I remember last year when the movie Home came out. I really wanted to see it because it featured a little girl who looks a bit like so many of the little girls I have taught and loved over the years. I was especially excited when it came to theaters in the Dominican Republic, so that girls with brown skin that have to carry around peach baby dolls could see their springy hair and gorgeous skin up on a big screen. I missed seeing the movie in theaters, but I did finally watch it recently when it came to Netflix.
A week or so after I watched Home (and loved it) I took my favorite girl to McDonalds for her birthday. The toy included in her Happy Meal was a Boov. I asked her if she had seen the movie the alien was from and she said, “Yes, I watched it at my grandma’s house.” I said, “You know, you kind of look like the girl from that movie,” and her face lit up.
I always knew representation matters, would always agree that there need to be actors and models of diverse backgrounds and physical appearances, but when my favorite girl broke into her huge smile (which actually does resemble Tip’s from Home) I felt, rather than knew, how much representation matters for the first time.
About a year ago I started doing yoga. My practice has certainly not been steady but I recently rededicated myself to a daily practice. My YouTube yoga instructor is super encouraging and silly and always says things like, “Two more breaths, you totally got this!” and I really appreciate her literally hundreds of free videos. She looks like this:
Months ago when I first started with Adriene’s 30 Days of Yoga there would be times when she would do a pose and I would say to myself, “I’ll never be able to do that because my belly is in the way,” or “I’ll never be able to do that because my legs don’t really go all the way together because of how big my thighs are,” or, “My boobs are in the way, Adriene! You don’t understand!” What discouraging thoughts! I thought that because I don’t look like Adriene, I couldn’t possibly do what she does.
Then I got on the effyourbeautystandards Instagram account (which is great) and saw this lady:
And representation became personal. Because there she is, someone who looks like me with a belly and thighs and boobs that aren’t in the way. Because there is someone who looks like me doing something I want to be able to do. When I see Dana (Instagram: nolatrees) doing all of these crazy stretchy and strong poses I realize that the only difference between me and her is hard work and practice. Rather than looking at Adriene and seeing a laundry list of differences, some that I have no control over.
In the United States February is Black History Month. In celebration, a Facebook friend of mine posted a picture of this woman:
Her name is Dr. Alexa Canady and she was the first female African American pediatric neurosurgeon. Which means she operates on children’s brains. Which is crazy. When I saw her picture and heard her of her great accomplishment (which I’m sure is just one of many great accomplishments both in and out of the operating room Dr. Canady has accomplished over the years) I thought about how stinking hard it must have been to be the first. At some point in her education it’s probable that Dr. Canady looked around and said, “I could never be a neurosurgeon because I’m not a man,” just how I thought I could never be a real yogi because I’m fat. Fortunately for me I had someone to look to for inspiration and encouragement and truth. Dr. Canady had no one like that! She had to be that for herself.
But now! Now thousands of young girls have someone to look to! They can look at Dr. Canady and see someone who looks like them and realize the only difference between them and Dr. Canady is a lot of hard work and experience, both things that they are in charge of.
Representation is not superficial or shallow. Seeing someone who looks like you or talks like you or is from your hometown doing what you’ve always dreamed of doing is powerful and liberating. Representation pushes us all to be our best selves and opens our eyes to the great big world and the wonderful people doing all of these incredible things. Representation welcomes us into that world and those things and says, “There is a place for you here just as you are.”