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.

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.

Appreciating BET’s “Shoot First: The Tragedy of Trayvon Martin”

The oft-criticized network BET presented Shoot First: The Tragedy of Trayvon Martin Monday night.

The news special presented facts of the case, interviews with Martin’s parents, and a visual outline of the gated community Martin was visiting. It showed the direct route, a few hundred feet from the home he was visiting, that the teen would have likely trekked uneventfully had he not been gunned down by George Zimmerman.

This story is a tear-inducing reality infusion for all who profess post-racialism, and for all who believe that yesteryear is not happening right now.

One can only imagine the spiritual well the teen’s family must tap into to continue fighting legislation, biased media and obstructionists of justice.

During a particularly chilling segment in the BET special, Martin’s dad, Tracy, said that he lost his best friend. He said that he was supposed to be Trayvon’s protector, and that he was not on February 26, when his son was killed.

Trayvon’s mom, Sybrina, said that her family was “chosen” and that she has faith in God.

Although BET has been criticized through the years for everything from colorism to sexism and the inherent in-betweens, the timeliness, tactfulness and boldness of the special spoke to a desire to promote justice in this case.

Trayvon Martin was humanized in the special.

The human element is a point that New York Times Visual Op-Ed Columnist Charles Blow recently emphasized saying, “It is important to not let Trayvon the person be lost to Trayvon the symbol.”

While right wing diversionary tactics are being employed, some majority members are holding their breath waiting for all this race talk to die down again, and a family grappling with untold loss continues to pursue justice, it is beautiful to see people take a break from social media narcissism, reality tv sound bites and communicative fluff to include Trayvon, Sanford, Florida and hope in their daily interactions with others.

Victim-blamers are another story. I addressed them in a recent post for HBCU Digest.

 http://www.hbcudigest.com/blog/opportunity-victim-blaming-and-the-murder-of-trayvon-martin/

Count your blessings, yo!

I dwell in abundant grace. It is not always transparent. But, if I refocus, it is always apparent. It is not always as accessible as I would prefer. But, I accept my role in reclaiming it.

So much of the world is what we create it to be, and for that I am grateful. Again, for my perception I am responsible.

People tend to think I have rose-tinted glasses, perpetual peace signs, and rechargeable Zen. Boylookaheeeere.

The older I become the less it is about what people perceive and what I perceive about myself. What I want. What I go for. When I succeed. When I falter. Humble pie a la mode.

When I bandage bruised knees and sprint against Father Time. Or Mother Time. No phallocentrism.

During my freshman year of college a journalist whom I admire told me that I write well, and have potential, but need my “ass kicked by life.” He told me that he could tell that I grew up in an environment where I was nurtured and, essentially, allowed to be a happy, observant hippie type. He told me that trying experiences would improve my work.

That was a trigger. My work is integral to my worth. And while I  am unopposed to juggling tasks, my words are the work I most enjoy.

Yet I wonder how much will happen? In what time frame? *turns around, looks at donk, files for it’s-been-kicked documentation to send to verification office that will reverse the odds*

On a cognitive level I know to acknowledge that which is empirical and experiential, but the overlap of sensory stuff and emotionalism are real in the field.

At first the expression “in my feelings” was irksome, but mid-issue it is beautifully simple and profound.

This is the part where open-book-painfully-honest-Imani makes an allusion to trials and tribulations without naming them. She summons wisdom, meditates on some Proverbs, and backstrokes into optimism as if her soul needs buoyancy.

Because it does. And that’s ok.

When I was 14 I confronted a life changing decision to go forward with spinal fusion surgery to correct my scoliosis. I grew like a sunflower. From 5’5 at age ten to 5’10 at 13.

I am now 6 feet tall.

I did not become a world-traveled model, glorified for height and opted out of awkwardness and alienation. (I have interviewed them for stories, though!) Instead, a doctor told me that if my spine were not corrected, my organs could fail in the future.

Think about it. A straight back keeps everything in its proper spot. A sideways curve, which I had, could wreak internal havoc.

I told my parents that I wanted it corrected. And so it was. Roses. Carnations. A hot, cocoa haired nurse. I still cannot determine if he were real or an intravenously induced halleluj–oops, hallucination. Excruciating recovery. Appetite loss. Ringing a bell for family members to bring me food.

What sounded royal in nature sucked for an independent spirit that would rather fight the power than say pretty please.

But, God was with me. I came out of the surgery with a scar that did not keloid (a very real fear for people of color). I am in good health.

I met several people who either had or need the surgery through the years.

In a teen club near the beach, I spotted the telltale mark on a girl’s back in a restroom. I snatched off the fishnet shirt over my bikini top to show her my solidarity mark.

At first she looked weirded out. Then it was a really cool, random, human moment of frailty and understanding. We complimented each other’s scar, exchanged anecdotes, and rejoined the foam partiers.

(Judge not, y’all.)

My cousin went to school with a girl who fell into the small percentage of people who were paralyzed by the surgery. I thank God and my cousin’s discretion that I never heard the story until I healed.

My sister was a toddler when it all unfolded, so she was not aware of my difference until she became older. A year or two ago she asked me why I have a faint mark from between my shoulders to above my tailbone.

I told her that I have sexy back, and proceeded to gyrate and serenade her off-key dinnamug in my best Justin Timberlake impression.

One day I was boring. I told her the grown-up version, a clinical story of rapid growth, S-curvation, and why I told my mom that she could not send me to school with an Afro and back brace with headgear.

I bring this up not to have more eyes on my back, although I don’t mind my scar, but to remind myself and someone else who might need it, that we are built for survival.

It does not take a huge risk to realize our potential, although it can help.

Sometimes we find our resilience in  painful, trying and inopportune ways. Sometimes people can bring about discomfort.

If we let too much outside noise reverberate, we lose the safe space to dare, dream and do. If we lose our technicolor dreams and improvement themes, the world falls flat.

So I write this as a promise to improve my gratitude and attitude. Stuff sucks, but so much more does not. I will do my best to pop-and-lock during what my mom calls “but, God” moments.

Go ‘head. Be gone with it.

Ego Trips, epiphanies and intellectualism with Nikki Giovanni

When public figures present their humanity to crowds it is that much easier to understand why people love them. This could not have been more apparent than when Nikki Giovanni made an appearance in my hometown, Jacksonville, Fla., last night.

It was an honor not only to see her encourage and empower a mostly Black audience at Edward Waters College, but it was also humbling to see that a woman, whose brand withstands the test of time, share triumphs, pain and progress with audiences.

She delivered a constructively critical presentation and performed spoken word.

After signing every autograph requested of her, she graciously engaged the media and talked everything from peace to hairpieces in a  press conference at the college. She told the media that she had nothing else planned that night and would answer every question asked.

She re-emphasized the need for urban youth to have technology, namely computers or iPADS. She shamed anti-immigration legislation.

When asked about natural hair, Giovanni did not espouse self-hatred themes about women who embrace chemical alterations.

In fact, she said she thought it was quite clever when young women had green hairpieces.

“One plays with oneself,” she said. She shared that when overcoming cancer she colored her hair blonde to show her mother that she would be ok. Also, as a woman with tawny skin, her hair color gave what she described as an instant tan.

Giovanni kept it real. She kept it human.

The professorial poet reminded listeners of the need for emotionalism in light of technological advances. She said that she does not ask her students at Virginia Tech year specific questions that could be answered with their gadgets.

Instead, she said that she asks questions like “What role did personal ambition play in the Renaissance?”

Many told her that they had never encountered emotional responses to academic material.

I could go on and on about the myriad perspectives that she shared and causes she championed… However, I hope that you’ll check out my story for HBCU Digest on her visit.

** Sneakpeak**  She and I talked hip-hop and misogyny.

 http://www.hbcudigest.com/34244/