When we visited Arianna Davis in the beginning of October, her studio apartment looked like it was cosplaying as a bookstore. Not only because you could instantly tell she’s an avid reader — a stack of Lonely Planet’s guide books with a tiny Puerto Rican flag snuggled in between them, another stack of books that double as her standing desk, fashion magazines on her coffee table, etc — but because she had just received the copies of her debut book, What Would Frida Do? A Guide to Living Boldly, which were proudly displayed all around her home.
As we sat down on her couch to begin our interview, you could feel Frida Kahlo’s gaze coming from the bright and colorful cover– designed and illustrated by Kimberly Glyder. You can automatically imagine how the bold and bright cover looks like, mainly because, in recent years, Frida’s iconic flower crown and unibrow have infiltrated pop culture as a symbol of women empowerment.
Davis’s obsession with the late artist only grew tenfold when she watched the 2002 Oscar-winning film Frida, starring Salma Hayek. But beyond the quotes and multiplicity of Frida-related items that she’s consumed over the years, Davis has always been living her life boldly.
It all began when Arianna was 8 years old, with rolos in her hair sitting under a hair dryer immersed in magazines, which also happens to be one of her first beauty memories. “All my Sundays were spent in the hair salon. So I read a lot of magazines from a young age, sitting under the dryer with my rolos on, waiting for my hair to dry,” Davis shared with Emperifollá.
Raised in Baltimore, Maryland by a blonde Puerto Rican mother, and a Black dad, Davis made her first bold moves by making sense of what it meant to grow up being biracial in a community that’s vastly white. Luckily, she found Mariah Carey.
“I remember reading about Mariah Carey. It was an interview that she did where she talked about being biracial and how she never really felt like she belonged,” she says. “And I just remember that was the first time I think that I heard someone vocalize what I had felt, even just as a kid.”
Despite her mom’s effort to keep Davis close to her Latin roots by playing salsa and Gloria Estefan tracks and visiting her Puerto Rican grandparents in the Bronx during the holidays, she also faced micro-aggressions for her Afro-Latinx identity from their own community.
“I think in Latin culture, Black culture, and in many minority cultures, you’re taught to believe straight hair is more beautiful,” Davis says.
However, those long days in the salon– rolos, and relaxers included– were what ignited her interest in becoming a journalist. After deciding to study journalism and graduating from Penn State University in the midst of the 2009 recession, what defined how her career would roll out for the upcoming years was the “bold, borderline stalker-ish” way she pursued her career, as Davis jokes with Emperifollá. For example, she approached the publisher of Seventeen Magazine during a scholarship dinner in her senior year of college and followed her to the bathroom to ask for her business card.
The rest is history.
Today, Davis works as the Digital Director for O, The Oprah Magazine, which operates under the same company as Seventeen Magazine. ‘That was definitely a very full circle moment. And sometimes I still can’t believe it. It’s crazy when you tell the story this way: A decade went by and now I’m at this full circle moment,” Davis shares.
Don’t get it twisted, though. In the span of time between landing her internship at O Magazine and her current gig, Davis’s career flourished in publishing sites like US Weekly and Refinery29. Not to mention, her Frida stanning levels also grew, exponentially. So much so that not long after Davis launched OprahMag.com in 2018, a book publisher approached her because they had heard a hit Davis’s obsession with the Mexican painter.
“They had been talking about how a book about Frida seemed like it could be really great for this generation. And they had heard through the grapevine that I was a Frida fan. This is how you know [my Frida obsession] was serious,” she says.
The book deal brought her to make yet another bold move: To accept it while her life was already moving full blast. Despite it all, she went for it because she wanted to show this new generation, who has been consuming Frida the lessons, that we can learn from the many ways she was so ahead of her time.
And that, she did. What Would Frida Do? A Guide to Living Boldly is now out in the world. While living boldly in a pandemic might look different, Davis’ approach remains the same. She now makes sure she takes time to read at least 20 minutes each night and keeps spearheading the diverse and inclusive content at OprahMag.com.
Of course, you can’t live boldly 24/7, 365 days a year, and Davis herself admits that her beauty routine during quarantine has faltered. However, she’s kept her link with Frida Kahlo intact. Instead of flower crowns, Davis has the modern day equivalent as her signature Zoom style: Headbands.
“A headband is the easiest [to look cute]. I have a bunch of them and in different colors and floral patterns and I just put on a cute little headband and it just looks like you put so much more effort than you actually did. So that’s been my big staple beauty-wise,” Davis shares with Emperfiollá.
She rocks her colorful bunch with her natural curls she has been sporting since she was 24 years old and takes care with Latinx-owned brand products, like Rizos Curls.
Yet another trait from Frida that Davis embodies. Being unapologetically herself, down to the details. But she also shares a few with her boss, Oprah Winfrey.
“Oprah has a saying ‘love is in the details,’ and I think that’s [being emperifollá] for me. How you are and how you feel and how you look every day, down to the jewelry. I don’t think it has to be anything super fancy,” she says. “I think it’s just literally putting on a little moisturizer, wearing gold earrings and just making myself feel a little bit better about myself, even if it’s not for other people, but just for my own self.”
Alas, what would Frida do when stumbling upon Arianna? We think she’d approve.
Photographed by Stephanie Stoddard Cortés. Photos edited by Maridelis Morales Rosado. Video by Stephanie Stoddard Cortés.