Style & Style Politics

Jade’s Faves Features: Coriama Couture

Amazing initiatives have the power to bring amazing people together. This past fall, I facilitated a Beauty Breaks workshop session on style & resilience. [Beauty Breaks is is a life-giving and innovative series on Black beauty & holistic wellness, founded by artist Amina Ross (who is one of my favorite people, truly)]. Coriama Couture was also presenting on affordable grooming & beauty practices. [You can click here for the recap].

Since that time, coriama couture has taught me a great deal about the ways in which we can de-stigmatize sexuality, beauty tips for Black women / femmes (especially ones that can fit my budget), and more. Of course, I wanted my readers to meet her too and get a chance to see her work! Text below is largely her own, used with permission, in order stay true to the heart of her work & mission.

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Photo Credit: Kamali Whitney, 2015

Coriama Couture is an Artist, Activator, and Aesthetician who utilizes the ABCS (Art, Beauty, Culture, and Sexuality) to encourage radical dialogue and community building. She sees the ability to explore and challenge taboo topics within culture as a rite of passage; a necessary element for liberation and freedom that should be celebrated. Currently, she is curating a community popup forum called sex KiKi and hopes to encourage more radical dialogue and safe spaces for queer black femmes* in Chicago and beyond. sex KiKi is inclusive space that privileges the spectrum of black femininity so trans* and cis women are welcome, as well as allies.

Her work primarily serves femmes of the Black diaspora, ages 21+, as she notes:

The Beauty Industry is constantly bombarded with images of a European aesthetic, the policing of the black femme body, and an overall lack of resources for us. For example, the beauty industry is saturated with beauty advisors who often don’t know how to color match for foundation or choose to tell black femmes anything (in terms of beauty practices / products) to get our dime. In addition, we already deal with economic oppression, so the resources we have might be limited and contingent upon what is necessary to live.

In this field, sometimes I deal with community members (black femmes) who prefer to only see white colleagues / beauty advisors to find the proper cosmetic products. My hands-on experience has been that this may be connected to deeper issues of acceptance (and internalized pop-notions of “beauty”). I have much compassion for that, since I have had to deal with my own issues with embracing my black beauty.

Honestly, I believe your trauma can often be connected to your work! I grew up with serious self-esteem issues. I hadn’t grown into my full lips and feared my melanin. The beauty industry happened to be one of the first places I landed a job; since my temper in my younger years caused me to switch jobs often.

Now, I believe that beauty is a tool for empowerment. I continue to challenge myself to utilize it for that purpose and not to mask insecurity (as it can be / has been used). I encourage with warmth and enthusiasm. I always lead with kindness and compassion in these situations because I have been them and see myself in this process toward liberation. I am still undergoing the decolonization of my own lifestyle and mind, as well!

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Educating & brow mapping at Beauty Breaks workshop, Photo Credit: Ally Almore, 2015

Coriama Couture is also the curator for pop-up community forum, titled, sex KiKi. In regards to this area of work, she says:

“Sexual liberation is really important to me. Sexuality was always apart of my life. In my late teens, I can recall enjoying lesbian porn (the good kind; there is a difference)! Yet, there can be a lot of trauma that comes with being a sexually free person. People can equate / conflate freedom with having no boundaries at all, which isn’t true!

Oppression and internalized oppression is also a part of the battle when it comes to sexual wellness and conversations about sexuality. For example, we can deal with some very problematic ideas – about gender, gender roles, notions of what family is / can be, harmful views about homosexuality. I’ve also seen misogynistic views expressed, even coming from cis-het* (cisgender, heterosexual) black femmes in the space (I understand much of this phenomena as a coping mechanism, to somehow fit into the constraints of the patriarchy while simultaneously being denied access). These challenging conversations have their pros and cons but ultimately, I believe are powerful and pivotal when breaking the mental chains of colonization”.

Her advice to readers:
“Exploration is apart of growing and sometimes the worst judgements we experience are the judgements we put on ourselves. It can be liberating to do things for our own lives! Keep a beauty journal, a sex journal, or just journal. I feel fresh and renewed each day that I decipher my own thoughts from those of others. The more I worry about others, the less effortless my life becomes… the less I am able to live on my own terms. This process is difficult but I feel less anxiety living this way.

Find rituals that help ground you – music, chanting, dancing, or bitching in front of the mirror for 10 minutes to get the bull out! Hey, it works! Lastly, don’t be scared to explore another lifestyle option. I’ve found that hetero and married doesn’t always equal happy and in love (as is often suggested). So, we have to be sure to love on our OWN terms”.

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Facials, brow waxing, and refreshments from coriama couture’s Wax Day Off

Check out more of her work on http://www.coriamacouture.com/ and if you live in the Chicagoland area, check out sex KiKi or Coriama’s Wax Day Off! 

Business Couture & Professional Aesthetics

Colleague: I don’t know… they’d probably tell me that wearing this printed shirt isn’t business casual.
Me: It’s not. It’s Business Couture™.

Yesterday, at the Center for Inclusivity, we had an engaging discussion about Vocation & Identity. We discussed how the word ‘vocation’ were different from ‘job’. We shared how we decided which work was worth our time and effort and how our identities intersected with your work.

These days, I call myself an interdisciplinary bridge-builder. I’m deeply interested in the work of writing, the creative and performing arts, higher education, emerging adulthood, and faith & spirituality. I’m interested in finding connections toward holistic visions of success and social justice. 

Yet, my understanding of vocation / work does not just include what I do. It also includes my professional aesthetic. My choices in ‘professional’ dress reflect more about where I’ve been and who I am than what I’m doing.

On Following Her Footsteps, Amina Doherty explains:

 

“We exist in a world where Black women’s bodies are contested spaces, where our fashion and style choices are heavily policed, where we are told what to wear, how to wear it, for whom to wear it, how much we should cover (or uncover), how much we should spend – how to ‘be’ everything but ourselves. We exist in a world that privileges thin, white, heterosexual bodies”

Michael Riley, Stylist and Higher Education Professional says, “As persons of color, we are often read as inherently unprofessional“.

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Michael Riley & I, posin’ in our Business Couture.

Thus, the way I practice, reframe, and re-mix “professional dress” or “business casual” into Business Couture allows me to push the confines. Stated simply, Business Couture is anything that allows me to come to ‘werk / work’ and slay. It is a theory that I’m living into each day. Here’s what that looks like for me, these days:

You’ll notice my favorite crop top from the last style post! As a card-carrying member of #TeamCurves, I’ve often been discouraged from crop tops. However, in my visions of Business Couture, this piece is a staple for me to get the lines that I want.

I have significantly less hair than my previous post! This has really amped up the role that accessories play in communicating my professional identity (and saved me a lot of prep time in the morning). In the first picture (far left), I’m wearing my “A Lil Bougie” pin from Tees in the Trap. (Yes, I absolutely do wear that to work). It’s a lighthearted and subtle code-switch, and my students always launch into discussion when they see it. However, it is also a reminder to think about class privilege, explain the references and / or jargon that I engage when I’m doing my work, and to check in with those who keep me accountable to the work.

The wooden earrings (center pic) were obtained at the Odunde Festival in Philadelphia, which “celebrates the coming of another year for African Americans and Africanized people around the world”. They can be a bold choice for the office but… #unbothered.

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Glitter, sequins, and bedazzled shenanigans are absolutely a part of my professional aesthetic. In an older piece, titled “For Colored Gurls Who Consider Blogging & Glitter When Chronic Illness Gets Too Real…”, I explained that allowing my body to be bejeweled allows me to experience pleasure & “luxury” in my body, given the chronic amounts of sickness that are also in my body.

Business Couture means making space for things that aren’t quite casual, aren’t quite formal, aren’t quite… anything… and making it all work. This is something that I’ve had to do with my own lived experience: curate comprehensive works, aesthetics, initiatives, plans, from a variety of places, contexts, and needs. Pictured above is my Lauren Conrad bedazzled shirt and skirt (total cost around $25, as I got the pieces on clearance), and my Clarks knee boots (good for living with chronic plantar fasciitis in both feet while looking fly).

Palazzo pants and V-neck shirts are a part of my aesthetic. Again, as a curvy woman, I’ve been told to stay away from things that “attract attention” (**eye roll). This was discouraged both in secular systems and in “sacred” spaces. Yet, my ethic and aesthetic of Business Couture acknowledges two things:

1) It is the responsibility of others to practice self control and to refrain from sexualizing the frame that I inhabit.

2) This particular body that I inhabit is temporary (I know it sounds a bit mystical, but I’m going somewhere). Things can change at any moment: if I fall ill, my skin color can dull. If I cut my hair, it has the capacity to grow back at this point. There are a variety of factors that determine the amount of space my body takes up at any given point in time. My body is temporary. Understanding this has allowed me to a lot spend less time agonizing over what others believe I should be covering and hiding, given my current weight / shape / frame, etc.

Let me be clear, the way that I experience gender discrimination, given my aesthetic, is not the same as someone who is trans*.  I would be remiss to exclude the understanding that my cis-gender privilege is real, and that this must be worked through in a variety of ways (that could be an entirely new post).

My hope, then, is that this conversations on who gets to be read as ‘professional’ is built upon, remixed, and re-interpreted for a variety of contexts and lived experiences. The concept of Business Couture is something that I’m still working through, wrestling with, and exploring. It is a concept that, I believe, must be lived into and is likely flexible enough to take however it is lived into.

Cuts & Coconut Oil: New Phases in Hair History

Last year, I was featured on CurlyNikki.com with voluminous hair, pulled into many different styles. In the feature, I talked about my natural hair journey as someone who has always been ‘natural’ (meaning: the curl patterns of my hair were not altered through chemical treatments).

My hair history is far from simple: an unfortunate snipping of my two-strand twists, damages from constant flat ironing, how stress impacted my hair follicles, and… more… *sigh.

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This picture pretty much sums up my hair trials, tribulations, dangers, toils, and snares…

However, I learned to take care of my self and my hair over time by using a minimalist approach. So, while this is not a beauty blog… I really, really enjoy talking about hair both formally and informally.

I’ve recently gone through yet another milestone in my complicated hair history. I decided to cut my hair very, very short.

Online Cut

I’m deciding to write about it today since I’ve a) been writing about some relatively heavy subjects lately, and b) been getting lots of questions about the process. Here goes!

  • How long had I been growing my hair and what prompted the decision to cut it
    I’ve always gravitated toward billows of hair because my MuvaIcons include Chaka Khan and Diana Ross. So, it never really crossed my mind in any serious capacity before now. In 2009-ish, I found myself at the very unfortunate nexus of hair loss (stress + hard water in the Pennsylvanian mountains) & braids-gone-wrong. My stylist gave me that look that said, “You’re about to be in your feelings…”, explained the damage, and had to cut my hair to a shoulder length bob.

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    B.C. (Before Coconut Oil) Memories

    I’d been growing it back out since then, getting trims here and there. My hair care process was relatively simple: make sure it’s moisturized and do whatever is easiest. So, it grew back out without too much drama.

    Flash forward to the year of our Lord, 2016…

    I loved my big hair. At the same time, I wasn’t really doing anything with it on a frequent basis. I made sure it was clean, detangled, and moisturized. I would wear it out for about 3 days out of the week and then, up it went into a high ponytail or into a head-wrap. The thought of cutting it crossed my mind quite a few times. The decision was cemented after one particularly aggravating detangling session that lasted approx 25 minutes. My partner and I gathered the scissors and clippers and the rest… is now in a very pitiful looking bag of hair that I really ought to take out of my bathroom. (Overshare orrrrr….?)

  • How long will I keep this? Am I growing it back out?
    I have no idea. It depends on how I’m feeling down the line.
  • Pros? Cons?
    I’m smiling when I wake up to take off my bonnet! I’m stressed when I wake up in the middle of the night because the hair-to-pillow ratio is really off and I’m not used to it yet. I’m excited to see what my hair is doing at its root level. My scalp can feel things: wind, the sun, the chill in the air. I’m not a fan of hats but my scalp and neck are crying out against me in this Chicago wind. I’m saving product and the muscles in my arms are thanking me. I will probably have to get shape ups very frequently because my hair is already growing back in spaces. Finally, I’m getting reacquainted with my face, earrings, and have big plans that involve shoulder pads… *mischievous grin 

I’m still learning in this process. So, all of my naturalistas with short hair, please tell me about your hair journey in the comments below!

Professional Dress? YAAAAAHS.

One of my favorite posts from The Feminist Wire is “You Betta Werk!: Professors Talk Style Politics” because it acknowledges and explores what ‘professional dress’ is and means for women of color. As you know, I’m always excited to talk about style and style politics as I also navigate my identities as a woman of color, a student affairs professional, a writer, and an artistic soul.

In “You Betta Werk…”, Dr. Tanisha C. Ford, Assistant Professor of Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies at UMass-Amherst and trailblazer of important work on style politics, asks the questions:

  • How do you incorporate your personal fashion sense into your professional attire?
  • Do you think women and/or men of color in the academy face unique challenges that are (directly or indirectly) linked to a politics of dress and adornment?

Today, I’m adding my own answers to the questions, along with pictures and examples of what professional dress looks like for me. (Shout-out to my colleague, N.S. for the photography and for her on-point make-up & nail tips from @san_bellisima)

My Personal Fashion Sense

A few staples of my personal fashion sense that I incorporate into my professional wardrobe include a) mixed prints / colors / textures, b) detailed, eclectic accessories (hair, nails, & jewelry), and c) showcasing art.

  1. Mixing lines, textures, & prints
Pictured in my office with one of my favorite work outfits: a crop top sweater with a zig-zag pattern and a pencil skirt with a lipstick pattern.

Pictured in my office with one of my favorite work outfits: a crop top sweater with a zig-zag pattern and a pencil skirt with a lipstick pattern.

I typically like to push the boundaries of what ‘professional dress’ means by incorporating surprising elements: the crop top, the leopard print jumpsuit. However, I pair them with more traditional elements and pieces: the pencil skirt, the cropped blazer, the leather shoes. This is what pulls my look together (and makes it really easy whenever I’m transitioning from day-to-night looks). I know that crop top is not the first thing most people think of when they think of professional wear. However, when you pair a crop top with a high waist pencil skirt, the results can be fabulous and SNATCHED! 

Leopard print jumpsuit in black and brown paired with a burgundy blazer & caramel colored leather shoes

Leopard print jumpsuit in black and brown paired with a burgundy blazer & caramel colored leather shoes

I wear my prescription glasses every day and I usually like to get a few funky frames in neutral colors that will compliment each outfit. I also mix prints according to the tasks I have for the day. If I’m going to a conference, I may work with a more neutral color scheme but keep the prints. If I’m working with students, I’ll incorporate a bit more color or items that are on trend in the season.

Conference Wear: A lot more subdued with color but still utilizing print and a pop of color (lipstick: Ruby Woo by MAC)

Conference Wear: A lot more subdued but still utilizes print and a pop of color (lipstick: Ruby Woo by MAC)

2. Accessories… and then more accessories.

I know many people go by the style adage, “Less is more” buuut… I am not one of those people. For me, accessories are what make the outfit uniquely yours. Hair, makeup, nails, shoes, jewelry are all things I use to signify a style that says, “This is Jade”.

A Closer Look: For this outfit, I've incorporated my favorite head wrap and a body necklace. Since these items do stand out, I chose to do simple earrings, no bracelets, and a dark muted lip color to balance things out

A Closer Look: For this outfit, I’ve incorporated my favorite head wrap and a body necklace. Since these items do stand out, I chose to do simple earrings, no bracelets, and a dark muted lip color to balance things out

I don’t wear too many soft colors at work, due to the fact that I already look very young (and I hate the question, “May I ask you how old you are?” In WHAT world is that okay to ask?! I ranted about that here). However, every now and then I just can’t pass up a good pink that makes my skin tone POP.

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A Closer Look: I cannot resist a good lip color. This is MAC’s Saint Germain lipstick with a pink dazzleglass on top for shine.

3) Showcasing art.

As you can see from the pictures above, I see fashion and even professional dress as a way to incorporate art. Typically, I do this with my choices in hair and nails.

The Challenges Linked to “Politics of Dress”

One of my favorite academic articles is Tara Yosso’s ‘Whose Culture Has Capital’ (2005). In this piece, Yosso challenges the notion that only dominant culture holds worth and wealth. I bring her work up here because most of my style politics incorporate the question, “Whose Culture Has Style”? I’m always asking, ‘Whose culture is seen as the standard for professionalism’ and making choices to challenge that in ways that still allow me to inhabit that office / professional space.

As a millenial woman of color, there is also some identity management that goes into my style choices: if I wear this, will I look to young? As a woman, there is identity management: if I wear these bright colors, will people take me seriously? As a woman of color, there is identity management: if I wear my hair naturally, will people bash me for it? Will people immediately equate and associate the art on my nails with what they perceive to be ‘ghetto’? (For more on identity / impression management, check out Leary & Kowalski’s work, 1990). Getting dressed is a political act because in seconds you are making decisions about how you will (or will not) challenge societal norms. Finding that line and working with those nuances are things that I’m figuring out each and every day.

I figure it out, mostly, by doing and then by writing. So, if this topic interests you, here are a few other pieces to check out:

In the comments below, please leave a few of your favorite resources OR style staples!

Put On Your Hoops and Win!

Understanding how style impacts perception has always been an interest of mine. It’s been one of those inescapable interests as a professional Black woman with natural hair (sans chemical processors), a predisposition for nail art, and a commitment to being absolutely fierce! This is why I value the scholarship of Dr. Tanisha Ford on fashion & style politics. In her article, Haute Couture In the ‘Ivory Tower’, she states, “From slavery to the present, African Americans and other people of color have used fashion as a form of cultural-political resistance and creative self-expression…”

The way that fashion & style intersects with socio-cultural identities is an area that we navigate each and every day – from the time we wake up, to the time we decide how we’re wearing our hair, to the matrix of thoughts we use to configure an #OOTD (outfit of the day). We are making meaning for ourselves and others are forming perceptions about us, as well.

The other day I was talking with my friend Michelle. She told me that she wanted to dedicate a post on social media that celebrated all the great things about her, and that she thought about me in that moment. Anyone who knows me, knows that I encourage these types of shenanigans! [They’re so important]! When I told her to go for it, she responded back with #Putonyourhoopsandwin <tweetable!! (And the charismatic churchgirl in me said, “That will PREACH if you let it”!)

“Put on your hoops and win” is associated with Michelle’s expression of sociocultural identity in a professional context. She explained,

“It came from a time that I was told to look more professional when I was wearing a nice pant suit and tasteful hoops. Apparently it was “too urban”. What’s crazy is that it was a person of color that told me to take the hoops out at first. He told me, ‘Know your audience’. I walked in and the board member goes, ‘How brave of you to wear those earrings at a presentation’. But I owned that meeting… brought all the ideas and innovation to the table while folks were chillin’ and taking notes… wearing my hoops the whole time.

I thought about the fact that hoops have always been around my whole life. When I wanted to feel sassy or fly or strong… I would see other women who looked like me and I admired them. They were taking care of babies with hoops on, doing laundry, going to the bank…

…And I’m not gonna take them off so you feel better. Because it’s more than the hoops. It’s the taking off of the sources of your power. From that day, I decided that I was going to put on my hoops and win!”

I’m pretty sure at this point that some are inclined to offer a lengthy rebuttal on how it’s inappropriate to wear hoops in the workplace. But then you’d have missed the point of this piece. The appropriateness of wearing hoops in the workplace (generally) will depend on the history, context, climate, policies, and protocol within your work space. So, the point here is similar to one I’ve made in a previous post:

There are countless ways of image management that professional millenial women of color are asked to conform to. The choice to conform or resist lies with the individual and their values (Weitz, 2001). For some, looking professional in regards to dominant cultural mores seems most secure and / or beneficial. Others choose to redefine what professional dress is in their professional context. Some chose counter-cultural ways to express their style politics. And some days, it’s a blend of all three of those things. Again, the questions here become, “What compromises your soul?” Do you feel like you’re being asked to “take off (a) source of power”? In other words, what feels like an erasure of a key sociocultural value or expression? Because the fashion choices of professional women of color are that deep, even though many would like to assume that they aren’t.

Your choices may (and probably will) change from context to context. At the conference, you might choose to rock studs, a natural bun, and a retro blazer to keep things interesting. At the office you might choose to rock a wash & go, business slacks, a blouse, and “put on your hoops & win”. Either way, professional identity… including the expression of professional style… is always crafted within a context.<Tweetable

What are some professional style essentials for you? (Ya’ll already know how I feel about Ruby Woo). What makes you feel like you’re “putting on your hoops (to) win”?!

Image Credit: CreateHerStock.Com: “a collection of awesome resources and images for the everyday female blogger and creative of color”. #Support!

Creative Commons License
“Put On Your Hoops and Win!” by Jade T. Perry is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

 

Pants in the Pew: The One-Sided Labor of Modesty

KJ* was an emerging stylist and fashion consultant. We attended the same nondenominational church, sang alto on the worship team together, and frequently used the “green room” to swap information about the best places to thrift and makeup tips to get through multiple services without sweating it all off. (Listen… the ‘singing 2-3 services’ struggle gets real). On one particular morning, I remember her bursting into the green room, pulling me to the side, and crying, “I am LIVID! I was essentially told by the worship team leader that I needed to go home and change into something more modest”. (She was wearing a black top with black pants. KJ and I had both gone through drastic weight changes that year and were striving to dress for our ‘new bodies’ in ways that were comfortable, practical, and fierce). For about 30 minutes, we talked over what she’d planned to do. “I am always so careful to dress for the occasion… and to say that I’m dressed inappropriately because my shirt is tighter than you think it should be is incredibly annoying!” (I will admit that I muttered under my breath, ‘And incredibly sexist’). In an earlier Pants in the Pew / Pulpit post, I talked about my mother’s choice to use her body and style politics as a site of resistance: resistance to being regarded as inferior and in need of more feminization (Weitz, 2011). In KJ’s story, there was yet another struggle: a struggle to resist her body being sexualized and objectified in a sacred space. The script on what women should and should not wear in sacred spaces is not necessarily a new one. In my lived experience, there is one such “script” that has been used to instruct women on what to wear, particularly in sacred spaces:

1 Timothy 2:9-10 Likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works

Often times, those who are using this text to hold sway over the clothing choices of women in sacred spaces do not offer any context, sociocultural & historical background – a picture of the climate in those times – to explain their use of the text today. Let me be clear: I have heard, seen, and deeply appreciate the theologians who choose to add nuance to texts such as this (i.e. understanding the damages of heteropatriarchy, preaching / teaching with sensitivity to the fact that these damages are real and impact women on a very systemic and individual levels, balancing it with sociohistorical context). Yet, I also acknowledge that on the whole, we have a long way to go, and asking congregants & church leadership to complicate theology with sociopolitical understandings or critical gender theories… does not always go over too well. So, in the past weeks alone, the script has been under continuous revision. I have seen a revision as entertainers advise women to dress a certain way to obtain a certain man (the counter-post on this by Anna Gibson is absolutely everything)! I can recount the times I’ve sat through retreats or workshops on dating, and hearing a wide array of content on how to dress for and / or keep dressing for a man as a partner in my life (interestingly enough, we did not cover issues of consent, emotionally healthy practices versus emotionally abusive /coercive practices, etc).

The script has been revised in the fair share of cautious admonishments for women to maintain their modesty as the summer months are coming up (argument: more heat = less clothes = ‘modesty compromised’). I can say that each year, around the summer time, the “What Not to Wear (for Women in Sacred Spaces)” revisions roll over and over in my screen, in church services, and in conversation. I cannot help but wonder: What is this obsession that we have with what women are wearing?!  

What many do not understand is that no conversation is without a framework. Think of it as a portrait or a painting. While we focus on the pictures of what women should and should not wear… we might be missing the frame of what we are implying: that women’s bodies are (foremost) sites of dangerous and enticing sexuality…distracting… and in need of guardianship & rules. Dr. Rose Weitz (2001) asserts in her study that “For millennia, women’s subordinate position has been justified by an ideology that labeled their bodies and brains as inferior (Weitz 1998) and has been reinforced by a unique set of disciplinary practices aimed at creating a submissive and “feminine” body…” p. 668. *emphasis mine

So, what might those disciplinary practices look like in sacred spaces? In so many of my memories, they have looked like KJ’s story: being ostracized and asked to ‘sit down’ because of clothing choices. In one such sacred space, I was told that women were not allowed to wear heels in the pulpit because “It was distracting to the men”. This meant that when they were in that space, they had to wear flats or go with bare feet. In another, women were instructed to always wear scarves over their laps, regardless of length, so that they “would not distract the imagination of the men”. You might also remember the public shaming of Christian entertainer, Erica Campbell of Mary Mary, for choosing a dress that hugged her curves.

From the time that I was 13, I began negotiating my style politics due to the natural changes that were occurring in my body. Sundays were often the most difficult days because I did not know what would be deemed as ‘modest’ or ‘immodest’. At one point, it was immodest to wear heavy makeup or earrings. At another point, it was immodest to wear a certain length of skirt. As time went on, it took longer and longer to simply get dressed to worship:  a V neck or no V neck because… boobs? A tulle skirt or no tulle skirt because… curves? If I decided wrong, the disciplinary practices of ‘being sat down’, covered up, or publicly shamed (in churchyterms they’d say ‘admonished’ and / or rebuked’) loomed over my head.

These disciplinary practices, in sacred spaces, don’t always look like disciplinary practices because they might also be hidden and enforced under a) the guise of rigid definitions of what Biblical womanhood is (i.e. all Biblical women wear / look like ____) and / or b) the concept of wisdom (i.e. Yes, you can wear whatever you want… but is it WISE if you know you will gain unwarranted attention). Instead of thinking critically about the question, ‘What makes it possible and / or ‘the norm’ for women to have to dress a certain way to be acknowledged as inherently worthy and multidimensional’there seemed to be more of an overall preference for conversation on which styles, cuts, and fabrics are most distracting (insert subtext: for those who identify as men in sacred spaces). Writer, Jessica Valenti explains it like this:  “This “distraction” standard for a dress code (for women) sets up a model in which the default student (person / congregant) we are concerned about – the student (person / congregant) whose learning we want to ensure is protected – is male”. The labor of modesty is very often a one-sided labor.

In an earlier post, I explained that my mother’s decision to wear pants in the pulpit, inevitably sent a message of resistance. Why? Because for so long the bodies of women have been sites of resistance of and / or conformity to patriarchal norms (Weitz, 2001). KJ decided to go home and change that day. I wanted her to stay and sing worship exactly the way that she came. But I also know that navigating style politics in sacred spaces can be incredibly murky and sometimes. Yet, I always wished that there was more that I could do for KJ. I wished I knew what to say, in the moment, for the women who told me they had to sing praise and worship with bare feet because their pastor said heels were too sexual.

I thought about all of the younger women I know who stress over what to wear each time they go to worship. It is then that I remember the two-fold mission behind this site and my writing: 1) to lovingly & creatively challenge secular and sacred systems toward greater levels of inclusion… and that INCLUDES making space for women’s voices, women’s stories, women’s leadership AND women’s style politics in sacred spaces.

Want to hear more on the subject? READ PT. I here.

Image Credit: DeathtoStockphoto.com, Retreat Collection Resources WEITZ, R. (10/2001). “WOMEN AND THEIR HAIR: Seeking Power through Resistance and Accommodation”. Gender & society (0891-2432), 15 (5), p. 667 – 686. Creative Commons License Pants in the Pew: The One Sided Labor of Modesty by Jade T. Perry is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

 P.S. Not even 24 hours after writing this post, WordPress’ Daily Post prompt asked writers to:… “ tell (them) how appearance impacts how you feel about yourself”. Ha! Serendipity 🙂

Hair Stylin’ & Profilin’ – Making Identity Conscious Decisions at Work

It has been a busy week and weekend, filled with writing deadlines, but I’m excited about the opportunities! I talked about navigating microaggressions in the workplace over at Black Career Women’s Network, reflected on the difference between vulnerability and overshare in blogging over at BrownGirlBloggers.com, and worked with the amazing staff at NACE.org to publish a piece on natural hair & identity politics in the workplace!

On the topic of identity politics and natural hair in the workplace, I noted:

In my professional life, I have chosen to wear my hair naturally… Though the options are endless, these styles include anything that allows me to least amount of manipulation to the way my hair naturally grows…

I cannot count the times that my students, particularly women of color, have asked in hushed tones, “So….I’m meeting a recruiter/employer tomorrow and I’m hoping to get a job. I wear my hair naturally. So, what do you do—what should I do—about my hair?

It is one of my favorite questions, but it is always a loaded one. The trained ear will notice that these students are not just asking for fashion advice. They are trying to figure out how to navigate identity politics. They are looking for understanding on how they might “assert or reclaim ways of understanding their distinctiveness that challenge dominant oppressive characterizations…” as Heyes asserts. They are looking for ways to be authentic in spaces that may be largely homogenous, and in professions that may be largely male. Questions about hair are typically never just about hair…

In the article, I talked about how I walk students through these important decisions, including encouragements to a) acknowledge the validity of their experiences, b) research the company & its culture, and more. However, I did not include any pictures of the various ways that I have decided to wear my own natural hair during various occasions in my work life. Some of the examples you will see below reflect what I was doing at the moment; as someone who has been working in student affairs, we have weekly hours in office in addition to supervising or hosting events that might be formal and / or more casual in nature. Thus, you will see that my hair reflects a range of these kinds of styles, from formal to casual:

Style: Yarn braids inside a wrap. I have dressed that outfit up or down, depending on the circumstance. In the workplace, I would choose a more subtle pair of earrings, but I wanted you to get a good idea of the hairstyle itself.

Style: Loose twist out

Style: Updo (supervising a student group’s formal event)

Style: Simple bun. This style is actually pretty clutch for interviews as well, as it sits off your face but also allows you to manipulate your curls without heat. I simply used a bit of Ecostyler Gel for the edges and rolled the hair up.

Style: Headwrap

Style: Salon straightened (low heat, flat iron)

Style: Loose updo

If you have natural hair in the workplace, what are some of the styles that you love? Does your style vary, according to the professional occasion? If so, how?

JTP’S Side Eye Symposium: “Wait, How Old Are You”?

Yesterday, the Daily Post posed a question, “What question do you hate to be asked? Why?” It really wasn’t hard for me to access one… the question that grates my ears each time it passes: “Wait… how old are you? Can I ask how old you are?” I mean this question gets a “You just tried it but I still have to be composed”, First Lady Chantal Biya level side eye from me.


Image Credit: http://awesomelyluvvie.com

It’s not so much the question, per se. It’s how the question is asked, specifically because this question is asked in situations where I’m meeting someone new, and I’ve talked about where I’ve studied, or the work that I do, areas of interest, or really any other thing that they feel doesn’t match how old I look. I have been asked this question by professionals, pastors, artists, entertainers, parents, clients, students, strangers, and more. My usual response is, “I’m a busy millennial,” or, “I’m not as young as I look – I’m just youthfully effervescent”. Yet inside, you’d better believe I’m cringing.

In an article for the Student Affairs Collective, I talked about this question in depth, citing the ways that young professionals have to manage their image through the use of either verbal or nonverbal cues (Leary & Kowalski, 1990). Yet, to talk about image management without really unpacking the question doesn’t really gave the full picture. There are a lot of assumptions hiding behind questions about our age in the workplace, especially those asked in public settings. As stated in that article, they include:

  • Assumptions about how competent and capable younger professionals are or should be
  • Assumptions about work / life balance being easier to obtain, the younger that you look
  • Assumptions that age = experience, credentials, and / or lack thereof
  • Assumptions that you may be “out of your depth”

All in all, what lurks behind that question, in professional settings are the slight hints of ageism, based on someone’s perception of age. This is why the question makes me cringe. In my experience, more often than not, it is condescending. It shows that you assume credentials (or receipts as I like to call them) are directly tied to the perceived age of someone. This is problematic for me, specifically because, let’s be honest… I’ve looked about 17 for the past 10 years or so.

Oh, make no mistake, the question is nerve-sy (as my Gramma says). Because there is a certain age bracket when that question fades away, when it might seem incomprehensible to even ask. But it is one that many millennial professionals hear quite often.

My response to the question, “Wait…how old are you,” varies, considering who might be asking it, why, and when they might be asking. When I was asked at an important conference, I’ve simply responded with, “I’m not sure what makes that relevant to the presentation / session”. If it is a student, I simply pose more questions to try to clarify their purpose in asking. If it is relevant to something that we are discussing, then I share my age. But most times, I give a (slightly shade-filled) smile and speak my truth: “I don’t tell my age”.

Sure, there are ways that young professionals manage their professional image and identity, and this varies for each person. I always keep a resume on hand, along with a few business cards. I tend to dress a bit more formally on days where I’m meeting with important stakeholders or while attending conferences. Some would contend, “That’s just best practice,” and I would be inclined to agree with them. Yet there are also those who understand that some professional image management is going on at the same time.

One of the commenters asked a very interesting question under that initial article, stating:

…I struggle with the balance of appearing/ seeming older (either with props or just giving my confidence/ attitude a super boost), but also remaining authentically myself. Any suggestions as to how to manage those two things simultaneously?

And I knew that I could communicate a more contextualized and nuanced answer in this space (cuz it’s mine. Ha)!

Yesterday, I was at brunch chatting with my friend T.J.* and we started talking about navigating the perceptions / stereotypes of young, professional women of color in professional spaces. She expounded on some of tools that she uses as a millenial woman of color, educator, & PhD candidate. For example, we talked about dressing more formally for business meetings and teaching sessions, bringing documentation or research that would assert our professional critiques, wearing a name badge that connected us to the institution,  etc. However, it was what she said at the end of our conversation that really stuck with me, “Other people may not have to use these same tools as me, and I usually encourage them to reflect in those instances to see if there is any type of (race, class, socioeconomic, age) privilege attached to that. But individually, I make sure to never compromise my soul. I can get dressed up to teach; that doesn’t compromise my soul. But there are other types of image management that I just won’t do – that compromise my soul. It’s different for everyone”. I think T.J.’s advice applies in these cases. It is the same advice that I give people who ask, “Should I change my hair for the interview space? Should I engage in a certain type of image management?” The answer to that lies in the question, “Does that compromise your soul?”

In addition, though I am not comfortable with someone asking me how old I am, I am also not interested in “looking older”, per se. I am interested in communicating my professional identity in a comprehensive way both verbally and nonverbally, as it is appropriate. This can be done with or (hopefully) without being asked how old I am. This is much like when I am attending an arts festival and I’m done up in all kinds of eclectic jewelry, accessories, hairstyles, etc. that communicate my artistic identity / expression. Neither one of these modes are inauthentic and neither one of them require me to compromise my soul.

So, to those ends, there are some image management practices that I’m just done with – they require too much shape-shifting and at the end of the process my authentic self feels hidden. There are some image management practices that I just refuse to engage in (like answering the question, “Wait, how old are you?). For each individual, figuring out whether to engage in image management or not is a process that requires you to remember your personal values. In addition, calling attention to problematic questions about identity and perception takes finesse, self awareness, and self advocacy. (Because there are those times where you have to say, “That question is neither relevant nor appropriate…” – and it makes all the difference if you know when).

Further Reading & Sources:
Leary, M. R., & Kowalski, R. M. (1990). Impression management: A literature review and two-component model. Psychological bulletin, 107(1), 34.

Creative Commons License
JTP’S Side Eye Symposium: “Wait, How Old Are You”? by Jade T. Perry is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

On Leaving InstaGram’s #TeamNatural Scene

“My 18 year old brother convinced me to get an InstaGram account a few years back, and it did not take me too long to get hooked. I could show off the fierce henna tattoo my coworker hand-drew and get tips on style & natural hair care. At first, it was a source of inspiration and excitement. I started finding and following my favorite naturalistas, carefully emulating their style essentials. I felt empowered, inspired, and sassy! Yet, after a month or so of getting my daily dose of IG natural styles, I realized that I was changing. I found myself constantly comparing my hair texture to the women on the screen, and this was something that I had never done before. (Yes, I do mean never). I’d started hashtagging my new hair styles with rigor, hoping someone would acknowledge the hours I’d spent detangling, combing, co-washing, and putting just about everything in my refrigerator and cabinets in my head as “a treatment”…. Finally, I had to say ‘Enough.’

Hear how I went from a case of curl envy to internal validation at Coloures, by ForHarriet.com!

Jade’s Faves – Getting My Life through Blogs & Vlogs

As of late, my morning routine has been to brew a nice hot cup of Oprah Chai (that blend will help you get your breakthrough), read a piece from one of my favorite bloggers, or watch something from a vlogger I enjoy. I think that what draws me is the fact that they communicate in ways that are interesting and profound, while also speaking to my personal mission & the mission of JadeTPerry.com:

They encourage, inspire, & empower readers to thrive in spite of systems that are not inherently set up for their success / affirmation. They lovingly & creatively challenge systems & individuals… and they offer information, ideas, & counter-cultural narratives towards these purposes. Although our writing / speaking lenses may be different, I appreciate the work being done in each of these blogs & vlogs. Here are a few to add to your list:
The Girl With the Black Pearls – Blogger, Ashley Burton, is a full time graduate student in professional counseling, who uses her writing “as a means of transparency and healing”. Her topics include self love, growth, positive risk-taking, deep faith, family, and more! She writes with a warm tone and consistently includes positive takeaways or points of reflection that resonate long after you have finished reading. Hear some of these reflections on her post, #TopTen: Major Personal Lessons from 2014.

PhDisabled – PhDisabled is a platform that shares counter cultural narratives on “what it’s like to doing academia with disability & chronic illness.” In 2009, both of my feet temporarily gave out due to severe pain. Since then, I have been through the processes of relying on a wheelchair, cane, and / or walking apparatus, on to physical therapy, and back to walking with little trouble but chronic pain after prolonged periods of time. Since then I have also obtained an M. Ed and worked in my chosen field. However, dealing with chronic pain or disability is typically a hush-hush item within higher education. So, it was not something I talked about or really even heard about… until stumbling across this blog. This blog offers stories of PhD candidates who are striving and coping with disabilities, seen and unseen. It offers advice, affirmation, and resources for self advocacy for those in academia and navigating post-graduate professional experiences.

K.Y.N.D. (Knowing Yourself in Need of Devotion)
– I was introduced to Rev. Kyndra D. Frazier’s blog through the Move & Shake initiative by Dr. Alisha Lola Jones.  KYND served as a guide and compass during one of my most profound faith shifts & career transitions. Rev. Frazier explains, “Knowing Yourself in Need of Devotion (KYND) was birthed out of my commitment to support  individuals and communities in thriving. Often ‘kind’ is relegated to a docile adjective, however KYND is much more. To be KYND is to be aware of the areas in your life that are in need of devotion and healing, where awareness transitions into transforming action. To be KYND is also to balance the practice of self-care privately and publicly. Hence, taking care of ourselves is taking care of our communities, and taking care of our communities is a way of taking care of ourselves…” Topics include social justice, devotion to self and community, as well as reflections on faith and freedom.

Rachel Held Evans
– Rachel Held Evans is the prolific and witty author of  Evolving in Monkey Town (Zondervan, 2010) and A Year of Biblical Womanhood (Thomas Nelson Oct, 2012). Through her blog, she tackles subjects such as gender equality in sacred spaces, theology, and the expansive nature of faith. She often features authors, clergy, and professionals from varying faith traditions & perspectives and her Sunday superlatives posts are like my personal bright-and-shiny-spot on the Interwebs! She explains in her initial post that “Spiritual pride is always a temptation for the believer, and I sincerely hope it is avoided on this blog. No one’s journey is the same. There is much to learn from one another. So instead, I would like this little spot on the Web to serve as a sort of traveler’s forum, a place for exchanging adventure stories, survival tips, and those priceless hole-in-the-wall recommendations that make a journey memorable. I look forward to sharing my own ideas, and I look forward to hearing from you.” Learn more about her blog here!

Beyondbabymamas.com
-Founder, Stacia L. Brown, “writer, educator, and mother” understood that unmarried mothers who are women of color unjustly bear shameful stereotypes about their journey to motherhood.  Thus, she built an online site and comprehensive brand that “seeks to provide greater context… by inviting the discourse of single mothers of color. Beyond Baby Mamas was founded in September 2012 as a way to talk to minority unmarried mothers, not just about them. It’s an initiative that seeks to form a base of support, education, communication, and encouragement, rather than an environment of condemnation”. This site offers philanthropic opportunities, cultural critiques on the media perception of unmarried mothers, uplifting stories, and more.

Ebony Janice Peace
– Vlogger, Ebony Janice, is all “about that Peace life. (She) makes videos to empower people… but really is here for the laughs and shenanigans”. She offers that and more through her uplifting & inspirational videos on self love, cultural commentaries (her commentaries on Beyonce are laugh-out-loud doses of everything), music reviews, comedy, social justice slam poetry, and other fierce fashion /  beauty tips. Ebony Janice is one of those vloggers that quickly becomes your bff in your mind (ha! don’t judge me) because she consistently cracks you up and challenges you toward empowerment at the same time.
So feel free to browse and show these sites some love as you sip your morning coffee or tea!