Her parents also heavily influenced her ebullient look: Her father was a professional hairstylist, and her mom an educator….with a commitment to style. “My mom wore animal print and red lipstick, and my dad would wear gold shades with his chest hair out,” she says. “Now you can’t find me without a red [lip] and some animal print on, with my boobs out, and some accessories.” (When I ask her about favorite lip colors, she rattles off a list of MAC classics, including Ruby Woo, Lady Danger, and Dance With Me.)
Beauty is in Lee’s DNA. She used to sit on the toilet seat and watch as her mother put on a full face of makeup and then hopped in the shower to let the steam create the perfect level of dewiness. Before bed, her mom would slather on a layer of Weleda Skin Food, Vaseline, or Johnson’s Baby Oil, a ritual that Lee continues. Lee had her own Marcel iron in elementary school, and in high school she was voted “best hair,” wearing a roller wrap or swoop bang one day and a pixie the next (today, she relies on her Naomi, Xena, and Janet wigs when she wants to change things up).
Young Lee dreamed of being a lawyer with a wardrobe full of designer suits: “I was sitting there in a full look, but I was a nerd.” At Clark Atlanta University, a historically Black college, she had her LSAT scores and recommendation letters all lined up. Her sister and mother both modeled, but it wasn’t something she had ever really considered. “[My sister] would always tell me, ‘You could be a model, but you have to lose 30 pounds,’ and I was like, ‘Well, I’m not going to be a model.'” Then Lee went to a casting call as a wing woman for a friend — and ended up with a contract. She soon realized that the same advocacy that drew her to law could be found in front of a camera. “The law thing was supposed to help people that needed a voice,” she says, “but modeling became that for me as a big Black girl from the South.”