It took me a long time to find representatives in beauty and art who reflected my own lived experiences as a queer Black woman. This journey has necessitated an intentional relearning of what beauty looks like, which I’ve written about it in more detail here, and a rediscovery of icons who could help me cultivate beauty and confidence as a Black woman in the world. I hope that the following list of black performers, thinkers, and advocates inspires you to prioritize your own care, creativity, and wellness with enthusiastic courage.
There is a collection of images of Toni Morrison — the prophetic and legendary novelist, essayist, editor, playwright, and so much more — dancing at a party. She is wearing a loose slip dress that slightly sparkles. Her smile is wide. Her afro is loose and tall. Her arms are lifted around her, splayed and swinging. When I consider the abundant beauty that Toni Morrison brought to the world through her Black female characters who were both lost and liberated, her articulation of Black love, Black struggle, and American racism, I think of these photos: how they depicted her as a woman deeply committed to her work and her joy. Watching her dance, I imagine the music blaring, her basking in her Blackness and sensuality; and in her movements, both languorous and liberated, I recognize my own necessary and wondrous light.
adrienne maree brown
I first discovered adrienne maree brown through her organizing and facilitation work, then devoured her scholarship and writing. I adore and reference her most recent book, Pleasure Activism, whenever I need to reinforce the holiness and power of my body and its pleasure. brown references many Black women scholars, writers, and artists, including Audre Lorde and her now-misunderstood but deeply radical quote that “caring for myself is not self indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” In response, brown writes: “We need to learn how to practice love such that care — for ourselves and others — is understood as political resistance and cultivating resilience.” I recall this line whenever I need to remember that caring for myself possesses significance that extends beyond my own body.
Jamila Woods is a Chicago-based singer and poet. Much of her music touches on ideas of self-love, empowerment, and Black pride and creativity. We grew up alongside one another in the Chicago youth poetry community, and I’ve been drawn to her courage and infectious stage presence since I was a teenager. Her song “Holy” is a steady touchstone for me in moments of discouragement and insecurity and teaches me to value my solitude as sacred and powerful.
Singer, songwriter, producer, and multi-instrumentalist, Vagabon, released her second breakthrough self-titled record last fall. On her social media, she continuously champions the work of other Black women artists in her community, and demands nothing but love, praise, and respect from those around her. Unapologetically committed to delivering beauty, glamour, and pristine looks in everything from her selfies to her music videos, Laetitia exudes an embodied confidence that naturally seeps into her work. Her song “Every Woman” asserts, “I won’t ask permission from you/We deserve the right to be full when we’re on our own/No not alone.”
Unsurprisingly, my ‘Saved’ folder on Instagram mostly contains images of Solange. I follow fan accounts to savor as many of her selfies as possible. (You know, the ones posted to her Instagram story and would otherwise disappear after 24 hours.) It’s not just her swag, which I find addicting. It’s her grace, her unabashed power, the force with which she makes her beauty inseparable from her Blackness. Her music videos are incredible feats of artistry, bringing together gorgeous all-Black casts with inventive fashion and breathtaking cinematography. Every element turns an of-the-moment film into a stunning and impressive visual capsule of Black futurity. When she sings “Don’t touch me hair/When it’s the feelings I wear,” we have no choice but to listen. Every part of us is holy, and it is ours alone to access.