Monday, September 17, 2007

Amazing Grace (Me and Ms. Jones)

"You know who you look like?" a woman once asked while I was getting my hair pressed. "Grace Jones." The musky smell of hot hair and
Afro Sheen lingered. My tweleve-year-old face sullened. "She thinks I look like that scary lady?" I must have thought to myself. Detecting my dismay, she offered, "I mean that as a compliment." I feigned a smile. When the woman left, my hairdresser, Shirley, told me, "You don't look like Grace Jones. You're prettier than that."

You see, at that age I didn't want to be associated with anyone darker than I already was. Growing up and to this day, the beauty of darker skinned black women is often prefaced with the footnote, "You're pretty for a dark-skinned girl" or the obnoxious cat-call "Hey dark and lovely." I still don't understand what skin color has to do with your degree of beauty.

Yet twenty-five years since I was offended that someone thought I looked like Grace Jones (the only real similarity is that we've both been blessed with high cheekbones and dark brown skin), I'm re-discovering and embracing that mad icon of brazen sexuality and avant-garde style. I've been combing vintage stores for a t-shirt with her androygynous image. During a recent trip to a Brooklyn Salvation Army, I was digging in the $1 record crates and found copies of her 1982 "Living My Life" LP and the 12" single of the rhythmically intoxicating single "Slave to the Rhythm."

The sales clerk gave me and the album covers a puzzled double-take. "Isn't that the girl from Conan [the Barbarian]?" I loved Grace as a nocturnal seductress in the campy vampire flick "Vamp," as the crazed Amazonian villain opposite James Bond in "A View to a Kill" and as the comical diva Strangee in "Boomerang," however I didn't immediately recall her from "Conan." But an older man standing next to me did and he proudly told the clerk, "Yes, that's Grace Jones."
Weeks later, I'm sitting in the Musee' d'art contemporain de Montreal (the Contemporary Museum of Art in Montreal) watching the uncensored version of Grace's stereotype-riddled (black face, pickinnies, Venus Hotentot), gender-bending high-art-meets-couture fashion video for "Slave to the Rhythm." I'm mesmerized. She is unashamedly black, bold and beautiful. I want to be as fearless in my skin as she is in hers. Ms. Jones is a muse for black girls and self-empowered women everywhere.


Anonymous said...

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