The Insecure Yet Incredible Black Woman
I am currently obsessed with watching and discussing the show Insecure starring Issa Rae and the Netflix film The Incredible Jessica James starring Jessica Williams because of how these women have made me more confident as an ‘insecure’ yet ‘incredible’ black woman. I wanted to break down how exactly they taught me this based on the general lessons I’ve learned from them.
Having More Open Dialogue Can Make You Less Closed Minded
There is limited light shed on how important it is for the black community to be able to express their individual imperfections without feeling as though it falls upon the shoulders of the whole race. A show like Insecure constantly has the characters evaluate themselves as they make judgements or assumptions about others.
Jessica and I are both storytellers. We write about people so much that we assume we know enough about them. Our biggest challenge is allowing people to see our more vulnerable side, since we don’t talk about it.
Both Jessica and Issa are characters which live within this bubble of determining if they are really ‘woke’ or have been missing opportunities to further expand their knowledge. I enjoyed watching both Insecure and Jessica James for the honest discussions. These works motivate me not only challenge myself to speak more honestly, but also to listen to the various truths that others may share with me.
Don’t Front About Grown Woman Struggles
A lot of my time in college has been preoccupied with figuring out what type of ‘grown’ woman I am becoming or trying to be. I don’t necessarily always feel grown, but I know that there is no way of going back to a juvenile state when adult pressures start to weigh on me. Throughout my life leading up to this, I have always wanted to be an adult mostly because I loved the idea of having more independence and being taken more seriously. As most people come to realize, being an adult is much harder than it actually looks. Most of the time, I feel the need not to complain about those struggles, since everyone is facing similar challenges with adulthood and it is just something you have to deal with.
I feel that there is a lot to be gained from being comfortable with newfound independence, but there is also a lot lost when you pretend that you are equipped to handle every problem you face on your own. Watching Issa stumble, fall and manage to pick herself up with the various experiences she has as a black woman in her mid twenties has given me hope as well as some fear of what the future of my grown woman state will look like.
While watching The Incredible Jessica James, there were small moments where I saw bits and pieces of what Jessica’s upbringing was like. I recognized her story as my own. She grew into somebody her younger self would be proud of, but that still doesn’t feel like enough. Jessica now expects more out of life. She did not realize it would take so much effort just to get to this point in her life and still not be as successful as she thought it would be. Grown women are supposed to have it all figured out, or so I used to think. Seeing Jessica and Issa figuring out what comes next in their lives encourages me not to rush trying to have mine completely figured out right now.
Don’t Be Consumed by the Fear of Intimacy
Since starting college a little more than a year ago, I have become hyper aware of and surrounded by intimacy. The idea of making not only a physical, but maybe even an emotional connection with someone in that way scares me to my core, but it is also an experience I strongly desire to have. In a society full of dating apps and impersonal ways of getting to know someone before things possibly get personal - it’s been really hard figuring out if any of this is a path I actually want to take. In all honesty, relationships and the idea of trusting another individual so deeply is not something I feel ready for at the moment. This has led me to realize that perhaps I’ll be best satisfied with quick interactions. I can invest in it more physically than emotionally, but the challenge is first getting extremely comfortable with someone. I don’t want to have to worry about there being a misunderstanding in what we need from each other at that particular moment.
It is not necessarily judgement or shame I fear, but the idea of letting these feelings that I’ve been oppressing gain more power over my life than they should. In simple terms, I would say that I’m afraid of how messy these type of experiences can be. It was so refreshing to see a character like Jessica open the film with stating her stance on her own wants, desires and boundaries. For most of the film, she executes control over the new relationship she becomes involved in, which originally was just meant to be a one night stand. She did not give into allowing her full emotions to come into play until she understood what she wanted and needed out of her next partner. Jessica took her time and I admire that,because I hate the idea of rushing any kind of connection with someone just for the sake of trying to fill a void in your life. Issa on the other hand does let her encounters get a bit carried away, and while that’s not really inspiring for me, I appreciate the fact that the show realistically depicts how simple plans can unfold into complicated actions.
Issa was also trying to fill a gap that opened after the ending of her last relationship. However, as the show progressed, she started to let those experiences define her. What I try to keep in mind after viewing both works is that it is difficult to separate your body and mind from certain interactions, so it is best to be upfront not only with the person you are sharing intimacy with, but with yourself about why you want that experience. Sometimes it will just be sheer impulsiveness that drives it, but even before that initial moment of contact, you may have enough time to assess why you want this to happen now and if you are prepared for what might come later.
Pursue the Hell Out of Your Passion
Both Issa and Jessica have showed me that without holding onto some kind of passion or goal, life more or less becomes a hard job you didn’t apply for. It was especially after watching The Incredible Jessica James that I became proud of my own persistence and drive with film and television, which mirrored Jessica’s nonstop pursuit of storytelling in the theater world.
The business of entertaining people is very fickle, so you have to want it for more than just being known for your work or becoming a public figure. Jessica James and I both want to use storytelling as a tool of communication. In the film, there are several scenes where she leads a theater program in an attempt to get young children to create their own plays and see their imaginations come to life. I’ve experienced something similar to that by leading short film workshops for young women in my community in my senior year of high school. While it will always be rewarding seeing people appreciate the work I put out there, it is a special and unique kind of accomplishment to be able to help other people get their work to come to life. It’s like the gift that keeps on giving. I am at a stage in life now where I have a strong idea of where I want to be and how I plan to get there - but I know that my plans could easily be interrupted. So I have to take each moment as it comes and enjoy what they not only teach me as an artist, but as a person. A journey only stops once you are no longer moving forward.
Being Wrong Sucks More When You Can’t Admit It
Like most people I’ve encountered, I hate being wrong. It is not just the idea of failing to provide a right answer but also the fact that being seen as wrong tends to cut a bit at my confidence. Providing a valid contribution to any situation reaffirms to me that I am on the right track with something. Being aware that I did something wrong stunts me momentarily. It’s like I don’t want to participate any further out of fear that I will be on some sort of losing streak.
The character of Issa on Insecure often finds herself making seemingly wrong choices to the point that it makes her feel like nothing she does will ever be right. Issa wants to be helpful to her friends and community, but tends to put a bit too much weight on just herself. This causes her to become extremely frustrated with herself if a plan didn’t quite go well, or if anyone is unhappy with her efforts. I strongly relate to this because sometimes I feel that one of my best traits is my resourcefulness. When I am not able to fulfill this position the way I want to, I basically begin to question everything.
It was very confronting to see a character in the film The Incredible Jessica James who was able to confront Jessica about being wrong, without making her feel wrong. It was important for me to see Jessica learn how to accept and open up about being wrong, and not facing any of the consequences she feared. I’ve also seen this throughout the show Insecure, when Issa and the other characters learned that once they can acknowledge where they went wrong, they can get started on making things right - or at least work on preventing similar mistakes in the future.
A Few or a Single Good Friend is Better Than an Unreliable Squad
The main characters in Insecure and The Incredible Jessica James have a main best friend and then a sort of small social group. The relationships between the characters are very strong and relatable. Since Insecure is a show that gives more room for stronger character development, I was able to see how Issa and her best friend Molly, played by Yvonne Orji, go through a lot of turmoil in their relationship, but manage to remember that their bond is stronger than the drama they have at the moment. This has become more relevant to me lately because I’m used to being such a solitary person, and sometimes I don’t allow my friends into my little world. Friendships at the core are relatively similar no matter what age group you fall in but I see that the older people get, friends are less about how much time you spend together and more about the quality of time you spend together.
I’m still getting used to the idea of having friends I actually love so deeply because I’ve often tried to prevent myself from letting people outside of my family affect me in that way. It circles back to my fear of intimacy all around - physically, mentally and emotionally. In observing how Issa and Molly’s friendship strengthens throughout the show, I noticed that it is not just about keeping it “real” with each other. These two women also have learned that sometimes it is best to let your friend live in a fantasy for a little bit. Sometimes the way people cope with certain issues is by reimagining the problem in a way that looks better to them. It may not always be helpful to the situation, but a good friend doesn’t also need to be your therapist. That puts more pressure on them to always know how to help you and that isn’t a realistic ideal that should be apart of any friendship.
Jessica has a friend Tasha who also is pursuing a career in the theater world. Their friendship from what I could tell in the movie is centered around ambition. They both are free spirits who just want to live off their art. Tasha seems more optimistic than Jessica at times and Jessica seemed more grounded than Tasha at times. I really loved this dynamic they had because both characters could fall back and forth on each other without one feeling like they have more weight on their side.
A friendship should never be solely based on what people can take from each other, but what they can give. I do all I can to give and show my friends support and that always looks different depending on which friend that is. Oftentimes, many people may think that more friends means more supporters but in my experience, there is no real correlation there. One or a few people can show you more support than a million.
Most of my closest friends happen to be black women. I believe this is because we start off relating to each other through shared struggles and experiences. It has especially become more prominent now for me to surround myself by a supportive group of black women because we are a community which often puts ourselves last and others first.With each other, we can make each other’s well being our priority for once. This is not to say that my friendships with people of other backgrounds are not as strong, but to exemplify that women, especially those of color, need each other the most.
Blackness is Beautiful. Period
I went through various phases in my life where I had to unlearn things that I was taught by Euro-centric beauty standards. A couple of months ago, I decided that I wanted my hair to be in its natural state (with no toxic chemicals or heat inserted into it). I could’ve never imagined making that decision years ago, when I often looked at my natural hair in disgust unless it was straightened. I was mainly influenced by representation, especially seeing Issa rock a different natural hairstyle nearly every episode. This was huge to me - beyond inspirational actually. Not every black woman needs to wear natural hair, but no black woman should be ashamed of her natural hair - this is easier said than done. Something simple as watching Issa casually walk around with natural hair seemed to change my thinking overnight. Not only did she wear it everyday, she was confident in it.
There was a similar realization I had about natural hair when I watched The Incredible Jessica James for the first time. I had never looked at locks or long braids as something I desired or imagined in my own head, but seeing Jessica flaunt and wear them so effortlessly was mesmerizing. She was practically a goddess in every scene. Less than a month ago, I tried extended braids for the first time and it actually felt pretty empowering - like I had been missing out on something great. It was not only the style that looked good, but I felt good, and I had a confidence about my appearance that I hadn’t quite experienced before.
Jessica Williams, the actress who plays Jessica James is also a tall black woman standing at around six feet. This meant the world to me as well because I’m five feet and eleven inches and have always been embarrassed about my height. I still have lingering insecurities about it but seeing Jessica Williams fiercely tower over everyone without a single slouch really moved me. I have slowly started paying attention to how I sit and stand more. Issa is also considerably tall at five feet and eight inches. It’s amazing actually to see tall women, tall black women feel that they can move around in their bodies freely, in their femininity freely without any visible fear of being seen as aggressive, masculine or even undesirable. They know their worth, both as their characters and in real life.
Lastly, watching beautiful brown skin glisten on screen really takes the cake for me. It is not a secret that lighter skin is traditionally seen as more desirable. I grew up thinking that maybe my life would be better if my skin wasn’t as dark as it is. I no longer doubt the beauty of my skin, but it took me such a long time to not only say it out loud, and actually believe it. Colorism in the black community is very much a common thing, which causes low self esteem in many black people with darker skin tones. The best way to combat it has been increasing the amount of darker skinned black people on television and movies in positive roles, just like the ones Issa and Jessica are in. I couldn’t be more grateful to these women for making this content so that people like me can see it and start to feel more confident about who they are.