Giving Sexy Back


Recently, a friend told me I needed to find my inner Sasha Fierce. This, in response to my continued disregard for learning the (increasingly important) art form of the Black Girl Twerk. Already impartial to any form of dancing, the Black Girl Twerk, for me, is a cultural acquisition in pursuit of “the culture.” A thing to claim I was there for in this moment of our pop culture history: knees grabbed, booty popped, screw face on tight, my girls in the back, and the sweet, sweet perfection of an ass being thrown imperfectly-perfectly in a damn circle.

But for all the love of fitting in, I simply cannot commit to the learning (or the twerking) with any seriousness. Hence the Sasha Fierce reference—an alter ego that could give rise to my inner Beyoncé simply laying in the shadows, waiting for her turn in the limelight. That moment when she can strut unapologetically up and down the runway of my life, hair blowing in the wind, sex dripping from everything her eyes touch. But, let’s be honest, we all can’t be Beyoncé when we call upon it.

What if I just didn’t have an inner Sasha Fierce? What if some girls (Read: women) simply just don’t have that thing” that Lauryn rapped about and the City Girls told us to “work,” cause they “want a slim, fine woman with some twerk with her?”

What if some girls simply just don’t have “that thing” that Lauryn rapped about and the City Girls told us to “work,” cause they “want a slim, fine woman with some twerk with her?

A couple of days after this conversation, I stumbled on a photo of me: all soft black velvet mini-dress and nude stiletto heels. Heart-shaped peek-a-boo slit inching up my thighs, hair swinging at my hips, tongue sticking out, ready to purrr like Eartha Kitt in the pulsating darkness of a nightclub lost in time. I stared at this photo and wondered if this was her? My Sasha Fierce: Playful. Sexual. Commanding. Then I thought back to the act of being sexy and how rare these playful nights of dress-up come by for me. Tracing my memory to the moment when I had decided to ‘give sexy back’ to its keepers, deciding they could have it/keep it.

As I outgrew my college years, I didn’t want to be sexy anymore. Instead, I wanted to make room for the feminists around me (and the one within me) to complicate notions of what my body should look like and how it should present itself to the world.

This growing (and alarming) awareness over the obsession around the presentation of women’s bodies had only been hastened by the discovery, at 24, that I had a girlfriend. A beautiful, incredibly smart, and kind woman where I had never thought to find one: on my arm and in my bed. It was her—older, wiser—with her gaggle of lesbian friends and this queer community that had sat hidden in plain sight all along, who hastened my transmigration away from sexy. I watched them and how they moved through the world, bodies unencumbered by the male gaze.

Women who did not need to model themselves to curated standards of beauty to find mates in the opposite sex. Women who had already renounced the many messages about who and what they should be. I watched them choose their own standards of beauty, attractiveness, and ultimately, sexy with a growing admiration.

Hair was shorn where curls and tresses straightened by the labor of heat should have been. Miscellaneous greens and pinks where tamed blondes, brunettes, and browns should have sat on their crowns. Baseball t-shirts and cut-off jean shorts exchanged for the tube tops and dresses that had spent years constricting and limiting the ways their bodies longed to move; freely. There, beside this woman who wanted to love me beyond my years, I unravelled the performance I had been prepared to carry for a lifetime. One that I had been groomed for since I had bloomed out of baggy Sean John tees stolen borrowed from my brother’s closet with the glee of a teenage girl trying to be cool.

Women who had already renounced the many messages about who and what they should be. I watched them choose their own standards of beauty, attractiveness, and ultimately, sexy with a growing admiration.

Then, teenage me, bowing and bending to a new body finding its curves where my old one had been, I had chosen a womanhood crafted by TV and magazine archetypes more interested in capitalism than my person-hood. To be woman in this realm, meant to be sexy, with the right hair, the right face, the right make up, the right clothes and most importantly: the right combination of fuckability and demureness. Sexy, with a capital S and a small y. In contrast, these women didn’t give a fuck about fitting in this realm. Here, I could reclaim the young woman I had lost amidst the noise of who and what I was supposed to be.

Over the course of the next few years, I steadily walked away from this performance of ascribed femininity. I went natural. Then chopped off my hair (a decision I have questioned repeatedly as I try and embrace this new struggle life where I plead with my hair to grow and it looks back at me sideways). I decided on a sexy untrained for the male gaze and better suited for cold Minnesota nights and the inspired inebriated excesses of youth. A sexy that wanted to love itself more than it wanted others to love it. Finding comfort in clothes that held me, not my breath. Hems that gave my legs room to cross, and neck lines that accentuated the three beauty marks that scatter my neck in a constellation of pigmentation. My current personal style remains an embodiment of these basic tenets: cozy, comfortable, liberated.

When I had eventually reclaimed enough of my body to realize that it was mine to do with as I pleased—consensually, painfully, delicately, brazenly—I did return to sexy. Coming back to find this inner Sasha Fierce on those nights I needed to disinter the long legs gifted to me as the tallest in my family (we are a camaraderie of shortness and affability). Repatriating sexy on hot days when I wanted to watch the curve of my bosom rise on the beauty mark atop my heart and their roving eyes stumble upon my heart. Emigrating sexy for birthday celebrations, anniversaries, and date nights that packed in high hems, corsets, and lace tucked underneath fitted dresses. Little reminders that when and if I decided on conscription rather than outright rebellion, I commanded a dominion of salaciousness.

That in the sway of my hips under black velvet and ankles traipsing in nude stilettos, I can take sexy back, sowing diamonds in the space between my thighs on those nights when I am still (unapologetically) unable to twerk.