Art in Our Own Image: Where MY Girls At?

So I was hanging with my girl, doing our coffee and fashion mag hang out day.  I peeped Marie Claire UK’s article Mothers and Daughters Get Naked from the April 2012 issue.  The piece is aimed at examining body image from different generational perspectives, and each mom (or mum, as they say in the UK) and daughter reflect on their confidence, shame, regrets, or goals regarding health, weight, aging, and self-image.  The images accompanying the piece were soft, artistic, ethereal, and featured mothers and daughter posing naked.  That’s right, they bared it all.  Sporting various gaits, sizes, and silhouettes, the duos showcased their figures proudly and unapologetically.  While one side of me is encouraged at the freedom these women felt to take it off, and feel empowered in their bodies, my wheels got to turning on whether women of color, particularly Black women, will ever be showcased and celebrated for their femininity and beauty in such a way.  In the current media climate, Black women are depicted on polar opposites of the continuum: we are sexless nurturers (mammy) or lascivious sluts (jezebels).  They are one dimensional caricatures, reminiscent of the sexual terrorism of slave days.  I often explain to my students that the roots of these stereotypes sprang from propaganda justifying slavery and the violent, rampant colonialism that interpreted the nudity of native Africans as promiscuity and asserted that slave women liked to be raped; that their sexual appetites demanded it.

Our bodies are art too.  Just as they are.  Mainstream only deems our bodies as art if we are in an Alvin Ailey production, or have made the cut to grace a runway. There is a blatant aversion to the black body.  If not reduced to sex objects or gratuitous comic relief, society runs from authentic black form like a cockroach when the lights come on.  The lips, the nose, the hair; the broader builds and unique carriages that don’t demand, but simply are a presence.  Yes, we are more than the filtered expression of white America’s standard of beauty.  However, you wouldn’t know that tuning into prime time TV, stopping by a news stand, or grabbing a movie at your nearest theater.  The expansiveness of hips and fullness of bellies, the ample and seasoned line of large breasts, hair too coarse to tame, or too short to fasten.  Hell, that is art.

I mean, when Erykah dropped this video, people went ballistic.  While one could only speculate her motivations, inspirations, and intentions, I have to wonder if Madonna, Jewel, Lady Gaga, Kylie Minogue, or Pink would meet such immediate criticism and dismissal if they released a similar video. Cindy Crawford, Demi Moore and Jessica Simpson were lauded for their magazine covers featuring their nude pregnant bodies.  Would this welcome reception, or even the invitation for the shoot be afforded, to Nia Long, Amber Riley, Toccara Jones, or Sara Ramirez?

Art is the beauty of the human form. It is the myriad of depictions of the essence of the human experience. If this is true, and art imitates life….when will I see the lives of all sisters framed in gold, featured in an editorial, or covered in a fine arts survey course? Here’s a little collection that stimulates my artistic side while honoring the art of woman in all of her shades, forms, and flavors:

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Please weigh in with your thoughts and comments.

QUESTION: Do you feel reflected in art and/or media?  Which artists, magazines, writers do you look to for inclusive and honest depictions of women?

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Shopping does not have to make you feel like sh–

I find a shameful amount of joy in shopping.  The thrill of the hunt, the reward in tracking down, acquiring, and rocking that oh-so-fly new item.  Be it a top, a dress, a bag, or a fly pair of boots, I love to score a fashion forward deal.  What I do NOT appreciate, however, is the tragedy of the damn dressing room experience.  I go in an empowered woman of leisure, and I leave a downtrodden shadow of my former self.

There are a couple of reasons.  Let’s start with the lighting. For the love!  Harsh, unforgiving, fluorescent bulbs that magnify, mock, and torment me as I desperately pull on my items as quickly as possible.  Despite my best effort, I always catch a glance of a dimple, new roll, and/or stretch mark that heretofore remained hidden.  That’s stinger #1.  Let’s move on to the modern day demon known as sizing.

“This 12 should really be an 8.”

“This ain’t no damn Large!”

“Who the hell they think can fit this?!”

“Oh, this is not made for anybody with a booty.”

How many times have you heard, or better yet, said these words while donning a potential purchase (assuming you can actually put it on), only to find that the standard by which you measure your body, has yet again been ignored and re-configured by the big bad fashion fiends.  There goes blow #2 to my wavering self-esteem.  At this point, I generally go get a Cinnabon or a Pretzel Dog with tears in my eyes.  Self-medicating? Hell yes.

I’m flipping the script. My size is what it is.  I no longer round down in the hopes that it will fit—I start with that Large or that 12, and go down if I need to, but not the other way around.  As much as I hate to admit it, I’m adopting a more traditionally male point of view when I shop for clothes.  You ever notice that men say their sizes matter of factly, assigning no connotations to it?  If it’s a 42, damn it, it’s a 42.  And I quote:

“Naw, baby, I need a double XL, regular XL won’t fit.”

They do not assign that number any value outside of its sole purpose: to provide a flattering and adequate fit.  As women, we have taken all the hype from the false, always unattainable, white washed, bony is better, magnify your faults, trend driven messages and somehow projected it back onto ourselves in the form of negative self talk and criticism.  Even the feminist movement hasn’t been able to derail this self destructive way of thinking. Pardon my French, but fuck that.

It’s on, ladies.  India Arie said I am not my hair.  Well, I am not my size.  I’m simply a curvy shopaholic, whose lookin’ to score her next fix.  Stores who can’t meet my need, I am no longer patronizing for the sake of a label. This is one instance where entitlement is the name of my game.  I am entitled to a variety of fashionable clothing choices.  I am entitled to never have to choose between food and fashion, so reasonable prices are imperative.  And most importantly, I am entitled to a shopping experience that caters to rather than alienates me (Oh, I know I just said something!).  My favorite stores for flattering, wallet friendly styles:

  • Macy’s – I appreciate Macy’s because you can score some great stuff on clearance, and they have clothes for full figured, tall, and petite women that are tailored, well made and trendy. Love their suits, and work wear!
  • ASOS – great site for both foundational pieces for work and play like this top and dress; and fun accent pieces like this jacket.
  • Forever 21 – I know what you’re thinking.  Forever 21 is for teeny boppers.  I beg to differ! They have unique and flattering tops, jackets as well as cute pants and skirts, all at prices that any budget can handle.  They are also my go-to spot for breezy summer dresses, like this one, or this one.
  • Urban Xchange – I enjoy this thrift shop in downtown Tacoma; I found a beautiful Michael Kors dress (with tags, no less) for $15, and some BCBG black suede platform wedges for a mere $18!  They also have a site on Etsy.

I am owning my power as a consumer, and hoping to inspire my fellow shopaholics in the process. I’m posturing my temple as the blessing it is.  I have my health, and that includes an ample backside and a little pooch in the middle for good measure.  And whatever clothes grace this silhouette better damn well make room for them.

Other tips for a successful shopping trip that leaves your self image in tact:

  • Roll deep – hit the shops with your peeps so they can not only offer feedback in the dressing room, they can help you stick to your guns in supporting stores that honor you as you are.  Not to mention, we look so boss rollin’ thru posse style.  Is there anything sexier than a group of cool ass women strolling through the city demanding the attention of passersby?  Nope…I didn’t think so.
  • Get comfortable with online – I tried out a couple of clearance items on the aforementioned websites, to ensure I know where I fell on their sizing charts.  Now I am confident about what size to order, and have opened the door to options not readily available in my city.  This is also the best options if you just don’t dig the crowds at the mall.
  • Work in a little siesta – there’s nothing like a smart cocktail and a tapas or two to keep you in good spirits AND keep that shopping ju-ju going.  My favorite shopping pit stop is Adriatic Grill.  Please try the sausage and lentil soup, the mozzarella marinara is so fresh and delectable, and the generous pour gives you bang for your buck in the libations department.

Keep marchin’, my pretties.  And hold these damn stores accountable for not loving on you the way Brown Betty does.

So, tell Mama: where do you shop for the most flattering and affordable clothes?