of plus size. Not sure if that’s a beauty trend, but increasingly some like Kim Kardashian or Beyonce will be described as chunky or plus size, particularly in the modelling world. It’s people who for all intents and purposes aren’t plus size. It’s this weird erasure of fat women.

I am always thinking about who and what I find beautiful and why and in what ways my ideas are still influenced by dominant ideas that say dark and fat (not fat in an Instagram kinda way with a small waist and no cellulite and stretch marks) are not good enough. That curly hair is pretty as long as it’s not 4C, that black women are pretty only half naked and oiled up like a weird fetish. There’s just so much and I think we should be asking what is beauty and who is it for. We should be asking this all the time.


I wash my face twice a day. In the morning I use a Dermologica Special Cleansing Gel, followed with a toner, then an oil free matte sunscreen mixed in with my Active Moist moisturiser. In the evenings I was my face with my cleansing gel or a Corium Skincare Activated Charcoal cleansing bar, which I have been using for a month, followed by a toner and an overnight serum and a clearing gel on any spots. If there’s makeup, whichI rarely wear, I always start my evening routine with using a wet wipe to wipe off my make up and a cotton round with micellar water for removing eye makeup. I use a shea butter body butter and Nivea lotion on my skin, and a Body Shop hemp foot cream. I exfoliate face, body feet twice a week. I am currently wearing Burberry My Burberry at the moment which I alternate with Giorgio Armani’s Si as perfumes. Make up wise, I keep it very simple: I use a black eyeliner, some mascara and a Revlon Ultra HD matte lipstick in either Passion or Obsession. If I want foundation I use Revlon Colorstay for combination in Spice and my powder is a Mac Studio Fix, shade NW45.

My ultimate beauty crushes are Rihanna and Beyonce.

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