RYANE, SHE / HER
I had to start reclaiming my body at a very young age. I used to pray every night for everything that everyone teased me about to change miraculously. I eventually had to realize that these things are not going to change, so the next best thing to do is to accept them. I am still very sensitive, but I feel a lot better about these things now because I don’t let them define me anymore.
straight hair /
very modest /
covered up /
The monochromatic tone and more androgynous look represents how I feel my dad and society demand a woman to dress. We are punished for our shapes and curves, and asked to take precautions when styling ourselves to avoid harassment or even phsycial and sexual acts of violence. I covered my ears with tape that read “only studs”, representing the restrictions my father put on what earrings I could and couldn’t wear. I straightened my hair to represent the policing of black hair in our society.
Fun fact, it takes me about anywhere from 3-4 hours to blow dry and straighten my hair. It’s a lot of wasted time as you sweat out the work to have to do it all over again. That’s why a lot of black women opt for braids and wigs.
big hair /
dangling earrings /
gym shoes /
big dress /
Look 2 represents my freedom. It's what I would love to wear all the time if I wasn’t always working at a restaurant. I love how I paired it with some old J’s. It's fun. It shows how I don’t take myself too seriously. It makes me feel badass and strong, while the dress still makes me feel beautiful. I never wore a dress like this before as vintage dresses never fit me, but I fell in love with this piece.
My body has been under constant scrutiny since I was a child. I was teased for being athletic and more muscular. I had big feet and stretch marks on my legs from growing so fast, and kids would call me different names and animals—Bigfoot and some girl from Proud Family. I also grew into my womanly shape rather fast and I remember feeling oversexualized.
It was a weird time growing up in school. I was a dark skinned black girl so a lot of guys didn’t consider me beautiful, but because of my body, they would try to talk to me. It made me feel weird because they would tease me, be mean and make me feel terrible, but later they would try to touch my butt. I remember guys trying to sit behind me to look at me or try and touch me. They thought it was a game and I wasn’t the only one they did it to. Even if you told them over and over again to stop, they wouldn’t. I remember at times hitting them, but they thought it was funny.
My dad, in my eyes, punished me. He was very strict with my dress and what I was allowed to wear and do with my body. I remember not being able to wear dangling earrings (earrings that hang below your ear), excessive jewelry, or dye my hair. My dad would not let me wear certain clothing. Clothing that my friends and classmates wore without scrutiny, but that I wasn’t allowed to wear on my more developed, “mature” body. This limited my style and my ability to understand how my body played into all the attention I was getting from guys. This attention was only because of my body, nothing else.
I always felt like the ugly duckling as a kid. I wasn’t able to ever really express myself or style myself in a way that didn’t have to be in compliance with someone else’s rules. I now feel empowered though. It's been a huge part of my journey in healing. I've been trying to not give AF and do what I think is right and what makes me happy because ultimately, that is when I am the most comfortable.
I do love my body, I am trying to see my body as I did before, and not as this broken mess. My style of dress has been one of the few threads that has held me together over the past few years. It’s the only thing that has remained the same throughout this journey. It helps remind me who I am and who I was. I am more confident. I like pairing things purposefully that don’t match or go together at first glance. After reflecting I’d describe my personal style as a mix of a “tomboy” aesthetic and me bringing back my athletic interests from when I was a kid.
So important. As Rico Nasty once said, “Don’t come out the house unless I’m wearing something whimsical”. This hit me hard. Clothing is armor, it makes me feel safe and strong, giving me confidence even when I may not have it. It allows me to express my feelings without saying anything. It is so important to me and my identity. I love pushing the boundaries of what a girl should wear, what a black girl should wear. I find security in being different, myself.
My hair is relaxed. I am going next Monday to get my roots touched up by my mom. When I was younger I made the decision to start getting relaxers to permanently straighten out the kinks and curls in my hair. I was getting bullied at school (even though I went to a majority black school) for wearing my hair in braids. The girls who were considered the most attractive always wore their hair bone-straight. I strived to be like them, so I could feel accepted.
My mom and aunt tried to talk me out of relaxers and pushed me to try to embrace and find beauty in my hair. I couldn't do that because I just wanted the bullying to stop. I have extremely thick hair. Hair I absolutely hated when I was younger but love so dearly now. I internalized others feelings about my hair, or other girls with hair like mine, and got a relaxer. I had to continue to relax my hair because it still grows from the roots in the natural state. You can stop, but I found it's hard to manage two completely different hair textures on the same strand. It’s best to just cut all your hair off and start over. I sometimes wonder if I’ll ever start over.
I don’t get relaxers as much now. I get them in 4-5 months spans if not longer. The longest I think I went is almost half a year. It got very difficult to manage though at the end of it and I tapped out. I love my hair as it is now. It is so thick, it reminds me of a lion. My hair makes me feel powerful, but learning to love my hair again has been a process. I had a lot of unlearning to do. What helped me embrace it was seeing my younger sisters embracing theirs. They looked so strong and beautiful, happy and free.
When I was old enough I auditioned to be a cheerleader. I loved to dance, even though my friends would say I was a bad dancer. It was because my body grew fast and I was lanky, awkward and very clumsy. Luckily, I grew out of that. I think it was around this time my dad added more stipulations to what I could wear. I was shaped then similar to how I am now. I remember struggling to find clothes I liked that my dad would approve of. I felt confused as I wasn’t ashamed of my body so I didn’t understand why I had to dress to protect myself instead of just wearing what I wanted.
Going to high school changed a lot of things because it was the first time I didn’t have a school uniform. Although I was excited, I didn’t have a lot of clothes because of the previous uniform restrictions. I struggled finding my personal style, especially at a time when brand names controlled the style versus creating an aesthetic for yourself. I knew I was too poor to try and fit in by wearing name brands so I tried to find another way.
It wasn't until my junior year that I got a good grasp on my style. It feels very eclectic. Right now, I love putting together really sexy and feminine pieces that show off the female body, with really functional, sporty pieces that still provide me with the comfort to do things. I finally found that I feel sexiest when I am comfortable. Comfort also means different things at different times. Sometimes comfortable means sticking out and wearing something really bold. Sometimes it means wearing something really comfortable but sexy. I hope what I wear makes the people around me smile, feel something or just be in a state of confusion.
This project helped me analyze my childhood, which I weirdly was already trying to do as I am dealing with a lot of trauma from a past sexual assault. After 2 years, I feel that I am finally able to move past the initial shock, so this project came at a good time. It was another way for me to continue to analyze my life and reflect on how far I’ve come.