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Huda Kattan
Courtesy of Huda Beauty

Huda Kattan on realising she didn’t love herself, and how she overcame it

With the launch of her new Rose Quartz collection, the beauty mogul opens up about her imposter syndrome, coming to terms with success, and how her relationship with make-up has changed over lockdown

I end my hour-long Zoom conversation with Huda Kattan, her life coach of seven years Kira Jean, and Remi Mobolade, global PR manager for Huda Beauty, feeling a bit like I’ve come out of a group therapy session. As an interviewer, your biggest hope is that the person you are talking to will be willing to be open and vulnerable, to share a piece of themselves with you. Kattan came into our conversation ready to be vulnerable and ready to open up about a side of her story she hasn’t felt able to talk about, until now. 

For the uninitiated, Kattan is one of the most successful people in beauty right now. Her brand Huda Beauty was valued at $1.2 billion in 2017 – just four years after it was founded and one year after debuting colour cosmetics – and has spawned spin-off brands for fragrance (Kayali) and skincare (Wishful). She has over 60 million followers across her social platforms and in 2020 Forbes named her as one of America’s richest self-made women.

Behind the scenes, however, things weren’t always as shiny as they appeared. Kattan was struggling. She didn’t feel worthy of her success, to the point where she felt almost guilty about it. She was struggling with motherhood, with navigating her family’s complicated reactions to her success; struggling with being deeply immersed within an industry that, more often than not, relies on telling us we aren’t good enough as we are.

One day, in what had become a daily session with her life coach, Jean asked her if she loved herself. Kattan surprised herself with her answer. “My first response was, ‘Of course I love myself, what are you saying?’ And then two seconds later I realised, no, I don’t love myself,” says Kattan, who tears up numerous times over the course of the conversation. “To Kira it was probably clear as day, but to me even the question provoked a lot of things within me and it really did make me have to start thinking inward about not only me at that time, but also my whole life before that.” 

Since that breakthrough moment four years ago, the two have been working together to cultivate and build up Kattan’s relationship with herself, stripping back her fears and expanding her self awareness. It is this journey of self-love that inspired the brand’s latest products, the Rose Quartz collection. Dedicated to the crystal that lends the collection its name and which has provided Kattan with so much healing power, the products are all about loving and accepting ourselves. 

Below we have an open and vulnerable conversation about Kattan’s journey of discovery, how her work with Jean has affected her family and business life, and her changing relationship with make-up. In the end, it shows that no matter how successful you get, it doesn’t exempt you from the fears and struggles we all deal with when it comes to our relationships with others and, most importantly, our relationships with ourselves. 

When did you start working with Kira?

Huda Kattan: Kira became my life coach almost seven years ago. At the time, she was helping me with things that I was going through as a young leader of a growing business. When our investors came on board, it really put things in a very different perspective. You start reevaluating your goals and what drives you as an individual because sometimes you're working because you're trying to prove something to the world. You don’t realise that you’re working out of a place of need, out of a place of fear and filling that void.

So when we were getting our investors on board, it was a fork in the road. We can go this route, and get investors and grow the business. But maybe I also just want to sell everything and just stop. I didn't know which route to go.

Kira, why did you get to the point of asking Huda the question about whether she loved herself or not? What was the catalyst for that? 

Kira Jean: I remember a moment when Huda was talking about all the struggles that she was having and she said to me, I think I'm having an identity crisis. And that was the moment when I got excited because it means that the things that we've built our life on, or our sense of self on, that are no longer true or resonant for us anymore, are starting to drift away. And that's when I realised that there were a lot of things that she was creating from a place of fear, not from love. And so that was the catalyst for me asking that question. 

I've never had someone cry that much from one question. I didn't expect it to land that much. The work from there was that stripping away of fear and expanding her self awareness to really see where she was holding herself back. That moment when she got the investors was such a huge milestone, that was a catalyst for a lot of that stuff to fall away. And for her to recognise – now what? We've achieved the level of success that we were striving for. And now, who am I? And what does the future look like?

“The first time I said I didn’t love myself it felt a little embarrassing, it feels like there's something wrong with you. But it was also empowering too.” – Huda Kattan

Once you had made the discovery about self love, what were some of the biggest breakthroughs that you felt like you had?

Huda Kattan: It was a gradual thing. It's the small stuff. I think a lot of us think it's this mammoth thing, ‘oh, I have to start loving myself too, on top of everything else I do’. No, you just have to change some of the habits that you have, and some of the things that you're saying to yourself. And it does sometimes take a long time to change because they’re habits. 

I still have a lot of negative self-talk. I think it's also contagious. One thing Kira helped me realise too is my family has a lot of built in things where they're not living from a place of positivity. I think it's very normal for immigrant families to live out of fear and that can be something that you inherit without even realising it. 

Did your lack of self-love manifest itself in terms of relationships with others? 

Huda Kattan: With Nor, my daughter, I used to always be afraid I'm not going to be a good enough mom, I'm going to mess her up. I was mothering out of fear. And actually, when I started to love myself, she became more empowered as well. She started to feel like the boundaries were a good thing. She felt more grown up and I was able to love her in a deeper way, not out of fear. Like a really true way that perhaps I wasn't allowing our relationship to go to before.

What are ways to practice self love and what are some of the things that you're doing to move forward in your self love journey? 

Kira Jean: Some work I did with Huda was around love languages. Usually, when we think about them, we apply them in our relationships. But we can do the same with the relationship we have with ourselves. And so determining what your love language is and the way you like to give and receive love, can give you a prescription of what you can do for yourself, because it's going to be different for everybody. 

So it's not so much a specific way. There's common things like mirror work, being able to look yourself in the eyes in the mirror and say nice things to yourself. Turning negative self talk to positive self talk. Then there's the practical things, having physical anchors that remind you that you're valuable, you're worthy and you're deserving of love is really important. So candles and baths and crystals, these things are just a constant, physical reminder that love is possible in the relationship you have with yourself.

Huda Kattan: For me, I wasn't spending time on myself in the morning. And I really needed that time. I would just go straight into whatever the team needed, my daughter, my husband, my family. Now I actually have a block in the morning called Huda time. I've really tried to make it a real thing where I don't block it up. So before work, like eight to nine, nobody talks to me, it’s my time.

I’m interested in how this connects to the beauty industry and your role in it. Because on the one hand, beauty is such a great tool for self expression and creativity, but on the other hand, especially traditionally, make-up has been sold to women by making them feel like they’re not enough as they naturally are. It's all about concealing or covering or changing.

So I’m curious if you think being in the industry for so long had a negative effect on the way that you thought about yourself?

Huda Kattan: Big time! Big Beauty has been really damaging, it’s all about consuming. You are not good enough on your own, so you need to consume. During COVID is when beauty turned for me, I refound my love for beauty. It became not about the outside world anymore. Before, I was doing all my tutorials to put them on Instagram. Now I get glam every day and I don’t take pictures anymore, it has become purely about me just doing it for myself. My relationship with beauty has really changed into a beautiful one. During my Huda time, I try to glam while I listen to an audiobook. That makes me feel so fucking good. I feel like I’m doing it for me. 

You’re right that beauty can be a tool that makes people feel good and helps in making themselves look the way they feel. But beauty has also been misused and abused in the wrong way. And that’s why I also feel, as a founder of a brand, I have the opportunity to talk about these things. And I haven’t always wanted to, in full transparency. During COVID, I stopped producing so much content, I took a break as an influencer. And afterwards, I was like, ’I need to put out purposeful content’. 

I don’t always feel comfortable and I’m still very vulnerable about it. I still hold back a lot. I’m still healing through the process. It is the right time for this though, people need it right now. I’m getting more and more and more comfortable. I also think there’s been a little bit of empowerment. The first time I said I didn’t love myself it felt a little embarrassing, it feels like there’s something wrong with you. But it was also empowering too.

“During COVID is when beauty turned for me, I refound my love for beauty. It became not about the outside world anymore” – Huda Kattan

Thinking about what Huda was saying about not feeling worthy of success and believing she could only go so far in her career – do you think that women in particular struggle with this kind of imposter syndrome? 

Kira Jean: I think there are similarities in women's experiences when it comes to self love, and how we feel worthy, and how we measure ourselves and our work. But men also struggle to have a healthy relationship with themselves. They feel they have to always be strong and always show up in certain ways for their family and at their jobs

But I do think women struggle with a lot of the things you mentioned. Huda, you and I always talk about you getting in your own way. That kind of self sabotage, almost capping ourselves and what we can achieve and sometimes feeling like we're just too much, or our dreams are just too big.

Remy Mobolade: I think imposter syndrome is something a lot of women struggle with. And being okay with their success, especially when they are the primary breadwinners and that's not traditional, at least in American societies.

Huda Kattan: There was a time when I was the primary breadwinner within the household. It really was a really big challenge on my relationship with my husband and we definitely were questioning whether or not we could continue our marriage at that time. It was really hard. And it really was frustrating because when men reach success, it's like, ‘Congratulations you're amazing’. And when women do it, your dad can't look you in the eye, your husband has issues. 

My husband was very open with me and we worked through all those issues. He was amazing through it, but it was a struggle. It was hard. It's hard to see your father not be able to make eye contact with you when these things happen. Eventually things do start to stabilise and people get used to it, but there was a lot of imposter syndrome and we’re still working through some of those things. Kira, do you ever have imposter syndrome? Because I put you in such difficult situations.

Kira Jean: For me, my core value is to be in service of other people. So when you invite me into these awkward situations, I try not to make it about myself and how I’m feeling in that moment but make it about those that I'm there to serve. And before and after, I’ll make it about myself. But once I’m in the moment, I am there for everybody else. 

It’s interesting when we talk about self love, and that fear of it being selfish or self indulgent, it’s really about just knowing yourself and what's meaningful and valuable to you and then honouring those values. If I came in and made this about myself right now, I’d be betraying myself and what I actually value in life, those things that are meaningful to me. So it's really important on that journey that we stop betraying ourselves and honour those things that are just bigger or more important than the imposter syndrome and those thoughts that we have.

The Huda Beauty Rose Quartz Collection is available to buy now