Why Shouldn’t I Care what Smart Black Women are Wearing?

I don’t comment on Facebook threads very often that appear outside of my network. But every once in awhile, situations present themselves that I cannot resist. For instance whoever posts for Harry Belafonte (is it really you Harry?) posted some anti Kanyeness story last week, positing something like “He doesn’t have all the answers.” To which I commented, “No one has all the answers.” Someone later responded to that by saying, “God does.”

…okay. That’s fair. Not relevant. But fair.

Yesterday there was a post on Chimimanda Adichie’s  FB page, which directed interested readers to see what she was wearing on a page titled “Day 3 of Nigerian novelist’s Vogue Today I’m Wearing Photo Blog.” There was a long list of comments responding to that which expressed displeasure about why they should be interested in what she wears, that they only wanted to know what she was writing or thinking.  To which I commented that I was interested in everything she did, what she’s wearing, writing, thinking…

I mean it just so happens that in addition to being a highly educated brilliant writer, thinker and speaker, Adichie is also stunningly beautiful. Her dress game is sickening. Her hair is always tight and on point. Her skin is flawless and she has an infectious inner glow that pours out from her eyes and her voice whenever she is on camera. Are we’re supposed to not notice this?

See this is one of the issues I take with the old ideas about feminism which seem to feel that outer beauty is a distraction from movement work, from organizing around justice and equity work.  Beauty is beauty and not all feminists want to walk around unadorned, with no make-up, wearing pants all the time. I don’t know many Caribbean or African women who do. And I’ll be damned if dressing in a way that calls attention to curves and color, femininity, joy and beauty are somehow deemed as anti-feminist or anti-intelligent. It’s one of the things that has made it so hard for many to accept Beyonce as a self-proclaimed feminist; because to be a feminist has for so long meant only a few things.

-Man hating

-Bra burning

-Not falling into the traps of aesthetic beauty as defined by the male gaze.

I’m really happy and excited to be a part conversations taking place on various platforms which challenge old and reductive ideas about what feminism means and even call for redefinitions and even new terms, such as Womanism. The fact is that women are beautiful and sexy for an infinite number of reasons, including the ones which men are famously known for noticing. But women like me find women sexy and beautiful for these same reasons and more.  I love Michelle Obama for her feistiness, intelligence, her strength, and her surprising playfulness. But I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t enhanced by her stylishly strategic choices in apparel from day one. I also find her to be physically lovely, with a powerful and striking stature, an unwavering spirit and she is a woman who is loved dearly by her husband and family and that all shows whenever she’s seen in public, that and her no nonsense attitude.  I love Hilary Clinton as well. And her completely different approach to style does not change that. But we have to start opening our minds to that fact that women in general have always been and always will be multidimensional contenders in whatever area of life they pursue with their whole hearts. It’s why we’re seen as such a threat, not only to patriarchal systems but also to one another.


The latter I feel is the worse threat of all. Let’s not continue to restrict ourselves to narrow definitions of what it means to be a smart woman and/or feminist through a “The Single Story” lens. I know that for some feminist radicals, the mere idea of woman thinking too about what she is going to wear is a sign of dangerous departure from what really matters with regard to fighting against injustice, violence and marginalization. But I happen think that it’s all part of the struggle. The way you appear matters a great deal. It’s what you rely on to make your mark that tells people who you really are. And neither Adichie nor the First Lady rely solely on their looks and their fashion choices to express themselves. They just happen to have access to most of the best parts of themselves and know how to play them to make the best impression.  All women have this power.

We’re beautiful that way.

1 thought on “Why Shouldn’t I Care what Smart Black Women are Wearing?

  1. These comments stem from the fact women’s apperance is seen as to important. It suddenly becomes everybody’s business how she looks. It’s easy to be a male and have your looks ignored – how many famous novelists are also praised for looking good?

    There’s a feeling that women can’t progress on other merits that are not their looks. People want to see women who succeeded at whatever they’re doing on other merits that are not physical apperances.

    That said, I don’t think that focusing on your apperance, putting make-up or other such things is anti-feminist. As if guys don’t go to the gym to look good.

    You should care what a novelist wears if fashion and clothing are a passion/an interest of yours. Once we care about what famous women wear because we believe women have an obligation to look good, that’s the problem.


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