Check out the previous Parts here!
Black girl factory: no two the same.
Fat black girls with strong thighs and thick heels. Mixed, black girls with uncertain smiles and kinky hair. Green-haired black girls with glittery overalls and artistic souls. Athletic black girls with Adidas slides and a smirk. Dark, shining, dark skinned girls, glasses-clad bookworm girls, hand on hip, “look at me” girls, “i don’t like to be touched- get over it” girls. Blackity black black black black girls in every shape, size and curl pattern under the sun. Black girl, we love you.Black girl, I love you. This is my love letter to all the black girls I knew growing up, and it’s already too short.
Though it took me time as a little, black girl to love and give space to characters like Sheila and Scary Spice (read Part 3 here), I was also blessed to grow up with influences who I loved from the very first moment I met them. Their big, strange personalities, their charisma, their character, their STYLE were the first instructions I received on being a black girl who would one day transform into a black woman. Here’s what I learned from the guidance they provided:
Profile 6: The Original Quirky Black Girl
When my sister and I were younger, we would always choose characters to “be.” We would watch movies and shows, and choose which character we had the most affinity with. I was Ashley, she was Mary-Kate; I was Tamara, she was Tia; I was Annie, the British Lindsay Lohan in Parent Trap, and she was Hallie, the American Lindsay Lohan. Though there were many characters on the Cosby Show that we loved from afar, my sister didn’t feel a particular affinity with any of them so she didn’t choose one; but I did. From the moment I saw her in the Cosby Show, I always chose to “be” Denise.
Denise Huxtable. *eternal sigh*
Stylish, gorgeous, funny, quirky and so okay with being herself despite Dr. Huxtable’s constant sideye. I loved Denise because she felt so real- she made big mistakes, she took big risks (including style risks). I loved her because she was so okay with being herself and making her own decisions. She represented the UNapologetic black girl before anyone else, and I loved her because her quirkiness defied expectations of how black women are told to act (sassy, angry, apathetic, cooool).
Denise defied convention.
She opened me up to the possibility of myself.
Profile 7: #EternallyTwinning with Raven-Symone
“OMG! You know who you remind me of? Raven in That’s So Raven!!!” I’ve been told this maybe 50 times in my life, and it has never been about looks. “It’s just because you’re so loud and crazy just like her.” Though I often got upset growing up whenever I was told I look like (insert ANY Black, female celebrity here)- when I was told I reminded some of my friends and peers of Raven, I took that as the BIGGEST COMPLIMENT EVER.
Raven was funny. Raven was loud. Raven was always trying to do the right thing. She was charismatic, charming, stylish and knew her worth. She had great best friends, a family who supported her, and dreams that she constantly hustled for. I honestly spent a lot of my time in middle school dreaming of moving to Los Angeles and getting a show just like her. I printed out her biography in the school library and highlighted it so that I could get ideas on how to find and slay auditions. Though my dreams of childhood fame never happened, I loved living out these dreams through Raven, both as a character and a person.
I only became more obsessed with Raven when she started playing Galleria in the Cheetah Girls. I loved that Galleria was the leader of the group. Though she sometimes made some bad choices, I felt that she always kept her eye on the prize (her future success). I remember being home and placing the Cheetah Girls CD into the stereo. “Cinderella” was my favorite song and I would play it over and over again, imagining a camera focused on me in a high-angle shot.
The song, now that I think about it, is a feminist manifesto.
“I don’t want to be like Cinderella/sitting in a dark cold dusty cellar/waiting for somebody/to come and set me free”
Raven defied convention. She opened me up to the possibility of myself as my very own rescuer, as an agent of my destiny.
Profile 8: All the Unsung Heroes
As I write about all these women, more begin to come to me. I think of Tia and Tamera from Sister-Sister or Penny Proud from The Proud Family or Dionne from Clueless or Akeelah in Akeelah and the Bee or Angela from Boy Meets World. I even think of the Bratz Dolls I grew up playing with; the excitement I felt at opening up the trapezoidal boxes each Christmas that would inevitably reveal a stylish Sasha or Yasmin doll (I’ve always had big lips so seeing dolls like Bratz compared to Barbie really made me feel seen).
Though there can always be more black girls representation in our television shows and books and movies, I know that I had some good influences growing up who showed me what it could be like to be a black girl. They are the mirrors that shaped me; that gave and give me the courage to be myself.
Tune in for Part 5 tomorrow!