It was two weeks ago that I found myself being photographed in the Meatpacking district of NYC by an amazing Black female photographer. People were passing by, wondering who I was and why my photo was being taken. Many stopped just to watch, you know, tourists and all. But most passed by gracefully, smiling with encouragement and also a slight bewilderment about why this girl was getting her photo taken. Oddly, no one asked what was going on. I mean, it’s NYC, crazy things like this are always happening in this jungle of a world. But, I found myself wishing, just hoping someone would ask me why photographer Rebecca Emmanuelle was taking my pictures. Why, you ask? So that I could tell them that an intelligent, graceful and hilarious woman by the name of Dr. Yaba Blay, decided to dedicate a digital movement to the uplifting, glorifying and healing of dark skin women. And, because, I’m pretty…period.
Today, I speak with Dr. Yaba Blay on her inspiration behind Pretty Period, the next project she has for the movement and why she feels it’s time our community stops making dark skin beauty the exception, but the rule.
EBONY: Let me just say that I think what you’re doing is amazing, and I was so humbled to be apart of the We Are series. Why do you think that there is a pivotal brown girl movement happening at this moment in media?
Dr. Yaba Blay: To be honest, when I see things happening like this in the media, I automatically get skeptical because it does almost feel like a trend to me.
When things hit mainstream media and people just run with it, you do have to be skeptical about what people’s intentions are. Are they really valuing the beauty that comes with us or is this just the look of the moment? For me, it depends on the source, but at the same time, a big part of me wants to put the skepticism aside and just say “whatever, by any means necessary!” Little [brown] girls are seeing themselves. I really do appreciate independent filmmakers and media makers, like Shonda Rhomes, bringing more Black women to primetime television. We know that millions of people are tuned in on Thursday nights and they’re seeing beautiful Black women in power. So to finally answer your question, I feel it’s hard for me to pinpoint a reason why it’s happening now, but I think a lot of things just happen at one time.
EBONY: So then, to piggyback off of that question, why do you think it’s taken so long for our community to collectively praise brown and dark beauty?
YB: Not to be reductive, but it feels like a “which comes first: the chicken or the egg,” situation. The academic in me points the finger to white supremacy history, in terms of where we get our ideas of beauty and values. It’s been a long time coming for Black people to be in control of our images and to some degree, we’re still not really in control. When I think of a lot of “Black media sources”, the idea is still to make money and to have some crossover appeal. It’s like, how do you appeal to the masses and also to the Black community? Historically, when you look at a lot of Black female images, you realize that a lot of those women looked like Lena Horne or Dorothy Dandridge. I feel like anytime we promote our browner women, there always needs to be an explanation. In our own communities, we’ve been holding onto this standard of beauty and features that are not “Black.”
EBONY: How have you populated Pretty Period in such a short amount of time? It’s really one of those sites you can get lost on, in a good way.
YB: Give thanks to the Internet! The thing that I like a lot about Tumblr is that it’s image driven. When I first set everything up, I didn’t want to launch it until we had a nice stockpile of photos to share. I remember that I wanted to make sure I had a picture each day to post for all of Black History Month and Women’s history month. I literally had 59 pictures. I also started out by asking a dozen people that I know or that I’m connected to online. I literally went to people’s Facebook pages and asked them to let me use their pictures of them. And honestly, people just kept submitting their photos. Since Tumblr is set up like a social media account, I do my best to follow people that are similar in my mission.
EBONY: What are the other projects you’ve been brainstorming for Pretty Period?
Dr.Yaba Blay: I’ve always felt that if my daughter or granddaughter can’t go to the grocery store or bookstore, pick up a magazine and flick through the pages and see themselves, then I’d create one for them.
I just want to create something that has a life span beyond the Internet. I’ve always wanted to print something. It’s something that I’m continuously thinking of. So a print publication of Pretty Period is definitely the goal.
EBONY: Do you think it will be a magazine or a book?
YB: I think it’ll be a book, or maybe a series of books. But, just because it’s a book, it doesn’t mean it’s going to be a one off. In my mind, still, I envision something that is laid out and designed like a magazine.
EBONY: I know this might be random but have you ever thought about creating something for dark-skinned Black men?
YB: I have and it’s hard because of a few things. I definitely and absolutely think we need to have this discussion for and about brothers, but I’m also very cognizant about my position as a Black woman. I would want to follow a Black man’s lead on this matter. I feel like a Black man would have to be at the forefront of that conversation. I feel some type of way that Black men tend to be at the forefront of the conversation of Black women’s beauty, whether it’s our hair or our skin.
A lot of women think that dark-skinned brothers don’t have it as bad as dark-skinned women because they’ve always been seen as sexy. But when I talk to dark-skinned men, they all have their own stories. Even when I do programs on skin bleaching, people are always so surprised to know that men are bleaching their skin. So of course we need to be talking about this with our men. I would have much rather seen “Dark Boys,” than “Dark Girls.”
EBONY: What do you really want Pretty Period as a movement to become in the future?
YB: I like what I see already. I honestly wish there was a way for this to be my full-time job. When I go to someone’s house and I’m with a photographer and we’re there to take their picture, I see eyes light up. There’s healing in this work.