When I initially began to plan my lingerie photoshoot, my worries were that I'd be given labels like “slut” and “thot” my entire appearance, from the shape of my belly button to the curls in my hair would be ridiculed; and my intention to celebrate finally finding peace within myself and wanting to encourage other women would be dismissed. That’s all because these are the things that happen when women put their bodies in front of strangers. We are shamed. Our beauty is questioned, our daddy issues are brought up, and our relationship statuses are analyzed. The humiliation we are hit with is a result of simply existing. It’s beyond judgement and shame. It’s bullying. It’s hate. Thankfully, in my mind, giving up is for the weak and caring about a hater’s opinion is lame.
We don’t owe anyone explanations or apologies. It doesn’t matter if we’re naked or covered from head to toe. What we do owe is our stories because they help other women heal. I’m not special, I’ve been shamed too and I’m getting all that shit off my chest today.
As women, we shame our own bodies to death. It’s a learned behavior. None of us came out of the womb thinking our hips were too wide or our skin should be clearer. We are bombarded with images of how we should look and told to our faces we aren’t good enough; and no matter how strong we are, something on the inside makes us believe that bullshit.
One of the reasons this photoshoot is so important to me is that it was a celebration of my body and in celebrating my body, I got to scream a big “Fuck you!” to every person who said it wasn’t beautiful. I’ve gone through phases where I’ve hated every inch of my skin and now I can’t find a single thing wrong with myself. Fuck the scars and stretch marks, I’m strong and healthy; it just took a while to get here.
I remember being in the first grade and thinking my mother, who was a correction’s officer was a supermodel. I thought she was the prettiest woman in the world and that I was nothing because I didn’t look much like her. I have a button nose, full lips, and extremely dark brown eyes like my father where she has thin lips, a pointed nose, and lighter brown eyes. Like most little girls, I watched my mother do her makeup and tried to copy her routine. Really, I wondered why her makeup didn’t give me the same eyes, lips, and nose that she had passed on to my brother. Everyone called him her twin and I felt ugly and jealous.
By the time I hit my twenties, I had embraced our differences. I made a twisted joke or two about being adopted every once in a while, but I felt beautiful. I was good. A little before I turned 25, my mother and I had a conversation where she told me a few stories about being pregnant with my brother and I. She said that when she found out she was pregnant with me, she hoped and prayed that I’d be a girl because she figured a boy would look like my father. She always hated him and throughout my childhood, I felt it come back to me. I didn’t speak and she kept going on. She described raising a child with my father’s face and how it would be like the end of the world.
My heart shattered and she didn’t sense it, her maternal instincts were malfunctioning. She said she was happy that I turned out pretty. The conversation was over. She didn’t know that I had dinner with my father a few months prior after not speaking to or seeing him for 10 years. And she must have forgotten that I still look a lot more like him than her. Her words hurt me and changed me spiritually. I promised myself to never carry hate in my heart that way because I don’t want any child who has ever looked up to me to say they can remember the moment I stopped being beautiful in their eyes. It sucks that I can recall that moment with my mother.
When I was in the 6th grade, most of the girls in my class were wearing bras with B and C cups while I was wearing undershirts, but I didn’t stress about my own body until I overheard a conversation between two boys at lunch. I smiled when I heard the first boy say I was pretty and that he was going to ask if I’d be his girlfriend. The second boy said that I was ugly because I didn’t have a figure. The money I earned babysitting became my boob job fund. When I went home, I saw my uncle spotting my brother on the bench-press to help him gain weight for football, I joined them.
The biggest misconception about being naturally thin is that your body is perfect. Other girls and women have used my body to talk badly about their own not realizing I didn’t like what I saw when I looked in the mirror. I felt ashamed for not having curves. I was picked on and told I looked sick. There was a rumor going around in high school that I had an eating disorder. The stress made me eat less and I didn’t even have a problem eating in the first place. My body just didn’t gain weight. I continued to lift and exercise in other ways for about five years before I ever went up a dress size. Now I wonder how my body became anybody else’s business in the first place.
My friend Jackie is one of the most socially conscious and passionate people I know. Our initial connection came from being the only black women working in our office, but quickly blossomed into one of the most supportive and challenging friendships I’ve ever had. Jackie and I are both creatives. Our mutual goal is use our work to uplift other women, including each other. We don’t compete. We collaborate and use one another’s strengths to cure our own weaknesses.
A few days ago, Jackie handed me her phone to read something she had on the screen. I hesitated because the expression on her face was more intense than I had ever seen her. She looked angry, but sad enough to cry. When I looked down at her phone, I saw a meme insulting the values, confidence, and economic statuses of black women who wear weaves. It was horrible. Knots invaded my stomach as I listened to Jackie vent, waiting for my turn.
I’ve never seen Jackie dolled up, but I think she’s beautiful. The day I met her, she had her hair parted down the middle with an afro puff on each side. Since then, I’ve seen her do a million cute styles, all using her natural hair and texture. On the outside, I’m Jackie’s opposite. I change my hair just as often, but I do it using clip-in hair extensions and wigs. Beneath all the other hair, my own hair is transitioning. After having straightened it for over a decade, I’ve decided to allow my hair to grow in its naturally curly state.
Looking at us, you would think I’d be angry and hurt by a meme like that while Jackie would have carelessly scrolled by. Really, what that meme did was remind us that black women in America can’t fucking win. If your hair is natural like Jackie’s, you’ll be told you look unprofessional, your hair is nappy, and unruly. If you throw on a wig made with Indian hair like myself, you’re a self-loathing wannabe.
A black woman’s hair is something special. In styling it, we carry a sense of pride. It’s a creative expression that shouldn’t be used to judge and spew hate. It’s an ever-changing form of art that deserves love, but in reality it only becomes beautiful when it’s copied by other races.
I saved my favorite for last.
Who came up with the idea of slut shaming? What close-minded asshole thought to teach women that a high body count made them less worthy while men get to bang as many chicks as they want because the more the merrier? The word “slut” and others like it have lost all power to me. Hell, if I go a day without calling one of my girlfriends a slut-bucket, something’s wrong. Really, what is a slut other than a stupid, funny word? Who gets the right to choose when a woman is having too much sex?
I was slut shamed in middle and high school by people who had never even been in the same room as me. I was a virgin when it all started and the part that hurt the most at that time is the people who were doing this to me were mostly girls. We grew up listening to TLC and The Spice Girls. What happened to girl power?
When I’m in a relationship, I’m faithful, but my single self is another story. I date who I want when I want and I am honest about it. Dating doesn’t mean sex, it could just be dinner, but if sex happens, I maintain my dignity and demand his respect. I’ll take care of him, but I’ve gotta get off too and it doesn’t matter if we’ve known each other for an hour or a year, if the feeling is there, I don’t want to miss out.
I keep a book in the drawer I keep my sex toys in. I named it “My Sex Journal” in it, I have the names of everyone I’ve been with and I write about what happened between us. Each story includes how we met, whether or not we were in love, how long we knew each other before we had sex, what I learned/got from the relationship, and anything else I want to talk about. The openness I have with my sexuality makes me feel powerful and grounded. I’m at my most feminine wearing a tiny lacy little something and perfume. To survive this world, we’ve gotta be tough and fight daily, why not let your hair down and put the struggle on pause before you burn out?
I have been picked apart because of my clothes, my weight, my hair, the way I eat, my tattoos; everything. Most of the negative things people say about me are likely to be things I've screamed at myself about. No one has abused me more than I have. I've never felt more belittled than I have in the years I spent being mean to myself. The difference is, I'm a rehabilitated abuser. I've stopped telling myself I was ugly and stupid just to see me cry, I stopped calling myself a loser because some guy didn't find me worthy of his commitment, and more importantly, I stopped pricking my skin just to watch the blood flow. I’ll never be perfect. It's just that I’ve outgrown my role as a victim. My shame is gone and I want to help you kill yours.