Lady Bougieboo

February 20th 2016,

Formation First Squad, First Fireteam! Lady Littlefoot, Lady No Shame, and Lady Bougieboo post race shine!
Formation First Squad, First Fireteam! Lady Littlefoot, Lady No Shame, and Lady Bougieboo post race shine!

We watch and listen to “Formation” at least once a day, everyday. We all have our separate reasons for doing so in my house. My daughter, Bougie Boo says, “It’s like a lullaby!” She’s a casual fan of Beyonce. Her tastes are more alt rock, electronica and k-pop.

I worry for her. I’m a big momma of a new teen and who won’t eat lunch in the cafeteria. “It’s too loud, and too crowded. The food is awful. I go to the library.” These are normal teen issues. She’s trying to figure out who she is. I worry that she’s isolating because she’s different. She’s a STEM girl, who codes in her free time, she reads dystopian YA, she listens to K-pop, she golfs, and is a new runner. She needs to eat during the day and is having a hard time doing so.

She’s a brown girl who is interested in a world where she will often be “the only one” in the room. As a woman who is often “the only one” I know that means, “the lonely one.” I treasure her uniqueness, but I don’t want her to constantly have to justify her humanity in a country that increasingly refuses to see uniqueness while being black (and female) as a quality to be encouraged, fostered or celebrated.

She came home from school one day and asked, “So, what country are we moving to if Trump gets elected?” We laughed, but we both know it’s not a joke. I’ve been careful about keeping my fears about what Trump’s America might be like for us, to myself. Her political beliefs should be her own. To hear her articulate what has been preoccupying my thoughts was disturbing. I’m angry that I have spent time thinking that what might be best for the both of us, going forward, is leaving the country. It’s a tough space to occupy. She’s supposed to start high school next year, and we plan on staying, but the political reality might dictate that we leave, no matter who wins.

It’s becoming intolerable to live as a what I call a “slash citizen.” We come from a family that has always been heavily invested in civic service. My grandmother is the only pure capitalist among us. Everyone else has worked in the public sector. We are a family of nurses, and cops, and social workers, non-profit professionals, Air Force and Army officers, and enlisted Marines, and it seems we’ll never be American enough. My daughter is thirteen and knows that the rhetoric “Make America Great Again!” means an America that is hostile to those who are like her. She feels it already, and I hate that it’s 2016 and the burdens of gender, race, and class are trying to dull her shine.

This year has been a year where I’ve had to do some hard core parenting. I’ve navigated between heavy-handed harpy when it comes to her scholarship, and letting her develop her own compass and agency when it comes to everything else.

I didn’t suggest that she start running. She volunteered handing out water and snacks at one of my races earlier in the year. Her decision to start running came entirely from within. “I saw these tiny kids out there Mom, running with the adults, and I thought ‘What am I doing with my life?’” She was so dramatic, with a hand up to her forehead, mimicking crisis. “You want to run?” I asked. She looked at me serious for a moment “Yeah, I think I do.” I started taking her out every other day less than two months ago, so she could compete in her first 5k.
Introducing Lady Bougie Boo

Dimensions: 5’4 1/2”
Origins: black/white -some other ethnic stuff that may or may not be in her DNA by way of the suburbs in Connecticut and Northeast Florida
Rank: red belt two stripes Tang Soo Do Korean martial artist
Weakness: fine food and nice hotel rooms
Geek girl credentials: Star Wars, Potterhead, Attack on Titan, Sword Art Online, Supernatural
Slay weapons of choice: Sarcasm, Python, Html, Java “script-ish”
Tag lines: “The aesthetic is real!” and “Don’t judge me, I’m fabulous!”

I’m excited for her, and the woman she’s becoming. I’m scared for her, and the woman she is becoming. Earlier in the school year she lopped off her pony tail. She came down the stairs with twelve inches of her hair clutched in her hand. It was an act of defiance, not against me, but against the hoards of long haired girls and boys she encounters daily, her small group of friends are the the nerds, like her. “Mom, I don’t know I just felt like I had to do it!” I almost cried. “Are you upset?” she asked. “No, I don’t care about your hair, it’s just that you look so much like your baby self.” I trimmed the rough edges of her new short curly ‘fro, as she flipped through her baby picture book. I told her stories about her baby self, the almost disney princess type of sweet she used to be, and I mourned and celebrated at the same time. My worry for her a year ago was that she might be too soft, and that she might rely on her beauty to make her way in the world. She has grown emotionally and intellectually, and has developed a personality that at times infuriates, surprises, and challenges me with her quick wit. My worry for her now is that the world might turn her hard and cynical. Having a changeling can bring on bouts of conflicting emotions.

Lady Bougie Boo was dressed, calm and ready for her first 5k. She’s a marvel to me. She didn’t have race day nerves. I had plenty of nerves for the both of us. It was a beach run, its going to be hot. She knows nothing of pacing, or the bodies rejection of doing an exercise in the sun, or feeling the sand suck you down, when you want to move forward. I worried that I’d set her up for failure, by entering her in a tough race. Lady Littlefoot and I’d been shuffling back and forth, collecting ourselves, complaining about the warm weather, using the bathroom “one last time” multiple times. We played our favorite songs and right before we leave the house at 10:15, for the unusually late race start of noon, Bougie Boo asked me to pull up “Formation.” We danced before we left.

After the race, she is wearing her medal for winning her age group. “You know, it’s win by default, right?” She was the only female runner in her age group. I’m proud of her anyway. She committed to training, and she finished. Normally, I’m not down with the participation trophy. But I felt like it was a worthy win. In checking with the race stats, there were only five women under 18 who participated, compared to fifteen boys. I asked her, “How’d it feel?” She replied, “Kinda good actually, I feel empowered. Strong you know…” she leans into me and whispers mischievously, “Like a bad ass beeyatch! Plus the beach and the water. You know how I am, the aesthetic is real!” And as for the win by default, “Why aren’t there more 10-14 year old girls here?”

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I like my baby hair however she chooses to rock it!
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Winning!

“Why?” indeed.

Active Bitch Face and Me

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Sunday after Marine Corps Marathon. Happy, for all the things runners alway profess to be grateful for? No, its raining, and too early, and a 5K. ABF

 

Resting bitch face is real. The “science” has now declared it so. The articles give many examples of celebrity women, who are often photographed with a look of dissatisfaction, which is declared “neutral” and quite disquieting to the public at large, because in the age of media we need the smiling faces to reassure us that the paragons are all good with the state of the world, so that we can remain engaged and entertained. The man they use as an example happens to be Yeezy, and I find that to be apropos to the topic at hand, because of the intersection of race and gender. They look unhappy in situations where they should presumably be content. The “science” is faulty. Why? Because people lie.

No the WOD sucks, it really does! I love my cross fit people but I don't want to do it. ABF
No the WOD sucks, it really does! I love my cross fit people but I don’t want to do it. ABF

So, if my pictures are run through a computer programmed to detect emotions, and I state that my face just rests with a look of boredom, or dissatisfaction, or seriousness when I should have a neutral face—that is oxymoronically defined as having slight upturn of the mouth, which is a slight smile—then the computer diagnoses me with RBF. Scientifically sound right? Absolutely not, because I’ve repeatedly lied my ass off hundreds of times when asked about what my face was communicating. No computer can register what I’m thinking in any given moment when the camera flashes.

You know it's been a hell of a day if I'm with Steve Rogers and not smiling! ABF
You know it’s been a hell of a day if I’m with Steve Rogers and not smiling! ABF

 

What if, like everything about us, our facial expressions are complicated? Human evolution says we relied body language and non-verbal indicators before we developed language. A picture is said to be worth a thousand words, so why do we use three useless ones to describe a state of being that can be as complicated as we are? The need to condense the range of what goes on non-verbally with women is disturbing to me. If anything, we should be unpacking extensively what these faces are saying to us.

 

Kristen Stewart, chances are you haven’t eaten in decades, you probably workout to the point of exhaustion, 99% probability that you’re career is over before you can say Botox—or that nonsense you just recently spewed, and you don’t have anything interesting to say or do in the movies you are featured in. Yeah, I’d have that look on my face too.

 

Queen Elizabeth, yeah she’s the queen of a defunct monarchy and lives in England…nuff said.

 

Kanye , literally sings about how unhappy he can be.

 

What if leagues of RBF sufferers are just lying? Or are unaware, that their true emotions are showing?
As women we are socialized to smile, even when we are bored, unhappy, unsatisfied, or terrified. If we get caught out not smiling it’s so very easy to discount what we are truly feeling as Resting Bitch Face. Because that’s what we do, and lying about our true emotions is unfortunately very necessary to our success, and sometimes to our survival as women. So I don’t blame you for lying about it. I just wish we didn’t have to.

 

The danger of chalking those unhappy faces to RBF is just another list in a litany of things women do to appease. The consequences are dire. In the workplace, RBF can get you fired, passed over for promotion, or not hired in the first place.

 

Further, if a woman can get killed for actively refusing a man’s advances (R.I.P. Mary Spears and countless nameless others), how many survivors are out there blaming themselves, or worse, getting blamed for the violence committed against them, because of the look on their faces? I hear it all of the time, “I should’ve smiled. If I had, he wouldn’t have raped me.” Or from a perpetrator, “I hit her because of the look on her face!” Because of these realities, I am going to stop denying the shade I’m throwing.

 

RBF being a new “scientific” thing can and will be used against women. In the court of public opinion–this matters economically to most women when it shouldn’t–and in all likelihood a real courtroom. “Not so serious, it’s just an internet thing!” you say. Ask a social worker, lawyer, your friend who was raped. You’d be shocked how the seemingly innocuous has real world consequences; and the excuses people will use to make an already intolerable situation, worse.

Me, I’ll just say I’ve got Active Bitch Face. I’m the worst actress in the world. So “that look “ is probably communicating exactly what I’m feeling. Note: It’s precisely what I’m feeling in that particular moment, it can change in an instant. Anyone who runs with me knows this. I feel it’s so very important to own the darker side of my existence.

I hurt. ABF
I hurt. ABF and SE

I have to my detriment.

 

My ABF (Active Bitch Face–sometimes, but not always interchangeable with Angry Black Female. I noted FLOTUS and scores of other black women are not part of this discussion because we not be complex like that) has gotten me fired, and passed over for promotion, and not hired at all, and got me kicked to the curb in a veteran’s organization, and used against me during trial and, and, and…

I’m experimenting with the idea that ABF can be a force for good. My 40th birthday brought out the super “zero f*cks” version of me. I’ll keep you updated as to whether this works out.

ABF because!
ABF because!

Most importantly, I own my ABF for my mental health.

If I don’t own it, I’ll go crazy(ier.)

 

Cam, the Dab and Me

Matanzas 5K St Augustine January 30,

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At the Start with Mickla, who is #runsmidgerun happy for her first 5k in a while!

I hate 5k’s. I running this one because there’s a better than decent chance that I can win something, because the Matanzas 5000 has the Athena division (in past years known as the Clydesdale division.)  I chuckle at both of these monikers. Oh, so polite of the race organizers to celebrate the “big-bodied” runner . In my mind, the prize is for the “fat girl fast” and I want it. I have all the feels for the runners who are content with participating and challenging themselves, and enjoy the camaraderie and beautiful scenic routes which bring them a sense of zen and wholeness. That’s just not me.  I declare: I’m “that” runner who wants to win.

At race end, I don’t think I won at all. I’ve come close to the podium in almost all of my distance races for my age in the past year, and while I’m getting better at the half-marathon distance, the dreaded 5k was going to beat me again.  Matanzas was an awful race for me. It was too hot. The course turned too many corners. I had no sense of  where the finish was, so I couldn’t time my sprint to the end. My time was slower than my previous 5K by more 2 minutes. I sat in the gym, not so patiently waiting for the awards to be announced, thinking that I’d lost once again because…

I hate 5k’s. The 3.1 mile distance has always been linked to a profound sense of shame for me. I’ve failed so many times at this distance, and it all revolves around: gender, race, economic disadvantage,  and my big body. I’m 5’6″ and  0630 on race day I weigh 165 pounds. I’m built like Serena Williams. In an alternate universe, where women play in the NFL, I think I could’ve made a pretty good running back. As it is, I’m 40, I have thick thighs, and a butt that you can balance a cup of coffee on. I’m no where close to having the body of  prototypical distance runner.

My running journey started in my junior year of high school because of a mandatory requirement to play a team sport. I was dumped on the cross country team because I wasn’t experienced enough at any of the sports requiring specialized equipment to make a team. I was also poor as a child. If you can’t afford regular shoes, running shoes ( and club fees, race fees, uniforms, mom taking off work shuttling me to and fro for practices) were a luxury that I couldn’t afford. Academics was supposed be my ticket out of poverty. This is a limitation that is placed on many bright women of color, and sometimes I mourn the athlete I could’ve been if I had started running, or playing basketball, or tennis when I was a child.

I never finished a race in high school.  I spent most of my youth despising running, because the 17-year-old version of me was too big and new to the sport to compete with the lithe, white teenagers who had been running for years. Running was (is) difficult when you’re heavy, and lonely when you’re the only brown girl, and skinny girls can be mean. Runners know that half the battle in distance running is mental, and I let all of the things about me that shouldn’t have mattered, stop me from competing.

I didn’t discover my “fat girl fast” until I enlisted in the Marine Corps at 23. I’d spent the six months prior to bootcamp reteaching myself how to run. I had to lose 30 pounds to ship to Parris Island. I didn’t record my time or distances. I just knew that I had weight to lose, and Marines do a ton of running. I was surprised to be  the fastest female runner in my battalion. I won the honor of high PFT’er but was not allowed to celebrate. Recruits don’t celebrate, or get trophies. Recruits get smoked for such offenses.

As a woman Marine, I learned early on in my career that with excellence one must carry one self with a sense of modesty and bearing so as to not bring the wrath of the haters. So with every 5k we ran, I had to hide my joy at being the best. Being the best, as a woman in the Marine Corps, is dangerous. It upsets the status quo, challenges norms, sets standards for other women, destroys stereotypes, and we all know how disquieting that can be in any arena.

I mean Cam Newton does the Dab and everything good and wonderful in the NFL has come to an end. How dare he, in his blackety blackness, celebrate unabashedly his achievements with his teammates by doing a dance?

There was always someone during my  Marine Corps career waiting for me to fail; so I made myself small (literally and figuratively), and unassuming, humble, and gracious, because thats how they like the ladies in the Marines.  I’ve learned throughout the years, that this is how they like veterans, and particularly black women, and everyone with an “other” label attached to them, to be too. But it’s such a lie. I want to celebrate, and be noticed, and have fun as a person, no matter what I look like. I’ve spend too long hiding, thinking, “I will succeed if I appease!”  This sense that I can’t do me and all of me, affects all aspects of my life.

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I’m almost done with this particular brew. It’s bitter and black. Not how I want to be!

I thought my  running career ended with my EAS (End of Active Service.) With my high risk pregnancy, and the complications that came with my daughter’s birth, I ballooned up to 240 pounds. I was sick, and depressed and went through the nastiest divorce. I remember putting on my running shoes after more than a decade of not running, and wondering if I could ever find my “fat girl fast” again. Three years later, I’m proud to say that I have and I’m going to celebrate in the silly way that I can. There is so much to celebrate because I’ve lost so many times.

Today I took 2nd place in the Athena Division, and celebrated like Cam, without a second thought to the gym full of runners who looked at me like I lost my mind when I accepted my trophy for “running while big” by doing the much reviled Dab.

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