I am on sip number one of Jack and Coke number two when he announces that he likes his women thick. And although I relinquished the inclination to knot myself in his frame awhile ago, the comment still stings my ears in a familiar fashion. I don’t like it. I try to brush it off and keep swaying to whatever the DJ is playing, but the words stick to my back like damp sweat under a dress on a hot summer’s night.
See, Black women are supposed to be thick. We’re expected to be thick. Our bodies are meant to swirl and curve and swerve and spiral in delicious and astounding ways. If they don’t do all of the above, we’ve somehow betrayed the norm and defied the preferred standard. Or at least that’s what I’ve learned and am now fighting to unlearn. That is what I’ve been told and am now working to untell myself. And, it is difficult to carve a new truth after years of the world force feeding you tablespoon after tablespoon of bullshit.
See, I’m learning that the gap between what Black women are “supposed” to be and all of the many things that we actually are is colossal and wide and deep and not quite close enough to being bridged.
I don’t want to write self-love anthems or body image anthems or any other anthems for that matter. I want to write the truth and serve it on the rocks. And the truth is my body does a lot less swirling and curving; it does a lot more standing straight. The truth is I’ve been known to settle in the mirror for a few minutes lifting my butt and fantasizing about what it would look like if it were “just a little bit bigger.” The truth is I am a ball of contradictions – a woman who urges other women to define themselves for themselves while still untangling her story from the raucous narration of Black men.
It is that narration that resounds every day while I fight to mold my own thoughts about the body I inhabit. It is that narration that crept up on me on Sunday afternoon in aisle 11 while I was simply trying to grab dishwashing detergent. It’s that narration that has made me an expert comedian when it comes to cracking jokes to my male friends about my less-than-rotund butt. It’s that narration that rolls off my tongue anytime I bop and sing Drake’s line, “And your stomach on flat flat/and your ass on what’s that.” It’s that narration that I am trying so hard to unhear after 26 years of letting it fill a few chasms in my self-esteem.
I would like to tell you that I am giving it all up–the appetite for validation, the listening ear to the body types I’ve heard Black men prefer, and the complicated relationship with my silhouette–but, that wouldn’t be quite true. Because most revelations about this life don’t come in singular Eureka moments or striking sweeps of the heart. The ways in which we grow up and unbind ourselves from the same shackles that shattered us are complex and unending, complicated and never quite complete. The ways in which we evolve and step into the fullness of ourselves are not nearly neat or seamless enough for the conclusion of a blog post.
There will be another moment when a Black man announces that he likes his women thick. I’ll still flinch on the inside. I’ll still wonder when it became kosher to stick the possessive pronoun “his” in front of an entire group of people. I’ll still grapple with drawing parallels between his statement and my view of my own body and womanhood. I’ll still be a mess of contradictions trying to throw away all of the puzzle pieces and reconfigure them the way I want. But, I will remember that I penned this piece and I hummed this hymn. I will remember that for a woman who has spent years writing her own story, it’s about time she started narrating it as well.
You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love & affection. ~Buddha
You can Google self-love and find a wealth of quotes. But loving yourself is a concept that takes years, guts, and next-level courage to truly harness in everyday life. There are two women leading the charge when it comes to empowering other women to love themselves, accept their flaws, and bask bravely in their true selves. Those two women are Roconia, founder of Moredinary, and Yetti, founder of Certified 10. In a few weeks, the pair will team up for their first joint event, Think This Way, a workshop that will equip women with ways to reshape negative thoughts and transform them into something much more positive. In this Q&A, they each discuss what sparked them to create their organizations, what they hope attendees get out of Think This Way, and why it’s so important for women to come together in person for these sorts of events.
1) Tell us a little bit about your own self-love journey.
Roconia: I wouldn’t exactly call it a self-love journey. 1. Because I don’t really use that term and 2. because I didn’t wake up one day and decide to embark on any kind of journey. But in recent years I kind of realized I was alive and decided I should treat myself as such.
Yetti: Well it’s pretty short, and a tad a bit cliché. I learned to berate myself at a fairly young age. Berating turned into self-mutilation. Self-mutilation turned into a stint at the hospital, and after realizing that years of being shitty to myself wasn’t working out so well, I figured I’d try something new. I’ve been experimenting with this self-love thing ever since.
2) What sparked you to create Certified 10 and Moredinary?
Roconia: In a way both you and Yetti helped spark the beginning of Moredinary. Moredinary is something that I’ve always wanted to do, I just didn’t have the words to describe it because it wasn’t an occupation I could find in a career handbook. With Moredinary, I get to utilize every single one of my best skills from writing to event planning to creativity to building genuine connections. I’d say the idea for Moredinary was officially sparked at your event last spring, Mimosas & Men. With the help of Yetti, and her passing all of her Mimosas to me, I’d officially decided, then and there, that I was going to get started on my organization. I’ve been in a frenzy ever since.
Yetti: February 16, 2016. I didn’t want another woman to feel as lost, or as sad, or as empty as I did that day. I didn’t want this to be something my little sister ever felt. We learn how to add and subtract in school, but we’re not taught to take care of our self-esteem, or our mental health. We go to doctor offices or the hospital when we are physically wounded, but what about the wounds you can’t see?
That’s pretty much it. That’s why I created Certified 10. To fill a void the world refuses to acknowledge.
3) Roconia, Moredinary envisions a world where every woman is exactly who she wants to be–mentally, physically, and professionally. What do you think that will look like for our society and what is the top way women can get to that state on a personal level?
I think it looks like women getting up every morning and putting on whatever they want–be it a bowtie, a skirt, a dress, or pants–and going about their day without regard to societal norms and the pressure they place on women to be a certain way.
On a personal level, I think it starts with belief. If a woman believes she can, God help the (wo)man who stands in her way.
3) Yetti–Part of the Certified 10 vision is for every woman to celebrate, own, and love her individuality. Of those three actions (celebrate, own, and love), which do you feel is the most difficult to do and why?
Oh, boy. They’re all hard to do because they all pretty much go hand in hand. To love yourself, and I mean to truly love yourself, it also mean you own and accept bits and pieces of yourself that others do not understand, that society has taught you to hate, or that you have neglected for whatever reason. Owning what you bring to the table and what you are worth means you celebrate your existence and things about you that are different, or stick out like a sore thumb. It’s you practicing self-care, which brings you right back to loving yourself because that is the ultimate way to self-care. They all go together, and are all very much difficult to do, but not because they’re daunting tasks, but because if you fail at one, you will eventually fail at them all.
4) Why is it important to move beyond the online world and host live events for women?
Roconia: There’s a certain connection that you can only get in person. You can’t feel the electricity in a room through Google Hangout.
Yetti: Because everything is better in person, let’s be honest here. Writing about it doesn’t have the same impact as watching someone be about it. Not to mention with the live events Certified 10 and Moredinary put together, one of our major goals is to foster a community women feel comfortable in. I think it was you who actually said it best in a “snail mail” letter, that you appreciated the intimate setting of the first Back 2 Basics event. You can’t create that kind of setting on the Internet. You just can’t.
5) What do you hope attendees gain from Think This Way?
Roconia: I hope that women gain a new appreciation for their thought life. I hope they find the activities that we do at Think This Way to be applicable in their everyday lives. And I really hope they gain a new friend. I know some amazing women coming to the event.
Yetti: Honestly, I hope we can help them see the beauty and the benefits in a positive mind. After this event, I want our attendees to feel absolutely in the wrong when they have a negative thought about themselves. I want that thought to feel uncomfortable. I want them to continue questioning negative thinking and then correct it. Out with the self-deprecating, in with the celebrating. I’m also hoping they leave feeling like they have a close-knit community they can always count on.
Roconia: I see Think This Way building on women’s betterment in one of the most important areas of their lives: their minds. I think this will help women get on their way to being as Moredinary as possible.
Yetti: I never really thought about it, but I do hope this won’t be last time we see these beautiful women. Like mentioned before, we’re a community. I hope they see this and come back for more.
Yetti, of yettisays.com, provides the average twenty-something-year old with the uncensored truth sometimes served with a side of wit, sarcasm, and a few curse words. She’s also founder of Certified 10, the organization and movement teaching women to fall madly and deeply in love with themselves. Twitter |@yettisays + @thecertified10 Roconia \ruhCONNuh\ (n.) a beautiful balance between blessed and broken. Founder of Moredinary. Creator of Ever So Roco. Storyteller. Revolutionary. Twitter:@eversoroco Website: Ever So Roco
Love what you’ve read from these ladies today? Enter below to win a free ticket to the Think This Way event taking place on Saturday, March 19 at noon in DC!
And, don’t forget to chime in during the Think This Way Twitter chat tomorrow, March 2, at 9 p.m. EST using the hashtag #ThinkThisWay.
I don’t typically drink appletinis. But, it’s Wednesday night and the martinis at Friday’s on Pennsylvania Avenue are $3 dollars, so I’m on my second appletini. The DJ’s set has the worst case of a musical identity crisis I’ve ever heard. He goes from Mary J. Blige to Mystikal, but then he lands on Meek’s Dreams and Nightmares. I’m a sucker for long intros that lead up to a sick beat. Aren’t we all? Something about delayed gratification. So, one minute and 37 seconds in, the beat shifts and my hands start to push the air. My face is all scrunched up as I look over at my two friends and they’re mouthing the lyrics. The woman next to me, whose name I don’t know and never will, is dancing too. Her shoulders are hitting mine as we laugh and keep rapping with our scrunched up faces. It is Wednesday night. At Friday’s. On Pennsylvania Avenue. And, it’s one of the few times this week that I have felt completely, utterly, and unflinchingly like myself.
Because that, my beauties, is #BlackGirlMagic. That’s what it looks like and tastes like and feels like and smells like.
I do not know what song was on Linda Chavers’ heart or what string of experiences led her to pen the recent Elle article “I Have a Problem With #BlackGirlMagic.” I cannot speak to what unrest stirred up in her soul and spilled through her fingertips. She is a writer. So, she wrote. She believed in something and shared it through words, which is exactly what writers do. At our lowest common denominator, we have opinions and we share them through words. I’m not here to mock Linda or cheapen her or throw names. I’m here because she wrote something and it did this thing to me. It did that thing where it sucker punched me in the worst way and dared me to respond.
I don’t remember the moment I realized that because I did not look like Emily or Jessica or Sarah, my version of this American life would not be filtered through the same amount of sunshine they had. Emily. Sarah. Jessica. These were my elementary school friends. Buddies. Ace boon coons. Emily always had gel pens and Lisa Frank folders. Jessica lived down the street and left real school after first grade for home school. Sarah had a sleepover once that I had to leave early because I had church the next day. Emily. Sarah. Jessica. Those were my girls. And surely I didn’t look like them, but we still had a shared set of experiences. We had N’Sync CDs and American Girl dolls and parties where we bobbed for apples. We had the same things, but we were not quite the same.
I did not learn this until much later. See, now I know, my sunshine is not quite the same.
I did not learn this all at once. I did not wake up one morning and suddenly understand what melanin-infused skin would mean for me going forward. Some days I still don’t. Some days I struggle to read the cashier’s eyes when he smiles at the woman in front of me and then frowns when I approach. Some days I get tired of explaining what going natural means. Some days I scoffwhen the guy walking out the door pushes past without saying “excuse me.” There are all these things and all these thoughts and all these realities that simmer. Some days those realities attempt to eat me alive.
So, no, my sunshine is not quite the same. But, my sunshine is that #BlackGirlMagic.
I wish from the trenches of my heart that Linda Chavers did not believe #BlackGirlMagic implied that we are, indeed, magical. I wish she didn’t liken it to rabbits pulled out of hats and grand disappearing acts. I wish she didn’t believe it meant that we were superhuman. I wish she didn’t contort the phrase, take it so literally, and single-handedly pull apart this mantra that is sometimes one of the few things us black girls have have left to believe in.
Last week in a video interview with Chasity Cooper, we stumbled upon the topic of #BlackGirlMagic. There we were, two black girls in front of a camera. With a black woman behind the camera directing our shoot. Inside of a coffee shop owned by a black woman. Without even having to answer her question, that was #BlackGirlMagic. Four black women doing what they love. Sharing something they believe in. Reaching out to each other to make shit happen.
It’s more than a hashtag. It’s more than this phrase I see and roll my eyes at, the way I do with #RelationshipGoals. No, #BlackGirlMagic is Friday lunch with Roconia with my head cocked back laughing far too loudly. #BlackGirlMagic is my hoop earrings on the weekend and my emphatic head nods during the sermon. #BlackGirlMagic is never having to translate anything I say when I am with my girlfriends and emitting my truest self. #BlackGirlMagic is the smile I give the woman at the security desk every day when I wave my badge as everyone else scurries past her. #BlackGirlMagic is when she smiles right back.
#BlackGirlMagic is the dust that settles after you rise and rise again. #BlackGirlMagic is a tribe around you and a community behind you. #BlackGirlMagic is Sade’s By Your Side and Beyoncé’s Love on Top. #BlackGirlMagic is knowing that your sunshine is not quite the same, but every time that sun beats, she is beyond beautiful. #BlackGirlMagic is that oh-so-sweet feeling that dances inside of you when you see another black woman push past naysayers or climb above mountains or find lasting love. #BlackGirlMagic is not at all about being superhuman. It is about being as human as we can get, and knowing that maybe there is another black girl out there who gets us. Hears us. Feels us. Sees us for exactly who we are–flawed, troubled, hurt, stifled, confused, complicated, layered.
High school was chock full of daunting college applications, fleeting friendships, and hype pep rallies. For most, it was exciting, but I was always counting down the days until college happened. In high school, I cared too much about what others thought of me and I longed to go to a place where I would be accepted. My days were spent (in between studying of course) feeling badly about sitting at the lunch table alone, working tirelessly to impress a guy or following the path laid out for me to the letter. I was afraid to speak up in class for fear that I would be called a nerd, so I spent most of my time hiding so that others could be comfortable with me.
Sure, I was a star student, involved in many student groups and poised to head to a top college. But on the inside, I let what my peers thought of me or what I thought they thought of me rob me of the freedom of being unapologetically me.
That “dull your own shine” attitude followed me into my college years.
I’d miss interesting events and speakers because I was afraid I’d be the only Black person there or worse that I’d have no one to go with. I didn’t join certain student groups for fear of being ridiculed. I didn’t pursue my dream of writing because of the people who told me that it was not a substantial career. When you tell people that you are a Theatre and Latin American Studies major, their blank stares, piercing disappointment, confusion and replies of “Oh” can dim your spirit.
I wanted to impress. I wanted a “You go, girl!”
Instead replies went something like this…
“Why do you want to do that?”
“What are you going to do with that?”
“Why didn’t you study business?”
“You will never make it.”
Because I didn’t get the affirmation I sought, I forced myself to pursue other interests. I focused on my backup plan so much that I didn’t get anywhere near my dream.
It took conversations with my mother during my last year of college to realize that what others say or feel about your path should not matter. The infinite “Oh” that I receive when talking about my purpose is just a result of other people’s fear. It should not be mine. You would think that the revelation would have happened sooner, but you can’t rush progress.
And that has been my goal: to stop basing my life and decisions on other people’s expectations.
Every day, I ask myself the questions:
What do you want to do?
What is your purpose?
And I follow that with my whole heart.
The older you get, the less you care. Or maybe you just come into your own. No need for “Amen” and “You go, girl” to compliment your dreams (unless they are praying for you, then you need all of that you can get). You live everyday so that you can look back on it in fifty years with few regrets. You don’t need a co-signer. You don’t need to explain or give everyone a play-by-play of how it is going to happen. The older you get, the more experiences you have and the more you realize that you don’t care what people think about you. You begin to live life to please your Creator and yourself. You follow your dreams with a gusto and magic that is contagious. That magic inspires others to do the same.
Jelisa Jay Robinson is a writer and playwright from Houston, Texas. She enjoys traveling, singing 90’s pop music, belting out Enrique Iglesias songs with friends, and reading a good Junot Diaz novel. You can find her musings on being a bilingual Black American on her website Black Girl, Latin World. Feel free to follow her on twitter @jelisathewriter.
That’s the thought that went through my head this weekend. After we celebrated and tweeted and you all purchased the book on presale at a rate far beyond what I anticipated.
What in the entire fuck am I doing?
That was the resounding scream that shot through my mind and in between my ears. See, this one is not like the other ones. This one is not the showcase or a brunch or a Twitter chat. This one is not The War on Black Women’s Bodies. This one is the book. This one is one that I’ve never undertaken before. This one is the one that jolted me awake one morning at 2 a.m. and kept me up until 6 a.m., even though I thought I abandoned all-nighters after college. This one is the one that had me going off the grid and not blogging for two weeks straight. This one is the one I’ve dreamed of, worked toward and worked for. This is the one that has me wondering what in the entire fuck am I doing?
The words I needed to hear didn’t come to me until I said them to someone else. About something else.
“When you feel like you don’t know what the fuck you’re doing, it means you’re doing the right thing. The minute you’ve mastered it, you are in the wrong place.”
I wondered why the passion started to wane. I wondered why I was dragging myself to my laptop each night instead of galloping to it like I once did. I wondered why I was waking up feeling like a sack of shit and going to bed feeling like a pile of bricks. I wondered why it didn’t feel good anymore. It didn’t feel fun anymore. It didn’t feel exhilarating anymore.
It’s because I was in the wrong place.
I had mastered it. I was doing the things I knew how to do. I was executing work that was only a staple of Twenties Unscripted, not a new addition to it. I was playing it safe. I was doing what I knew would work. After F-BOMBS crashed and burned last autumn, I got scared and went back to my sure things.
But, sure things do not erect dreams. Sure things do not build character. Sure things do not require courage. Sure things do not test boundaries. Sure things do not show you what you are made of. Sure things just allow you to sit smugly and execute flawlessly. Sure things are benches in broken and unfulfilled places. Sure things are accessories of complacency and the assumption that you have somehow done something in this life.
I was in the wrong place.
And I probably would have stayed in the wrong place if it weren’t for the words of my sister. “You should be proud; this is your first book.”
It was only supposed to be a compilation of essays. It was only supposed to be this marketing tool for the blog’s third anniversary. It was only supposed to be this limited edition thing that I kinda, sorta promoted and used to anchor the month. But, her words rattled me into reality. They reminded me that spending months upon months combing through essays and compiling a body of work is not “just a marketing tool.” It’s not just this thing I pulled out of my ass. It’s not a limited edition item. It is a book. And I will treat, promote and honor it as such.
But, it means that I am back in the right place. I am nervous and scared and uncertain. But those nerves and that fear and that uncertainty remind me that I am doing the right thing. I am taking the right leap. Because I am excited. My heart’s racing again. The blood’s pumping again. And I am sitting up at 11:46 p.m. writing this post when I thought I was going to head to bed.
If you’ve mastered it, you are in the wrong place.
And if you don’t know what you’re doing, you’re in the right place.
So, if you are in the right place, choose confidence over perfectionism. Faith over fear. Excitement over uncertainty. Lessons over mastery. Growth over expertise. The precariousness of being in the right place over the stability of being in the wrong one.