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:)

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NOT so Invisible Chains

So a few weeks ago I was perusing the aisles of one of my favorite places in all of Brooklyn: The Hair store!  I am the first one to admit I have a weave addiction, but that’s the first step right, Admitting?  I can also attest to having spent  a small fortune on hair products to maintain the upkeep of my newest hair piece.  From hairspray to setting lotion,  even overpriced shampoo and conditioner have been purchased to keep my fake locks looking “real” enough for as long as possible.  I realized when I was giving my latest weave a roll and set, that maybe I should think about putting a little more time and energy into my own hair.  Nevertherless I found my self back in the hair store week after week day after day.  I frequented the store so often that the owner thought I was a stylist and removed the tax from my purchases!  So you can imagine my shock, Weave’s #1 customer, when I came in and saw this NEW product on the shelves of the newly renovated hair store:

OLIVE / BLACK / STYLING

The container displayed a cartoon of a woman screaming and her hair sticking straight up all over her head.

So I questioned myself: Am I being too sensitive? Can you really tell the race of this woman on the product? How do you know they are marketing to Black women? Who else has seen this? How many little black girls have seen this? Why can’t we get away from the Angry Black woman stereotype? Why did the manufacturer think it was ok to market this product in this way?  Why do I feel embarrassed? This product wasn’t made just for me…or was it?

I made a point to “google” the product and found that they were indeed marketing to Black women.  I also found it interesting that the description of the product on the site was different than that on the actual product :

Site:

“Angry Mousse is specially formulated to infuse lifeless hair with volume…”

Product:

“Angry Mouse BLACK is specially formulated to add luster and volume to dull, limp hair…”

As I toiled over these questions I felt my shame subside and anger rise.  I thought, “I’m going to buy this product and show it to some other women and get their opinions.”  I wanted to see if I was alone in my outrage.  Turns out I wasn’t, but I was more concerned that I wasn’t alone in my shame.  The Black women I showed the product to almost immediately lowered their heads, some just shrugged and said, “well this is what society thinks of us, what can we do?”  Yikes!

Well, I for one decided that I didn’t need any NEW hair for the New Year!  And although I didn’t have the courage before, I think I have the courage now to simply ask them to take the product off the shelf because it’s offense to me a customer, a “stylist”, a Black Woman.

What would you do in this situation?  Let me know:)