There images that just makes you feel understood. Make you feel seen. The moments in which I come across these images always linger in my mind. Something about them feels significant, as though something within me has shifted and that one day I will want to return to the memory of this shift.
Perhaps this is why I have never forgotten the first time I watched Annie Hall. I remember being drawn quite superficially first to Diane Keaton’s wardrobe. This woman loved vests, billowy trousers, and wide brim hats just as much as I did. I was too self-conscious to wear most of these items in my small town and lived vicariously through her sartorial boldness, counting down the moments until I too would be a big city girl who wore whatever the hell she wanted. As I obsessively re-watched, I became more and more enthralled with Annie’s personality. She was goofy. She had a lot of opinions and she expressed them. She was straight-forward. She was insecure. She was imperfect. She was self-assured.
Before Annie there was Synclaire James. For as long I can remember, I have been nice. And beyond the safe confines of my family home, my kindness had always been a problem. I seemed to empathise with others to my own detriment, putting their experiences and emotions before my own. While it felt good to be good, I worried about how I would fare in world that chews nice up, spits it out, and stomps all over it. Then I met Synclaire while watching 90s classic, Living Single. She was a small-town girl. She was sweet. She was silly. She viewed the world as an eclectic, bubble gum-coloured tapestry. She cared deeply for her friends. And while the world often gave her hard time for it, she never lost her softness.
Between Synclaire and Annie, there was Eunice Waymon, also known as Ms. Nina Simone. Ta-Nehisi Coates once wrote: “I have always known that Nina Simone means something much more to a specific kind of black woman than she ever can for me.” I am the kind of black women (and was the kind of teenager and little black girl) that Coates’ describes. It was my mother who first introduced me to Nina’s story, her music and image during the awkward period of my early teens. It seems that almost overnight the face I saw in the mirror, the beautiful likeness my father had bestowed on me, had begun to jar me. I remember looking at Nina and thinking, “what a beauty”. Then I began realized that in many ways, I resembled her. How could I see and soak in her beauty, and not acknowledge my own? So I listened to “Feeling Good”, “Don’t Let Be Misunderstood”, and “Ain’t Got No …. I’ve Got Life” over and over, until I believed that the beauty Nina emanated could be found within my own spirit and being.
I often think about the women who have helped build and bolster girls and women all over the world. I think about Annie Hall, who reminded me to be myself. About Synclaire James, who taught me that my kindness did not have to be a weakness; that it was strength presenting itself in a unique form. About Nina Simone, who inspired me to see beauty in myself and own it, the world be damned. Pieced together, collage-style, these women have provided a picture of the kind of woman I could be.