Sisterly Love: The Rise of the Black Girl Crush

Writer, David Foster Wallace, once wrote that the lives of others are a writer's dinner; they are our sustenance. We observe, analog, and interrogate the sequential series of events, happenstances, and eccentricities of strangers and those closest to us, out of necessity -- not to meddle. Life's oddities are our fuel to work, to create; we are able to make connections and deductions that work to bridge varying histories, paths, and people together. But more importantly, we analyze the innards of "human situations" as a way to asses how individuals are perceived.

Without such fodder, we wind up speaking only of ourselves. Wallace absolved a tremendous amount of shame of mine with that principle and it has in turn helped me rectify my fascination with the lives of other women who happen to look just like me. Black women, more broadly -- and Black women,artistically inclined and deftly dressed, more specifically.

For a style writer, whose work's main focal point is the intersection of class, sex, race, and gender amongst the crowds gathered at Les Tuileries, it is uplifting to find tufts of a coiled Afro peeking out above the stylized fashion packs. Although I find that I can enjoy fashion and style on a very neutral level, as an individual who simply appreciates beauty, I preternaturally want to find out who that Afro belongs to. I want to learn how she has found herself amidst the glamour, and how she has navigated it all. This is the sustenance I was speaking of earlier.

In this, I have been taken with the lives and stories of several women, as of late: Solange Knowles, Shala Monroque, Julia Sarr-Jamois, Tracee Ellis Ross, Viola Davis, Kara Walker. All enchanting women who have summoned admirers through their varied talents in art, fashion editorial, music, acting, and entertainment -- and yes, their alluring personal style. I've eagerly read up on their beginnings, successes, and philosophies in countless interviews, attended their lauded movies or art exhibitions, procured publications which they've covered or been featured amongst the pages of, and soaked up their energy and conspicuous intellect overheard in recorded interviews and even, memorable one-on-one conversations.

Though erring on the side of "ogling" (again, Wallace explains, a natural component of my job criteria as a writer), all this helps me piece the woman together, etch out a greater idea of this individual, and create a philosophical and sartorial alignment with one another in my mind. What blooms is not voyeurism, nor fandom, because I think that suggests an unequal balance of interest. But something much more subtle: a simple and honest-to-goodness "girl crush."

No longer the stuff of juvenescence, a "girl crush" is a result of a matured admiration. As Thessaly La Force wrote in her article, "Girl on Girl", the inane term, 'girl crush', belies "a serious subject: the ambitions of young creative women and the need for worthy role models." Young women of my generation are eager for representations, female models of occupational and personal success. We seek out women of varying fields who embody that ideal, and determine how we too can assume a similar influence within our respective professions. La Force herself gravitates towards great writers, singers, directors, and comediennes, women who she observes, "accomplished something the rest of us dream of doing. And because they've done it, we feel we can too."

I found La Force's conclusion incredibly poignant, heartfelt -- and almost downright revolutionary once applied to women of color of the same generation. Equally passionate and enterprising about the arts, we simply wish for a sense of recognition within them. This is not to suggest that we lack for Black female heroines in our daily lives, but rather we seek out those in our specific fields who've made it regardless of gender and racial inequities. If such inequities seem a thing of the past considering the fascinating influence of one, First Lady Michelle Obama, statistics would show otherwise.

According to the National Women's Law Center, during this economic and job crisis that has marked the "post-racial" Obama term, Black women have accounted for more than 42.2 percent of jobs lost by women overall between June 2009 and June 2011. In turn, Black women's unemployment rate rose 2.1 percentage points during that same time, in comparison to an increase of 0.7 percentage points among Black men.

While Black female creative professionals try to gain footing in the wake of such staggering facts, it is no wonder then that the rise of the Black girl crush has emerged. In fact, it has crested in my own life, as I have been working freelance since May 2011.

As I work to break into the field of style journalism, the belief that my writing aspirations are tangible, possible, necessary are reinforced when I see Ms. Sarr-Jamois and Ms. Monroque on the mastheads of prominent fashion and art publications. A jolt of assurance surges through me when Solange Knowles or Tracee Ellis Ross are photographed in their offbeat yet glamorous ensembles, delivering equally offbeat and quirky commentary on their lives or art form. Or that moment of total inhibition Kara Walker and Viola Davis's work stirs up inside of me, daring me to say or create anything I so choose, all whilst dressed to the nines.

My interest in the lives of modern-day Black female ingenues, of course, does not preclude me from identifying with Black crush-worthy women of yesteryear -- nor does it suggest that historical predecessors did not exist to emulate. I am a writer, after all, and subsequently an archivist, so the likes of Zora Neale Hurston, Dorothy Dandridge, Etta James, Eartha Kitt, Lena Horne, Tina Turner, Diana Ross, June Jordan, Grace Jones, Elaine Brown... well, I hold a fascination for them all. As a child, I learned of these women at the knee of my mother (perhaps they were her Black girl crushes?) through books, movies, and personal anecdotes she shared with me. So growing up I realized that for every Jane Austen there was a Zora Neale Hurston; for every Katherine Hepburn there was a Pearl Bailey, and so on; that essentially the idea of a female creative is an inclusive one and applies to a number of individuals.

If of the present or from the past, Black girl crushes are an assuring, edifying force, their mere existence suggesting that I am not so odd after all, nor am I alone in pursuing a creative end. Even more, the idea of the Black girl crush spans over professions, titles, age, rank, generations, and comes to mean many different things. I speak of my own that pertain to my line of work, but Black girl crushes can be spotted and formed among any occupation or passion. They're just that omnipresent.

But to be sure, like all crushes, there is an underlining danger in romanticizing an individual all out of proportion. Dreaming up conjectures of one's life, work, opinions, habits, and even, wardrobes, projecting all sorts of expectations on a girl crush we haven't met, well, it all depicts a half-truth of women with whom we adore for their honesty. To admire Ms. Ross or Ms. Davis's life would reveal a jam-packed schedule of parties, premieres, magazine spreads; childhood memories spent with Michael Jackson and Academy Award nomination speeches to memorize. A charmed life, but it does not leave room for the very human mistakes they are capable of committing, nor the hard work involved in their career. They aren't always so secure, so confident, so resolved, and that's actually a good thing: it means you have one more thing in common.

But perhaps the greatest measure of a Black girl crush is that even if your crush should disappoint, fizzle, or linger, they ultimately always invigorate us. They turn nihilists into believers -- saps, even -- and make us work just that much harder.