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.

I’m a Chick From ‘The Hood’

Sisterly selfie. Location: The Hood.

I’m from the hood. By hood, I mean a black neighborhood with some dynamics stereotypically envisioned. The occasional box Chevy, all candy paint and rims, blares southern hip-hop. Well-known panhandlers request coins. Crime is heavily scrutinized.

However, my community contains more variance than flat thinkers usually consider. My late grandfather, a middle school science teacher, Sunday school leader, and Kappa, purchased the lot our family home is on 50 years ago and had it constructed. He and my late grandmother, a television producer and his wife, built a family in the home.

The hood was more the ‘burbs then. The hood had firmly middle class black families and fostered intergenerational wealth. Homes stayed in families. People could go off and live, work, and learn, while knowing there was somewhere to return. Others “boomeranged” back home to save for big American purchases, like their own homes. The community thrived.

The hood was also uprooted by the 2008 recession, resultant housing bubble and predatory lending. Generational conflicts exist. Priorities look different. Class dynamics are pervasive.

Barbecue wings and crab legs sell faster than froyo. Kale might as well precede nah. The hood is a place where business building is slow, but improving. Yet, it’s also a place of tireless activism.

And we should remember that hoods, or their functional equivalents, are ubiquitous. But, this post is about the northwest quadrant of Jacksonville, Florida, where my family home is.

The hood bred civil rights watchdogs who outed the city for building on unfit lands. My grandpa was on the NAACP’s toxicology board and helped spread awareness. Apparently building schools, homes and parks for black, brown and impoverished white people on toxic lands is standard domestic practice. But, environmental justice is another story.

Living in the hood is similar to attending an HBCU. Stuff happens. Some of it is glorious and soulful. Some of it is annoying or troubling. Stuff usually doesn’t occur because people are black, though. It’ll be another issue.

Social status. Family name. Profession. Associations. Religion. Sexual orientation. Grammar. Dialect. Speech is huge.

One benefit of being from the hood, but attending majority white magnet arts schools and storied black universities, is effective code-switching. Code-switching ≠ being disingenuous. I learned to tailor messages for audiences. Such is common practice where I’m from. It’s a survival mechanism. As Philly-based rapper Meek Mill spits, there’s “levels to this.”

The hood is cool (enough). I can always find hair products, and thrifty ethnic jewelry. People are loud–in speech, dress and persona. Some have ironic nicknames like, 350 pound men called Tiny. Elders know your kinfolk.

Clever children make music with instruments and random objects. Politicians buy groceries with normalized fame. You know, everybody knows them, but mostly nobody’s fazed. That’s just Representative So-and-So.

But, fear persists. Jacksonville locals nearly quiver when finding out that they or their loved ones ventured into the abyss that is the hood (as if a city so large doesn’t have other hoods or tony and tawny areas are exempt from dysfunction).

In Lion King Mufasa cautioned Simba to remain where the light touches. Not trying to grasp for low-hanging fruit here, but what does the light touch? Whose light? Must the hood Macklemore to get the same love?

My parents’ house is not in a war-torn third world country. Guests come over, usually for graduation parties, rousing discussion and/or food. They return safely to their destinations.

Typically, if I expect company, I’m on the front steps Stoop Kid style, or beside the window in our airy living room, prodding my sister to practice piano for her betterment a free show.

The hood is also a place that, as the nation grapples with killings of unarmed black kids, confuses outsiders. Jordan Davis was killed in Jacksonville. Non-Floridians, especially people who don’t know much about Jacksonville, don’t know or care that killer Michael Dunn wasn’t on the northside. Trayvon Martin was slain about two hours away in Sanford. The entire state (nation and world) experience set backs when lives are devalued and wrongfully taken.

On a personal level, the hood houses our family home. It is a reasonable structure that afforded us memories, passport stamps and nationwide travel. But, people from the hood do take preventative measures. Our home has burglar bars, a Rottweiler and an alarm system.

Our home provides comfort, which could develop anywhere. It’s a place with art, music and pets. Pets should not to be confused with siblings; however, some of them live there, too.

It contains gap-toothed pictures of relatives, smells like incense, and has more books than opportunities to read them, but enough room and natural light to try in good faith.

It’s a brick house, and mighty-mighty, a place with people bound by biology and values. It welcomes good energy and intentions. The people at home in our home might surprise you.

More than anything, our home and hood illuminate classism, fear and respectability issues.

Hoods are often good enough to give the world greats, but too shamed for longterm appreciation. Yet, no place or people are perfect. As the nation’s face evolves, so should perspectives of community value. A hood, barrio or cul-de-sac’s composition isn’t the biggest quandary.

Hierarchical personhood is. Do as you wish. And live where you may, but don’t disparage where other people stay.

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!

Steps for Crohn’s & colitis + bravery lessons

ImageImage

Some kids are braver than adults.

Insert 11-year-old Dyllan Lovero, who, along with his mom, Rachael, recently shared insight regarding Dyllan’s life as a champion.

While many pre-adolescents’ concerns include I-gadgets, locker combinations and hormonal imbalances, others face grown-up realities.

Dyllan, an honor student who enjoys watching wrestling and wants to be a doctor, has Crohn’s Disease, an inflammatory bowel disease. He also has colitis, which is inflammation of the large intestine. He was diagnosed four years ago.

Day-to-day life can be a struggle.

“I have more tough days than I would like,” he said.

Rachael shared that many of his health concerns trigger domino effects of pain.  He reports feeling like his bones are being crushed.

From January until early March of this year Dyllan was unable to walk or stand up because of his inflamed intestine.

Despite all of that, when asked about his goals, he replied without missing a beat: He doesn’t want to miss too much school.

And with As and Bs in his courses despite being unable to physically attend school last year, the self-proclaimed “smartypants” is a testament to a focused mind. Dyllan’s favorite subjects are mathematics and writing, personal narratives in particular.

The baby faced preteen spoke with the wisdom of someone who’s been here before.

He continuously referenced close friends and family who support him.

That support system extends beyond his familial and friendly relationships.

After being hospitalized twice (once in 2010 and once last year), he, his teachers and his family moved to a technological approach for his education.

His teachers Skyped him from school to keep him abreast of his studies.

“My teachers were amazing,” he said.

He and Rachael talked about how included Dyllan was. He was up to speed because of his teachers’ technological approach. Skype lessons not only kept him academically in the loop, but also socially. His classmates interacted with and frequently Skyped him during lunch.

He said that he appreciated the communication. Appreciation was central to his discussion as he said that his days can be pretty emotional, but he is grateful to have parents who care about him because not everyone has the same.

Of parental guidance, Dyllan continued.

“They love. They push you.”

His mother also pushed for him to participate in Take Steps for Crohn’s and Colitis, a walk/fundraiser for digestive diseases. This year’s walk will be held Sunday, October 14 in Prospect Park. The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA) sponsors the walk.

When Dyllan first attended he was sad to see so many other people who go through what he goes through, but was glad to be around people who understood.

According to the Take Steps website, 1.4 million American adults and children are affected by digestive diseases. The site also reported that the walk supports patient programs, education, research for a cure and has raised nearly $32 million to further its mission.

CCFA has 40 local chapters.

Rachael said that when friends and family attended the walk with him, Dyllan realized he is not alone.

He said, “I never knew there were so many people that loved me.”

Check out Dyllan’s Take Steps page. http://online.ccfa.org/site/TR/2012TakeStepsWalk/Chapter-GreaterNewYork?team_id=110086&pg=team&fr_id=3242

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.

It-gadgets and illegal trade

A Chinese news agency, Xinhua, broke the story of a teen whose decision to sell his kidney for about $3,500 last April, is now costing him his health.

The Chinese youngster is experiencing “renal insufficiency”, and his condition is worsening.

Five people were charged with illegal organ trading in connection to the case. Xinhua reported that the entire deal netted about $35,000. Of the five people charged, one is a surgeon.

The young man’s mother was alarmed when she noticed the iPAD and iPhone that he purchased. From there he told her about how he got the money for the items.

This case comes on the heels of controversy after an Apple audit revealed wage violations including unpaid hours, excessive overtime, and abysmal salaries for workers in China.

It is not about blaming Apple for the teen’s choice, but a matter of highlighting when products are put before people. This case highlights what many label increasing materialism in Communist China.

Through the Internet and its inherent global flattening via limitless communication and advertising, conspicuous consumerism cannot be isolated to certain regions.

But, as a young person can work with individuals reprehensible enough to help him sell  a vital organ for it-gadgets, many wonder about checks and balances.

How much of producing quality products involves exploitation? How does one arrive at materialistic pressure such that one decides to engage in a life altering black market?

This teen believed that he could do without his kidney, an organ that processes blood and separates waste, to benefit from his new toys. But, what about the adults who made the trade possible? Professional ethics? Humanity?

Teaching people to value themselves more than their belongings is a start.

Most people appreciate the conveniences afforded by modern technology, and in many instances, Apple is on the cutting edge with its products and services.

Because of advances made by the company, the world became more accessible to millions of people. Yet how does one juxtapose possession pressure with that which is priceless?

The Chinese Ministry of Health’s statistics report that more than 1 million people in China need transplants, although only about 10,000 annual transplants are performed. The resultant illegal market is troubling.

What’s your bargain for exchange?