Comfortable in my skin

2014-12-03 13:45

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Joonji Mdyogolo ditches her inner prude to rejoice in the excessive display of flesh

I learnt my biggest confidence lesson recently from a 21-year-old who poses half-naked on Instagram. I was interviewing Thick Leeyonce for a series of profiles on a project about social media.

This after hearing her name float around among the young writers I work with at Live magazine (a youth magazine, for themselves, by themselves). When the young speak, you have to listen.

Thick Leeyonce is a buxom beauty and each photo of her (in a swimsuit riding up her thick thighs or tiny jersey that barely zips up her sizable chest) is an affirmation of that fact.

Talking to her has stopped my hand-wringing and mother hen tendencies – to be honest, I should really call them judgements – about young women and social media.

My constant cluck-clucking at girls, and what I see as their sexualised selfies.

It is a conversation I turned over with a university friend a few months ago. What is it with the pouting, the preening and the “accidental” peek-a-boob?

Why is it that when women finally have the chance to be the author and broadcast themselves in their own image, they choose to be overtly sexual? And oh, what about the predators out there who prey on young women? Girls should really be careful.

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Thick Leeyonce says it’s got nothing to do with me. She doesn’t need an outsider’s stamp of approval, not even from her mother. At face value, this sounds ironic seeing as social media is a public platform where you get a reaction for what you put up.

But I get what she means now. It’s in the same way authors or painters broadcast their creations. They are putting forth their story.

What the reader or voyeur – or the haters who call her “fat” or tell her to cover up – choose to take out of it is their business.

Leeyonce also says there’s no filter between her Instagram life and real life. This is how she’s dressed all her life and what she wears every day. “I would always fight with my mum and eventually she got over it,” she explained.

This has set me straight on something else that’s crucial. She’s not operating on the old system I grew up on which says that as a woman, you have to fragment your persona to be taken seriously in different spaces.

Thick Lee is a busy photographer and a politics and law student. I’m a decade – to be honest I should say a decade-and-a-half – older than her. That’s at least three generational shifts in internet years (Facebook was founded in 2004, Twitter in 2006 and Instagram in 2010).

You couldn’t be both sexy and smart in the workplace 15 years ago. Or pursue a degree in your booty shorts and ripped stockings, and not be in danger of perpetuating Chris Rock’s “stripper myth” that you’re paying for your university degree from the tips you collect as a stripper.

In this age, young women can construct meaning. Of course, they are drawing from pop culture and the media (Leeyonce, Beyoncé). But selfies are their creations, they are themselves. You can take your picture how you like and doctor it if you want to hide or expose your flaws.

And the “what about the predator?” concern is policing the wrong people. Another way of saying young women are drawing trouble to themselves. This generation’s young women can be the authors of their own story – how lucky they are.

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