11 ways to own your look, according to Marley Dias
In sixth grade, Marley Dias noticed that most of the books she was assigned to read in school were by white authors and featured white protagonists. That bothered her, and she set a goal to collect 1,000 children’s books with black girl main characters—and made sure they got to kids who needed them.
Her campaign, #1000BlackGirlBooks, exploded on social media, which led to speaking engagements, national TV appearances and her very own book, Marley Dias Gets It Done (And So Can You!), out now.
Along the way, Marley has become her own brand of fashionista, making bold style statements with her trademark standout specs (she’s got multiple pairs!) and interesting outfits (the girl can mix vibes together like no other).
Here, in her own words, Marley explains her no-rules-apply approach to style—and why you should start breaking some boundaries, too...
Celebrate your smarts. “Activists do everything with style. As you probably have noticed by now, I am not some mousy bookworm. Yes, you *can* be passionate about school and fashion simultaneously. The two are not mutually exclusive—one doesn’t cancel out the other.”
Go girly, be boyish—who cares? “Some days, I want to be a princess...and some days, I want to be a king. Dressing in an androgynous way, mixing up the masculine and feminine, blurring those boundaries—I’m cool with that. No one should ever be limited by stereotypes of gender, just as no one should ever be limited by stereotypes of race.”
You *can* rock a power suit. “Or whatever outfit makes you feel empowered and fierce. For me, it’s a suit all the way. It keeps me feeling professional and stylish all the time. If for you it’s a purple tutu, that’s equally perfect.”
Wear comfortable shoes. “Sneakers, most likely. Activism often puts you on your feet—traveling places, waiting patiently for a response, talking to people. With all that standing and waiting, activism demands comfort. I suggest you get a pair of sneakers that you can wear with a dress or jeans. And fuzzy socks. Ahh...so cushy. Plus, everyone can relate to them. If you end up in a disagreement, just show ’em your socks and watch your differences fade away.”
Let accessories be your superpower. “When I speak at events, I often wear my dad’s ties and my mom’s earrings. It’s a small, almost secret way of having them with me when I’m up there onstage, talking to a roomful of strangers. It makes me feel safe.”
Play with your hair. “My hair is my crown. I’ve worked at least 33 different styles— I counted. My top five faves are big Senegalese twists, swirled cornrows, twist-outs, straight and short, and out and poufy [aka my Afro]. Next up might be waves or a new color—something fun like blue, maybe.”
Four eyes? For sure. “I think glasses are so stylish, like sculptures for your face. I’ve been wearing them since I was 8, and I’m up to nine pairs. I switch them up with my outfits. I’ll choose them depending on my mood, the message I want to share and the place that I am presenting my ideas. They’re a piece of me.”
Dress with intention. “I am purposeful in how I present myself to the world. I want my ideas to be taken seriously, and so I present myself in a way that allows people to see me and listen to what I have to say.”
But stay fexible. My style is intelligent, energetic, silly and complex. I wear button-up shirts and bright, shiny shoes. But at home? It’s leggings, hoodies and chill.”
Let your style inspire others. “When I went on Ellen, I wore my hair in a ’fro. It wasn’t something I did on a whim; it was a conscious decision. I knew lots of other young black girls would see me on the show. It was them I was there for, after all, telling our stories—and I wanted them to see themselves reflected in me, just like I want to see us reflected in the books at school.”
Present to represent. “Just like there is not one black-girl story, there is not one kind of girl. Smart comes in many different shapes, sizes, races and ethnicities. I get frustrated when we try to tell just one story of girls. My campaign is about inclusion, diversity and equity, and I feel a responsibility in everything I do—including how I wear my clothes—to make sure I show that we can have a lot of different ways of presenting ourselves, telling our stories and showing up in the world.”
Marley’s new book Marley Dias Gets It Done (And So Can You!) is a guide to all kinds of great stuff—like activism, social justice, how to handle social media trolls and how to get your own message, whatever it may be, heard. (Scholastic, $15)
A version of this story appeared in the February/March issue of Girls' Life magazine.