Lessons From a Legend-My Own Interpretation
Yesterday we lost a truly dynamic woman, Lena Horne, shortly after the loss of another dynamic woman, Dorothy Height. While the loss of the women themselves is major for black women, it’s the death of some of the things these women have represented through their life’s work. The two remind me of black-n-white and sepia toned photos in books chronicling the lives of black folks. Those early pictures always showed stern faced but well pressed families. The woman was always prominently displayed, seated, in front of the rest unless there was a lap baby in the family. You could almost see the spit shining that took place before they sat before the magician with the picture box. Lena Horne and Dorothy Height come from those people, people who bought stock in carriage and stature. It was your responsibility to remember that you were somebody and you were going to do something with your life that would lift your family. Whether you could harvest the most crops, taught schoolchildren, or opened the 1st black bank in your Free-town, you were a representative of your family. One Sunday-go-to-meeting dress or suit was no excuse for looking poorly.
Pride seems to be something we lack these days. Or maybe we’re prideful about the wrong things. Somewhere along the line we lost sight of examples of women who were about something. These women started with the simple things that are lost on so many now. This may sound trivial, but there is a connection between carriage, poise, grace and stature. This isn't to say no curse words passed their lips or no asses got whooped. It’s the concept of believing you’re valuable so that another may know it as well. As the Lena Hornes and Dorothy Dandridges became more visible and black women were trying to shift away from scrubbing toilets to administrative jobs (or better), our style graduated as well, but with those old examples as guide. Women used to do simple things like have hygiene rituals. No one should ever smell you coming. The benefit of good undergarments was very real. A good bra with proper support IS priceless, as is the knowledge that bras DO have expiration dates and new ones should be purchased. Panty lines are not attractive and we should know our fabrics and which cuts work with what we’re wearing. We no longer know the value of a slip, or wear skirts long enough for a slip to be invisible beneath it.
Still sounds trivial right? Perhaps. In my mind the sad state of women squeezed in at the bottom and busting out at the top for the ill-gotten privilege of wearing skin-tight is a byproduct of our lack of pride as women. We’ve forgotten our worth, who all we’re an example to, and walk without grace and proper carriage. There are too many ass cracks, 4-boobs, muffin tops and clothing that fits all wrong. Once upon a time, women found their signature style. You would acknowledge and respect your body type by wearing things that disguised your flaws and accentuated the positives. Then you’d create your calling card. For those of you in D.C., it could be red lipstick like Eleanor Holmes Norton (though I disagree with this choice for her) or hats like Dr. [Dorothy] Height. Farnsworth Bentley’s calling card is the bow tie. As a man he has recognized and studied style and the benefits of being stylish. We’re received better when dressed for the level of success we intend to have. It's also like an affirmation, reminding you of the prize your eyes are on. Personal maintenance is very real and very necessary. The more we allow ourselves to dress like clowns, the more we’ll be perceived and treated as such. I guess if our mothers (not mine) wear sequins at noon, our daughters will not recognize the time and place inappropriateness of it. Peau de soie (poh-da-swa) shoes are not for teaching your 1st grade class (seen that firsthand), but reserved for Black Tie affairs (formals for those of you who don’t know…shaking my head).
Simply put, yoga pants are for doing yoga, or other forms of exercise. Rubber flip-flops are for sketchy shower stalls and beaches. Our hair, however we choose to wear it, should always be tight or we should be wearing a tight hat. Lace fronts and baby hair are NOT acceptable, nor is a fro-laxer. Our clothing doesn’t have to be tight to be seen. A woman in clean, flattering lines is visible for the positives, instead of leaving a bad after taste in the mouths of those laughing at you or choked by you in whatever ridiculous ensemble you’ve chosen. There is a time and a place for everything. Find a variety of options that work for what you’re working with and get clear on the difference between work and club, day vs. night, with the kiddies and without them. Set an example for a young girl or young woman in your life. Now we’ve got Michelle Obama(YES WE DO!), and we've still got Maya Angelou(you should see my face having to say this), Judith Jameson, Phylicia Rashad, even Oprah, and a few others in the public eye, but pretty soon all we’ll have left are black-n-white or sepia toned photos of powerhouse women who walked with purpose and looked the part. Too bad most of us don’t read anymore and will miss those as well.
Lena Horne and Dr. Height leave behind a powerful legacy. What will yours be?
Watch me move.