RELEASING BAG LADY

“Bag Lady, you gone hurt yo back/ draggin’  all dem bags like dat/ I guess nobody ever told you/all you must hold onto/ is you/is you/is you…”  ~Erykah Badu~

bag lady video

I have played this song at least once a week since the beginning of 2012.  It’s like a mantra, reminding me to release All “baggage” & things that just don’t serve me.  Whether its negative thoughts I may have about myself or the thoughts others have about me.  The baggage is anything that isn’t in complete alignment with my truth.

In setting my intentions on releasing damaging stereotypes about Black women in our society through the events in The Goddess Festival: Oshun Returns, I found that stereotype baggage was taking up a lot of space in my mind.  These ideas about Black women, Black people were more ingrained in my psyche than I would like to admit.  For example, I have been secretly against ALL animal print clothing on Black women for years!  I refused to wear leopard, cheetah, zebra, or tiger prints, even peacock feathers were on the list for a brief period.  I was so afraid of being associated with the  “wild, uncivilized”  idea that has been connected with Black women’s sexuality.  When I would see Black women in the sole animal print garment of a designers collection, while the white women were in more subtle fabrics, I would get so frustrated.  I couldn’t look through a magazine without playing the game” find the Black woman & analyzing her clothes, hair, & surroundings.”  Why were we barefoot walking through the jungle while the same collection showed a white woman fully clothed, shoes included, walking through a cheerful neighborhood?

Animal print was not the only stereotype baggage I was hanging onto:

NO wearing Marilyn Monroe graphic t-shirt: wearing this meant I didn’t think Black women were beautiful.

NO growing cotton plants in your  yard or garden: Someone was growing a cotton plant & I started thinking about slavery, why weren’t they?!

NO buying watermelon in the grocery store for a while.  OR eating watermelon wedges in public.

I would not order fried chicken at ANY sit down restaurant.

NO Tyler Perry films

Only doing Classical Burlesque performances so that I’m not too closely associated with the Jezebel stereotype.

NO RED:

Being told & believing that I couldn’t wear Red Lipstick because of my Dark Complexion.  I thought maybe because I was so dark the red lipstick would remind people of Black face, Yikes!

NO RED DRESS: This dress symbolized Jezebel, a conniving seductress

Having a love hate relationship with my NAME, yes MY NAME: Chiquita, because of all the jokes about it being “ghetto.”  The other issue was that my name is usually followed by the question,” Do you know what your name means?”  This question is always next when I’m introduced to any person of Spanish/ Latin decent.  Even though I say, “Yes, I know what my name means”  Either one of 2 things happens, (1) The person insists on telling me what my name means anyway. (2) They ask me to tell them what my name means, in the most condescending voice ever, that is so full of skepticism I want to scream!  For me, having to deal with this enforces the stereotype that ALL Black people are ignorant is deeply embedded in our society.

NO more looking good: Beauty =’s Stupidity is a universal stereotype that any woman who is deemed attractive by societies standards has to face.

Steering Clear of big hoop earrings, Gold “door knocker” earrings and, gold necklaces with my name spelled out in script to avoid being labeled “ghetto”.

BOTTLED EMOTIONS: Refusing to show my Anger in anyway especially in public, for fear of being labeled the Angry Black woman.

Most of this stereotype baggage I have learned to let go:)  But there are some that I still struggle with.  I have compassion for myself in this re-learning process, hell I have to, its necessary.  I just know that I refuse to be a “Bag Lady” in 2012, especially when it comes to stereotypes!  So how about you, do you have any stereotype baggage you want to release? Please share:)

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EVERYONE LOVES A BOMBSHELL… RIGHT?

I’m sure you’ve heard the term “bombshell” used before in reference to a woman with lots of sex appeal and usually with the implied measurements of 34-24-36.  The term was also used to refer to “pin-up girls that were painted on the side of planes, bombers, & bombs during WWII.”  Although I don’t have those exact measurements I have been referred to as a bombshell, a brick house and other terms to describe women with my body type.  Now, thinking of the images that this term invokes; beautiful, classic pin-up girls, one would be flattered to be grouped under this popular coined phrase.  However, when you factor in color & race the term can take on a whole new meaning.  As a Black woman with this body type, I, through no fault of my own besides being born in this country where Black women rank pretty low in the hiearchy of who is valued, fall into the category of the Jezebel.

The Jezebel is one of the many stereotypes that have been ingrained into our society for centuries.  This idea of the Black woman as sexually promiscuous, out to take anyone’s man, and always open to sexual advances goes back to slavery.  It was a tactic used to create a clear distinction between the images of white & Black women.   So essentially if the white woman is considered pure, chaste, beautiful etc, then the Black woman by default is the opposite.

There are many other negative stereotypes that are associated with Black women in our society.  The mammy, the workhorse, the strong Black woman/the Angry Black woman, & the welfare mom.  Whether folks want to admit it or not these ideas are constantly reinforced in social media day after day.  Which to say the least, makes it very difficult to acknowledge any other ideas about Black women.

I also believe that body type plays a huge role when considering how Black women are stereotyped.   As I said before the bombshell is usually a more voluptuous body type, where as the mammy is often depicted as over weight and usually asexual.  These two descriptions alone can have a major effect on how the world views your sexuality and how the individual may begin to internalize their own sexuality.  If you fall under the bombshell  category as a Black woman you become by default Jezebel.

The effects for me were & still are very frustrating.  From the moment I leave my house I am confronted with being my color & my body type in a society that has severely branded my image as “BAD”.  I think that’s why it’s easier for any man and sorry to say it, but especially Black men, to yell obscenities at me whenever they feel when I walk down the street no matter how I’m dressed.  There is such little respect for Black women because of these deep-rooted, relentless stereotypes.

I started realizing how body type factored into how women are viewed, long before I considered race & color as an issue.

The confusion around my sexuality only grew the more my body changed.   In high school I went from being practically invisible until around age 16, when I stopped running track, and my body had a chance to develop.  My breasts grew to a full C-cup virtually overnight!  Everyone had something to say about my new additions:

“Your new name is echo valley AND silicone valley, people think you got breast implants over the summer.”   “You are the sex symbol of our class.”  “Does she even have on a bra?! “someone whispered during my monologue in advanced theatre class.

It was as if I became nothing more than body which was a surreal experience for a drama & latin club geek.  I was still wearing multi colored butterfly clips in my hair and uncool jeans (pleated & stone washed, YIKES!) to school, I wasn’t ready for the change.  I felt like I was on display & no one took me seriously anymore.  Secretly,  I wanted to admire my new additions too but couldn’t without feeling a sense of shame around them and the rest of my body.  To say the least I felt seriously stifled when it came to my sexuality.  It was frustrating trying to remind myself that I wasn’t a whore just because that’s what people were saying about women with my body type.

My love of the theatre & being able to feel completely free on stage allowed me to build a healthier sense of self by the time I entered college.  However, those troubling questions around one’s sexuality are always up for discussion on a college campus.  I   attended a predominantly white University.  There were 25 black people…TOTAL.   Here, I realized for the first time,that race played a huge roll in adding the extra “slut” factor to my sexual image.

I received most of the back lash around embracing my sexuality from the other Black women I encountered on campus.  Although I never really hung out with the other Black women, it was rumored at some point that I was interested in someone’s boyfriend.  I was also usually given dirty looks by the rest of the Black women, be it students or workers because of  the clothes I wore.  I remember a cafeteria worker trying her darndest to embarrass me during lunch,  “…why doesn’t she have any respect for herself, why did she come in here dressed like that, oh my goodness, and they wonder why we can’t come up in the world!”

Now let me set the scene: Florida, summer, minimum 90 degrees.  It wasn’t uncommon to see many students in swimsuits, short shorts, tank tops, or the guys running around shirtless.  I wasn’t wearing anything different from what many white women wore on a daily basis around campus, the only difference was my color/race & body type.

And secondly it was college, we all had some questionable outfits, but who cares?  I didn’t,  at least not then.  I had never felt so good about myself, my body, my life.

But by the time I left college and entered into the “real” world I noticed that how I dressed, what size I wore, how I did my hair and how I defined my sexuality did matter to other folk, a Lot.  I was publicly shamed at a poetry slam for an outfit I wore to another poetry reading earlier that week.  I was constantly being accused of trying to take someone’s man.  I began to notice every look I received from other Black women when I walked down the street, especially  if I had on any garment that accentuated my “bombshell” figure.  I became obsessed with what everyone might be thinking of me:

Should I wear this dress?  Yes its long, below the knee, but it gives me some serious cleavage and I don’t want to shame the race.  Or have people think I’m a whore.

Ok I’ll just do jeans and a t-shirt, that’s classic, all natural, acceptable right?  Well, not with your body, those huge breasts in a white t-shirt, why don’t you just write “Open for business” on the front!

Just a few of the thoughts that occupied my mind & sometimes still do.

I was beginning to HATE my body & my color again!  I wondered if white women or any other women were enduring this type of self-torture because of stereotypes.  I wanted to shout from the mountain top, “WHEN IS IT OK FOR BLACK WOMEN TO EXPRESS THEIR SEXUALITY?! I THOUGHT EVERYONE LOVES A BOMBSHELL, RIGHT???”

Wrong!  I think we like the idea of the bombshell, curvy woman with mass sex appeal & charm.  But in reality we don’t value her at all.   As women we are ridiculed and more often than not, ostracized for resembling a figure that was once glamorized.  Add in color & race and you tack on even more disdain.  Expressing your sexuality as a Black woman to me  can sometimes feel like deciding to get on one of those shoddy rides at a carnival or going to the beach for a swim after red tide: ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK!

Luckily over the years I learned that developing a healthy sexuality is very important to becoming a whole person.  And at some point we have to learn to quiet the voices in our heads & outside, that tell us we aren’t good enough for one reason or another.  Replacing the voices with truths that are affirming.  “I love my body.  I love my color, my race.  I love the many ways I am able to express my sexuality be it through dress, hair, photography, or on stage!”  It is healthy for me do so, which may be a bombshell idea for some folk, but not to this Bombshell:)

Shades of Burlesque

 

 

Save the Date!!!  WOW CAFE THEATRE April 7th 10 pm!  Get $5 OFF your TICKET ONLINE When you use the DISCOUNT CODE: HGSB!  See you there:)

 

xoxo

 

SWEET LORRAINE

Respect while weaved!

I noticed something very interesting this week in the realm of hair weaves;  which ones are acceptable and which ones aren’t.  I’m basing this find on my personal experience.  First and foremost as a woman I have to be prepared for any and every comment that may come my way when I decide to wear certain tresses.  For example I’ve noticed that if I have longer (14-20 inches), straight hair the “cat calls” are a lot more crude and vulgar.  However, if I wear a hair that has more of a curl to it,  the comments aren’t as rude, but imply that I’m of mixed race.  I wish I were lying but I actually have been called “Blackanese” too many times to count this week.  Perhaps it’s because my eyes have a bit of a slant to them, but I have a hunch that the texture of my hair weave factors in a bit.  The hair weave I wore recently closely resembled an afro but on a grander scale, think Erykah Badu meets Dianna Ross.  Now this hair  was BIG to say the least,  and to say it attracted attention is an understatement.  The difference between the reactions I received while wearing this hair and the other varied tremendously.  For one thing multiple women complemented me, which rarely ever happens.  And the men who did say something were respectful!  I was shocked, actually giddy with surprise.  I cracked a smile at the little victory I felt had been achieved: Respect while weaved!

Was I experiencing that black hair discrimination on a different spectrum?  The one that Essence Revealed mentioned in her blog about Black women with natural hair vs processed or weaved,  I wonder?

Earlier this week I had a wonderful conversation with some women of color that centered around hair and beauty.  I admitted my many short comings when it comes to being addicted to the weave, even at times using it as a way to feel better about my looks.  And secretly feeling better about myself if people’s comments implied that I couldn’t be just Black.  This idea that being just Black wasn’t enough, came from so many different experiences in my life it would take the rest of the day to list them!  However there is one instance in particular that really stands out for me.  A story I shared with the group I like to call “mixed girl”.   It was an experience of having been overshadowed by the new girl in my 4th grade class.   She was the only child of obvious mixed race in my elementary school.  Growing up down south, being a dark-skinned black girl was a bad thing. I never felt pretty but I did think myself to be fairly bright.  However, not even my brains could compete with the beauty that this unique looking girl had on our school.  Teachers gave her special treatment.   Other children vied for her attention, just to walk her to class, I was shocked!  I realized she was what people envied so as soon as I was old enough to mimic her “look” I did.  From  wearing wavy to spiral curl weave, even wearing grey contacts.  I was always being asked if was mixed.  I was even scolded by a group of Black men on the street for not acknowledging their presence.   As I passed by with my headphones on, one shouted out “you don’t have to be afraid of us sugar we’re just Black!”  It was trippy to say the least.  What the hell did they think I was?  I was wearing about 18″ of kinky wave hair, once again to give that realistic yet ambiguous look.  Then I realized,  I had become mixed girl!  To those guys and myself.

The only issue is that by assuming this new “mixed girl” identity I was telling myself that the real me was bad, ugly, not good enough.  I wanted to start loving myself.  The me that felt good about her skin color, her hair that was actually really cool!  I wanted to love everything about me.  No more adding the 1/2 cherokee line to my heritage or saying my great grandfather was Asian.  But as with everything else the transition from knowing your truth and living your truth is usually a bit of a process.

I no longer lie about my heritage or feel ashamed of being Black.  I still wear tons of weave, but I know now I do it because I love hair, I love fashion, I love switching up my look.  It’s a wonderful creative outlet for me.  I look in the mirror and ask myself why are you putting this hair on?  I’ve asked myself many variations of that question over the years:  why are you growing your locks?  Who are you growing your afro for?  Why are you thinking of perming your hair again?  If I have any thoughts that say “well you look bad today and this type of hair will make you look better, more afro centric, more accepted,” I have the compassion for myself now to say no & do what feels most loving and nurturing for me.  Now I can accept myself with or without the weave which is soooooo far from where I was a few short years ago.  There is a level of respect & love I have for the person I am now, to consciously act in ways that are in alignment with my truth.