Through these past few months, discussions, conversations, and videos on Black American women’s femininity have been coming to the forefront. Such is not to say that our foremothers didn’t have their own culture of beauty, hair care, and cultural aesthetics. There are silent revolutionary tales of Black American maidens and mothers, who defied methodologies of defeminization and practices of stripping attributes of femininity and womanhood from their very existence. Simultaneously, the systems of racism, sexism, and colorism, worked tirelessly to hide any memory of Black American women’s own template for beauty, self-care, and self-esteem. To say that these strategies were not effective to some degree would be untruthful, and would shatter any rationale as to why Black American women bloggers and Youtube stars are going into full discourse, concerning our own culture of femininity; its connection to our lives.
Despite the fact that beauty has too often been associated with laziness, vanity, and other negative traits, the reality of the matter is that you cannot truly feel good (or feel your best), unless you also feel beautiful on the outside. Its one of the traits of human existence. As women, looking one’s best, also equates to being able to open up opportunities and romance, in one’s life. In addition, how a woman presents herself is also connected to her spiritual and physical connection to the Earth. How she matriculates through the Earth and so forth (whatever nations and landscapes that she maneuvers in) is reflected in her attire and appearance. Whether she has been properly, adequately, and sufficiently nourish by the Earth is also a telling statement concerning societal issues, that are happening in the areas, where she placates her position. If her looks are worn, haggardly, and unkempt, then what is happening in that particular area of Earth’s domains, that is contributing to her hardship?
As we enter into a new month, with March as Women’s Herstory Month, with the recent ending of Black American Her/History Month in February, we are forced to address Black American women’s creation of intersectionality, and connecting the realities of race, gender, color, class, and other factors, impacting the lives of women. As the US film industry continues to pour out new anticipations, (and films pertaining to the lives of women) one cannot help, but to highlight the legacy of Madame CJ Walker.
Madame CJ Walker (whose real name is Sarah Breedlove) is not only the first self-made woman millionaire in United States her/history, but is a legend and womanist, in her own right. In addition, we can also articulate, her re-definition of the term, hypergamy, and how her work, truly transformed the meaning and inner workings of the term, itself. Her ability to showcase a woman’s power to first uplift her community, provide opportunities for men, so that the women of that community can attract providing men of their culture, is another twist on the term. One that truly placed Black American women, as the center and image, of their cultural gardens.
Madame CJ Walker’s life, and the beginning of her empire, was for Black American women to position themselves in the realm of womanhood. Humanity is given a glimpse into some of the harsh realities of Black American women, post-US slavery era. Overworked. De-feminized. Their images removed from the beauty realm. The list goes on. That moment when Madame CJ Walker realizes that Black hair is beautiful, is one of the crucial moments in Black American her/history; when the women of this cultural garden began the work of protecting, nurturing, and celebrating the beauty of their own existence. Re-aligning their bodies, while receiving natural care, from the Earth. Its that “yes, girl” moment, but with an earlier twist.
There are so many different layers of aesthetical pleasures, which are presented in Madame CJ Walker’s life. A more nurturing highlight is how Madame CJ Walker utilizes nature’s remedies for the creation of hair care products for Black American women. It re-connects Black American womanhood and culture, to the Earth. Going deeper into this understanding, one must remember that during their enslavement in the United States, Black American women were treated in a way, where their bodies were removed from the natural intimacies of the Earth. Our foremothers were worked and exploited in such a way, that the Earth (and her soiling) became a space, where their bodies were hardened. It was one of the greatest travesties, as they were purposefully deprived (by the institutions of slavery) of gentility, softness, sensitivities, and other attributes of womanhood. Such is not to say that our foremothers were not creative in finding ways to be nourished by the Earth. There are exceptions to the rule, of course. For Madame CJ Walker to return back to the Earth-the very same Earth, where her body, and bodies of other Black American women were beaten, exploited, and severed-is miraculous. Delving into that very same Earth, where they were stripped of their femininity; only to return back to those same soilings in re-claiming it. Its the perfect form of justice, in every sensory of the word. It is healing and re-invigorating. It is one of those feminine actions, where restoration comes back, in the form of taking back what was stolen. It was through the land, where Madame CJ Walker, and other Black American women who connected to her, found freedom. The very same land, which had enslaved them.
The naturalness of our beauty had been highlighted, through Walker’s building of a hair care industry. Acknowledging that we too, we Blackened flowers of US soiling, are part of the culture of womanhood. That we, too, are part of the myriad cultures of feminine creativity, nurture, fruition, and re-birth. By these very terms, alone, the wave of feminine energy, in the soiling of Black American mothers and maidens had sent a rush of awakening within Black America’s gardens.
Black hair, and particularly, Black American hair culture is a cultural entity, within Black America, in itself. Years ago in college (Spelman College-C’10, to be exact), my former professor-Dr. Gloria Wade Gayle’s ((Director and Founder of SIS (Spelman Independent Scholars) Oral History Collective)) mentioned the role of hair in founding Black American economics. A statement relating to how hair was the entity in social mobility for Black America. Hair took on an extra dose of significance, especially when you were denied your very right to maintain and care for it. That doesn’t mean that we, as Black American people, did not struggle with issues of self-esteem; as it pertained to the straightening of our hair, and its connection to White American beauty standards. It is true with Black American men. And, it is especially true for Black American women, as our natural hair (in its natural coils), was viewed as “unkempt” and “unfeminine.” Nevertheless, hair was, and still is, one of the open opportunities for Black American economics.
Its a phenomenon in how the feminine essence, and the desire to elevate one’s femininity (holistically, physically, and spiritually) can transform the social status of a woman. Aligning with natural, feminine energies, and the desire to spread that to other women is one of the fundamentals of Sisterhood. This is one of the legacies of Madame CJ Walker. That in re-exploring and re-discovering her femininity, she elevated herself in being the first, self-made woman millionaire, in the United States of America. Yet, in order to do that, she had to, first see herself as deserving of the rewards of womanhood. She had to come to terms with the reality that being hardened and overworked, as a woman, is. . .unnatural. That there was nothing “natural” for Black American women to be worked and exploited in the way that they had been, during, and after, enslavement. Her Empire truly stemmed from an Earthly touch.
One of the healing factors of Madame CJ Walker is how she utilized hair and beauty care, as a means to dismantle oppressive psychology, projected on Black American women. This is especially true for darker-skinned, Black American women. Dismantling dehumanizing psychology-deeming them “naturally aggressive, unloving, unattractive, manly, without romance, removed from motherhood,” and other negative attributes- took place when Madame CJ Walker re-aligned herself to that natural right of womanhood. That right to be nourished by nature, rather than being devoured by it.
Hair care was one of the first forms of mental therapy and wellness for Black American women. Madame CJ Walker re-introduced that to Black American women. Reminding us that, we are women. That we are soft, and should be treated with the gentility and care, in a way in which women are naturally connected to the Earth. That we are to move in the way of the Earth. And, even of we were forcibly removed from one Earthly plane to another, the air of femininity is always there.
For this month of Women’s Herstory, let us remember that the life of Madame CJ Walker is more than her being a self-made millionaire and creating a business empire. The underlying message for her, and her community, is that self-care is the epitome of self-love. It is the epitome of wellness, therapy, and well-being. What should be understood concerning our beloved, Sarah Breedlove, is how she is also a pioneer for mental well-being and wellness for Black American women (and men), post-slavery era in the United States. There was no therapy session for Black American people after this monsterous period, in US her/history, ended. There, definitely, were no wellness centers for Black American women to go to, in healing the brokenness of their womanhood.
What does it do to the psyche of a woman, when she has seen her gardens to have been burnt, ravished, ravaged, exploited, and chopped down, for over 400 years?
By daring that she could have better, and that her Sisters deserved better, Madame CJ Walker established a mental wellness movement in Black America. Allow that to be the foundation of her success. That her dreams were connected to the well-being of others. The healing and therapy of her people and community is the root of her legacy. Beauty is therapy. The fact that she had been an enslaved woman, had dealt with that hard labor, herself, made the creation of her dreams that more authentic. Because she understood, and experienced, what it meant for one’s womanhood to have been. . .hardened.
And, so, as a film will be released for her, let us continue to examine how the legacy of Madame CJ Walker, allows us to see how we can transform our pain into performance. A healing performance, at that. Black American women are not removed from the mental wellness and mental health talks. That, even in the face of enslavement, women of these peculiar gardens, utilized the opportunity of re-claiming one’s femininity and humanity as a form of mental. . .care. And, it was all through the artistry of. . .hair. A tale of. . .hair care!