They called her fat and shy. Now her photos challenge traditional beauty labels.

"I don't want them to carry around the weight of other people's opinions of them."

Photographer Valerie Vaughn launched "project unlabeled: i define me" to cut away at the harsh words young black women are often subjected to.


This is Vaughn, now 38. All photos courtesy of Valerie Vaughn, used with permission.

Vaughn says that she, too, conquered tough labels to become the woman she is today. Now, she's a married mother of five, a photographer, and the owner of Withunmind Photography.

"Project unlabeled" is all about empowering and encouraging young black women, Vaughn says.

She put out a call for young black women, figuring she'd photograph five or 10 for a photo series. She got 108 submissions and ended up photographing 92 girls total.

The girls were all African-American, biracial, or multiracial, and their ages ranged from infancy to 19. They boasted all shades, all hair types, all sizes, all abilities.

“My goal was for every black child that saw the video, she would be able to identify with someone who looked like her," Vaughn says.

Here, meet five of the girls featured in the project:

Mary, 15.


Kimberly, 11.

Charlie, 5.

Tyffinni, 7.

Jasmine, 16.

Vaughn hopes this project will show young black women that they can do anything.

“My goal is to empower these girls. I don't want them to carry around the weight of other people's opinions of them."

Society and family can sometimes push girls one way or another, and Vaughn said she doesn't want them to settle. “I want them to feel their options are limitless."

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