There’s a special kind of magic that happens when a woman of color sees a positive representation of her likeness in the media. At first glance she’s in awe, enamored even. She then begins to study said woman, examining her appearance, calculating her movements, and paying close attention to how she carries herself. She watches how she communicates her thoughts, beliefs, and passions--careful to see how others respond to her presence. Next, she makes note of their similarities. See, this part of the magic is key. While many argue that comparison kills confidence, this form of comparison could very well save a life. This woman begins to see that there are others with qualities like her who are not only surviving, but thriving as well. And if this woman can make it out here in the world, so can she. At least that’s what I was thinking to myself when I first saw Janelle Monáe dancing across my TV screen back in 2007.
She was a sophisticated-funky-cool brown girl with a gravity-defying coif, fully-dressed in a sleek black + white tuxedo suit with dainty leather oxfords to match. Hailing from Kansas, like my childhood favorite fictional character Dorothy Gale, Janelle Monáe exuded a beautiful quirkiness I had yet to see on TV at my then 22 years of age. See when I was young, I was far from the cool kid. I was more like the nerdy introverted kid who was always daydreaming, dissecting Edgar Allen Poe story plots with my then best friend, and wondering which fairy tale my life would resemble--one that would take me away from the rural county I was from. And even after finding my way to the city after high school, at 22 I found myself back in the country with a boyfriend and two children in tow.
At that time in my life, I had recently quit school at the university. I was wandering-- trying to figure out what to make of myself, my new life as a stay at home mommy, and where my dreams fit into all of this. Maybe I don’t have what it takes to follow my dreams, I thought. I was too much of the wrong things and not enough of the right things, I began to believe. But seeing women like Janelle Monáe defy the norm and embrace their individuality gave me the strength I needed to bloom where I was planted and see my own worth. Throughout my years as a Janelle Monáe fan, here are a few self-love lessons I’ve learned from her that I hold near to dear in my heart.
Embrace the quirks that make you who you are. While I’ve always admired Janelle Monáe for her poise and classy demeanor, I most adore her authenticity and individuality. When receiving the Young, Gifted and Black Award at the 2012 Black Girls Rock! Ceremony, Janelle gave a heartfelt speech viewers wouldn’t soon forget. She donned her usual black and white suit with pride, sharing an explanation for her constant wardrobe of choice. Not only did she say her suit reminded her that she “had work to do,” she was honoring the uniform, much like the uniforms of her mother who was a janitor, father who was a garbage truck driver, and her own past uniform as a maid. Listening to her story humbled me, moving me to tears. Janelle Monáe had become an award-winning musician and the face of CoverGirl Cosmetics without sacrificing her sense of self. “I didn't have to become perfect because I've learned throughout my journey that perfection is the enemy of greatness. Embrace what makes you unique, even if it makes others uncomfortable.” I have the similar lyric from Q.U.E.E.N. pinned to my bedroom wall to read each day as a constant reminder: “Even if it makes others uncomfortable, I will love who I am.”
Don’t be afraid to “shine your light.” Because Janelle Monáe unapologetically embraces who she is, her inner beauty is magnified in everything that she does. As a spokesperson for CoverGirl, her quote is so fitting for who she is as a woman: “Beauty is about enhancing what you have. Let yourself shine through.” While her unique style and alluring beauty gives her even more opportunities to let herself shine through, Janelle Monáe continues to use her platform to be a voice for the people. Her beautiful yet haunting lyrics in songs like Many Moons, Cold War, and Dance or Die have been urging our brothers and sisters to wake up way before I ever saw a “woke” hashtag on social media. Not only does she fully embrace who she is, Janelle Monáe isn’t afraid to use her voice to speak on things she is passionate about.
Project the love outward: Feel it and give it away. I truly believe one of the most beautiful things about Janelle Monáe is her way of sharing the love with others. It has been said that love isn’t love until you give it away. And she is an example of that. I am reminded of her kind spirit when I read her quotes "You are only as beautiful as the many beautiful things you do for others without expectation" and “I’m a believer that the more I’m giving, the happier I am, and the more beautiful my exterior will be.” These words remind me that it isn’t enough to love myself. Loving myself is the first step in the process. Learning to fully love and accept myself for who I am is the only way I’ll be able to truly spread love and acceptance to others I meet in this life.
Janelle Monáe continues to blow my mind with each role I see her in on the big screen, each award nomination she receives, and each opportunity I get to see her share herself with the world. She reminds me all the time that small town girls are out here winning, dreaming, and continuing to defy the norm. It is because of her that this sophisticated-funky-cool small-town girl (with her beautiful family in tow) continues to work towards making dreams come true.
The Self Care Pretty aka Drea Day is a North Carolina beauty + lifestyle blogger over at www.soshewritesbymissdre.com who rambles endlessly about her love for lipsticks, good books, and 90’s R&B. She also sells tees and things for beautiful dreamers and creatives over at bit.ly/inabeautifulworld .