Dear Little Reva,
Everything your mother taught you about your body was wrong, but don’t hold it all against her. She was still in the process of learning herself.
Friday I was scrolling through Instagram minding my business and I came across this in one of my friends stories.
“We’ve been socialized to think of sexual expression as solely as means of f***ing and being f***ed. Sexual expression affirms my body and the ancestral power it holds. Taking sexy selfies/vids shows me I’m a bad bitch, even on days I may not feel that way. Taking bomb ass nudes/semi nudes takes back my agency from being labeled a fast little black girl before I was even old enough to know what a damn nude was. Black girls’ sexuality is policed as soon as we come out the womb to protect us from predatory ass niggas. I couldn’t even wear NAIL POLISH as a child for fear that a man might find it provocative.” – @Lizslaiborne
When I tell you this resonated with my whole entire soul. Listen.
I wasn’t allowed to wear red nail polish specifically; other childlike colors were fine.
I was not allowed to dance for some span of time. I remember being at a family function at a very young age and dancing with the other little children, my cousins. My mother made me sit down.
I was not allowed to wear a two piece bathing suit.
I was not allowed to wear a one piece bathing suit unless it was accompanied by an oversized t shirt and shorts. Do you know how much more difficult it is to swim in a regular cotton t shirt? It isn’t made for that.
When I got a little bolder I would go without the extra pieces because I knew my mom wouldn’t know. My mother doesn’t swim and she wouldn’t pick me up until after my swim lessons were finished. She wouldn’t see what I had worn while in the pool so I took it upon myself to go without the extra pieces. It worked a few times until one day she showed up early. She was furious. [You don’t know what kind of men could be out here watching you!] I was nine.
Fast forward to age 23. We’re watching the ever popular “Say Yes to the Dress.” A bridal commercial comes on and this one beautiful backless gown comes across the screen. I say I want something like that. She says, “Oh no, that’s too much back.” I’m real grown now. My response is something to the tune of, “you got married already. You chose your dress. When it’s my turn I’ll wear what I want.” I wasn’t making actual wedding plans or even seriously involved with anyone at the time. We were just watching tv. Even then as a functioning adult I couldn’t pretend dress my own body. Why?!
I wish I could say it stopped with my mother, but it didn’t. Other family members would join in from time to time.
Age 22 and again with these hypothetical weddings.
My cousin: When you get married you’re going to wear white.
Me to my cousin: When I get married I’m going to wear whatever color I want.
My Cousin to me: That dress is too short.
My Cousin to my brother: You’re going to let her walk around in that?
It wasn’t even a mini y’all. My legs are just long.
It goes way beyond the act of sex. So many people are uncomfortable with black women commanding their own bodies. I remember this one instance. I was laying naked across the bed after one sexual encounter(I am a Christian, not a virgin. Sorry saints). Just sitting there chillin. My then boyfriend had left the room and upon his return he said, “what are you doing? Put some clothes on.” WHY?! Are you even a man? What man tells a naked woman, HIS NAKED WOMAN, to put clothes on. What is this the twilight zone?! That’s what I was thinking at the time. The point is because other people were uncomfortable I was made to feel uncomfortable. I have had to learn to get comfortable with my own body. I’m still learning.
I can’t place the blame solely on my mother because it’s not entirely her fault. It didn’t start with her or or my grandmother or great grandmother. None of them knew any better. They didn’t really know how to protect their girls. My mom thought she was doing me a good service by shielding me from these potential physical predators. All the while she was exposing me to the continuous, long lasting oppression inflicted by centuries of misogyny. Black women have been made to cover up for centuries in the name of fragile masculinity, men lacking self control and even white tears(see the Tignon laws). There is so much power in taking back that agency and learning to love your entire self without fear. And like anything else worth having you have to put in the work to even be able to do that.
I’m still working on it little by little. Last summer it was going bra less and wearing a crop top that made me feel so liberated. Other times it’s just walking around my own house naked because I can. Every once in a while I take a bigger step in one way or another. Who knows what this spring/summer will bring?! Oh and to the saints don’t worry about me. I’m not about to start sending anybody nudes…mostly because ninjas are undeserving and lack discretion. I’ll just be posted on a beach somewhere wearing my two piece with red stiletto nails and red lipstick. Soaking up the sun so that I glow like a bronze sun goddess with curls and cleavage out & poppington!
Happy Hump Day Beauties!