By Luso Mnthali (@lkmnthali)
There is always something beautiful about the woman who is care-free, living her life on her own terms and managing to have a certain kind of insouciance. Not everyone is this lucky, and I admire the kinds of women who, even with the weight of their particular situations, manage to find humor, beauty and a sense of purpose in life.
I think I’ve found the perfect image and unselfconscious expression of what the Carefree Black Girl looks like in this decade. She’s on my Facebook feed; a photograph of a young woman who I only know slightly but who is a model and student. She has that slim body, dark skin, good bone structure and natural hair that announces she’s part of the arty-party crowd in Cape Town.
She is in what looks to be an apartment, all soft lighting, good art and muted colors. In the foreground is someone who looks like her—it’s her sister perhaps, a young woman who the Facebook tag shows has the same last name.
The sister’s head is thrown back, her mouth open in one of those smiles you know is all over her body and is in her eyes. Her hands are held palms facing up, arms to the side but wide in an almost embracing stance. She is in thrall to the bubbles all around her. In the background, her sister the model is looking down and smiling, holding a small pink canister. Getting ready to blow more bubbles.
This photograph has today become my symbol of what the carefree black girl is. It just felt like true and pure happiness. I haven’t seen a photograph like this anywhere on my feed. Usually it’s babies and exotic locales. But here was a young woman who wanted you to see her in a state of real, unmanufactured joy.
When did you last blow bubbles? (please tell me it wasn’t at a kids’ party?) When did you last just do something you used to do as a child, just because you felt like it? Just because it made you feel happy? If it was recently, and didn’t involve food, or travel, or an amorous relationship – some of the accoutrements of adult life that we’re supposed to have to show that we are happy – then I am afraid that you, dear one, are in danger of being labelled a care-free black girl.
Not that going out to eat, or traveling and being in love aren’t part of what being a CFBG is, it’s just that I’m searching for the carefree black girl who is unencumbered by the trappings of a “good life”. It can be any life you want it to be, any life it is – I just wanted to see real and spontaneous joy. That’s the kinda girl I was looking for. (Please note for purposes of this post, and how we address each other – CFBGs are mostly women, we know that – but, girl, we use this term as a term of endearment.)
After I saw the model’s photo, I started to think about things that I do that are specific to the Carefree Black Girl attitude. I realized I had not walked alone along the beach in such a long time. Or just walked around town noting faces and recording little things in my mind – keepsakes for later. A lot of my carefree times have involved walks, and mingling with strangers at market stalls, buying hand-crafted goods.
When I was growing up in Botswana I would walk everywhere, and then sometimes end up at the market. I bought my sandals and wooden earrings and bracelets from there. I never felt like I had to follow fashion (we lived next door to Apartheid South Africa, fashion was a little bit of a slow thing, and magazines were a luxury or didn’t reflect us at all).
For me this is when I am carefree, in an attitude of just being myself. Freed from the constraints of society, of who people think I am or want me to be. I am just me, and I am happy. If I were to spread out some of the things I have collected on those walks – poems, shells, beaded earrings, leaves, feathers, twigs and stones, it might look a bit strange. Well, those things, they are my little treasures. They have no brand names, they have nothing to do with technology, competition or deadlines.
They are beautiful to me, they might not be beautiful to you. I find them ancient, elemental and eternal. When I am free from all the voices I hear on radio, television, in books, online and also just in daily life, I am that carefree black girl. When I am free from their judgements, and my own – I like to think there is a place I can escape to, and that is the place I find on my walks.
There is always something beautiful about the woman who is care-free, living her life on her own terms and managing to have a certain kind of insouciance. Not everyone is this lucky, and I admire the kinds of women who, even with the weight of their particular situations, manage to find humor, beauty and a sense of purpose in life. They create – poems, furniture, clothes, music, magazines, art, hairstyles, homes, houses – any and all things.
And while they’re at it, they throw sunshine into the world. They dare. They boldly go where they’ve been told they cannot, where they’ve been told is not a natural habitat for them. They are my hiking, traveling, sailing, running, skiing, surfing, sand-boarding and sky-diving, and selfie-taking and posting sisters. They are my musician, artist, poet, writer, race car driver, actor, dancer and designer sisters.
They look out to the world and see the possibilities, not just the limitations. They are brave. Happiness in the face of all that we know and see as black girls requires bravery.
Keep on keeping on Carefree Black Girl. I see you, and I smile and dance, laugh and sing, blow bubbles and do handstands with you. Well, perhaps you can teach me this last one. I was never quite that carefree even in youth. But I’m learning to be, and oh what a joyous, freeing feeling that is.
Luso Mnthali is a contributing editor at AfriPOP!