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When The World Is Not Enough
By Yasmin Jones-Henry
As I write this, there is a syringe filled with ‘Hyaluronic Acid’ amongst a plethora of other chemicals too long to read and even longer to type, sat on my desk. I did not request this item, nor did I purchase it. It was handed out in a London department store to passers by – for free. Yes folks, free chocolates, free perfume samples and now… free fillers. No this is not a prank. This happened on Wednesday 5th April 2017. This is real.
At first – my immediate reaction was to rant. Thrash out a searing piece of polemic. Name and shame the brand and store in this act of treachery, and scorch the earth (figuratively speaking) that they are standing on. Alas, what a difference 48 hours and several cups of tea makes. There is something inherently ‘British’ in keeping calm, but in this particular instance, I cannot carry on. We cannot carry on, sitting idly by while a dark force is at work. It has no name, no official body or collective, but it is real nonetheless. It sets about dismantling self confidence, destroying all traces of self-esteem and usurps a person’s right to self determination. That, after much reflection, is who – or rather ‘what’ I have come to wage war upon.
A bold statement, yes, but a necessary one. I don’t need any hashtags, filters or celebrity endorsements to make my case. This is personal. I am a survivor of both Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia. Before you all clutch at your pearls in horror, note the key word in that sentence is ‘survivor’. I was fortunate enough to emerge from that illness – with my life and my sense of hope in tact. Others have not been so fortunate. It is for them, and the generations that follow why I am compelled to speak. This battle that we all face – on a daily basis is not a physical one, but a psychological and spiritual one. It starts with your mind and leaves with your soul, if you do not safeguard yourself from the aforementioned forces at work.
So, this syringe is symbolic. It represents a physical representation of what is wrong with our society in 2017. Someone, somewhere – thought that handing out an instrument filled with toxins, designed to disfigure and distort a person’s natural features, was a good idea. Elsewhere, we have a consortium of ‘influencers’ online who flaunt their own plastic faces, bottoms and other body parts for eye-watering sums of money. The overriding message that is broadcasted to the unsuspecting and impressionable mind, is that they are not, in their natural state: sufficient. Instead of photoshopping or cropping a picture, people have now regressed to literally editing themselves – via their physical features. While they commit to this project – they are simultaneously leaving themselves open to a world of health risks and life threatening illnesses.
Why? Who decides what features are ‘in’ or ‘out’? As a young woman of West Indian descent I find it absolutely hilarious when I walk into Selfridges and see those ‘braiding booths’ peddling old school cornrows to public school girls for £20. It is almost comical when I scroll through Instagram and see numerous tutorials illustrating, how to ‘grow your own bottom’ – when only a century ago – a woman of colour’s curvaceous silhouette, large posterior and full lips, were regarded among the staunch imperialists and white-supremacists as flaws, evidence of biological and social inferiority. I kid you not. It made for painful reading during my Literature degree when I had to read endless 18th and 19th century notes on ‘physiognomy’. If you don’t believe me look it up! – So, you see, in light of this complete change of heart, from objectifying and rejecting to fetishizing a black woman’s body – I find myself seething.
The effects of such ‘trends’ permeates and resonates much further than people care to admit. Stroll into any black hair and beauty shop in London and somewhere on a shelf – you will still find multiple variations of skin bleach. Likewise, if I were to walk into any major pharmacy franchise, I will find an aisle of similar proportions stacked with ‘self-tanning’ solutions. The women of colour strive to be lighter and whiter, whilst the women of the fairer complexion, strive to be darker. Can you see the confusion? Add the recent Kardashian induced obsession of feeding off of the carcass that is ‘black culture’ big butts and all, you will see a very chaotic picture beginning to emerge.
I was born in the 90’s, so I am sick to death of hearing the empty – politically infused term ‘diversity’, because when I look around, contrary to numerous governments’ policies, it still does not exist (in the mainstream). People are still, not permitted to live, embrace and enjoy their unique individuality without fear of being rejected, discriminated or excluded from the wider cultural narrative. While on the surface – public figures preach the sermon of diversity – they are complicit in applying the pressure for the ‘plebs’ to follow consensus – whatever that consensus of the day may be. It is a sinister form of mind control and a tragic state of affairs.
That syringe represents an invitation to tamper with nature’s perfect form. Mankind is still in 2017 trying to impose, nay, usurp Nature’s Way. I do not judge anyone who chooses to use fillers, nor am I criticising anyone who makes the personal decision to undergo plastic surgery. What I object to, is the open and brazen subliminal messaging that is being sent across the airwaves and through screens, that we, in our natural state are not enough.
For me, growing up ‘Black’ and ‘British’, with (despite my darker complexion) mixed heritage – meant that I never truly felt as though my face ‘fitted’ anywhere. At school, the Africans would refer to me as being ‘quarter-caste’ or more bluntly as a ‘slave baby’ in reference to my West-Indian roots. For those of you who do not know, it was a direct reference to their presumption that in being mixed my mother was half white (she is not, – she is a mixture of Cuban, native Indian, Scottish and English – all of which found their way to Jamaica) it was also a cruel reference to the reality that during slavery – in the Caribbean most black female slaves were raped by their white masters. The inference there was that as a probable descendant, I was somehow tainted by that reality.
Add to this toxic brew, the fact that despite having a mixed background I was often dismissed for being ‘too dark’ – as though nature had made a mistake when it was blending my skin colour. The politics of envy – is another plague that has ravaged British society. During my childhood I constantly felt conflicted and was often berated for the fact that my parents chose to send me to public schools. Being ‘above yourself’ or rather, having aspirations of a better life, is treason to crabs who live in a barrel. I could go on with a long list of examples involving hair (big issue amongst black women), university etc but ultimately the point I am trying to illustrate – is that before I was even 15 – I was having to wrestle with the reality that in life, I might never be fully accepted anywhere. It felt like I was not enough.
I know I am not alone in this. And believe me, this feeling of not fitting comfortably into the space that ‘convention’ has assigned you is in no way exclusive to race. This is entirely a social construct. A social ‘prison’ if you will. The point is, or rather the question is, who decides what is ‘conventional’ or not?
Contrary to popular presumption about eating disorders, mine was not induced by my interest in fashion – or any desire to be thin (although I do acknowledge that is a popular diagnosis amongst others). Looking back at the year I turned 21, the fateful year both disorders attempted to take my life, my illness was brought on by fatigue and stress. When you wrestle with your insecurities alone for an extended period of time, mix in the deadly concoction that is the fear of expectation and approval, coupled with pure exhaustion – simply from fighting for the right to be your own person – it creates a toxic mix. For me – it made itself manifest in a loss of appetite, sleep deprivation (I slept very little if at all for 9 months) and a whirlwind of self doubt. Left unchecked, this corrosive mixture can lead to multiple suicide attempts as one’s brain slowly loses grip on what is real, and what is true.
This may make for uncomfortable reading, but stay with me. I cannot preach or deliver a one-size fits all solution, but I can share with you something I learned along the difficult road to recovery. “The world, is not enough”. No not the Bond movie, I mean society. Popular opinion. Approval. Consensus. None of those things are sufficient surrogates of the irreplaceable nourishment that is self-esteem. Please be aware, that this is not to be confused with arrogance, or narcissism. In the dictionary ‘Self-esteem’ is defined as ‘confidence in one’s own worth or abilities’.
First, Love Yourself
To esteem something – in the English language, means that you must consider it to be of high value. With that being said, if you had something that was of high value, precious and irreplaceable, would you leave it in the hands of a complete stranger – who does not have your best interests at heart? Would you surrender it in exchange for something that is intangible and unattainable? Have you ever heard of the saying that ‘you cannot please all of the people all of the time’? The meaning of that sentiment is that it is futile to try, because there will always be someone, somewhere, who for their own reason chooses not to appreciate what you have to offer.
With that being said, I hope now, you can see why I say that the world, is not enough. The world’s approval did not create you, therefore it cannot sustain you and has no place in altering the way you choose to see yourself. #WorkInFashion, was designed to be a movement. A rebellion of sorts against the tyranny of censorship, mind control and convention. The right to self determination – is a fundamental human right. From self determination stems creativity, freedom of thought and genuine diversity. It is what I am writing for. It is what I will always fight for. That syringe, represents a gateway, to a parallel universe where an unseen figure, instructs the unsuspecting victim, that they are not enough. That they are not of value. No, my dear reader. My eureka moment came, when I realised, that we are more than enough. It is the rest of the world that lacks the discernment to appreciate our worth.
The real war for humanity is not fought with missiles and guns. It starts and ends with the mind, and its thought process. Take the time to know thyself. Understand what makes you ‘you’. Be sure of what you think and believe and stand firm in it. What is your unique style? When you have established it, wear it with pride. #WorkInFashion was never about the clothes. I created it to celebrate the champions – who happen to carry themselves with style. At #WorkInFashion we care about your mindset. Be free, but most importantly, be you: because only then will you truly know what it is to #dress, #work and #win!
Until next time…
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