Issue 02: BODY
Historically, Black womens’ bodies have been disregarded and disrespected. Black womens’ bodies are sexualized during adolescence, robbing them of the opportunity to come of age authentically and freely. This pattern of disrespect and shame follows Black women into adulthood, as she is often villainized for owning her sexuality.
Issue 02: BODY aims to counter and challenge the lack of regard for the Black woman’s body. Instead, BODY depicts black women in a light that amplifies their softness and shows admiration and reverence for the beauty of their bodies.
To bring this issue to life, we partnered with Portraitnoire. Alongside the stories from The Women of the Fruit, you’ll find striking images that depict the wholeness and honor of the Black woman’s body. The stories in BODY are sectioned into two parts, Dusk & Dawn, to represent the healing process and perspective that come with the rising of a new day.
We hope you feel heard, celebrated, and most of all, we hope you will feel at home.
Forward: Healing Starts from Within
Fitness Influencer & COACH
Healing starts from within. No one can help you heal until you are truly ready to heal yourself, first. Understanding this was what got me through some of the toughest parts of 2017. It was May, and I had just lost my daughter at birth two months prior, and I was 250lbs. Prior to my pregnancy, I weighed 70lbs less.
I was grieving my loss and at the same time preparing to lose weight again. I got a gym membership, started working out again and posting daily. People were watching me on social media, tuned in to my gym videos and what I was eating throughout the day. But I was not progressing. I was hurting, I hated the way I looked and that I was overweight again. A month in, I quit going to the gym. I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t healing, I was hiding. Forcing myself to go the gym when my mind wasn’t all there. I told myself I needed help. I spoke to my therapist and realized I wasn’t going back to the gym for me, it was for social media.
It was for all those people who for years saw me lose and gain and push myself no matter how I was feeling. Those people were counting on my posts to get them going and to hit their own goals. I put their needs above my own and I cracked. I wasn’t ready and needed to be honest about that.
“It’s so important that we make ourselves a priority, get help if needed, and live our lives to the fullest.”
I wrote a post that I was grieving and that I didn’t want to be consistent. The gym was not my happy place, right now. The outpour of love and support I received was unimaginable. People were commending me for taking a step back. They saluted the fact that I was doing my best and that started with therapy and being kinder to myself. I was reminded that there was no rush to lose the weight, and that this journey was mine to go at my own pace.
This was just the beginning of the healing process for me. So many women could relate to my story of loss and feeling empty. Or having to step back to be honest about needing more space to heal. So that’s what I did. I took the time I needed. It’s different for everyone and there’s no right or wrong amount of time.
Sharing my journey helped me heal by connecting me to women who have been where I was, and it’s allowed women to reach out to me so that I could be an ear and a shoulder for them. The community I have built of women through social media is powerful and should be celebrated. You never know who may need to read your story to get them through the day. If there’s anything you take away from my story, it’s that you must take control of your mental and physical health.
“You can’t pour from an empty cup” is a saying I remind myself of daily. It’s so important that we make ourselves a priority, get help if needed, and live our lives to the fullest.
WOMEN OF THE FRUIT STORIES
from women sowing good seeds to produce good fruit
PART ONE: DUSK
That Girl is Poison
SONG THAT AIDED HEALING: “Get iT together” - India Arie
The relationship between my body and I have been tumultuous, all my life. I have been aware that it was this thing that could be violated, that would make men look look at me differently and women question me since I was about five years old. Warned of sitting on men’s laps, drinking after my mother, and being alone around boys, I was well aware that the parts that I have were supposed to make cautious of the thoughts it generated in others.
Words like pocketbook, door knobs, and mosquito bites were the descriptions I was given to understand my body. As I began to develop it became a conversation piece for every adult around me. My body apparently was the reason for my “attitude”, it had me “thinking I was cute” and my all time favorite, “smelling myself”. These comments made me feel like a walking circus act, but nothing stands out like a moment in 2003.
“I struggled to love on this vessel that held my soul because of years of looks, accusations, and comments that convinced me that my body was wrong.”
I was 13, sitting on the back porch of my grandmother’s home. That place was my sanctuary. It was a Saturday, and at that age, nothing matters more than a good ole three-way phone call with friends. I walked around the back porch, cordless phone glued to my ear, cracking jokes with friends. A white Porsche Cayenne pulls into the driveway and a smile immediately crossed my face, it was my aunts’ friends. I literally thought the world of all of them, they were the coolest women I knew. College educated, beautiful, talented and driven. I admired these women, I would brag to my friends about the experiences I had hanging with my aunts and their girls. It is clear to say they were my sheroes. They walked out the car, and I walked to the back gated door to unlock it, I turned to walk away and one of the friends stopped me by calling my name, I turned to her and her head was tilted and face screwed, she opened her mouth and the words slid out so seamlessly, “Kiara…are you fucking? “I paused because I was so shocked. Her face said that her words were a statement not a question. I responded sheepishly, no. My heart was broken. She followed-up with “I mean your ass has gotten so big, it looks like your fucking” BOOM.DONE. DEPLETED. The walking circus act that I once felt like, in a blink in an eye shifted to feeling like a whore. Those words are etched into my memory. That feeling, is still something I struggle with. My shero made me feel dirty in my own skin, made me want to reject my own body.
I developed into a very shapely woman. By 9th grade, my body was that of a vixen. Small waist, round bottom, and full breast. The attention it welcomed never made me feel good, I felt like meat, be it men telling me I had a couple more “mango seasons” or older women constantly trying to gauge whether I was sexually active by the growth of my bottom. Grown, was a phrase used to describe me since elementary, because I was an inquisitive child, but the tone coupled with that word shifted as my body evolved, along with the looks that older women gave me. I struggled to love on this vessel that held my soul because of years of looks, accusations, and comments that convinced me that my body was wrong. I even allowed myself to put on weight in my early twenties to deflect the attention that this shell of a body bought me. That changed nothing. At about 25 a colleague accused me of flaunting my body around my boss, her words “look at you with your titties out around the boss”. They weren’t, yet her words still stung, no matter how old I was.
Here I am, 29 learning to love on me, understanding that the words of others should not define how I see, feel, and experience my body.
“Now I am working on liberating my thoughts from the confined box that society places the black female form in, and embracing every curve that I have.”
The Words Behind My Silence
I saw you on the train this morning. You were standing with your friends when a man started calling to you from behind. I saw the look on your face as you tried to ignore him, hoping he would give up and turn away. I saw that hope fade to fear as he called out to you again, “Hey, pretty girl!”
I saw him grow more aggressive forcing you to relent and turn around with a smile on your face. A smile that he read as acceptance but that we know is simply a defense mechanism, part of the arsenal that our mothers, grandmothers, aunts, and sisters passed down to us. Part of the arsenal that we will pass down to our daughters, nieces, cousins, and granddaughters.
“A smile that he read as acceptance but that we know is simply a defense mechanism, part of the arsenal that our mothers, grandmothers, aunts, and sisters passed down to us.”
I saw that smile falter for a split second as he continued to talk. A look, lost on most, that we know is the involuntary result of trying to climb out of your own skin, of trying to leave behind this flesh that attracts this unwanted attention, failing every time, only to try once more when it inevitably happens again.
I saw you, a young girl of perhaps only 13, go through what has become a right of passage. And I remained silent. I remained silent, just as others did when I too was 13, in the hope that this unwanted attention would not soon be directed at me.
I wish I could tell you it gets better, but it doesn’t. Numbness will take over. Your senses will dull. You will jokingly share this story with friends and family, reducing this occurrence to an anecdote – more attempts at defending your soul – but it will never truly get better.
You will forever be trying to escape that gaze. That gaze that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. That gaze that makes you want to escape your own body.
Welcome to the club that no one wants to be a part of. The club that no one ever escapes.
I’m so sorry that you are here.
Song that aided healing: “always” - stevie wonder
“On a spiritual level, I knew my body was creating a life source and therefore I honored her for that.”
I felt most alive and in my body when I was pregnant with my son 2 years ago. I literally felt like a goddess and for the first time I was comfortable in my skin. I was in love with the roundness of my belly, the fullness of my breast, and the glow of my skin. On a spiritual level, I knew my body was creating a life source and therefore I honored her for that. On a physical level I was more in tune to sensations but internal and external. I was more observant, more sensitive and it was amazing. After childbirth, I kind of lost that connection. I was exhausted most of the time, running on little sleep and sore from breastfeeding. The connection was lost, I was almost numb. I’ve been trying to find my way back ever since.
A Conversation with Chanel Jaali, Sexologist and Creator of Glow Photo Series
LRM: So much of the work that you do aims to empower women (particularly black and brown women) as it relates to their relationships with their bodies. Based on your research and experience as a Sex Educator and researcher, why are Black women often less informed than their counterparts in the areas of women’s sexual health, reproductive health, and one’s own pleasure?
CJ: Empowering women has become a passion of mine in all of the work that I do. Being a researcher allowed me insight into the personal stories of Black women, who often revealed that they did not receive comprehensive, medically accurate, pleasure based sex education. Either those structures were not in place, or they were avoided. It could be as simple as knowing the correct names for body parts, actually looking at and learning your body, and cultivating positive conversations around bodies and making sure we're speaking kind word about ourselves when we are around our youth.
Additionally, we have to consider the historical context of Black women's bodies. Many of our ancestors were enslaved women who encountered trauma and abuse. If that's your experience, especially repeated or prolonged, do you think you would be able to pass along information that's centered around pleasure and joy?
LRM: There aren’t a lot of spaces in mainstream media and popular culture where a honest depiction of black and brown women’s bodies can be found. Your Glow Photo Series pushes back against this and doesn’t only show our bodies honestly, but encourages women of all body types to celebrate themselves. What was your inspiration for this bold move and have you been met with any resistance?
CJ: I knew from the beginning of this series that I wanted to represent women of all expressions, abilities, ages, complexions, and body types. There is more than one way to be a woman, and I want this series to reflect that. In the age of Internet perfection, where bodies (plus included) are "supposed" to look a very specific way, I'm hoping that the series shows that beauty and perfection looks like all the women you know, including yourself. Gratefully, I haven't been met with resistance and would hope that folks want to join me in celebrating all beauty!
“Additionally, we have to consider the historical context of Black women's bodies. Many of our ancestors were enslaved women who encountered trauma and abuse. If that's your experience, especially repeated or prolonged, do you think you would be able to pass along information that's centered around pleasure and joy?”
LRM: In our current issue of The Fruit entitled BODY, women are sharing their stories about positivity and/or body shaming experiences. Where can our audience learn more about their bodies; including the strength, health, and beauty of it?
CJ: There are great resources out there for the whole family! A few that I like to reference are Sex Positive Families, The Body is Not an Apology. For positive imagery of Black womanhood, I love Professional Black Girl and Vintage Black Glamour, just to name a couple!
LRM: What aspect of your work most fulfills you? What part of your work leaves you with the most questions? Where can we follow you on social?
CJ: I really enjoy creating a safe space for women to laugh, share, and connect with one another. I love when the participants hype each other up while taking photos. It becomes a collaborative effort. The part of the work that leaves me with questions is the stuff behind the scenes: the planning, organization, funding, etc. I'm a one woman show right now, so it can be difficult to manage everything and find new opportunities. I look forward to seeing where Glow Photo Series goes! You can find the series at www.glowphotoseries.com, on IG, Twitter and Facebook at glowphotoseries
WOMEN OF THE FRUIT STORIES
from women sowing good seeds to produce good fruit
PART TWO: DAWN
SONG THAT AIDED HEALING: “BLACK GIRL MAGIC”- SABA JENGA
My Beauty is more than my face.
My Beauty is in my eyes.
it is the blood of my ancestors that races and pumps through my veins.
it is the muscle and the joints that glue me together and make me whole.
My Beauty is in my bones and the marrow.
it is my heart that makes me alive.
it lies inside the nucleus of the cells that make me and the atoms that contain me.
My Beauty comes from the deepest part of my soul and is the entire fiber of my being.
My Beauty is more than my face,
but my blackness, and
my natty headedness, and
my intensity sometimes perceived as aggression — (to the weak and insecure) —
It is my intellect and
My Africa/ Black-centric ideologies.
It is my prayers to the universal God of everything and nothing.
It is the melodic incantations of my evening meditation rituals &
the glitter and sunshine I leave behind as I manifest the black magic of worlds you have yet to see.
So when you look at me see past my face,
and see into my eyes and past them…. which leads to the depths of my soul,
which gives birth to an unfathomable black hole of infinite possibilities.
Oh, how ethereal is the beauty of my blackness!
The Dichotomy of Womanhood
Los Angeles, CA
Song that aided healing: “Quest for Love” - Potatohead People
I am amazed by the revel and revile of womanhood. At the core lies a fascinating juxtaposition of feelings that spark a conflict so deep some women never shake the mixed messages of love and hate. I realized early on that being female is a double-edged sword and my body holds the power to disgust and enthrall. Cleavage is for marketing but breastfeeding is a social taboo. The disconnect from women, their bodies and perceived ownership is so tangled that we aren’t given a chance to truly appreciate it before we’re handed the do’s and don’ts. Society has treated us as a contrivance, a tool to sell, display and entertain. In that same breath, they chastise us for our gall. They view us as hollow instruments, used at their disposal. Rather than vessels that house feelings, thoughts and a sense of self.
“I feel an uprising in the rejection of living under the male gaze and the need to assimilate for survival. Your body is your one and only and the only thing that it ever asks of you is to treat it as such.”
To dwell within a black woman’s body adds a layer of complexity that has no comparison. As other women fight for equality, they step upon the shoulders of black women for support and forget to turn around and extend a hand. The inflexible characterization of black women that lives in the margins of television and media is lazy and uninteresting. This bias isn’t limited to the small screen, black women’s bodies are also mismanaged in the waiting room. History has shown that black women have been shushed, ignored and irrevocably silenced in the realm of medicine. Our sense of otherness and stereotype of strength, as opposed to white female fragility, rears its head in examination and laboring rooms.
The black woman, thrust into the role of other, has never had the rules of femininity applied to her and thrived without the help of sexist assistance. Black women have been disallowed fear, anxiety, anger, depression, vulnerability and a slew of other emotions that do not fit inside of the insubstantial lives they suggest we lead. I take pride and great interest in the surge of black narratives that want to explore the multi- faceted experiences of black people, especially black women. When they told us we could not be a part of the club, black women created their own and we’ve watched outsiders loot through our leftovers ever since. We’ve made space for our bodies where they refused and opened doors that society swore were locked.
Female bodies are policed to the point of neurosis and I’ve realized how detrimental this is to a formative brain. I was not born believing thin was in. I didn’t straighten my hair out of convenience. Lightening creams are not used and noses are not pinched because people enjoy it. We digest the images and ideals given to us and use it as fuel for feelings about our reflection. When I completed college my body changed with a rapidity so frightening, I believed something was wrong.
Weight gain, adult acne, spider veins and hormone changes challenged my once solid sense of self that was rooted in the physical. With much reflection, I questioned if I was upset with how I looked or was I worried about how others would perceive my change. What did this mean for my place in society? I found my strength and connection through daily reminders of the nonstop patch, repair and regeneration that my body performs. All for me.
Our bodies are the true home in which we dwell and its peace should be compromised for no one. The thoughts and concepts that we feed our mind are just as important as food. I feel an uprising in the rejection of living under the male gaze and the need to assimilate for survival. Your body is your one and only and the only thing that it ever asks of you is to treat it as such.
SONG THAT AIDED HEALING: “god is with us” - TERRIAN
Graceful, my body is the body of Christ. Queerful, my body is wonderfully, queerfully made.
I have often felt indelicate. Heavy-handed, solidly crafted and yet a being of pure energy more than blood and bone.
I have embraced by existence, living with my androgyny, my gender non-conformity, my nerve trauma.
“My body now knows me better than I know myself consciously because I've learned to let it be and am still growing into it.”
I am a black femme who readily identifies as she/her and sometimes them. I was born prematurely and only as an adult began to struggle with, then understand why touch, hugs, or even acknowledgment of my holding space could be painful.
I grew up with what my environment identified as a tomboy status. I was raised by black women living through their own trauma. Sexual, silent, quickly or prolongingly violating my bodily autonomy.
All of that boiled over for me in 2015. I was drinking heavily, truly over-drinking. I was navigating emotional and financial abuse. I was recovering from verbal abuse. In order to stop drinking, I made the connection between the self-abuse that binge drinking required and the rest I so ached for. Rest from others' opinions yes, however, true rest in my soul from the false me.
It took some time, first disconnecting from family, friends, and sometimes intimacy altogether. In discovering androgyny as not only an outward expression, yet an inward state of being, I was able to disconnect from the over-sexualization and physical abuse I'd become accustomed to. Hitting disconnect mentally was quite taxing for a long time. Now, I realize that the disconnect itself was like breaking in new shoes. You've simply got to keep walking, especially when the old pair have dry rot.
I am a practicing Christian, so I've learned to expand my concept of the body to include my newer friendships, my community, my place as a queer black femme of faith sharing her energy, effort, and time with others who aim to express love and understanding rather than fear or violence.
I've healed from fear of water, of my environment, of pressing or crushing experiences. My body is catching up to my mind. My body tells me when I'm around folks who don't respect boundaries, or when I'm being led into old habits, old vices. My body craves self-care now and promotes virtue. Not an empty concept sweet as a sugar cookie and with numb nutrients; instead virtues like honesty, clarity, directness. My body has become my best protector and advisor.
My body now knows me better than I know myself consciously because I've learned to let it be and am still growing into it.
Let it be.
I Don't Want A Pig Heart!
NEW YORK, NEW YORK
Song that aided in healing: "Still Standing” - Monica feat. LUDACRIS
I always and still do love my body. Once I developed I had just enough of everything - blobs and booty - that my 5"3 frame could handle.
What I have come to love and share as I need to are my scars.
10 years ago I was blessed by God and the ancestors to go forward in life.
10 years ago I had a complicated open heart surgery to repair my left valve ravaged by a #MRSA infection. It was nearly 3 months of eradicating the deathly staph infection, rehabbing from the heart surgery and rebuilding my life.
Since then I have, with God and the ancestors blessing, accomplished so many things: finding love, marriage, a healthy pregnancy and delivery of a handsome and healthy son (less than a year after my surgery) and building my own PR company.
My son Mandela is a blessing because if I didn't speak to my amazing surgeon that morning and say "I don't want a pig heart," due to being a vegetarian for nearly 15 years at that time it was oxymoronic to get a heart replacement from an animal. The surgeon then offered mechanical replacement but that would mean an update every 10 years = open heart surgery every 10 years, endless medication and not being able to carry and deliver a child.
I cried. I told the surgeon I had met and fell in love with a great guy and we discussed marriage and children.
My surgeon said, “Let me see what I can do.”
He did it, with God and ancestors, he repaired my damaged valve by adding a titanium ring to close the area and keep my heart valves in place. This left me with scar dead center between my bosom. Mandela was a surprise pregnancy in September of that year. Married only one month we became pregnant. A few weeks into pregnancy (we didn't tell our families and friends for a while wanting to get through 1st trimester) I had excruciating pain. My fallopian tubes became tangled with my singular ovary. The baby was in jeopardy.
God and ancestors moved the fetus out of the way for emergency surgery.
Nine months later we welcomed Mandela Iyanu (miracle in Yoruba) Marshall to our lives and the world on May 11, 2010.
I was left with two scars - caesaran and smaller incision.
10 years later and I have endured so many experiences - good, bad and ugly however I when I look at body at 40 with all the scars I know the boundless power I possess.
I do not explain my power to anyone anymore. I use efficiently to keep MY journey prosperous!
I am glad I said something the morning of March 17, 2009.
To The Unapologetic Black Girl With a Pinch of Nigga
JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA
song that aided in healing: “GET IT TOGETHER” - INDIA ARIE
To the unapologetically black girl with a pinch of nigga:
you are divine,
you are courageous,
you are worthy of love even if it is from self
and self alone.
learn to live in your body.
learn to make it your home.
learn to adore your body.
learn to gawp at it.
learn to gaze at it without angst, anxiety, disgust and any negative emotions that can and may trigger depression.
remember that love has no fear,
so love fearlessly,
may that beating heart never become cold.
take pride in knowing that you are the culture,
be proud that God is black and a woman,
be proud when you see them with the lips they used to mock,
be proud when you see them with the butt they used laugh at,
be proud when you see them with the coloured hair they used to call ghetto,
be proud when you see your cornrows and they call them “boxer braids”
be proud when you see replicas of your nail art,
be proud because you are the imprint,
be proud because it is fucking flattering,
be proud because the future is black and female.
AT THE TABLE
AT THE TABLE is our new segment of questions used to build community around storytelling and healing. Use our questions as conversation starters while you’re at the table communing with family or friends. The questions are also great for personal reflections and journal writing.
In what ways do you honor, embrace, and celebrate your body? How has your body served you well? What ways has your body amazed you? (Think about overcoming illness, childbirth, seeing generational beauty in your own image.)
Have you been shamed for being comfortable with your body? Do others feel justified in commenting on and discouraging your choices when it comes to your sexual partners, social media persona, clothing, sexuality, etc? (Think about how you've managed to maintain your authenticity and/or how you have caved and toned it down at the insistence of others.)
We often talk about the ways in which the mainstream media sexualizes Black women's bodies. But often, you girls and adolescents first experience body negativity in their own homes and communities. Think about a time(s) when older women in your family or community suggested or assumed you were "fast" because you developed at an early age. Or perhaps share your experiences when you hesitated to walk freely in your neighborhood because men would gawk at you or make comments about your body.
That concludes Issue 02: BODY. Special thanks to our visual partners Portraitnoire for helping us honor the Black woman’s body beautifully!
Inside Issue 02: BODY:
We have two submissions from the DMV area
“Get it Together” by India Arie was selected twice as the song that aided with healing.
We are thrilled to announce that our closing story was submitted all the way from Johannesburg, South Africa, making The Fruit officially global!
Thank you to all of the “Women of The Fruit” who shared their deepest thoughts with us. We love you!
To the readers, did you connect with any of the stories? Are there questions, relating to the black woman's experiences with and relationship with her body, that you have for the community at large or for an expert that you would like answered? Please share. We encourage you to join the convo in the comments below!