Do you wear a wig around the house, even when you’re by yourself? I do, and I feel conflicted about this. Each day, I have an image in my head of what I look like when I go about my daily life. If I happen to catch myself in the mirror as I’m going about my business, and I don’t see the image I pictured in my head, I find it disruptive to my work. I hesitate to say it’s unhappiness with the way I look, or more specifically, with my hair, though hair is the thing that changes my look the most. I want my hair to flatter my face—and I do think I have fabulous face—but also flatter my personality, to reflect back to me the woman I picture. The slightly disheveled grad student. The brilliant writer crossing the 100-page threshold. The girl in Zumba who’s always hype. The one turnt up in BodyJam. My own hair rarely says any of that to me anymore. So I have a wig. And to be honest, I’d love to have at least three more.
Did you wear a wig when you were labor? I think that would be weird.
I’m waiting for the anti-choice fanatics who probably don’t even listen to your music—or better yet, those who have called you a bad example and your husband a pimp—to appropriate your latest tributes to motherhood and use them as anti-choice propaganda. (An orange Twitter troll is president; it could happen.) And I wonder what you’ll say if they do. I take you at your word that you’re a feminist, but I don’t know where you stand on the issue of choice.
How did you get good at sex? I take you at your word that you are, and I take the word of some theorist I read in something at some point in my life that just because sex is natural, that doesn’t mean we’re naturally good at it. And as Whitney Teal surmised from your own words, you went in the approved (though rarely followed) Southern Black Christian order, “dating and claiming virginity, marrying and then becoming a mother.” I don’t remember what you were singing about when you were 21, 22, but I know it wasn’t anything like “Rocket.” This suggests to me a sexual awakening of sorts. Maybe what the purity pushers always say is true and sex is guaranteed to be good if you’ve only ever had it with one person. But that wouldn’t make you confident about yourself. Maybe confidence is your secret, and maybe it correlates positively with finding love, with the security of knowing you are with the love of your life. Or maybe you just read a book.
For a while, I thought you were stupid. That’s mean, but it’s true. I did. I’ve long admired your business savvy and considered you the greatest entertainer of my generation, but I wasn’t sure you read books or that you spent a lot of time thinking critically about the world, the economy, politics, feminism, blackness, life. And suddenly there you are releasing an album quietly, online, streaming only. And then you’re executive producing a short film for an album, and the portrait of black womanhood you pain on that album is even more complex than the previous album because influential texts like For Colored Girls and Beloved and Daughters of the Dust (I count films as text) are evident. And there you are on Instagram channeling Botticelli and Kehinde Wiley, and I’m not sure if it was all your idea or that of photographer Awol Erizku, but let’s face it: that announcement photo with you in the veil and the flowers looks like it was taken at JC Penney or Sears, and I don’t think you would’ve been willing to sit for something that basic-looking if you didn’t know it had a deeper meaning. So, were you just acting … well … kinda stereotypically blonde because you know people don’t handle complexity well? Because you had a controlling manager who said intellect would ruin the sexy, fun image you and DC had built? Because you didn’t want to make your boyfriend-now-husband look bad? Were you hiding your whole self all those years?
Author’s note: This essay is part of the #52Essays2017 series. Every week in 2016, Vanessa Mártir published one essay on her blog. After a phenomenal year of challenges and growth as a writer, she invited other writers in various communities she’s a part of to join her as she endeavors to write weekly, relentlessly, again in 2017. I’m in on the challenge because I saw how very little space I gave personal reflection in 2016. This is my thesis semester, and I expect some challenges and growth as I write it. The weekly essay challenge provides a space to document that growth (though I’m already thinking I might screw with the genre a little).