As a wide-eyed, and impressionable little girl, my favorite pastime was admiring the women around me. Practically dying to get out of girlhood, I didn’t just watch them. I was enamored. I listened to how they spoke, studied their mannerisms, sometimes even mimicked them, all in hopes it would expedite the woman I would one day become. If only I could go back in time and tell the little version of myself, it doesn’t quite work that way.
The most vivid memory I have of falling into this gaze, is at the Detroit hair salon I grew up going to. La Char Le’ on 6 Mile. It seemed as if every woman who stepped foot in a chair embodied what I thought womanhood was. Distinguished personal style. Signature hair-cut. Perfect nails. Memorable scent. The perfect mix of poise, grace, confidence, and opinion. In my mind, they had it all together.
All I could think to myself was, “When am I going to get there?”.
No fault to them, but these memories painted a picture so intense in my head, that the weight of full womanhood always seemed heavy – paired with perfectionism and no room for flaw. Now, as I find myself stumbling through my 20-somethings, these feelings have only been amplified by not only the external expectations, but the internal ones, too.
By the dictionary definition, I am a grown ass woman. I pay my own bills. I do my taxes. I date. I go out when I want. I can change my own tires. The list goes on.
Yet, I have never felt farther from it, and I’m sure I am not the only one. Most of my days spent in adulthood so far are spent thinking: Where is my perfectly curated sense of self? My dream job? My sitcom-style complimentary group of friends? My man? My fully grown into figure?
These pressures have only been amplified by today’s cultural climate, that so often couples what it means to be a Black woman, with utter impeccability. Between social trends of soft life and Black girl luxury, it’s easy to feel behind, underdeveloped, and just not fully bloomed into the womanhood that is sold to us.
But as I grow and attempt to challenge the expectations put on women and myself, the biggest revelation I’ve come to is that stepping into the fullness of your womanhood isn’t about how it looks, or even how it feels – it’s about how you define it for yourself. It’s the mere choice to accept both who you are and who you are becoming in the same breath.
Yet, as all this inner turmoil implores me to think deeper about my own womanhood, it does pose the question: What does Black womanhood look like and mean for all the 20-somethings out there still trying to figure it out? I asked a few NYC locals to find out.
What does Black womanhood mean to you? What does it look like? What does it feel like?
“[Black Womanhood} is truly about shifting and adapting. It’s something I pride myself in. Last year, I was laid off and transitioned full-time into artistry. It made me realize things don’t move if you don’t. I felt like that was a big step towards growing into my own womanhood.” – Lily, 26, Brooklyn
“The first thing that comes to mind is community, Black womanhood to me is something that I’ve had to continue exploring and evolving, not only understanding the women that I grew up with, my mom, my aunts but understanding who I am as a Black woman. There are some things that I witnessed the women around go through growing up, and realizing I do not have to grow through that and I can define [womanhood] for myself, whatever that may look like.” – Ginnah, 25, The Bronx
“[Black womanhood] is a metamorphosis. It requires shedding of skin, shedding of ideals, learning and unlearning, stepping into who you are, and feeling confident. It’s about having grace with yourself and others. It’s about honoring your ancestors and the women who paved the way before you. It’s also just an essence. You know when a Black woman is involved in something, you feel that welcoming embrace. It’s just recognizable. When you know, you know.” – Kai, 29, Queens
“I associate Black Womanhood with being a force of nature. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re loud, sometimes it’s a quiet power, with all the Black women I know, in a world that doesn’t leave us with a choice, there’s a power we possess.” – Mercedes, 24, Brooklyn
What have been your growing pains coming into womanhood?
“Growing into my confidence and deciding who I was going to be, without having a blueprint. I had to figure out how to own who I am, and get comfortable with it.” – Mercedes
“The resistance other people may have to you changing and becoming yourself. It’s realizing that the narratives that you’ve been told are untrue, and unlearning that confirmation bias people have put on you. It’s outgrowing relationships, which is especially hard when it’s friendships. For a long time, I thought, “maybe I’m the drama,” but it’s like no, you have to recognize the part you play, but also recognize you don’t have to put up with any kind of treatment. Does everyone expect to have the same friends in college? In high school? Why should I keep people around who aren’t contributing to what I am building as a person? You don’t have to be friends with everyone, you should be respectful, as women it’s so often pushed on us, you have to be “nice”. We can be kind, but we don’t have to subscribe to that.” – Kai
“The balancing act of it all – no one gives you a guidebook, that’s why community and having a solid friend group is so important. Learning how to advocate for yourself, in dating, in work, in life, and just learning how to take up space when Black women have been socialized so often not too.” – Ginnah
“The biggest growing pain has been choosing what my friend group looks like. I’ve lost people in general, more often than not, because the people I keep around me are a reflection of me, because I do go to these people for advice. Friends are accountability partners, balancing each other out, some days are heavier and some days are smaller, so the people you choose are important. Also, dealing with body image – a lot of people talk about what a woman should look like and that can impact your mental space. But I’ve just realized it’s a lot of maintenance to be a woman, and carrying the world is exhausting and I can only carry myself.” My goal is to just have [a life] that looks as great as it feels.” – Lily
Do you feel grown? If so, when and where?
“I feel like a grown woman. It’s something that definitely changes over time. When I graduated from college it meant being “outside”. At this point in my life, I feel like a grown woman because I’ve built a life for myself that is meaningful, doing things that are good for me, not because I have to, but because I enjoy them. When you’re younger you think older women have it all together, but in reality, they’re just making decisions. ” – Ginnah
“I do. I step outside how I want and everything I do for the future me. I’m at a stage where I’m thinking about my life five years from now. I’m confident in my career, with my friends, and I didn’t feel this way a year, or even two years ago.” – Lily
“Yes, I feel grown, because I provide for myself. But it’s beyond that. How do you nurture your mind? How do you nurture your environment? What does your self-care routine look like? What is your mindset around the things you can’t control? How I show up for myself makes me feel grown. It’s feeling sexy, not because I’m dolled up and have on lingerie, but because I made sure to do my morning routine. Being grown also has a lot to do with sisterhood for me. I felt truly grown when my mom, my aunt, and my grandmother, would confide in me and felt safe with me.” – Kai
“I do. I feel fully flourished, fully free, I don’t exist in any expectations or rules anyone sets for me. I am proud of the way I handle my life and my business. I have a flourishing career I built, I moved across the country by myself, and just took on so many challenges that no one held my hand through. ” – Mercedes