Too Grown & Sexy For Compulsory Insecurity

“I wouldn’t wear the Victoria’s Secret bra that adds two cup sizes,” I say. “False advertisement.”

I laughingly add there’s no sense in making A minuses seem like Cs. We won’t even get started on Booty Pop panties.

She chuckles and says she wants to lose weight. We joke about our appearances more. I feel closer to her. It seems she feels the same. Cool. New friend?

In hyper-contemplative weirdo fashion, I later begin unpacking the need to bond with people based on collective feelings of void. That doesn’t seem right.

I share a lot; however, I’m cautious and selective about what I share. (Don’t feel bad for me.) I have told a lot of people a lot about being small-busted. It seems funny. It makes people feel better. Maybe they identify with it. Maybe their sister or mom does.

Maybe they’ll tell me big boobs are heavy, and they’d give me an entire one to split between both of mine if I’d make their legs longer. Maybe strangers talk to these women’s cleavage, whereas my clavicles don’t inspire dialogue beyond necklace compliments. Maybe I’ll quote “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.” Maybe we keep going.

Maybe their culture glamorizes a thigh gap. Maybe they should be 5’5″ with thick thighs. Maybe they want to know the sweetest taboo that keeps Sade looking better than non-Sade life forms. Maybe I just projected that onto them because Sade is forever fine.

Maybe I’ll share that I wished on dandelions and fallen eyelashes for boobs and blew out birthday candles for boobs. Maybe all of this is a first world problem.

While being of modest bosom is no big deal, I’ve used the tidbit in problematic ways. Tidbits like this have value in a gendered social bartering system, where women bond over stuff we don’t like and are not in the position to immediately change about ourselves.

We are often socialized to give compliments, downplay favorable comments our way, apologize for successes, and make our tiny issues main characters IMAX style before 3D glasses wearing voyeurs.

So, what kind of existential crisis is Imani having? I turn 25, a.k.a. good and grown, next Saturday. And despite having written New Year’s resolutions, some of which I’m rocking and some of which need work, I am using this moment to continue self-work. Writing helps me manifest and keep myself in check.

No more compulsory insecurity. I gotta ease up on—although maybe not abandon—self-deprecation as a humor device or connection builder.

Conversations might become awkward. Things might seem flat (pun unintended), at first. But, chats that come from scarcity suck. Focusing on less preferred traits and speaking those preferences into the world tells people we don’t have enough and, therefore, we aren’t enough. I’m enough. You’re enough.

Admittedly, I want to bond with people. That can mean delving into innermost feelings and uncertainties. The truth isn’t always pretty, hashtag awesome, sepia-toned or newsfeed worthy. Luckily I have an answer, Sway.

I’m too grown and sexy to rely on the awkward girl shtick.

I’ve read too much, seen too many multi-dimensional women win, and come from too many revolutionaries to not tell flaw-focused discourses, “Go home, Roger.”

This doesn’t mean I’m gonna false advertise. It does mean if what’s on display and ultimately discovered about me isn’t a proper fit, in true itty bitty [term redacted] fashion, I’m not gonna fill in the gap.

The Southern Ritual of Speaking

You mean there's pressure to uplift other folks and show my family's values just by speaking to people?
You mean there’s implicit pressure to uplift other folks and show my family’s values just by speaking to people?

People who spend significant amounts of time below the Mason-Dixon line know that “speaking,” engaging others in basic conversation, is a must.

As a child, speaking seemed like an interruption. A social chore. Can’t I just get more helpings or come play with the kid I actually came here to see? I vividly recall speaking to people, out of duty or to disarm them of preconceptions, when I would rather not have.

As an adult, I see people need and seek validation. Conversation is by no means a cure-all. However, speaking is a fundamental acknowledgment of another person, and his or her validity, in a moment. Conversations mark our connections with each other. They can foster a sense of community and demonstrate where our interests converge.

People matter. And people need to feel like they matter.

Further, speaking does not have to be exhausting. Walking into a space, making eye contact with the people there and offering a generalized greeting suffices. If elders are involved, due deference is warranted.

Doing so shows that your formative years were spent under somebody worthwhile. Speaking shows that you’re not “too good” engage people in conversations, which often prove mutually beneficial. People internalize hierarchies and often resent folks who, as collective wisdom describes it, read their own headlines. Speaking can show you’re level-headed.

Speaking opens doors. “Good morning, y’all” can segue to family values, personal goals, professional aspirations and more. The person you’re speaking to might be able to help. You might be able to help. Either or both of you could know somebody. The more speaking we do, the smaller the world becomes.

I make it my business to speak to people when I see them. Yet, seeing people can prove tricky. In typical westernized Millennial fashion, I plug in constantly and scroll devices until my wrists hurt.

Headphones mute external conversations. I customize Spotify playlists to match moods, promote a conducive reading environment or to let artists sing, rap or play their way through notions I identify with, but am not ready to discuss. I know some of my cyber friends’ proclivities better than people I see in the real life. Social media should augment, not replace, in-person connections.

This post is not to say every person is owed conversation. Speaking and street harassment intersect. Harassers often know that people, especially southern women, participate in a communicative culture.

Patriarchy tells them whatever their age, race, weight, height, tooth count or station in life a woman owes them a chat, and answers about why if she is not into it. Some aren’t above implicit and explicit pressure for women to engage them. Men have physically presented themselves in ways where my instinct is twofold:

1. Acquiesce and 2. Hightail it away from Sirs Creeperton.  Force is contrary to speaking’s spirit.

Through speech we orally affirm others. Their speech back creates a conversation, reciprocates the affirmation, and conveys the message both participants matter. While speaking is a nice touch, we should also focus on becoming the kind of people with whom we’d want to connect.

Here’s 13 Things I Appreciated About 2013

Gratefulyo

The year 2013 bids us adieu. As exciting as it is to see this year end, it’s also inspiring to see what 2014 will bring. After finishing my New Year’s resolutions, I opened the Word document of my 2013 ones.

Let’s be real. I did not review resolutions consistently all year. Or monthly. Or weekly. I went for what I knew. I gave my best efforts. I worked hard. Grace covered me.

In no particular order, here are 13 of the many things I’m appreciative of about this year:

•My friends are a kaleidoscope of compassion and companionship. Everyone does not live, look or believe similarly. But, they all provide something necessary and beautiful to my life. I pray that I do the same.

•I performed a poem in class. I hadn’t performed (a.k.a. “spit”) since 2011, the year I graduated from college. Glad to know that case law, legalese and such didn’t rob the kid of her flows.

•I’m freelance writing. It’s unpredictable. Yet, I am grateful for every chance to see an idea to fruition and be compensated for it. I studied communications/journalism in undergrad; however, some people have a disposable mindset on content curators. They think blah-blah-everyone’s-a-journalist-or-writer-nowadays. So, when editors honor the value that specialization brings to publications, everybody wins.

•Which reminds me of how I started 2013. Finding out that the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education picked up one of my columns for HBCU Digest.

• The Duval County School Board voted unanimously to change the name of Nathan B. Forrest high school. People in Jacksonville, Fla. decided not to keep a slave-trader and KKK Grand Wizard’s legacy alive via the name of a training ground for developing minds. My hometown has lots of remaining work in terms of inclusivity and progress, but this is a start.

•My high school teachers welcomed my visit and let me speak to their classes. The students seemed intrigued by my message. It was wonderful.

•A professor I have a career crush on thanked me for my contributions to the learning environment. ‘Twas when I learned of an academic high. Acadorphins? Endorphidemia? Ok. No more jokes? Next bullet point.

•School is better. Things click more. Interdisciplinary advocacy, here I come.

•People have patiently helped me when I’ve been in tight spots. Real-time reminders that no one is an island unto him or herself.

•Black and brown girls are shining. While celebrities, beauty queens and successful women can be triggers for some, they fuel me to become self-actualized. Everyone doesn’t have to know my name. I just want to answer my calling.

Anyway, Rihanna constantly does her thing. Erykah Badu models for Givenchy. Beyonce’s album. Miss America. Miss France. The world is abundant. There’s enough light for everybody to catch some rays.

•My family is a blessing and safe haven from chaos.

•I’m halfway through law school.

•And finally, you’re reading this. Thank you.

Safety, love, light and laughter to y’all. Feel free to share some of your gratitude list. Bring on ’14!

Embrace summertime, not pervasive personal questions

As the sun beams, wind blows, tan lines surface and memories accumulate, remember caution, especially when addressing recent graduates and upwardly mobile peeps.

Some stuff is not your business. This is a mighty revelation for some because nosy people feel entitled to everyone’s business. Because other people’s business underscores universal issues, right?

Your finances, proclivities and politics belong to all. It’s social commentary, not nosiness, right?

Child boo.

Add prevailing notions of a woeful romantic climate for women (especially of color), abysmal job market for all, and the prevalence of Facebook notifications, that yes, even they are engaged now, and the stage is set for pervasive post-grad personal questions.

I graduated in December, but recurring interrogatives often confront me. Spring graduates, prepare. You will develop nosiness spidey-senses.

You know the type. They occur as visions, when one knows that an individual who may not have taken as keen an interest in your professional and academic pursuits, is about to hit a recent graduate with the flex.

Who cares about community service? Let’s discuss carnality. Internships? So, what’s your boyfriend’s name?

It’s the pressure that causes women to hide their relationship statuses on Facebook, hashtag #him on Twitter or take to blogsites of anonymity to express the desires of their hearts without rampant judgment and assumptions.

Breezily dropping questions in speech does not change the fact that some questions are not necessary.

Too many people are team Mind Everyone Else’s Business (MEEB). And what many MEEBs fail to realize is that technological advances and instant gratification do not trump manners.

We live in an era of hyper-connectivity with key words and paparazzi creating facades of access when most people do not owe us anything.

If a celebrity, or heck, even friend of a friend, decides to put something out in the public domain, there is a strong correlation between its existence in that space and the likelihood of people commenting on and noticing it.

Fair enough.

But, even when people make something known, a notion prevails that MEEBs can ask whatever, whenever in whichever capacity the almighty collective schnoz deems appropriate.

No.

There are real opportunities to help and frequently in less invasive ways. We must remember time and place. As we embrace summer we must acknowledge that this is a transition period for scores of people, especially young women.

And transition points are tough. They are marked by reflection, trial, triumph and reassessment. All of that is not breaking news nor should it be.

Transitions do not have to occur under a microscope by obsessive observers who ought to channel their investigative gifts into self-actualization more than dirt digging.

Obviously I’m not addressing everyone. Some people have relationships of trust, love and expertise, which make their interactions meaningful opportunities to learn and grow. Every inquisitive soul is not a MEEB.

But, sometimes sexism is a little too blatant as some situations expose how little unfortunate minds think of women on their own, independent of their romantic relationships or decision to express certain personal choices on a plethora of platforms.

As recent graduates collect photos, funds and memories, many begin planning and working toward the next phase of their lives. Support them. Sponsor something. Connect them with viable professionals. Love them. Help if you can.

But, a bargain for exchange should not be access to the whos, whats, and whens of their bedrooms, date nights and black books, especially if you’re not dating, pursuing or remotely close to them.

As the temperatures rise, don’t catch MEEBer fever.

Vaginal bleaching? Why, world?

I’m bronze, and I have a vagina. If I lived in India, I might be taught to bleach it.

Indian women face advertisements suggesting that they, in much of their brown-skinned beauty and glory, do just that to be more attractive and supposedly cleaner.

Most of us know the associations made between lightness and darkness with the former representing worthiness, cleanliness, and godliness. Maybe we will discuss white Jesus in another post.

Many communities of color deal with internalized racism and colorism’s residue. An African American friend told me that her cousin bought skin lightening cream, and although the (risky) process took months, she was able to bring her cocoa complexion to a more café au lait locale.

I dated an East Asian guy who told me I was beautiful, but admitted that he wished his honey complexion was “a wee bit lighter.”

It is amazing that as the globe browns the media employs multiculturalism, multiracialism and multiple hues in advertisement. But, it is also apparent that with progress made regarding inclusivity, whiteness is still property in the world.

Apparently reverence for recessive traits including light hair, eyes, limbs and faces is not stifling enough. The intimate bleaching market is now making headlines.

I learned about Clean And Dry Intimate Wash late last week on Jezebel. If you want your skin to crawl, read this: http://jezebel.com/5900928/your-vagina-isnt-just-too-big-too-floppy-and-too-hairyits-also-too-brown?tag=vaginas

One could use the euphemistically termed language of executives pushing these products or call this foolishness out for what it is:  an oppressive and inflammatory attack on women, and especially women of color.

Bollywood films put undue pressure on Indian women to conform to a Eurocentric aesthetic. Many of the women selected for roles in these films are not light skinned Indians. They are white British actresses who could not find work in their hometowns, and benefit from the skewed perceptions of some Indian audiences.

Telenovelas are not known to cast Afro-Latinas and darker skinned indigenous Latinas as objects of affection.

Criticisms of rap music videos have been similar. Although the video model industry is readily deemed déclassé after popular video models admitted that their jobs were oftentimes the result of their looks and for-hire sexual proclivities, in the early 2000s the video girl was the standard of beauty for many black women.

With the intimate bleaching market being relatively new, one can only imagine the adverse effects supporters of these products might experience.

The colonized mind that could give one the ok to strive for a more Aryan vagina needs affirmation and validation. What the user might get is a lighter genital region from products that contain sodium hydroxide, which is used in septic tank cleansers and drain declogging. Nothing like treating private areas like a sewage treatment system.

As if there isn’t enough shame perpetuated in communities seeking to control the autonomy and self-actualization of women, women and girls are socialized to believe that how they were born is not good enough for their partners, who undoubtedly are a reflection of their worthiness as individuals.

Maybe if your lady bits aren’t brown, your man will stick around.

Finding peace, pulling pieces and seeking justice

A lot happened  in the past few days.  My goddaughter was dedicated to God. My baby bro is Dunk Master Flex. I have about five new freckles on my face.

Ok, in all seriousness, my previous post “Putting the BIG in bigotry” garnered more views than anything else on my blog.  It also nearly sent my poor Blackberry into cardiac arrest with all the notifications. I was definitely getting the red light special all through the night. 

The post went viral, especially for an indie blog created a few months ago, with the support of hundreds of people on Facebook and Twitter, through email and search engines. For additional eyes on the thoughts and words that I labor over, I am eternally grateful.

The experience highlighted commonality in people of various backgrounds and with diverse life experiences.

Friends, associates and strangers from the Grambling State University, Louisiana Tech University and northern Louisiana community expressed concerns about the need for sensitivity in our dealings with one another. We didn’t shy away from troubling issues of race, responsibility and equality.

The piece was shared in other regions, too, which solidified that staying up in the middle of the night and hammering out a counter-narrative was worth the following day’s exhaustion and post-response euphoria.

This was a teachable moment.

As such, Louisiana Tech responded with a statement addressing freedom of speech, prior review, and why they ultimately pulled the piece from editor-in-chief Rebecca Spence in the online edition of their publication, The Tech Talk.  http://www.thetechtalk.org/?p=5159

The largest issue is the aftermath of Trayvon Martin’s death. Recently, voice analysis experts determined that screams heard at the crime scene could not have been from George Zimmerman.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/31/trayvon-martin-shooting-911-call-screams_n_1394224.html

Also, change.org’s petition for justice in Martin’s case is the largest petition in the site’s history.

http://www.change.org/petitions/prosecute-the-killer-of-our-son-17-year-old-trayvon-martin

That’s pretty impressive considering that the site boasts more than 100,000 petitions. All of these events highlight the need for timely engagement from various constituents. The impact of an engaged audience and society cannot be undermined.

Putting the BIG in bigotry

A routine sufferer of insomnia and social media addiction, I perused my laptop and phone before stumbling across several online references to an op-ed from Louisiana Tech University’s newspaper, The Tech Talk.

Allow me to first say that I am unopposed to this publication. I do not harbor ill will toward Lousiana Tech as an institution or the multifaceted demographic it serves.

But, as a Grambling State University trained journalist and former editor-in-chief of The Gramblinite, the city and university newspaper, my spirit was profoundly disturbed by the piece “Putting the Hood in Hoodie”, written by Tech’s editor-in-chief, Rebecca Spence.

In the piece, Spence aligned Trayvon Martin’s choice of attire on a rainy Florida night with ownership of his untimely demise at the hands of self-appointed watchman George Zimmerman.

Spence made no mention of supremacy, persistent stereotypes or white privilege, a structure that survives on the oppression of the other, in this case, the black body occupied by Martin.

How else could a slim teenager, returning from a cornerstore be blamed for being observed, called a “f*cking coon” in a police call, shot and killed? What’s in a hooded sweatshirt?

A brown face.

She failed to acknowledge that anyone is entitled to shield him or herself from precipitation and walk freely, however the individual chooses to be dressed, and experience a safe trip.

Instead of addressing the shoot-first nature of Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law, a victim blaming and particularly troubling narrative that was too reminiscent of journalist Geraldo Rivera’s recent comments, was the premise of her article.

Rivera has since expressed remorse after his son told him that he went viral for the wrong reasons.

“Graffiti artists, rappers like 50 Cent, actors from the hood in movies and various gas station robbery videos have proven that hoodies are often associated with people who are up to no good,” Spence wrote.

Blondes are also presented as licentious and dim-witted. Should we assume that every flaxen haired maiden lacks cognition and plays hopscotch from bed to bed?

Should we assume that everyone in overalls who has a Southern drawl and sunburn is underexposed and incestuous? Do they live in trailers?

Southerners are familiar with race and subjugation in blatant ways that our counterparts from other regions often do not know.

As such, I was not surprised by the editorial decision to manipulate facts of this case and make the deceased victim the aggressor.

I was called the n-word by a white girl in the South. A white woman told her significant other to watch her purse when I was in a department store in the South. I have been pulled over for driving a big-body, old Cadillac in the South by white officers whose voices ratcheted up several octaves upon discovering that the brotha they hoped to pull over was, in fact, a sista.

While northern Louisiana, home to Louisiana Tech University and my alma mater, attracts minds from all over the world and different points on the ideological spectrum, the area is not noted as the apex of culture or a bastion of enlightenment.

As a result, Spence’s comments are troublesome, inflammatory and naive. But, again, hardly surprising.

As a journalist one must acknowledge not only the premise of an article, the very notion it supports, but also its headline, accompanying photos, and factual basis, or in this case lack thereof, in addition to the author’s voice.

Using the word “hood” as a pejorative term for marginalized communities and people is indicative of a lack of cultural competence and sensitivity.

This article is also erroneous. Trayvon Martin was unarmed, underage, 100-pounds slimmer–THE VICTIM. He was approached by Zimmerman, who ultimately shot and killed him.

Zimmerman vacated his vehicle to approach Martin, a pedestrian, after a law enforcement official asked Zimmerman not to do so.

Martin deserved to live regardless of what he wore, and the fact that he was murdered cannot be negated by recent allegations of marijuana possession or suspension from school.

To draw such conclusions is in poor taste.

Spence presented an alternate ending for the slain teen.

“If Martin was not wearing a hoodie with the hood on, his life could have been spared. Hoodies with the hood on have a bad connotation, like it or not.”

If writers, who shape much of society’s dialogue and countless archetypes, do not widen their lenses, they will remain myopic, like it or not.

Note: This post was shared several hundred times on Twitter & Facebook, and garnered thousands of views. When I changed my url to iamfaithspeaks.com the likes/shares were lost in translation. WordPress = hater. Also, after this piece went indie-viral, Louisiana Tech pulled the editorial from its website.