A Breathtakingly Brutal “Beautiful Boy”

I’ll admit I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to sit through “Beautiful Boy” in its entirety without falling apart: I’ve known the Sheff family since Nic Sheff was nine years old. But actually, I did ok. Part of that is because Steve Carell & Timothée Chalamet didn’t try to impersonate David Sheff  & Nic, respectively. That helped me feel a little bit of distance from it. I was able to separate myself slightly from the people I know & the people being portrayed on screen. Or maybe it was just a coping mechanism I employed to make it through the movie without ending up in a puddle of tears in the movie theater. I don’t really know.

What I DO know is this:

Carell was outstanding. He captured the essence of David’s genuine warmth, unaffected charm & deep love for his family so aptly. Chalamet captured Nic’s sweet playfulness & soulful intellect. He did that thing that only the greatest actors can do: about 20 minutes in I completely forgot I was watching Hollywood’s latest IT Boy, the red carpet’s most unconventional stylist free style maker & Kid Cudi’s number one fan; I legitimately forgot I was watching an actor.

Instead, I was watching a young man, equal parts tender & tormented, living through addiction. Timothée does things with his face – I don’t know how exactly bc I’m not an actress so I don’t know how these things work – where he conveys a full range of emotions just by a slight dip & curl of a lip or furrow flick of a brow. It was both brutal and beautiful to witness…sort of like life itself.

It’s rare in movies to see drug addiction & the person addicted, portrayed as almost sympathetic players. Even in the moments when Nic is engaging in his worst behavior, your heart breaks for him. Chalamet finds a way to let Nic’s humanity shine through; it’s part of the brilliance of his acting gifts. There were moments during the movie, when the entire audience sort of let out a groan of heartbreak, disappointment, sadness because, collectively, we were rooting for him. But you never got the sense the audience had given up their empathy & hope for him. Despite it all, we remained on his side throughout. Just like his father.

Usually the drug use & actual HIGH portrayed in movies is slightly glorified. “Beautiful Boy” doesn’t do that. It’s unrelenting in its constant repetition of despair & then hope & then despair again & then hope again that happens in the cycle of addition & recovery. The movie makes you really feel, deep in your gut, that you are taking that emotional roller coaster ride with the Sheff family.

It’s also rare to see a movie where literally everyone in the cast is outstanding. The Timothy Hutton cameo was particularly satisfying; a nod to “Ordinary People” (god, we ALL had a crush on him back then & wanted to be the future ‘Lady Grantham’!). Maura Tierney and Amy Ryan were gut wrenching in their humanity. Even the young children were pitch perfect.

I’ve heard criticisms about director Felix Van Groeningen’s whiplash-like use of timeline & a heavy handed use of music. I disagree with those critiques. To the former, the repetitive back & forth to past/present helped create the sense of emotional chaos of the Sheff family’s reality; it served to highlight the constant yearning for what once was, the dire urgency of what currently is & the desperate searching for that ultimately elusive moment when it all started to go wrong. It was an exhausting ride. When I left the movie, I felt like I’d run a marathon (or what I imagine it feels like b’c Lulu doesn’t run!); I was emotionally & physically drained. And I think that was the point.

As for the music: it’s a huge part of the Sheffs’ life & it served as bookends between scenes which, given the aforementioned use of timeline, was useful. It also sort of helped my emotional state, tbh. The movie is so heavy; the music helped me to breathe through it. Music heals & I felt its restorative powers throughout.

Some have criticized that the movie doesn’t explain WHY Nic became an addict. But that’s the point: there IS no rational reason. Addiction is a disease & some people are wired in a way that makes them more susceptible to it than others. It can happen to anyone. That’s the utter horror of it all.

I’m always moved by any movie filmed in my hometown of San Francisco. Scenes on Haight Street, literally around the corner from my childhood home, were particularly poignant. Also, the scenes with the actor who played Nic at his youngest had me holding my breath, almost afraid to let my emotions out; he was close to the age Nic was when I first met him & looked just like him.

But I didn’t really cry until the scene with one of my favorite actresses, Lisa Gay Hamilton. After that, the tears just wouldn’t let up. And that last scene. I could barely breathe. It’s not giving anything away to say that Steve & Timothée managed to bring every human emotion of that moment to the surface for viewers. And they did it without saying a word. The entire audience shared a collective gasp & then a sigh. And then it was just sort of silent, save for all of the sniffles and nose blowing. It was as if we were tapped out of every emotion.

The fact that the audience knows that Nic is thriving & has been sober for 8 years doesn’t mean you leave the movie feeling good. You still feel the fall out of what the Sheff’s endured & the anxiety around how fragile sobriety is.

When I left the theater, I actually stood on the sidewalk for a moment; just stood there, not sure where to go or what to do. I couldn’t even really think straight. I felt numb. Just numb. I was depleted. I had nothing left…except for a tenuous thread of hope…which is really all you can have when it comes to addiction & recovery.

“Beautiful Boy” is not a movie you “enjoy”; you don’t go to see it to be entertained. It’s a movie that makes you think & feel & hurt & hope. It breaks your heart, while also reminding you of the power of conditional love of a truly beautiful family.

And one last thing & this is perhaps the most important (& a rule I follow in every movie tbh): Do not leave your seat until the very very very very very last credit rolls. I mean it. The very last credit. The. Very. Last. Credit. Thank me later…

…Later

Erika, with ease and grace

I often write when I am at my happiest – to savior the moment – or at my saddest – in order to heal.

My heart needs a lot of healing today.

My dear friend, Erika, passed away last night, quietly, softy, painlessly, gently, surrounded by love & music. I wish you could have known her. Her earthly body is gone forever, but her spirit lives on and I’d like to introduce you to Her.

There are people who come into your life & change it forever. They have the ability to make everyone around them better, simply be being the bright shining light they are. My sweet friend Erika is one of those people.

I’ve watched her navigate her cancer journey with a level of grace that is hard to comprehend…except that it’s not…because she is Erika, who does all things with ease & grace.

Even during her darkest times, she used her cancer diagnoses as a way to inspire, teach & heal others. Because that’s who & what she was at her core: a teacher, a spiritual mentor, a light to show us how to live…especially so, in the face of death.

I first met Erika over 20 years when we worked together at a private elementary school in SF. It was my first job out of college. I was the Director of Admissions. Ericka was the music teacher. She was pure joy. A ball of sunshine & smiles who gave the best, most heartfelt hugs every time you saw her. She radiated warmth, joy & compassion. Her light nor her mood never dimmed.

As humans, even on our best days, we all have our moments where we lose a bit of grace because that’s sort of how we are built. But not Erika. She never lost her cool, her patience, her composure, her smile. She had a pure soul, devoid of even a momentary flickering of snark, gossip, pettiness, selfishness, hubris, materialism, conceit, or greed. I honestly have never ever in my life met another person like her in that way.

I always felt inspired to be the best version of myself when I was around her. But inevitably, just because…life & humans…I failed, always succumbing to those pesky perils of personal foibles. It’s not easy to be perfect. I’d say it was impossible. But I know it’s not, because…Erika.

How lucky her students were to have been taught, mentored & guided by her. How lucky were we ALL were to witness her example of what it means to truly be a person who, at all times, in all ways, big and small, was the very best of what we can only aspire to be, as humans.

I’m telling you, when your time comes to leave this earth, you’ll want & hope that people will be speaking about you the way Erika’s tribe is right now. I’m reading posts from people on FB, who only met her once – just one time – writing paragraph upon paragraph about her.

That’s how potent her magic was. That’s the sign that you have lived life the way it is supposed to have been lived; to have touched people the way angels do; to have left this planet so much better than you found it. Many of us talk about doing that. Erika actually DID it.

When the universe created Erika, when the ingredients were being mixed, they added an extra dollop of fairy dust to her creation. She had something special, something that made her better than the rest of us. That is not me being overly dramatic or extra emotional, practices I admittedly have a propensity for. It’s simply the truth. Erika was better than the rest of us. Or maybe I should just speak for myself. She was a much better person than I. Even on my very best day. Fact.

I don’t believe that one person’s life is worth more than any other. But I DO believe there are a select few among us who walk this earth with a bit more grace than others. Grace. I keep coming back to that word. The writer in me wants to find a few synonyms but I feel it just needs to be repeated. Over and Over. Amazing grace. That’s how she lived. And it’s also how she died.

My heart breaks for her wife, her life & musical partner, Lisa, and all of those who knew & loved her. We are all part of her tribe now. Many of us strangers until now. I feel our collective pain via posts on social media, but oh how deeply I feel our collective love. How lucky we were to have known her. How lucky this universe was to have had her.

Maybe she was too good for this world, this cold hard world. Maybe we just didn’t truly deserve her, didn’t do enough to earn the privilege of being graced with her presence into her old age.

But she wouldn’t want us to take that cynical view. She’d want us to celebrate life…hers & ours.

Dear sweet friend, thank you for the song of life you shared so generously with us all. We are all better humans for having known you. Rest well, my love. With ease and grace, rest well & sing on. xo Lulu

 

Art Matters. How an Afternoon at the Movies Healed my Heart

Art matters. This is why.

I went to the movies recently. By myself, which is how I prefer it. I sat in the very last row, which is also how I like it at this particular theater. I saw Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman”. I knew it would be emotional. I knew I had to mentally steel myself for it. I knew it would be a lot. And it was. Especially those last few minutes. I’m not giving anything away by telling you that. The entire audience sat in stunned silence. Barely breathing.

Speaking of the audience, when I walked in the theater, I looked around & it appeared to me that the audience was entirely composed of retired age white folks. Going to midday matinees, it’s usually like that. The over 65 part, that is.

As the credits rolled, and Prince sang (don’t ever leave a movie before all the credits roll; that’s a pet peeve of mine & you sometimes miss really significant moments – hint hint), a young woman was trying to exit my row.

“Excuse me”, she whispered, as I was sitting there, holding my face in my hands, my heart in my stomach. I looked up. She was young. Barely 23, if I had to guess. If I had a younger sister, which I don’t, I imagine this young lady is what she might look like. The similarities in our appearance were notable. I guess I didn’t see her when I made my initial once over of the audience earlier. So, make that two people of color in the audience. Two black women.

I smiled weakly, shifted my legs so she could get by & then continued to sit there for another few moments.

I knew that I would need to go to the restroom to compose myself. I might even have to lock myself in a stall & have a good cry. I had errands to run & didn’t think my flood of emotions would wait until I got home.

When I entered the restroom, there she was. The young woman from my row. Looking in the mirror, dabbing tears from her eyes. She looked at me. I looked at her. And then I promptly I burst out into tears.

“I’m sorry”, I blubbered. “I’m so sorry. I just…can’t…”

“I know”, she said. “I know”.

And then this young woman, this total stranger, barely half my age, reached out her arms to me. And we hugged. And not one of those demure “respect my space” hugs. It was a real hug. The heart to heart kind. The holding on for dear life kind. The sharing an understanding, a feeling, an awareness of a human experience kind. The best kind.

There we were, two strangers in a public restroom. Bonding over a movie.

I apologized again. “I’m so sorry”. I’m not sure why that was all that I could say. Maybe I felt embarrassed by my own vulnerability.

“It’s ok”, she said, warmly. “It’s a lot. I’m going to sit outside (referring to the little lounging area in the theater) & try to process it. I’ll be there”. The implication, it seemed, was, she’d be there, if I wanted to join her.

I nodded my head as I dried my tears. She left the restroom & I splashed some water on my face, reapplied my lipstick, put my purse on my shoulder & started to walk out of the restroom.

Then I paused. I looked at my watch. I had errands to run. Places to be. Things to do. I was torn. Was I just going to leave & never see her again? Would our moment begin & end in a public restroom? Or would I walk outside, sit next to her & connect?

I made my decision.

I found her sitting on the couch, looking down at her phone. I sat across from her, not wanting to interrupt. Not wanting to seem needy. Maybe she was just being polite when she told me she’d be sitting there. Maybe I had misinterpreted her words.

So, I just sort of sat there. Staring off into space. And then I sighed a little bit too loudly.

She looked up.

And then we started talking. Like old friends.

We talked about the movie & how there were moments where we thought, “My god, this could be today. The words they are saying.” And then how we realized that this IS today. The words they were saying, WORD FOR WORD. The exact same words uttered by the KKK & David Duke in the 70’s are now being uttered by the current occupant of the Oval Office.

We talked about Trump.

We talked about race.

We talked about politics.

We talked about our lives.

She told me she just moved here, several weeks ago. From the same town where my father was born in Minnesota.

She told me that she now lives in the neighborhood where I grew up. Just six blocks away from my childhood home.

She told that she’d been her for just a few weeks and that I was the first native San Franciscan she’d met. She was very excited about that.

She told me she was a nurse & she was looking for a job.

She was young & excited about her life; the way energetic 20-somethings often are. But she was also weary & worried about the state & future of our country.

I told her that I understood. That I was worried too. And that in the end we would all be ok; a life lesson we older dolls, who’ve been through life’s ups & downs, have come to understand.

There was just something so familiar to me about this young woman. Maybe she reminded me of myself. I don’t know. But something made me want to keep her in my tribe.

“I know this might seem weird. We just met but…”

“Yes!” she exclaimed, “Let’s exchange numbers”.

My girl. Didn’t leave me hanging.

I told her that if she had any questions, any questions about San Francisco or needed any advice on her job search or just anything in general, to please call me. “Anything. Anytime. I’m serious”, I said.

We exchanged numbers. We hugged. We were healed.

This is the power of art. It brings people together. It changes people. For the better.

The movie had left me feeling so sad, almost broken, realizing how far we, as a nation, as Black Americans, still have to go to reach full equality. But the kindness of a stranger, with an invitation to connect, the power of a hug, soul to soul, sister to sister, brought me back to hope, happiness & humanity.

It was art that healed us. That matters.

When Harry Married Meghan

As a lifelong royal watcher, I am accustomed to the regal majesty of a royal wedding, but the May 19th nuptials of Prince Henry Charles Albert David Wales and Rachel Meghan Markle surpassed my exceptions. In every way. It’s not easy to make a royal wedding, viewed by millions across the globe, look & feel intimate, like a true family wedding, but somehow, they did.

On a day when the UK enjoyed California-like weather, a California born actress, divorced, biracial, a proud feminist and only child of a single mum, married into the British Royal family, forever after known as Her Royal Highness.

It was a ceremony that perfectly blended British regal precision with American exuberance & warmth.

A gospel choir sang a song connecting the world of civil rights activism, harmonic American classic songwriting & inspirational solidarity. And the whole world stood by them as they did.

A bishop from Chi town brought a little church up in here & the usually staid royals felt the spirit through their giggles.

Tiny flower girls & exuberant page boys waved & squealed, nearly exploding with trumpeting gap-toothed glee.

The red carpet of Hollywood unfurled on the ancient grounds of Windsor, with starlets & titled Aristocrats taking their spin for the title of Best Dressed.

The heir to the British throne took under his royal wing an African American single mum, guiding her, caring for her, like family does. Two people who couldn’t be more different in upbringing & life experiences, unified in their love for their children. He, softening the oft times chilled reactions that greet him. Her, proving you don’t have to be born royal to be a true Queen.

This mum. A social worker, yogi, dog lover with locs & a pierced nose, won the heart of the world with her grace & soft warm eyes, brimming with prideful tears.

And I know that sometime people don’t want to talk about race. It makes them uncomfortable. They ask, “Why does everything have to be about race?”. It doesn’t. Except when it does. This is one of those times.

It should be celebrated that a woman of color is now in the intimate fold of the British Royal family. It is not an insignificant thing. It means that a variety of voices & experiences will be at the forefront of how the monarchy moves forward.

The ONLY way the monarchy moves forward is if it stays relevant & changes with the times. Princess Diana was the catalyst for that awareness & we see that awareness carried through by her children. We live in a global world. In the UK 1 in 10 couples are in an interracial relationship. The royal family is now part of the fast-growing demographic. That matters.

I saw so many comments on social media on the day of the wedding from parents of kids of color who said that their children, especially girls, some as young as 5 years old, saw themselves reflected in Meghan. And while the goal for our children should not be to marry a prince, representation in all facets of life matters.

When a child grows up NOT seeing her/himself as CEO’s, Presidents of nations or key members of historically white institutions, be it a Fortune 500 boardroom or Buckingham Palace, it can limit their ability to dream bigger for themselves, to believe that they belong wherever their dreams & hard work takes them. That’s why it matters.

Another thing worth noting is that, whether by design or just coincidence, Meghan featured women in prominent roles in her wedding. Her dress was designed by one of the few head designers of a top fashion house. Her cake & flowers were created by women owned businesses & even the choir director was a woman. Again, I don’t know if that was a conscious decision, but I’d like to think that it was.

It’s been reported that during her reception speech, Meghan proudly claimed her feminist status. She has a proven track record of advocacy for the empowerment of women. That this commitment would carry over into the planning of her special day is a logical & welcomed possibility.

One of my favorite things was watching how giddy the American news anchors got when they saw the carriage pass by their mobile news stations.

Normally staid political reporters were jumping up & down squealing & in tears. It doesn’t matter who you are (or how many times you say you’re just not that into the royals), when you see them up close, you turn into a tween at a One Direction concert; trust me, I know from firsthand experience.

Marrying into any family is not easy. Marrying into the British royal family and all that comes with it requires a unique disposition of internal fortitude, strength, confidence, presence, humility, public speaking ability, telegenic appeal, relatability & warmth.

From everything we know about Meghan, it would seem she was born for the role. And I’ve never ever, ever seen Harry so happy. The looks on his face throughout the day, well, I mean, that is what it’s all about. I get chills & teary eyed just thinking about it. I have a feeling HE feels he married up.

And as my 99-year-old god grandpa, who was married for 75 years used to say: the key for a long & happy marriage is for the husband to know that HE’s really the lucky one.

The British Prince and his all-American girl.

It was a day for the world, no matter how jaded or cynical, to rejoice & believe in the power of love, as Bishop Curry proclaimed.

And to that, I say: “I do”.

I’ve got Pride

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When I was a little girl, we rented out a room in our large Haight-Ashbury flat to generate extra income. It was always rented to a young gay man, probably because my mum, a single parent, felt it was the safest & most sensible option. Their room was right next to mine in the front of the house & included a sitting room that we called the “library” because it had floor to ceiling bookcases, big puffy pillows on the floor & comfy nooks to settle in for reading or taking a nap. It was a common area in the house, but was mainly for our renter’s use, though I could often be found perched on the big overstuffed chair, peering out the window to observe the view of the always entertaining corner of Haight & Ashbury Streets.

If I wasn’t day dreaming, I had my nose buried in a book, such is the life of an only child in a household with no TV. Inevitably, our housemate would slide open the French doors that divided their room to the library & slowly, gently, tenderly, carefully, our friendship would unfold.

The men who lived with us all referred to themselves as my “fairy god-fathers” – their term; not mine. As a child, I didn’t understand the tongue in cheek we’re-taking-our-power-back meaning. Once I did, I both grimaced & grinned.

We had about five young men live with us over the years. This was in the late 70’s – early 80’s, before gay people could easily adopt kids or were even really allowed to think, dream about becoming parents in some cases. I was the only child in their circle of friends & was often invited to tag along to their ever so glamorous soirées, Oscar parties, holiday fetes & any other over the top event that might just really be a Tuesday night but always seemed like so much more to me. These outings gave my mum nights off from mum-ing & me, adventures to be fondly remembered decades later.

I often found myself sitting crossed leg in the middle of one of their friend’s exquisitely decorated antique filled living rooms in the Castro district on a priceless oriental rug, beading necklaces or playing with antique paper dolls (theirs, not mine), Judy blasting in the background, watching a group of lively young men gossip & flirt & dance & share stories about their hopes, dreams & fears.

I heard them talk about how they had escaped to SF from places like Iowa, Kentucky, Texas, so that they could live & love freely. They had all been disowned by their families for being gay. They had to create their own families & I was privileged to play the role of the little sister, niece, cousin they had to leave behind or, on an even deeper level, the child they never believed they would ever be able to have. It was from them that I learned my lifelong mantra: friends are the family we choose for ourselves. And love is love. Sorry Lin, but they said it first.

Of course, I was much too young to really understand the implications of all of this, but what I did know was that I felt so grown up & cherished in their presence. I knew there was something special about these men; to me they were worldly & fancy & sparkly & they knew a little something about everything. And most importantly, they taught me what they knew.

From them, I learned about music & fashion & art & literature & Broadway & why black & white movies of the 40’s were the best movies & that you must always bake with butter, never margarine & that cookie dough is calorie free & the power of the LBD & that one must always dress up when going downtown & the difference between Barbra Streisand & Barbara Stanwick; Bette Davis & Bette Midler; Oscar the Grouch & THE Oscars & the importance of wearing sunglasses, even in the fog, to prevent wrinkles, darling.

They were men of great style, class, elegance, intellect, wit, charm, creativity, beauty & fun. They were incredibly cultured & had exquisite taste. My memories of my time with them run deep:

Going to the “Nutcracker” every Christmas Eve.

Having high tea at Liberty House.

Lip syncing & dancing to the Andrew Sisters “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy”. I know all the words, still, to this day.

Taking in the Christmas decorations downtown at Macy’s & I.Magnin’s  & ending the day with a cable car ride to Ghirardelli Square for hot chocolate with extra cherries & whipped cream.

Lengthy sermons on the essential need for dust ruffles & monogrammed stationery & silk dressing gowns.

To a young child, these experiences leave a mark; a permanent mark of rainbow colored glitter sprinkled on her soul.

To my child’s eye, mind & heart, these men were magical. They were my playmates; the most delightful big brothers to a shy, often sad & lonely little girl. They were fun & silly & played dress up & Always let me be Cher to their Sonny. A major sacrifice on their part, to be sure!

They told me I was a glittering gem & that I was “fabulous” & they meant it in a REAL way, not a “hey girl hey” way, tho we had those moments too. They treated me with respect. They didn’t patronize or pander to me. They expected me to keep up my end of the conversation, regardless of the topic or my lack of knowledge about it. Local politics or Best Dressed at the Oscars; my opinion mattered to them. They didn’t baby me. They treated me like an equal. But that didn’t mean that they didn’t spoil & coddle me. They made me feel special & valued & respected. Perhaps because society didn’t offer them the same respect as gay men, they felt compelled to make sure I was always treated as a whole person. For a young girl of color, this went far in developing my sense of self & worth & pride in being who I was.

They also showered me with gifts, some that I still have to this day:

A beautiful hand-woven throw that made on an old-fashioned loom.

A hand beaded necklace with an antique tiny bell at its center. Too tiny now for my adult neck but still cherished.

A beautiful white cake stand from Tiffany’s; an odd gift for a 10-year-old girl, you might think, but as the gift giver said when he handed me the HUGE blue box, “Sweetie, if I’ve taught you nothing else, please remember this: the light blue box is always the BEST box!”

I still have those treasures, but I no longer have my fairy god-fathers.

They all eventually succumbed to HIV/AIDS. They were all in long-term relationships. Their partners died too. By the early 90’s they were all gone.

These men were the first & most prominent adult male figures in my young life; in truth, the only father figures I had growing up. I know for a fact that it is because of my time with them that I am the person, the woman, the friend, the activist, I am today.

They didn’t live to see the many strides & advances that the LGBTQ community has made. If they were still alive today, they would be at the front of the line continuing to fight the good fight for the strides still to be made.

But they aren’t, so I do it for them. It is the least I can do to honor their legacy & repay them for all they have given me.

My description of these men might seem almost disrespectful in its seemingly stereotypical depiction of gay men, but these were the men I knew, as I knew them, when I knew them. This was who they were, at a time when the gay community in SF was thriving & carefree; when the pulse of the disco beat of the day seemed to ring in sync with the beat of the cultural awakening that was taking the world by gloriously gay rainbow storm on the streets of SF.

I am so lucky that I spent my formative years as their fairy goddaughter, wrapped up in the glow of this historical time. But my golden carriage turned into a pumpkin well before midnight of my young adulthood dawned and my fairy god-fathers vanished with it.

I am a better human being because I knew them. THIS, I know for sure. My fairy god-fathers may be gone, but their rainbow colored fairy dust flows in my veins forever. They had their Pride. And they gave me mine, too. xo Lulu

The Problem with Models of Color as Cover Girls

Models of color on the covers of major fashion magazines. It’s a good thing, right? Well, yes and no.

Seeing such diversity and actual models (as opposed to movie/TV stars) on covers of major fashion magazines is refreshing. The loss of that exposure has had a grave impact on the career paths of professional models. A cover can make a career.

However…

…it seems there is an unwritten, rarely spoken about rule that models of color have to share this pivotal moment in their career.

More often than not these days, when a Black/Model of Color (MOC) lands a cover, she is not alone; she shares it with other models. Sometimes they are other models of color; sometimes they are not. A quick review of some of 2017’s covers illustrates my point:

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And quite often, the cover story is about diversity, basically highlighting the fact that the editorial team has decided to put women of color on the cover. It almost makes it feel like a gimmick. Instead of just putting a woman of color on the cover and letting THAT be its own powerful image, it becomes a “thing”, a “look at what we did” moment.

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To be clear, I fully appreciate and want diverse beauty represented in fashion, advertising, and art. But if you have to draw attention to the fact that you are doing something, perhaps that is a clue that you don’t do it enough.

Maybe it’s the former model in me, but I am sort of selfish minded for these girls. To get a cover of a top fashion magazine is one of the apexes of any model’s career. It’s even more coveted now that models rarely get that honor: for the past fifteen or so years, cover girls aren’t professional models; they are Hollywood starlets. So when a model gets a cover, it’s a big damn deal for her career. And yet a shared cover happens primarily – I’d argue it ONLY happens – when the cover includes a Black model/MOC.

Further, when there is more than one model of color on the cover, they are usually in a range of skin tones, from light to dark. Again, the message is a seemingly positive one: “Yea! Diversity! Look at all the pretty colors”. It would be MORE powerful…and genuine to the message of diversity…if just ONE model was on the cover…especially if she were a dark complexioned model.

Our culture puts a higher premium on lighter complexioned women of color. I say this as a woman who falls on the lighter hue chart herself. The privileges I experience in life, based on that reality, were not only restricted to my modeling career; they extend to my life, day to day, every day, as a woman of color in America. I am afforded more opportunities, acceptance and accolades because my skin skews lighter. My lighter skin makes me more palatable to those who might hold biases towards people of color. People never know WHAT my identity is. Makes it a bit harder for them to figure out how to discriminate against me too.

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The first time, in its 32 year history, that Sports Illustrated put a Black model on the cover of its career making swimsuit issue, she was not alone. Tyra Banks shared the cover with Valerie Mazza in 1996.

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It’s almost as if they were testing the waters. Once they saw the positive reaction her appearance received – and that the world did not come to an end – the next cover was hers and hers alone. Tyra’s cover turned out to be one the most popular and iconic covers in the magazine’s swimsuit issue history.

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It was the first…and last time that a Black model was on the cover alone…until this year’s 2018 cover model, Danielle Herrington (I’m assuming she is Black TBH). That’s 21 years between the two. And only two in 64 years.

There HAVE been a few Latina models on the cover. When Chrissy Teigen was on the over in 2014, (she’s part Thai) she shared the cover with two other girls.

In May 2017, American Elle issued six covers, with six different models, each solo on their respective covers. Two of them were MOC: the stunning Jasmine Tookes and the radiant Maria Borges. Instead of just giving one model a cover, they dilute…for lack of a better word…the power of that one image. Why not just give one cover to Maria? And then maybe another cover later in the year to Jasmine? Why must they be a package deal, folded in with stunners – but super safe choices – like Hailey Baldwin and Bella Hadid?

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This isn’t to say that it happens all the time. There ARE times when black models grace covers alone.

In 2015, Jourdan Dunn was on the cover of British Vogue alone. However, that was the first time in ELEVEN years a Black model had graced the cover alone. The last time was 2004 with Naomi Campbell.

Thankfully we didn’t have to wait another 11 years for it to happen again.

In 2017, with Edward Enninful at the helm as the magazines new EIC, his premiere cover in December featured Adwoa Aboah. By herself. Progress.  This is a reminder that diversity BEHIND the scenes, among key decision makers, in ANY industry, is vital to ensuring that a wide range of sensibilities, truths and experiences are reflected.

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I recently saw the May 2018 British Vogue cover and it is exquisite. It also has nine models on it; most of them WOC (as best as I can tell). I will add, however, that this cover does represent an even bolder diversity with a model who is not a size two and another model wearing a hijab. I actually contemplated not including it as an example to make my point of this essay because it is SUCH a powerful cover. But how powerful it would have been if each of these models were given a cover all to herself? I can’t help thinking about that.

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Taking Mr. Enninful out of the equation, why do fashion editors at these magazines make these art direction decisions? Is it flat out racism? I don’t think so. I think it’s more innocuous and subtle form of bias. The type that seeps into our everyday lives. People often ask “why does everything have to be about race”. It doesn’t. Except when it is.

I don’t have any empirical evidence on this, so I can only speak to my own interpretation of why Black models/MOC are often required to share a cover, but in broad stroke terms I think it represents a lack of awareness and ingrained biases implicit within the fashion industry, advertising and marketing. I’ve worked as both a professional model, and then, later, in advertising, at both the creative and account management ends. In both realms, I saw how the lack of representation in decision making roles created a limited view of the world they were trying to serve.

It’s important that decision makers understand the decisions they make have serious implications for many young (in particular) women who look at these images and make a direct correlation between them and their own self-worth, beauty and value in society.

At the end of the day, every decision comes down to money and advertisers. If they put one Black model on the cover…especially a dark complexioned model…there may be an unconscious fear of “offending” some of their readers and advertisers. But they want to “address” diversity, so they put a few models on a cover, ideally a white model to distract as needed, call it the “diversity issue” and pat themselves in the back for their bold artistic decisions.

I consider that a cop out.  Put a dark skinned beauty on the cover. Don’t explain it or justify it. Just put her beautiful face on the cover. And while we’re at it, where are all of the Asian models? That’s another story for another day. Representation for them is woefully lacking in this realm (the aforementioned May British Vogue cover is a refreshing exception).

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It didn’t always used to be this way. In the mid to late 80’s and into the early 90’s, Black models graced the covers of top magazines solo, with no “diversity” fanfare. A lot. Each of these supermodels, Karen Alexander, Kara Young and Louise Vyent had at least 10 that I counted during a quick google search. There was no fuss about diversity. They were just there, in all of their Black Girl Magic glory. I’m really not sure why it seems that progress regressed over the years. But it did.

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When I’ve mentioned this new phenomenon with covers to folks in my circle, many of whom are people of color, many who are not, but most who follow fashion and style and beauty trends and all who are, as the kids today say: “woke”…they are shocked. Shocked that this is actually a thing, but even more so, shocked because they sheepishly admitted they never noticed the thing. They were so busy celebrating the fact that models of color were actually getting covers that they missed the problematic pattern of these covers.

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I want to make it clear that I am so very proud of these cover girls. As a former professional model myself, I fully understand and appreciate what it means to get a cover – any cover – in this highly competitive industry. I celebrate in their success and nothing I’ve written should be interpreted as negating their professional accomplishments. I simply would like to see each of them given the chance to shine in their own light, on their own covers. It is a good, positive, powerful thing…for them professionally…and for us collectively…to see the rich diversity of our humanity reflected in these images. I’d rather have them on these covers, than not at all. I just hope there comes a day when this diversity is presented, not as “otherness”, but rather as just part of the expected landscape of our collective beauty, with each woman given her moment in the spotlight. ~ Lulu

Inked by Sade

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I still can’t believe I got a tattoo! It’s not something I ever really thought about but in the past few years I felt like I wanted one & I knew that it would be music related & it was gonna be Sade related because if music is my religion, then Sade is my God.

“By Your Side” is the name of one of her songs. It might surprise you to know that it’s not necessarily my favorite song of hers but it DOES represent my connection to her music in a powerful way.

(Before we start, can we just acknowledge how weird a wrist looks out of context? SO weird!)

It was the fall of 2000. I had just come home after a bumpy day at work. I even remember what I was wearing (green cargo pants, a pink tank top, jeans jacket, green striped tote bag). Normally when I come home I immediately kick off my shoes, drop my keys & sunglasses in their proper little spot (because I am uber Type-A & organized that way), put down my purse & turn on the TV (terrible habit, I know).

But this day, for some reason, I went into the kitchen & turned on the radio. I NEVER do that. I still had my sunglasses on, purse still on my shoulder. The station was set to KBLX, The Quiet Storm. The DJ was saying, “Sade’s first release in 8 years” & then a song started to play.

I literally dropped to my knees in the middle of my kitchen & started to cry. The instrumental intro to the song started to play. I started to cry because I knew that soon, when this album was released, I would have 12-13 new songs from an artist whose art affects me so deeply; songs that would give me everything I need when I need it. I don’t really know how to explain it. There are actually singers whose voices I would rather have if I could sing, than hers. But her music moves me like no other.

I actually said out loud to the empty room, “Sade, WHY do you make us wait so long for your music? We need you by our side”

And then she started to sing the song:

“You think I’d leave your side baby
You know me better than that
You think I’d leave you down when you’re down on your knees
I wouldn’t do that”

I sobbed. As usual it was as if she knew my heart; knew exactly what I was going through. There I was, on my knees, questioning her, begging for her.

She continued to sing. The last line was “I’ll be there by your side baby”

The DJ came on the radio & said, “There it is. “By Your Side” by Sade.

Well, I just about passed out. I mean, she was LITERALLY reading my mind, my heart, my emotions. She was reading my heart & as always, knew exactly what I needed to hear, when I needed to hear it. There she was, being my favorite artist in all the ways that move me.

When the cd was released, I had preordered it & picked it up at the record store (remember those??). I had a whole ritual planned: I was going to start listening the CD on my Discman (lol) the minute I walked out of the store & walk home & just enjoy the music with the backdrop of San Francisco all round me. The walk home was not a short one (From the Embarcadero to Cow Hollow for your SF peeps). It was not a walk that one takes just on a whim. It was a long walk, but walking up & down the hills of my hometown on a brisk clear night, with Sade serenading, is pretty much my idea of heaven.

So I walked & I listened. I few times I stopped to take in the view. And because I am super Type A & like clarity & order & finite beginnings and ends, I started to wonder if the CD would play all the way till I got home or if it would stop sooner. Btu I didn’t really think too much about it. I just walked & listened. And as I put the key in my front door, at that very moment as I opened the front door, the very last note of the very last song faded away. I don’t know what you call that, but I call it a sign…yet again…that Sade knows. She just knows.

“By Your Side” has become a little mantra I say to myself when I need encouragement or a reminder that everything is going to be ok.

Cause here is the thing:

The thing is, there is ALWAYS something or someone by your side…to get you through, to give you encouragement or tough love or a pat on the back. It might be your faith, or your bestie, or your lover. It might be your favorite spot in nature or your much loved piece of prose or a warm cuddle from a fur baby. And it might even be a song…or the title of a song. And it might even by YOU, by your side. In most cases, it’s a combination of all of the above.

So when I started to think about getting a tattoo, something inspired by Sade was the only option & this was the obvious choice. On the inside of my wrist (where is can be easily covered by my watch for those times when a tattoo might not be appropriate) where I can see it, glance at it, stare at it, enjoy it. And I HAVE! I have really looked at it & focused on it & allowed it to do what I hoped it would do: give me strength & courage & faith. Sometimes I wake up in the morning & my arm is up on the pillow & the tattoo is the first thing I see & it comforts me.

It’s been almost two months now. And I have no regrets…which is a good thing…cause it’s gonna be by my side forever! xo lulu