Okay, where do I begin? First off my mom worked really hard to keep my brother and I hella fresh. Style, fashion, and appearance are a big thing on my mom’s side of the family. So much so that my grandmother will legit shade you if you are a woman not wearing earrings, or “something on your lips.” I cannot tell you how many times I have heard her shade the hell out of my mom with a casual “oh I guess you ain’t gon’ put nothing on yo lips huh?” This is followed by a sincere stare over her glasses until you comply with her passive aggressive suggestion to put some manner of lipstick on. My dad’s side of the family, not so much. My dad doesn’t place much value on materialistic things at all. I almost think it was a form of silent protest against my mom for him to not give a shit how we walked out of the house looking. Hence, when my brother and I would spend summers with him in South Carolina, it was a fashion free for all. My style was at the mercy of whatever the good Lord put on my spirit to wear that day. This was my time to be experimental with my look. Yeah, we’ll go with that.
99.9% of my family lives in South Carolina. So summers with my dad meant summers with my whole family too. My dad’s family meant well. They truly did. I didn’t realize until I was much older that they just didn’t have a lot. At my dad’s mom’s house we would eat mayonnaise sandwiches, hot dogs, and generic corn flakes with canned milk. We would run around the yard all day playing with bow and arrows my great grandmother made out of sticks and twine. “Now whatever you kill, you have to eat,” she would say. Hence, we never killed anything. At night, my brother would catch fire flies for me, and put them in a mason jar. I begged my grandmother to poke holes in the top so my fire flies could breathe, and she obliged. Before bed, I would lay in the bed with my great grandmother and watch the black and white version of the Beverly Hill Billy’s, because they didn’t have cable. I would always try to get her to admit that she was secretly the granny from the show. I don’t think I realized that woman was white for a long time, but in my defense they looked an awful lot alike. My mom’s parents spoiled us rotten. When we went over there we had all the good snacks, trips to the mall, my Big Ma’s cooking, and I could watch music videos all freaking day. Now this was the 90’s. The heyday of music videos. This is when I realized that Lil Kim was the shit. Her persona, and image were everything to me. I never fully understood her lyrics (thank God, I was a child for crying out loud) but I knew I wanted to command respect like she did. All little black girls who grew up in the 90’s wanted to look like Aaliyah (if you didn’t I don’t trust you) but I wanted to be a boss like Lil Kim. I watched the video for “Crush on You” like it was Shakespearean theatre. I mean I was tuned in. I knew the choregraphy, decided that the blue scene was my favorite, and inadvertently knew all of the lyrics. I never wanted to be overtly sexual like her, but based on what I saw, no one effed with Lil Kim.
Now let me explain to you what I looked like during the summers of my youth. I had a lot of hair. A whole lot. I would’ve been natural hair goals if social media were a thing, and it was cool to be natural back then. I had big dreams of being on a Just For Me relaxer box, but alas my day in the sun never came. There was no edge control, or curl puddings, or YouTube tutorials, or things of that nature back then. I either got box braids, or my grandmother’s best friend would press my hair using Vaseline and a hot comb off the stove. To this day, nothing has ever gotten my hair as straight as good ole Mama Carrie and that Vaseline. I got my first relaxer at 15, and still I swear that Vaseline press out was the straightest my hair ever was, but once that humidity hit it, it was over. Anyway, there would always be about a two week lag between the time I arrived in South Carolina, and when I got my obligatory summer braids. Mind you, I am living with my dad who knows nothing about doing hair, let alone natural hair. Hence, my big head of hair was at the mercy of the sun and humidity of Spartanburg, South Carolina. I was a…interesting looking kid. My brother swears this isn’t true, but you always look better to the people who love you most. Just to add insult to injury, I woke up one day and had boobs. They came out of nowhere, and I wanted nothing more than to hide them from the world and myself. As soon as my grandmother saw that I needed bras, we went to JC Penny’s and bought all of the training bra sets. It should be noted that I grew out of them almost instantly. She made me swear that from that day forward I would wear a bra every day for the rest of my life. Bras
Now that you have a good idea of how unfortunate looking I was, let me set the scene for you. My dad would put us in this summer camp at the same church every year. The cool girls of the camp were the girls who attended the church, and knew everybody. They weren’t particularly pretty, it’s just that I didn’t go there, so I was automatically wrong.
Each morning there was a praise and worship hour. This entailed the pastor of the church making you recite a scripture, and what it means to you. Let me just tell you that as a kid, no scripture meant very much to me. Life hadn’t fully kicked me in the balls yet, so I didn’t have a real understanding of the word of the God. I could recite a scripture, but I couldn’t give you a testimony about how it changed my life, because I had only been living for like ten years. After this embarrassing show of what I didn’t know about God, we would sing hymns, and then it was off to the gym before class started. I am irritated right now thinking about the fact that we had full on school in the summer. Why couldn’t we catch a break? Anyway, during this intermission we would all gather on the stage of the gym, and sing the latest songs, do dances, share gossip, and get roasted. Mostly I always got roasted. But guess why? They roasted me for being flat chested! If you know me now you know how insanely funny that is, because I am faaaaarrrrr from flat chested. I was like dude I’m developing over here, but how was I gonna prove that in church? So I just endured this relentless teasing every day. There I was with puffy hair, spaced out teeth, in the finest biker shorts Wal Mart had to offer, being joned for no good reason. Why didn’t I wear any of the cute stuff my mom packed for me? I don’t know. Again, this was my experimental phase. I think I enjoyed the freedom that came with my dad not giving a shit about appearance, and when in Rome, right? So this one day we are on a field trip, and my size 28B training bra was being the blow. So I dip off to take it off and hide it in my backpack purse (totally breaking my vow to Big Ma. Sorry Big Ma). For some stupid reason I left my purse out unattended, and one of the popular girls saw my bra. I will never forget that bra. It was green plaid, and had a front clasp. So this evil whore pulls my little bra out and starts tossing it around to everybody. And their overriding question was “you don’t have boobs, so why do you have this?” My thing was many of you are overweight, and therefore have boobs by default. My shade game wasn’t up to par back then, so I just sauntered away and cried somewhere. So you see, camp for me was some real bull shit. ‘Twas a cruel, cruel summer.
There we are in the gym once again singing all the hits of the 90’s. The popular girls of course ruled this too. They always sang the good parts of the songs. Let me put it like this, there was no way you could be Monica in the “Boy is Mine” if you wanted to join in. You were Brandy, or you didn’t get to play honey. So they get to “Crush on You” in this unspoken playlist, but they didn’t know the words. “This is my chance, but am I ready?!” I thought to myself. I whispered to one of the popular girls that I knew the words, but I wasn’t fully prepared to perform. They had just made fun of my bra, so this is a tough crowd. Being the little angel that she was, she yells “Jessica knows it!”
So everyone crowds around waiting for me to embarrass myself. “Go ahead, rap it, since you know it so well,” they taunted me. “Okay, but someone has to start off the chorus, so I know when to come in,” I said. So they start singing the chorus, and I am getting into my Lil Kim mode. Then I come in with “ayo shorty won’t you go get a bag of the lethal.” I had her cadence, mannerisms, inflections, and moves down. I nailed it. They were floored. I had redeemed myself to the cool kids, and as long as I was willing to perform Lil Kim’s verses of ”Crush on You” in a church gym, nobody really made fun of me anymore. So there you have it. That is how Lil Kim saved an awkward little black girl’s confidence at a bible summer camp.