When we started Beauty Dummy our vision was to create a place not just to share knowledge, but to share wisdom and experiences. Every month, we'll feature a human in our community that inspires us. This week, that human is Jamila Reddy: writer, activist, and all-around motivator. She talked with us about the connection between self-image and self-care, and how unapologetic confidence can be an act of resistance.
Beauty Dummy: You’re a writer and an activist. Your creative background includes theater, poetry, journalism, beauty blogging and more. Currently you inspire people about self-care and strength through social media. How would you describe your passion and define what you do?
Jamila Reddy: My passion is helping people live beautiful, joyful, peaceful, extraordinary lives. I am passionate about not taking this human experience for granted, and doing whatever I can to become absolutely happy. I’m using the Nichiren Buddhist understanding of "absolute happiness" — it’s opposite is relative happiness — and it’s a state of being in which you possess indestructible happiness (also called enlightenment, or Buddhahood). What I do, with various modes and methods, is try to get there, and then help others try to get there, too. To this end, I do lots of things. I write. I encourage people. I throw parties. I intentionally pursue joy, play, and pleasure. I speak candidly about things that stand in the way of me and my happiness. I start conversations. I challenge myself to get out of my own way.
🙋🏾 I see some of y'all are new here! (If you're not, thanks for sticking around!) Hey y'all. I'm Jamila. I'm 27 years old and have never had a full-time job. I do the most, but most days I'm a writer. I like to throw parties that I'd want to go to; I'm into curating vibes & creating space for folks to function at their best, highest, & most authentic selves. I cry often, I feel deeply. I think it's a super power, but I haven't figured out exactly how to use it. I just finished one year of an MFA program in Creative Writing, and I'm taking a year off to figure out if I can do this writing thing without the burden of financial servitude. 🤔 I think the world would be better and our lives much happier if we told each other the truth more often. I'm black + queer + femme and constantly trying to figure out how to navigate these identities and use my magic for good. I am terrified of smallness, which makes me look braver than I feel. I am in pursuit of freedom, always. I want to live by example. This space is a manifestation of that vision. From the bottom of my heart, I'm glad you're here. | 📸: @brandichantalle
BD: One of our favorite hashtags you use on Instagram is #selfienotsorry. People are often derided for posting too many selfies – not to mention “imperfect” ones. But you post selfies with pride, and they often come from a more vulnerable place that the typical gram. What made you decide to reclaim your body and emotions through social media, and what has that process been like?
JR: Social media, for me, is a space in which I have ownership over my image and my narrative. As a queer Black woman, I have spent my entire life consuming distorted representations of myself, and worse, not being represented at all. I like selfies because they require me to look at myself. There is no third party — no intermediary — between me and my image, between me and my story. This feels empowered. James Baldwin wrote, “When you try to stand up and look the world in the face like you had a right to be here, […] you have attacked the entire power structure of the Western world.” I like to think that’s what I’m doing by taking selfies without apology — I’m standing up like I have a right to be here.
🙋🏾 armpit hair thriving because #feminism. because razors are expensive, and i don't want to spend money i don't have on things i don't need. because the beauty industry is a trick of the enemy. because gender norms are bullshit. because i think body hair is sexy. because my opinion of my body is the only one that matters. #thebodyisnotanapology #radicalselflove #getfree
JR: In the spirit of transparency, the process of reclaiming my body and emotions through social media has been a long and difficult one. It’s ongoing. I don’t know that it ever ends. The process has required being honest with myself about the ways that I have been complicit in my own suffering. I recently watched a trailer for Stacey Patton’s upcoming book, Spare the Kids: Why Whupping Children Won’t Save Black America, in which she says, “What we have to stop doing as Black people is becoming co-conspirators and participants in the dehumanization process.” When I speak up, when I share my voice, when I allow myself to be seen, when I take up space in places where, before, I didn't exist — I’m resisting my own silence, my own erasure, my own distorted image. I’m trying not to become a co-conspirator in my own oppression.
BD: There’s an undeniable connection between self-care, physical wellness and mental health. How has caring for your mind as well as your body impacted your perception of your own beauty?
JR: Caring for my mind and my body has allowed me to understand that my beauty extends far beyond my physical appearance. What does it matter that I’m beautiful, if I’m suffering? What does it matter that people find me pretty if my physical wellness is deteriorating? If my mind is stuck in the dark? What matters most to me is that my life is beautiful. Caring for myself is the simplest and most generous thing I do to make sure that it is so.
BD: There’s so much to be said for standing up for your visibility, especially in this social climate, as a queer woman of color. How do you maintain strength and confidence during the hard times?
JR: Philosophically, I maintain strength and confidence by reminding myself that I, and only I, am responsible for my happiness. This allows me to navigate life’s sufferings — grief, violence, fear, trauma— knowing that not only are they temporary, but that they don’t have power over me unless I give them power. They can’t destroy me unless I allow myself to be destroyed. This, again, is Nichiren Buddhist philosophy: The only way to be defeated is to give up.
Practically, I maintain strength and confidence by giving myself permission to have a full range of human experiences. The harder the times, the harder I pursue indulgent self-care, full-belly laughter, collective joy, safe space with loved ones — things that feel good. Things that remind me how delicious and delightful it is to be alive.
My ego didn't want me to post this picture. Little Me looked at it and said, "You look sad. Nobody wants to see that." And then the part of me that's still awake showed up, as it always does, and led me back to the truth. It's okay not to be okay. It's okay to be sad. It's okay to grieve. It's okay to not perform perfection, invincibility, wellness. It is, in fact, a matter of survival that you don't. You are allowed to experience a full range of human emotions. It is delusion to think otherwise. There is no need to be ashamed of your darkness. Without it, you would not know your light. "For if you are strong, even your sadness will become a source of nourishment, and the things that make you suffer will purify your life." — Daisaku Ikeda #daisakuikeda #nammyohorengekyo
BD: Is there a piece of advice about self image you want to share with folks who may be struggling with theirs?
JR: Yes, but I won't pretend to take full credit for it. A few years ago, I had the fortune of hearing Sonya Renee Taylor, the founder of The Body is Not An Apology, speak on a panel, and she said something that changed my life. She asked the audience to consider, “Who profits from your self-loathing?” This question stopped me in my tracks. It allowed me to see my distorted self-image for what it really was: A trick of the enemy. So my advice is this: When you’re struggling with self image — which is to say, when you’re struggling to see yourself clearly — it helps to remember that there are systems set up to ensure that you do not. There are systems of power in place to prevent you from loving yourself. When you think about this, I mean really think about it, it’s a lot easier to let some of that self-doubt and self-loathing go. It’s not yours. And it doesn’t serve you. So you can let it go.
I didn't post this picture yesterday because my stomach is blah blah blah & my thighs look kind of yadda yadda & ooh can y'all see my bunions & maybe I'm posting too many photos of myself — but THEN I thought about how much fucking time and energy we spend trying to pretend our bodies aren't our bodies & how doing so is a result of a deeply internalized psychological violence which seems to disconnect us from the source of our power and pleasure and presence SO here's a picture of me trying not to bust my ass while pretending to be a model on Malibu beach because this is real life and here is my real body and it's mine, y'all. Mine. All mine. #realselfselfie #getfree #stayfree #staywoke #decolonizeyourmind #carefreeblackgirl #blackgirlmagic #blackgirlshine