These are self portraits. And that’s important because I believe that images are a glimpse at the magic that happens when the mind, body, and spirit connect. The camera is only an extension of the eye, and this is how I see myself.
A few months ago I heard Kathleen Cleaver, a former Black Panther, speak at a local museum and as she spewed her feelings about “Formation”, calling it pornography, I recall feeling a disappointment so strong it nearly felt like grief. I felt similarly reading bell hooks’ criticisms of Beyoncé. I felt that ultimately they were expressing their disdain for me, women like me, and my/our own brand of feminism and autonomous expression. I don’t fit into any one box. Sometimes I am poised and polite. Sometimes I’m a bitch. Sometimes I am homely. Sometimes I’m scantily clad. Regardless, I am always wanting more for us. More respect, more love, more space and freedom. My attire does not negate that.
Kathleen Cleaver called Beyoncé’s lens, and ultimately my own, mindless. She called it disgusting. And the dank thickness of her tone has fixed itself in my memory. Wedged itself in my psyche. And I find myself, ever since, feeling apprehensive about being visible in my own skin.
These are self portraits. And that’s important because shame and internalized misogynoir are real. Respectability politics are real. And while I am a woman who can be agreeable to a fault, I’ve never had a talent for conforming.
This is not pornography. These are self portraits.
Last night I had a long talk with my sister, Alexis. She asked me how it feels to be 28 and I confessed that I’m kind of just ready for 30. I told her that 10 years ago, 30 seemed completely geriatric to me and I was in no hurry to get there, but now that I’m at the threshold of a 3rd decade, I realize how young this still is. I grew up watching a lot of people sort of hit a ceiling in their 30s. Watching people I looked up to burnout or max out so prematurely was terrifying, but when I think about myself, my ceiling is still so high above me. I’m not settled yet. I still have so much to do, to see, to make, to influence. I’m not afraid of getting older, because older for me has never been a destination. Age is just a vehicle.
Later in our conversation we talked about somethings I’m still trying to heal from. And in that conversation I learned from her that I’m not a woman who can have her “ho card” or “whistle” pulled. I’ll spare the details, but I feel good about that going into this new year. I can’t be shaken or knocked off my square. I can’t be manipulated or dominated. I’m solid. I’m steadfast. I’m not easily broken. That’s gotta be the theme this year.
Last thing, photo shoots on the night before I turn another year are gonna be a thing Lex and I do forever. 💚
“I’ve heard people say "hate is a strong word,” but I’m learning that ‘hate’ is actually lukewarm at best. It’s a blanket term for the real feelings one might be afraid to face and deliver to the source. Hatred is for cowards and those unwilling to unpack painful experiences. Hatred is for those still clinging to the protection of a person they love, fearing the torment they’ll endure being made fully accountable. “I hate you,” is easy, dismissive, and infantile.
It is the mild sauce I’ve used to condense and flatten the spiciness of being disappointed in you. I’ve used hate to make your betrayal more palatable. I wanted to say I don’t trust you and that I don’t like how much who you are differs from who I believed you to be. I wanted to say you’re a liar, that you are spineless and weak, that you are narrow under the guise of being free and informed. I wanted to say that you’re a dumb ass nigga who makes dumb ass decisions. In lieu of telling you I believe you hold onto me out of obligation and not out of love’s necessity, I told you I hate you. Because even still, I have put you first.
I put you first.“
An excerpt of something I wrote, recorded, and am still filming. "Hate”.
“From the outside looking in they, those women from my youth, sound like water now. Together they are a sea of belief and tribulation, trepidation, sometimes completely still and reflecting light, sometimes violently colliding with the land, and other times washing objects and girls like me ashore to be found or lost again.” - Emerald Shaw
When you zip your iridescent/metallic/whatever jacket all the way up because it’s cold and a stranger yells from a moving car “girl, what the f*ck you got on!?!?!” you know you’re doing something right.
Since becoming aware of O Magazine’s comments on flat bellies and crop tops I’ve been thinking a lot about how women’s clothing is policed and how much turmoil that causes within the many different subgroups of the feminine identity experience. I’m going to talk about that more in the future, but piggybacking on that, I want to say this:
That statement ripped open an old wound for me as I’m sure it did for many others. I don’t have a flat stomach. In fact, this is the smallest my stomach has ever been. I remember being young and feeling like I didn’t deserve to explore the physical aspects of my womanhood because it was co-occuring with morbid obesity. It’s statements like these, published for all eyes, that make girls and women succumb to the allure of unworthiness. It’s statements like these that make wet pillows at night and starving stomachs during the day. It was statements like these that made me stop believing in myself time and time again.
Body equality is important to me and I don’t ever want to stop challenging those old and harmful ways of thinking. I want to help shape a world where a woman doesn’t have to defend her right to be in a crop top or in her underwear if she so chooses. I’m sending good vibes to everyone who has been negatively impacted by the media’s harsh regulations on your freedom of style and I hope you never stop wearing whatever the f*ck you want.
Sorry for any typos. Typing this on the fly.
My dad put a lot of time and care into coming up with a name for me, and as I get older it is becoming increasingly important to me for people to use it. I'm not responding to "hey beautiful", "hey sexy", "hey [insert whatever]." My name is Emerald. And my name is visible just about anywhere you can reach me. I don't feel valuable being called gorgeous as a substitute for a name. You don't greet an adjective. You greet a person. My name is Emerald and all the effort put into that name will not be wasted on anyone's inability to properly socialize with women.