Milka Kiriaku on Personal Aesthetic and Self-Image

Milka Kiriaku can pull off looks that many can’t. Some may remember her rocking a cleanly-shaven head last semester, while others might take notice of her impressive ability to look great in black lipstick. Either way, her personal beauty radiates in her words and interactions, as well as from her glowing skin. We snagged a second of her time to discuss her thoughts on beauty, self-image, and style.


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Her Campus: Do you have any physical attributes that you're really proud of?

Milka Kiriaku: Okay, well I will say that physically, I really am comfortable with my lips a lot and my hair because of the way that my hair can just kind of bounce back from anything. Like I've been bald, I've dyed my hair, I've been this thing, I've been like half bald and all that stuff.

And then my lips because I used to hate them growing up a lot, but now I play more with makeup and stuff, I really ended up enjoying them. I wouldn't wear bright lipstick colors. I wouldn't buy any reds or pinks or anything because I thought it would be so garish. It's funny because I would enjoy it on other people. I would be like wow I wish I could be as bold, but I could never do it. For most of my life, I tried to get to a point of kind of body neutrality, just kind of feeling neutral about my body so that it could do what I needed it to do for the time.


HC: Do you have a signature style?

MK: No. My style has morphed so much throughout my life. When I was younger, I was a very rotund kid. Like I was circular; you could push me down and roll me. So it was very difficult for me to come into any kind of fashion. I was also a giant geek. And I still am. I was in the D+D (Dungeons and Dragons) club in eighth grade and so my style was like sweaters and my glasses. That was it. But I would say that now I have a much more minimalist style.

I like colors, but just one solid color that rules an outfit. A crisp, clean, minimalist look is what I would say is my signature style.


HC: Separate from that, do you feel that you have a certain personal aesthetic?

MK: I would say that my closest aesthetic would be 1990's fat Calvin Klein, you know what I mean? Or sort of like a basic Yves Saint Laurent crisp look. But really I would say that whole 90's minimalist look would be the closest. Who knows, next year I might be like no f**k that - I love colors and Lisa Frank and all that stuff, so I don't know.


HC: So as a kid you used to rock the sweaters and glasses. How has your self-image and your style changed over time?

MK: Specifically, I think my style really started changing once I got into body positivity and focusing on not hiding myself. So I would say my first drastic style change I can actually pinpoint to 9th grade when I started cinching my shirts with belts. I don't know what it was. At one point I think I was like I'm in high school now. I am an adult. I am mature. I need a belt. [laughs] That was the first time that I took control over my own fashion because that was also the first time that my mom would let me go out by myself to go get clothing without her there. Growing up, my family was very conservative, and so she would like to go shopping with me to tell me to cover up or whatever.  But 9th grade was when she was like you go and you have fun at thrift stores because that all we could do. That was when I started having more autonomy.

Over time I started to kind of cut back on fashion that would completely cover me and hide me because even if I was cinching my waist, it would still be really long dresses and long sleeves. Or I would wear a sweater with something cinched underneath it. I would say that's how - just letting myself be free a little bit more but still sticking to a very basic, minimalist palette.


HC: When you see a person, what would be the first thing you notice about them?

MK: I usually notice people's general face first, but then I immediately go to their clothes. Not in a judgemental way but in a that person has this, this, and that on way.

Style is kind of the first thing I notice when people walk in, and then voice is the second thing. I'm not a big people watcher, either. Unless I'm sitting down in a space where people are constantly moving, usually there are blinders that's like anybody is in front of me and that's it.


HC: Once you get to know a person more deeply, what draws you to their company?

MK: Humor is a really big one for me. I enjoy being around people who are also just emotionally intelligent. I think there are a lot of people who become friends with you and then there is this overfamiliarity where they're like "oh I can just say or do whatever to this person and they will stick around.” I'm a big fan of emotionally intelligent people, funny people, and then.....I don't want to say just "good people" but somebody who is engaging and who I can feel I can have my best interests for them and they have my best interest in their heart, if that makes sense.


HC: So it's like a give and take relationship?

MK: Mhmm. I'm not somebody who makes super close friends super easily. It takes me a really long time to get close to people because I'm also really heavily introverted. Usually, when I'm outside of a space I need like three days of no one talk to me, speak to me, I'm blocking everybody, type-thing. So it makes it difficult. I can make a lot of acquaintances but not close friends. So that's pretty much how I feel about it.


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HC: Is there any particular person in your life who you think is just an all-encompassing beautiful person?

MK: This is gonna be a cliche answer but my mom 100%. I want to be her. Not everything, but who she is. Just how smart she is, and how strong, and her amazing work ethic. My mom is just such an understanding person. I just think everything about her is beautiful and wonderful...She's just everything.


HC: Do you have a celebrity icon?

MK: I don't have that many celebrity icons because they always tend to disappoint me. I would say the closest would be Cher and then Mariah Carey [laughs]. I mean obviously Beyonce, but I feel like that's a given. That would be it. I'm more interested in independent designers or influencers. I hate that term: influencers. But influencers who might be less well-known. I usually don’t have celebrity icons where I'm like, this is the person who I want to be.


HC: Is there a certain time or place where you feel completely yourself?

MK: I feel completely myself after I've done my long-ass skincare routine, taken a shower, put on perfume and my pjs and gotten into bed and it is quiet and dark and I can watch my Netflix shows. That's when I feel like myself. That's THE most me. And not even if I'm watching a film, but as long as I'm in my bed and I smell good and I have lotion on...


HC: You put perfume on before you go to bed?

MK: Yeah. It's very wasteful. [Laughs] I don’t know. There's just something about going to sleep and you smell like roses. And then your sheets smell like roses. That's when I feel the best and the warmest and the most intrinsically Milka that I can be.


HC: If you could look back on younger, cinched-belt Milka, what would you say to her? What advice would you give her?

MK: It will be okay. You can calm down. Well.. no. Don't calm down. Keep being kind to people, would be what I would tell her. It’s always worth it to be nice to people. It's gonna be really hard. Honestly, at this age, I don’t know if I could go back to my past self and tell her a lot of things because there's still a lot of things that I'm working on. I feel like I could say that I could tell her that she looks fine, but there are days where I feel awful about myself, even now. But I would definitely say to just be kind to others and to be kind to yourself and to forgive yourself because

I still feel like I'm not at an age where I can confidently go back to my past self and be like, "this will work out fine," because I still don’t know. There's still a lot of uncertainty and I still have a lot of uncertainty about myself. I'm still kind of teetering on that edge.


HC: Of course. And were there any times in your life that were instrumental in you realizing yourself or becoming comfortable with yourself?

MK: Yeah!

Actually, it's funny because I'm all like "I don't know who I am," but I have changed. Who I was five years ago is totally different from who I am now. If this was like a coming-of-age novel, the first major things would happen in the tenth grade. My family moved to Kenya. We are Kenyan immigrants and we moved back for a year because of my dad's job. It was a culture shock because I had grown up in America and coming back to my home-country and not knowing the language and not being able to communicate with some of my older relatives was really hard for me. But the school that I was going to, it was an American system school and so a lot of the people who went were expatriate kids from the United States, but there was a whole different brand of people. These were not the public school kids that I was used to. They were very bourgeoisie and so I learned to socialize very differently. So I think that was the first time in my life that I had to acknowledge that there are going to be so many people that are not like you and you're going to have to figure out how to navigate that so that....So I would say that that tenth-grade year was just instrumental to my growth and to who I am.

And then I would say coming to Agnes because Agnes is a trip. I feel like I have changed the most in these past three years than I ever have in my entire life. It's wild. It's a really weird space like all the time; it's weird and extra.


HC: Do you think that our thoughts and out words have anything to do with our beauty as a person?

MK: I do, actually. I have this book. It was my favorite book growing up. It was a Roald Dahl book: The Twits. I loved that book because there's one page where they're describing what makes a person beautiful and they're thinking about inner thoughts and words and they're like it doesn't matter if you have crooked teeth and a bad back or whatever, but if you have beautiful thoughts and words, then you're beautiful on the outside. I feel like that was a very transformative line or page for me. So, yeah, I do think that the way that you think about others and about yourself, it does reflect. It reflects in your actions and ends up coming into your habits and that ultimately makes you who you are.


HC: Finally, how do you think that women and gender minorities can lift each other up?

MK: That’s a really good question. I think that first of all, it’s really important for women, non-men, and other gender minorities to read up on gender-based oppression. I think it’s important to read feminist works and become informed because I don’t think that you should lift up a bad person just because they're a woman, but I do think that we need to be constantly aware of the way that patriarchy pits us against each other all the time in this weird competition. And so I think it's important to just be aware of it, so when you dislike somebody who is a woman or to understand where that's coming from. Why do I not like her? Is it because she actually did something that is f**ked up or is it because of all of these preconceived ideas that I have of who she is as a person? Am I critiquing this person because of what they're doing or what I think they should be doing because of their gender or whatnot? It's just important to become educated. It's constantly learning. You’re not gonna unlearn misogyny in a day or even a lifetime. You’re gonna have to be constantly checking yourself and so to even have the tools to check yourself is the most important part, in my opinion.


HC: Thank you so much, Milka.