Jamila Reddy is a writer and creative producer based in Los Angeles but always in pursuit of magic, wherever it may be. Born and raised in North Carolina, she is thankful for her freedom and likes to say hello to strangers.
The intention of her work is to deepen a collective understanding of the complexities of the human experience. She wants to throw your next party.
She wants to make you brave.
As a queer Black woman born and raised in
the South, I spent most of my life feeling like
I was the only person in the world like me.
I rarely saw black girls and women on TV, in
books, movies, or magazines. I grew up watching
Disney Movies—my sister and I played The Little
Mermaid back to back until the VHS tape
unravelled. I was raised consuming media that
made me believe that to be beautiful meant to be
white, and that my worth was measured by how
far a man would go to get me.
As I stumbled into womanhood, I became indoctrinated into the culture of popular white media. In my teenage years, I watched Friends like it was religion, spent weekends wishing I looked like the women in the romantic comedies my friends and I would watch during sleepovers. I did not have the language to articulate how painful it was that the “beautifual” women I saw all around me never, ever looked like me.
I grew ashamed of my tightly-coiled hair, my curvaceous body, my brown skin. I spent hundreds of dollars and hours relaxing my hair, trying fad diets, wanting desperately to look the way I thought I was supposed to. When I saw photos of myself, I’d make a mental list of all the things I didn’t like: My teeth were too crooked. My hair was too thick. My arms were too flabby. My stomach too round. When I held a mirror up to myself and compared my reflection to the images of beauty all around me, I was always too much or not enough.
It wasn’t until well into my twenties that I understood that I had been looking at myself through someone else’s eyes. It is an ongoing battle to resist and unlearn the toxic ideas that I’ve internalized about being black, woman, and queer. I am still in the process of claiming that I am enough, just as I am — that I don’t have to become or pretend to be someone else in order to be worthy.
Earlier this summer, I hosted an event called “I Love Myself When I Am Laughing: a Workshop on the Radical Healing Art of Selfies.” There are plenty of people who will turn up their noses at the idea that selfies are radical. Selfies have a bad rep as evidence of self-indulgence, self-centeredness, self-obsession; they’ve been linked in one study to narcissism and psychopathy, and not too long ago, a group of women were even publicly shamed for taking selfies during a baseball game.
I decided to host this workshop because for all the years I spent worrying about how I measured up to impossible standards of beauty, I could have spent worrying about some shit that actually mattered. A dear friend of mine put it plainly, “Diets are distractions.” Women who are obsessed with how they look are so distracted by maintaining their appearance to be concerned with the rest of the world.
We live in a culture of consumerism whose success depends on distorted perception—of society, of each other, of ourselves. The beauty industry, diet culture, and systems of mass consumption are invested in preventing people from seeing themselves as beautiful, valuable, and powerful just as they are. These systems trap us in endless cycles of self-improvement; hey “call us ugly to sell us shit.” In order to correct this distortion, we must constantly make modifications to our bodies, hide the truth of our flaws, always be on the lookout looking for that which will make us feel worthy.
As long as our sense of self-worth comes from a place outside of ourselves, we are destined to live a life chasing something we’ll never catch. How we see ourselves impacts how we move in the world—how we think and talk about ourselves, how we understand what we are capable of. We must see ourselves clearly in order to fully realize our potential, and we must fully realize our potential in order to transform the world.
Selfies are a joyful way to cultivate radical self-love; a way to claim ownership over our own images and narratives. I take selfies to remind myself to privilege my opinion of myself over anyone else’s. I take selfies so that my voice becomes the loudest voice in the conversation about myself and my worth. I take selfies for women all over the world whose ability to love themselves is compromised by the constant inundation of false beauty standards. I take selfies to respond to being misrepresented, distorted, and erased by the media — as an act of resistance in the face of that which seeks to distort the truth of my full humanity. I take selfies to take up space where before I didn’t exist. Selfies are how I say, I see myself even if you don’t see me, and my eyes are the only ones that matters.