Let's Get 'Cheeky,' Ladies

I want to say that Imy body, that I love it without exception. But the truth is that since I can remember, there has been lots of taunting, rude self-talk, the occasional bout of starvation, constant exercise, and a few spells of adoration sprinkled in.
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NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 13: Actress Tracee Ellis Ross attends BET's Black Girls Rock 2012 CHEVY Red Carpet at Paradise Theater on October 13, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by D Dipasupil/Getty Images for BET)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 13: Actress Tracee Ellis Ross attends BET's Black Girls Rock 2012 CHEVY Red Carpet at Paradise Theater on October 13, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by D Dipasupil/Getty Images for BET)

I've recently been inspired to talk about these bodies of ours... these beautiful, sacred, wise and sexy bodies of ours! So in the coming days and weeks, I'd like to share some of my thoughts. This feature could come in two, three or three hundred installments! I don't know, I'd just like to see where this dialogue takes us. I don't pretend to be an expert on the subject, just a woman sharing her experience, and my hope is that you're inspired to share yours with me.

So to begin, I will admit that I have a tenuous, almost antagonistic, relationship with my body. It's tough for me to say that. I want to say that I love my body, that I love it without exception. But the truth is that since I can remember, there has been lots of taunting, rude self-talk, the occasional bout of starvation, constant exercise, and a few spells of adoration sprinkled in. I'm always aiming towards loving myself, but the internal journey; the daily reality of what that journey looks like is not always pretty. I am not obsessed with my weight, but as I write this I am aware that it has always been up there on my list. How I feel about my body is inextricably tied to how desirable and "kick ass" I feel. On a good day, my kick-ass-ness is determined by:

1. My spiritual connection (which covers a lot of ground: my connection to others and nature, esteem-able acts, service, willingness, openness, laughter, my ability to show up and participate in my life, wonderful food, self-care...)

2. My clothing (my armor and protection)

3. My body

4. My hair (I have pretty much mastered my hair at this point, lol)

However, depending on which mirror I happen to walk past, and the lighting it's accompanied by (and I love to walk by a mirror), how I feel about my body can trump even God if I am not mindful.

That being said, I think it's impossible to talk about our bodies, without considering its placement in a larger, societal context. For as long as I have been on my journey to celebrating my body, I have thought about how culture and history have played into my perception of what is "ideal." Especially since so much of my frustration with my body has been about, well, my ass.

As a woman of mixed race I often fall into the beautiful, complex intersection of black and white and cultural divides. Finding your way through that, and allowing your body its own dignity of expression is a deeply personal, and sometimes arduous adventure. My experience navigating these two identities, and their attendant standards of beauty can be a nagging part of my personal development. Which brings me back to my ass, this luscious part of me that rests above my thighs and below my back. It has begged me to look at the larger, historical context and I have obliged.

Have you seen this video about Sara Baartman? Do you know who Sara Baartman is? A few years ago this video was circulating around and it was the 1st time I had heard of her. She was a South African woman who became a spectacle because white Europeans had never seen a black woman's gorgeous naked body. She was subject to the ultimate objectification when, posthumously, her body was made into a cast and exhibited for people to gawk at. There is so much to her story and knowing who she is is a must in my opinion. Sara's is a name one should know. (So when you're done reading this article, go research her!)

As I watch the video, I'm reminded of a powerful quote from Harriett Tubman, and it echoes through me. Tubman said, "If I could have convinced more slaves that they were slaves, I could have freed thousands more." I wonder how many of us are aware of why certain things feel uncomfortable, why certain images kick up such a deep response. I wonder sometimes if some of us have forgotten what it took as black people and women in this country to have the freedoms and rights we have today. The objectification of the black woman's body is still a part of our culture and has taken on new dimensions lately. The author of this video, using Sara Baartman as a reference, spoke to the fact that history is repeating itself, in that black America is "slowly killing the black woman with [their] blatant disrespect for black womanhood." (Quietstorm9421, http://bit.ly/boUU).

I don't know that I totally agree with this statement, but personally I think it's something to explore as a woman, as a black woman, as an actress and as a culture.

Unfortunately, these conversations usually carry a lot of venom, blame and anger. But I'd like to talk about this from a place of curiosity and self-love. I am a champion for sexuality and expression. So I have no interest in this being a dialogue about suppression, judgment or finger pointing. But, like many of us, I'm not a fan of how women's bodies are over sexualized and fetishized, how our bodies have become a commodity. I don't love the fact that women are being (and have been) rewarded for exploiting themselves. And yet it is not up to me to decide what the right choice is for anyone but myself.

I do, however, wonder if we women as a collective have lost a connection to our womanhood. Do we have a conscious connection to what being a woman is? I think that being a woman has become so tied to sexuality that we have forgotten the fullness of our womanhood. My dear friend Sarah reminded me that, culturally, we seem to categorize sexuality as a moral issue; that we, as women, are still seen or locked into the whore/virgin dichotomy. And as black women, well, it can be even more tangled.

We are now celebrating "Rachet-ness," (I'm not really sure what that is) before it was "hoes" (maybe it still is -- I can't keep up, but I'm pretty sure they fall under the same umbrella). Regardless, it makes me want to ask, "What are we celebrating? And why?... I mean really, WHY? Is that sexy?" Perhaps it's the "fuck it-ness" of it, the "you don't own me." But, it doesn't always give me that message. I get concerned about how we internalize this. I know it affects me. I'll see images that make me sad and feel like I want to stand on a soap box in protest, and then I will see another image of a sexy, half-naked woman that feels empowering and HOT as F*#$! So what is the difference?

Well, what I have to remind myself is that being a woman is a personal experience, but each of us is also a part of a larger world. I have a mentor in my life that often suggests that sometimes it's more about the questions we ask ourselves than about the answers. The questions can guide us almost as much as the answers. So here are some of the questions I ponder:

I want to feel sexy and desirable, but how do I embody my sexiness in a way that empowers me? I am a sexual woman who enjoys sex and feeling sexy, but how do I honor my body outside of the cultural conditioning that tells me that my sexuality is something to trade on? How do I discover the wisdom of my own sexuality? I want my sexiness to start with how I feel about myself. I don't want to find it only outside of myself. I think you can see and feel when a woman knows and loves herself. That freedom and authenticity is powerful.

So, how can we find a sense of ownership in our womanhood that is based in an authentic sensuality derived from our own pleasure, not necessarily from pleasing someone else? Maybe we can all share some of the questions we ask ourselves, some of the ways we have discovered these answers and how we allow this personal evolution. As I keep saying, these are personal discoveries and choices. And the choices we each come up with will evolve as we evolve, and grow as we grow.

My desire, my pledge, for all of us is that we remember our true nature, the fullness of our womanhood and the expansiveness of our sexuality. We are more than just our bodies. Sexuality is more than just the physical act; it is a beautiful, sacred, and powerful thing. May we each spend time getting to know and cherishing our bodies. May we honor the wisdom they hold. May we joyfully inhabit these sacred, beautiful, rhythmic bodies of ours in a way that is empowering and delightful. May we hold space for our sisters, daughters, mothers and aunts to do the same in their own way and at their own pace.

Ok. I know I have more to share, so stay tuned for part 2. And ladies and gents "let's get cheeky" ... please share your thoughts.

Check out more of Tracee's musings on for her blog, traceeellisross.com.

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