Essence Magazine: The Other Side of Lori Harvey


(courtesy of Essence Magazine)

It’s easy to assume you know Lori Harvey. Her name’s always in the headlines and on the tip of everybody’s tongue—most often in regard to the men she’s said to have dated. It’s easy, almost expected, to think you’ve got her figured out; that you know what the almost 26-year-old daughter of a noted fashionista and King of Comedy is all about. We can thank, or blame, the celebrity gossip and news ecosystem for that. And up to this point, Harvey’s been fairly silent about all that’s come through the grapevine.

“Because I’ve been so quiet this whole time, the Internet has created narratives for me,” she says, with clarity, on a recent winter evening in Los Angeles. “People are just taking whatever bits of gossip and rumors that they have, and then creating that as a truth. In reality, the majority of the time it’s so far from the truth. So, it can be tough.”

Harvey’s saving grace has been a piece of wisdom from her mother: “For those who know and love you, no answer is needed. But for those who don’t, no answer will do.” “That’s where the strong sense of self comes into play,” Harvey explains. “Just understanding and really knowing who I am, and not letting the outside opinions or noise affect me internally.

She is, quite literally, unconcerned with the rumor mill—and instead has directed her attention inward. Because, to borrow RuPaul’s famous phrase, “If you can’t love yourself, how the hell you gonna love somebody else?” The result, Harvey says matter-of-factly, is that “this moment is about me.”

We’re seated on adjoining pleather couches in the dressing room of a South Los Angeles studio. Harvey’s legs are crisscross-applesauced. She’s calm and all smiles, having spent the day shooting her first ESSENCE cover. For the “Black Love” issue. With no man on her arm. She’s proud, and palpably so. “I feel like it’s always been about me attached to something or someone,” she says. “This time, it’s about me. Self love, self-care, self-reflection. I’m being a little selfish right now. It’s my time.”

Harvey was born in Memphis on January 13, 1997, when Toni Braxton’s “Un-Break My Heart” ruled the charts. By age 3, she’d already booked her first modeling gig, for a kids’ clothing boutique called Cotton Tails. The ad ran in a local newspaper. In 2005, her mother, Marjorie, reconnected with comedian Steve Harvey, whom she’d first met at a Memphis comedy club a decade before Lori was born. The couple married in 2007 and blended their families; Steve adopted Lori and her two siblings, creating a family, seven children strong. As Marjorie and Steve’s individual careers and level of visibility grew—hers as a fashion blogger, designer and socialite, his as a “self-help” author and game- and talk-show host—their kids were largely out of the spotlight. It’s said they had as a normal childhood as one can, considering the circumstances. Young Harvey first fell in love with fashion when, as a preteen, she started attending major runway shows with her mom. Later, her passion became competitive horse riding. She wanted to go to the Olympics and was training to do so when, at 18, she tore her MCL and suffered a serious back injury in a riding accident. Begrudgingly, she accepted that she’d likely never ride competitively again and, with a face card that never declines, she returned to fashion and modeling.

About a year later, she walked her first major runway show with Dolce & Gabbana, going on to star in a number of their campaigns. Today, Harvey is an industry It girl with almost five million followers on Instagram, and she signed with IMG Models and WME last year. But she’s also a businesswoman, having launched her skin care line, SKN by LH, in 2021—with no financial support from her parents.

That has arguably been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life, but also one of the most rewarding and fulfilling,” she says of SKN, “because this is the first thing that I’ve really been able to call my own thing that I’ve really been able to call my own, that I built from the ground up. It would’ve been very easy for me to just ask my parents to connect me with people and set it up, and I’ll just slap my name on it and go about my day. But I really wanted to learn the ins and outs of the business. I wanted to be very hands-on with everything I was doing, and I wanted to make the mistakes, so that I could learn from them and really know how to be a businesswoman at the end of the day.”

And she’s just getting started, with plans to branch out into television, digital content, acting and producing. This is the other side of Harvey that many don’t see or talk about. Her drive to be more than a pretty face, or the daughter of a celebrity couple, is overshadowed by an obsession with her love life. Over the years, more attention has been paid to who Harvey is dating, or not dating. Many women, especially Black women, know this microscope all too well, particularly how it judges those with an apparently robust and active romantic life more harshly than their male counterparts.

 It can be tough at times, especially because I’m a super-private person,” Harvey admits. She doesn’t particularly care for her personal life to become gossip fodder or the latest news item, and she has tried to protect her privacy as much as possible. But people still talk. One social media discussion pitted Harvey against fictional Cosby Showmatriarch, Clair Huxtable, asserting that her assumed dating history makes Harvey less wifey material than the character played by Phylicia Rashad from 1984 to 1992. The conversation centered on respectability, ultimately saying more about the (mostly) men contributing to the discourse than about Harvey herself—or about any other woman or femme whose desirability gets filtered through cisgender and heterosexual male gazes.

I think a lot of times, people are projecting,” Harvey says about the online chatter. “Typically, what I have found is when it’s guys who feel that way, it’s because they know that they can’t meet you at your standards. Which is okay, too. Everything ain’t for everybody. But what I would love for people to know is that I am a young woman just trying to figure it out—but I’m trying to figure it out in the public eye,” she adds. “That magnifies everything. It magnifies your mistakes. It magnifies the ups and downs of just navigating your life and figuring it out for yourself.”

Harvey has been a public figure her entire adult life thus far, and during her early twenties, no less—a time of general self-exploration for most people. But few of us have had to contend with the watchful eyes of millions studying our every move. Yet Harvey has no regrets—and no shame. “Every decision that I have made has got me to the place that I’m at in my life, as a woman—and the mindset that I’m in, and the
growth that I’ve made, and this level of clarity and maturity,” she points out. “So I don’t think I would say I regret anything.” 

Recently, audio from comedian Mo’Nique’s2007 special I Coulda Been Your Cellmate!has surfaced in tens of thousands of social media videos. The joke describes the Queen of Comedy—who revealed she’d been divorced twice and was days away from marrying her third husband at the time of the film’s taping—expressing her commitment to love. “Never give up on love,” she says. “I’m a bitch that believes—if one ni**a don’t work, get another one. If that ni**a don’t work, get another one. And if that ni**a don’t work…get two ni**as!”

While on the surface the bit is about pursuing love, but what it’s really about is being in constant pursuit of one’s own happiness. And even now, after 15 years, Mo’Nique taps into the attitude of a certain type of Black woman or femme. The type who puts themselves first, refusing to have their confidence tethered to speculation and hearsay. The type for whom settling for someone who doesn’t meet their needs is antithetical. The type that is undaunted by the journey to love, because it puts them most in touch with themselves and their desires. It’s bad bitchery by another name, and Lori Harvey—whose own alleged relationship journey is captured in at least one fan-created social media video, with Mo’Nique’s words as the score—is solidly in her bad bitch era. “It’s not about being arrogant or about feeling like I’m too good, or too this or too that,” she clarifies. “I know my worth, and I know my value. I’m not going to compromise that, or settle, or accept anything less than what I know I deserve.”

My experience has taught me that I need somebody who respects me—somebody who understands and respects my standards and my boundaries and is a supportive, God-fearing man, family-oriented, and makes me feel at peace.” 

It might not seem like it at first, but such a positioning is actually a radical form of love. It’s one that challenges and bucks up against how we’ve been told Black women should move through the world romantically, if not also professionally and socially. She’s also decentering of a type of love rooted in a patriarchal version of Black womanhood. Harvey knows that she is the prize. And she’s part of a generational shift-in-progress, in which many young, Black women in the public eye are making their own new rules. They’re claiming as their own a personhood that is as complex and nuanced as the totality of human experience. As many Black women before them have done.

There’s Cardi and Megan and Latto, whose raps unapologetically champion female sexuality. There’s Lizzo, who as a fat, Black woman boldly resists anti-fatness, and therefore anti-Blackness—triumphantly and defiantly loving the skin she’s in, and twerking, ass out and Sasha Flute in hand, every chance she gets.

And then there’s Harvey, who by the very nature of embracing the trial and error of life, despite what public perception may come, models a definition of love many won’t understand. In some ways, she’s even rejected the “Act like a lady, think like a man” mantra from her father’s New York Times bestseller, which became a movie in 2012. Rather, she’s acting like a boss and thinking like one, too.

But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t want love. In fact, when asked about what Black love looks like to her, she speaks longingly of her grandparents’ marriage of over 65 years. She describes a love that smells like peaches and cream or honey; a love that feels like fresh air or a warm hug, or like listening to your favorite song.

“My experience has taught me that I need somebody who respects me—somebody who understands and respects my standards and my boundaries and is a supportive, God-fearing man, family-oriented, and makes me feel at peace,” she says. “That’s where I’m at in my life right now. I’m not compromising my peace and happiness for
anything or anybody. And so if I see any signs of that happening, I’m like, ‘Got to go!’”

She’s also praying, she says, “to be the best version of myself, so that one day, when I am ready, I will be the woman that I need to be for that union to be successful. But right now, I’m just praying to better my life for myself—growing my businesses and brand, growing my relationship with God, growing into a stronger, better woman every day.” 

Lori Harvey is being selfish. But not necessarily in a traditional sense. Being selfish doesn’t have to involve a lack of consideration for others. It doesn’t have to be framed as an egotistical or mindful unwillingness to prioritize the needs and desires of others. In a necessary rewriting of the rules, being most concerned with one’s own happiness isn’t negative in the slightest.

It often is the greatest act of love.

“Put yourself first,” Harvey sums up. “Love yourself. Put yourself on the highest pedestal, and don’t ever come down.”

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