photography // Shah Ali
Lately, I've been thinking about the idea of being limitless.
I've been getting questions about why I have to be the one in the photos for my blog—emphasis on MY blog—and I admit that for a brief moment, it stirs up a few insecurities from the past. Because for so long, I've battled with accepting what I look like at various stages of my life.
When I was eight, it was the fact that I had breasts, which sparked the nickname "Milk Jugs" before I even had a chance to understand my own body. So I wore oversized shirts.
At 11, it was the scars on my legs from my days of playing basketball, soccer, cheerleading, dance, and climbing fences to get to secret apple orchards in the suburbs of Ohio. So I stopped showing my legs.
At 15, it was the realization that my hair would never be silky or curly, that my edges puffed at the roots and refused to be tamed. So I covered it with thick, white cream that left behind a burning sensation (and sometimes scabs), signaling that my strands were straight enough to run my fingers through it without catching. Or I let the sticky, black glue bond to the tracks of 12” Brazilian bundles and attached them to my scalp, which admittedly ruined many rat tail combs when I tried to comb it out.
I grew out of many of those phases, soon embracing v-cut shirts, sliding into coochie cutters, and eventually loving the fact that my fingers would catch in my natural, puffy (and later loc’d) hair. I accepted that I was never going to grow beyond 5”3, thus retiring the dream of being able to say I was 5”5 with brown eyes—in my Claudette from City High voice—and that I would never look like the models in the magazines that I so dearly loved—even the Black ones.
And even though we’ve made “progress” by showing more women of color in various shapes, sizes and hairdos, none of that inspired me to feel comfortable in my own skin, because at the end of the day, I still didn’t see women like myself—women with stubby fingers, fat toes, and short, apple-shaped frames—featured in ad campaigns and TV shows. Brands meet diversity quotas by featuring a narrow spectrum of brown-skinned beauties with perfectly curly coils that I’ve never had, or 70s inspired afro puffs, which I also never had. And those with locs are often portrayed as Afrocentric sistahs or wild-child Bohemian types, neither of which I claim to be.
And so, my journey to loving myself without the inspiration or influence of another continues. It’s not that I aspire to be a model, and quite frankly I’d rather be quietly writing on a beach than in front of a camera. It’s the fact that I’m tired of not seeing women like me, as if the narrative begins and ends with someone else’s idea of what’s acceptable and picture-worthy, and instead of complaining about it, true to my nature, I chose to do something about it.
I think about all of the opportunities that I’ve had the chance of experiencing, and know that had I listened to the world around me, or even to my own fear at times, I would be confined to a small portion of my potential. I wouldn’t be able to say that I truly lived, that I fearlessly embraced the unknown, that I did everything that ever crossed my mind to do, or tried things that I never imagined doing. In short, I would look back one day with a knot at the pit of my stomach, with what could only be described as regret.
It’s a constant challenge to push beyond my comfort zone and be the person that I desire to see. Each photo is the epitome of transformation, and it’s happening right before your eyes. So, with every story told on here, even if it’s not specifically about me, I choose to visually place myself in the narrative. Not out of vanity, but with the humility of admitting that at one point, I didn’t feel confident enough to even show my skin.
After all, it’s my blog, so I will do whatever the hell that I want to, whether you understand it or not.