Zeba Blay’s “Carefree Black Girls” Is Beautifully Affirming

Sometimes when I’m writing, I wonder if folks are tired of reading about certain things. I wonder if that’s the reason why my articles about my experiences with colorism get scrolled past. I think about why my pieces on Black, fat, femme bodies being viewed as either entertainment or health hazards with very little in-between, have the lowest amount of traffic. When I tweet about being unimpressed by a cishet Black male celeb wearing a flower crown in an attempt to make me forget his misogynoir, I wonder if folks roll their eyes. I thought about things like that as I wrote this piece, wondering if folks would care to read 900 some odd words on how I felt affirmed in my identity as a dark-skinned Black queer woman through the pages of Zeba Blay’s Carefree Black Girls.

Finding film, television shows, and books that I feel seen in is rare. I’ve talked countless times about how I sought myself out in those things since I could hold a remote and click a mouse. It’s not a unique experience — many Black girls who came to adolescence in the early aughts can say the same thing. But there is something about having tangible proof that you weren’t the only one who wanted to be seen so much that you were willing to stitch yourself together from pieces of the pop culture you were immersing yourself in. This book gave me that proof that the Taurus Sun (another thing the author and I share) in me loves to have. The pages are covered with marks from my lavender pen where I circled and annotated moments and phrases that felt so true to my own life. Being tried and tested by cismale critics as a culture writer? Circle. Crushes on femme looking white boys of the ’90s with bowl cuts? Highlight. And the suicide attempts? Double Underline.

I’ve tried twice to take my own life, and I still have the marks from the second time when I nearly succeeded. I don’t talk about it in my writing because I’m still walking that fine line of essays filled with personal bits versus telling you all my business — which I believe I’ll forever be attempting to master. My attempts to erase myself from this earth — at 11 and nearly 13 — came at a far earlier time than Blay’s, but it was the start of my connection to the writer when I began reading. The revelation of their own attempts comes at the very start of the book, one page into the introduction. She doesn’t expatiate on the topic, but the simple mention of it was wild, because I rarely see suicide being talked about in regards to Black women. Everyone thinks we will save the world and that we’re far too strong to ever contemplate doing such a thing — but we aren’t your superheroes — and sometimes the weight of our past and the ways of this world make us consider leaving it behind.

I wouldn’t call the book a happy one, but saying that it’s not one filled with stories of just smiles and laughter is by no means me saying it’s a sad failure. It — like many Black women — is multifaceted. There are moments filled with grief and recollections of memories the writer has yet to figure out where to land on emotionally, and others that made me laugh, giggle, and say “omg stop!” several times while settling deeper into my couch. The book ends on a list of moments where Blay has felt truly and beautifully free. I read this book when I was preparing to head for a visit home, an experience that is usually triggering and anxiety-inducing. I have a mother who puts a high value on appearance, and when I’m around her I often feel like I’m no longer the grown and confident woman in her thirties that I’ve worked so hard to be — but I’m back to being an 11-year-old girl who has yet to find the beauty in her body so she results to simultaneously harming and hiding it.

In the chapter “Bodies,” Blay writes: “It is amazing to exist in a Black body, to exist in a body at all. There is an undeniable beauty in it. To be alive in this body when so many other Black women are not, to remember that and hold onto that, is humbling.” So much of that chapter is covered in my pink highlighter, and it’s margins filled with my notes — but that line (I almost typed verse) is what I re-read the most. I needed a reminder. The type of reminder that can’t come from your lover’s sweet reassurance in the magic of your skin and its curves, marks, and folds. The type that can’t come from enthusiastic emojis and comments to a photo you posted seeking a boost of confidence. Not even the type that can come from your therapist who asks you to recall the last time this happened and how you made it through. I needed the one that comes from a friend who has been there. The silent soothing in knowing that although our stories aren’t exactly the same, I’m still understood, I’m not alone, and that I’ll get through this moment just as I always have.

I expected Carefree Black Girls to just be filled with recognition of Black women in pop culture that in some way stuck with the author. I wasn’t expecting it to be layered with deeply personal anecdotes and cosmic connections. I yearn for (and fear) the day I’m strong enough to put some of my story into 300 or so pages, but until that day — Zeba fills me, and I thank her for letting me in.


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Shelli Nicole

Shelli Nicole is a Detroit-raised, Chicago-based writer. Her work has appeared in Bustle, HelloGiggles & Marie Claire. She is terrified of mermaids and teenagers equally.

Shelli has written 150 articles for us.

5 Comments

  1. Shelli this is so beautifully written & so vulnerable and open, my favorite pen would be circling & underlining much. And I look forward to your book someday.
    Thank you for sharing this. Sending you much love 💕

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