Parker Curry, a little black girl just being her own amazing self Ever since the photo of her staring at Michelle Obama’s portrait went viral, she’s become a star on the toddler circuit

An hour before her big moment, Parker Curry was doing the same thing that the rest of us were doing at Nationals Park: shivering. With a game-time temperature closer to freezing than not for the Washington Nationals’ home opener versus the New York Mets, standing on the field meant dealing with the just plain cold weather outside. Her pink bubble parka was in tow, but the cameras were out, and she was wearing her Bryce Harper jersey with matching white Converse Velcro Chuck Taylors, so it was time to stunt.

For Parker and her mother, Jessica Curry, this was a slightly less controlled environment than usual for her media appearances, but also the least personal. The 3-year-old rose to fame when a photo of her staring at former first lady Michelle Obama’s official portrait at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery went viral, and since then she’s become a star on the toddler circuit.

“Life has been busy, but good busy,” Jessica explained. “A lot of people have reached out to us for appearances and things like that, and for the most part things have normalized. We’re back to ballet, we’re back to gymnastics. I’d say now it’s been about three weeks since she took the picture … and every week we’ve had a number of opportunities and we just take it one day at a time, and whatever we think is a good opportunity for Parker then, we’re open to.”

The run has been pretty meteoric. She got to actually meet Obama, which for many people would be the highlight of a lifetime. She also got to appear on Ellen, America’s Adorable Child Show of Record. Ellen DeGeneres did her best not to act like she wasn’t tight about the fact that Obama stole her bit and danced with her, but it was all good. They re-enacted the photo moment instead. In all seriousness, the online sensation made it all the way to CNN Tonight with Don Lemon, cementing her status as the most precious child in America for 2018.

But on Thursday, a lot was going on. Both teams had to be introduced. There was a national anthem to be sung. There were accolades to be handed out. Fireworks were going off, and on top of that, Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser had just arrived to help with Parker’s portion of the show. Before that, she’d taken a quick potty break to make sure things didn’t go awry before the big moment, but now that we were here, the scene was a tad hectic.

Like many grown-ups would probably be likely to do when feeling a tad overwhelmed, Parker cried a little. For a 3-year-old, surrounded by a crowd of 40,000 people, with people yelling her name and sticking cameras in her face, it was understandable. Luckily, there was a Little Debbie Oatmeal Cream Pie to the rescue nearby to lighten her mood.

Bowser, whom Parker had met previously — her mother is a D.C. native and a baseball fan who goes to a fair number of Nats games — was there to yell “Play ball!” and officially open the season. Parker, although a star, isn’t exactly a method actor yet, so relying on her to deliver the line wasn’t easy. Thus, the two rehearsed. They practiced their pageant waves, and Bowser went over the script. “I’m going to say, ‘On behalf of Parker, myself and all Washington Nationals fans: Let’s. Play. Ball!’ ”

By the time the two had scrambled on top of the dugout to deliver the line and get the game started, Curry was just hanging out, watching her child dazzle a ballpark crowd with the mayor of her hometown. Which led to the question, exactly how hectic is this child’s life? Curry, who runs Happy Mama Happy Babies, a motherhood and lifestyle blog, says she’s not letting things get out of control.

“It’s not stressful because of the fact that I realize that to some extent, I’m in control of the situation,” she said. “I don’t interrupt her nap times, I don’t interrupt her meal times, I don’t take away her activities that she does on a usual basis. If something comes up and it works with the schedule that we already had, that she already had before all this happened, then we do it. And if it doesn’t, then we don’t do it. I’m not letting it get to a point that I’m stressed out.”

Sometimes, however, plans do change. Lunch with the mayor was not exactly on the schedule, but what can you do? By the time we got into the Delta Club at the yard, Parker was walking around the dining room with her giveaway towel looking for food. Up until that point, it had been a day like any other. They’d had a big breakfast at home, and according to mom, she was hoping to see Muriel, her new close personal friend, at the game.

Overall, though, Curry is just glad that they’ve gotten the opportunity. For outside onlookers, the appeal is obvious. And in a world in which our children are so often portrayed in ways that are unfair to every part of their being, Parker’s life is a window into an existence we saw more of: a little black girl just being herself.

“It’s been really cool; we’re really blessed. I feel really honored that so many people are kind of interested in Parker, and interested in following her,” Curry said. “We’re back to doing everything that we normally do. Going to the library, going to museums, hanging out. It’s just that now there’s way more people watching what we’re doing. I’m happy to have the opportunity to inspire other parents to do cool stuff with their kids and inspire their little kids to do great things.”

But we gotta be real. The stunt factor is no joke. Most 3-year-olds don’t have the kind of Rolodex that Parker does and Curry has to manage that, no matter how ridiculous it may all seem.

“I no longer deal with the regular 3-year-old tantrums,” she said with a laugh before brisking off to eat. “I’m now dealing with tantrums that include pleas for Michelle Obama and Muriel Bowser and Ellen [DeGeneres]. These are the types of women that I have to deal with her asking for when she’s upset with me.”

Some call that Black Girl Magic.

The woman behind CoverGirl’s ‘I am what I make up’ marketing campaign Ukonwa Ojo added Ayesha Curry and Issa Rae as brand ambassadors

When Ukonwa Ojo left Nigeria for the United States to attend the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, she had no clue she’d eventually become global senior vice president for Coty Inc.’s CoverGirl brand, but she knew she had a dream.

“My parents were gutsy enough to let me move to America by myself to follow my dream,” said Ojo. “I always knew that I wanted to work in business, and America was like the nirvana of business.”

Fast-forward to the present day, where that same bravery kicked in when Ojo, who joined CoverGirl in the fall of 2016, gave the brand a makeover by changing its slogan, “Easy, Breezy, Beautiful CoverGirl,” to “I Am What I Make Up” after just a year at the company. Ojo and her team added more brand ambassadors to round out their roster. Along with singer Katy Perry, the new CoverGirl ambassadors included chef and author Ayesha Curry, who is half of a power couple with NBA All-Star Stephen Curry; Issa Rae, the creator of HBO’s Insecure; fitness guru Massy Arias; 69-year-old model Maye Musk; and professional motorcycle racer Shelina Moreda.

It wasn’t an easy decision, but the feedback has been incredible and allowed CoverGirl to bring a lot of innovation to market with bolder colors, deeper tones and glitter with a spring collection that will launch 114 new products.

Making tough decisions isn’t new for Ojo, who decided to change her career after working nearly six years in the finance department at paper company MeadWestvaco. A finance and accounting major in college, she was good at math but realized that she wasn’t in love with it and couldn’t see herself doing it for the rest of her life. Then she heard about brand management.

“I realized that what I didn’t like about finance was that I worked alone most of the time. But with brand management, I’m constantly collaborating and building together with so many departments,” said Ojo. “I’m a classic extrovert, so I get energy from other people.”

Ojo earned an MBA at Northwestern University and, while there, interned at General Mills, where she spent seven years. She handled marketing for brands such as Betty Crocker, Honey Nut Cheerios and Progresso from 2004-11. Later, she worked on branding for the French’s mustard portfolio, as well as Durex and K-Y in London for the British multinational consumer goods company Reckitt Benckiser until 2015. She stayed in London and joined Unilever as senior global director for Knorr, the food and beverage brand, before moving to New York as a CoverGirl senior vice president. With more than 20 years of marketing and brand management experience, she now oversees the cosmetic brand’s global strategy, advertising and communications.

The Undefeated visited Ojo at Coty’s offices in the Empire State Building to learn more about CoverGirl’s evolution, how she exemplifies why “you are what you make up” and why she lives by her Instagram bio, “working hard, playing harder and praying hardest.”


What is a typical day like for you?

There is no typical day, which is one of the things I love about this job and the beauty industry: It’s so fast-paced. I can be looking over the innovation within production operations, presenting to our board of directors or the executive committee, reviewing a pitch from our media partners who may have an amazing idea to meeting with our sales team on how we’re going to drive growth for that quarter. The scope of my role is so broad that it keeps things interesting and my brain challenged.

What’s the most rewarding and challenging part of your job?

The brand means so much because of the impact it has on culture, and that creates such a rewarding feeling for us. The challenge derives from that same responsibility of running such an iconic brand. Whatever you do, you know you’re standing on the shoulders of giants and that you’re pushing culture forward through the brand and the business.

What was behind the decision to change CoverGirl’s slogan from “Easy, Breezy, Beautiful CoverGirl” to “I Am What I Make Up”?

The decision came from really listening to people. I learned how makeup is so much more than cosmetic, and every day when they stand in front of the mirror with their makeup bag they are actually creating who they wanted to be that day. Women play so many different roles in society, and our makeup changes based on those roles because it’s a form of self-expression, and there’s a story behind each look. We realized that some of these looks weren’t so easy, breezy, and in some ways that was limiting us to go on that journey with her to create whoever she wanted to be that day.

How has CoverGirl evolved in how it chooses ambassadors?

It’s never easy picking a CoverGirl because of the legacy and history of what it stood for. It’s one of the hardest things we do as a team because it’s far more than just beauty that meets the eye. We’ve historically always stood for inclusiveness and diversity, but it was primarily limited to ethnicity. We wanted to continue to celebrate ethnic diversity but also the beauty that comes in all ages and vocations. A lot of our CoverGirls usually come from the entertainment industry as models and actresses, but we thought, ‘How awesome would it be to show women in various roles that are pushing society forward?’

Why did you choose Ayesha Curry, Issa Rae, Massy Arias, Maye Musk and Shelina Moreda?

We loved that Ayesha Curry was a chef, entrepreneur, a mom and a wife and was playing these roles in such an inspiring way. Massy Arias, a fitness sensation that could kick anyone’s butt at any time, is balancing that with brand-new motherhood and the ups and downs that come with that and was still thriving on that journey. And then we have Issa Rae, who we loved because she was really pushing the boundaries in Hollywood about what entertainment should look and feel like. She’s a director, producer, writer, actress and just a strong role model for women. [Model] Maye Musk exemplifies how even at 69 years old you can still do what you love and inspire at that same time. Shelina Moreda is the first woman to have raced at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and at the Zhuhai International Circuit in China.

We just wanted to show all of the different ways that women really thrive in society and have that be an inspiration to us and other women out there.

How can we increase diversity in managing advertising and brand campaigns?

I believe it’s a combination of not knowing that this is a career path and how there’s still a long ways to go on representation on all levels in this field. That’s why I try to be visible in my role, whether that’s with mentoring, participating on panels and speaking engagements so African-Americans not only know but see that this is a path here for them too. Brands, especially those that impact culture, have to have diversity in front and behind the camera to authentically push diversity and inclusivity. I’m very intentional at building a strong and diverse team.

Is it better to be feared or loved as a leader?

I don’t subscribe to fear and would never want to generate that on my team. If I had to pick a word, it would be respect, and I would choose that over being loved. As a leader, you’re going to make decisions that people aren’t always going to love, but if they respect you and you’re transparent, then they’ll recognize that your intent is right.

What is your advice to young women who don’t feel beautiful because they compare themselves to what they see on social media and in Hollywood?

Beauty really does come in every shape, size, ethnicity and vocation. It’s so important that we champion that and show how beauty is confidence. People try to water it down to an idealized vision of beauty. But at the end of the day it is confidence, and when you learn to accept who you are, you will automatically perfect beauty into the world.

What would be your personal theme song and why?

“Live Your Life” by T.I. featuring Rihanna, because I believe in writing your own rules. People could have statistically said where I should end up or what a senior executive should look or lead like. I love challenging those notions. Like our slogan says, ‘you are what you make up,’ and you can become whoever you want to be.

Serena Williams and daughter Alexis Olympia grace the cover of ‘Vogue’ magazine The tennis icon and her baby girl have taken mommy and me to the next level

The greatest of all time has done it again! Serena Williams may not be heading to the Aussie Open to win another Grand Slam title, but she has given us the gift of another amazing Vogue magazine cover — and this time baby Alexis Olympia has joined her!

The tennis star gave the magazine exclusive access to her stunning November 2017 wedding to husband Alexis Ohanian. Now the couple’s beautiful baby girl is making her debut, and she’s already got her smize game down pat!

The cover photo, which was shot by Mario Testino, shows Williams in a red dress with a simple sweetheart neckline, gold accessories and her massive engagement ring. Meanwhile, baby Alexis is serving up onesie realness.

In the accompanying article, Williams discusses motherhood, marriage and what’s next in her already phenomenal career, and she doesn’t mince words: There are more wins on the way.

“Maybe this goes without saying, but it needs to be said in a powerful way: I absolutely want more Grand Slams,” Williams says.

She also plans on teaching her daughter the secrets of black girl magic:

“Women are sometimes taught not to dream as big as men. I’m so glad I had a daughter. I want to teach her that there are no limits.”

Besides adorable mommy and me shots, the issue contains gorgeous flicks of Williams and her husband in full marital bliss, and others of the tennis star with her family looking very pajama party chic.

Vogue magazine has started the year off strong with black women gracing the covers of both the January and February issues. Last month, actress Lupita Nyong’o kicked off 2018 with her cover.

Check out the full article and stunning photos on Vogue.com.

Remembering pioneering Atlanta journalist Amanda Davis She inspired us with her many years as a TV anchor and her off-camera struggles

I don’t remember the first time I saw Amanda Davis — the Amanda Davis — in the flesh, in the newsroom, but I bet I stopped in my tracks and stared.

I was an adopted “ATL-ien,” by way of New Orleans, who had grown up watching Davis on Fox 5 News in Atlanta. One of my BFFs during my days at Clark Atlanta University (CAU) had the biggest crush on her. He’d gush about her dazzling smile, beautiful eyes and that signature sultry voice that made lots of Atlantans tune in daily. Somehow the death and destruction that fill much of TV news is more palatable when shared by someone who makes you feel like she’s your best friend. That was Amanda.

This week, I join countless fellow fans and black journalists in mourning her unexpected death on Dec. 27 at the age of 62 after she suffered a stroke at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. She was about to board a flight en route to her stepfather’s funeral. Davis was a Clark College (now CAU) alum, an award-winning journalist and a devoted friend, mother and daughter to many. But it was her backstory that would ultimately make us admire her most.

In the early 2000s, thanks to Sidmel Estes Sumpter, the first woman president of the National Association of Black Journalists, I’d landed a dream job as an associate producer for Good Day Atlanta on Fox 5. By that time, Davis, who’d launched the popular program with Sumpter as executive producer, had moved on to anchoring the evening newscast. But her groundbreaking role at the station and on the morning show, which featured an eclectic mix of hard news with newsmaker and celebrity interviews, was still widely celebrated.

I’d always admired Davis from afar, but my fandom reached new heights when I was invited to a soiree at her grand home in suburban Atlanta. I was touched that she thought to include lesser-known young-uns like me, and I remember feeling excited and a bit intimidated about celebrating the recent promotion of Fox 5 anchor Lisa Rayam in the midst of such pioneering black broadcasters as Brenda Wood, Karyn Greer and Monica Kaufman. My nervousness subsided quickly when they all embraced me, literally and figuratively, during that spirited celebration of “Black Girl Magic.” That night amid greatness ignited in me a deep sense of pride and a profound sense of purpose that would later catapult my own career. I hoped to make the women who’d inspired me proud.

Although I’d always appreciated Davis, as I struggle now with balancing a journalism career and motherhood, I find myself thinking back to the stories I’d heard from Sumpter and fellow Good Day alum Patrick Riley and Michael Watts about how Davis, as a single mother, would bring her beloved daughter to work with her in the wee hours of the morning. Still in her PJs, little Melora would sleep in a vacant office while her mom dazzled Atlantans on air. Then Davis, or a trusted member of the Good Day team, would take Melora to school. The struggle was real, but with dogged determination, Davis displayed the resilience of women, especially black women, with grace and strength.

We would learn in recent years that her ambition came with an even higher price than we knew. A few years ago, a DUI arrest ultimately ended Davis’ 26-year reign at Fox 5. But she didn’t give up and melt into the shame of a very public downfall. She brushed herself off and did what I believe was probably the hardest thing she’s ever had to do — be transparent.

She began speaking publicly about her long-standing struggles with alcoholism and the insecurities she endured as a result of a tumultuous romantic relationship that ended with a painful failed engagement. Davis embodied the phrase “grace under pressure” as she shared her testimony. I, like countless other fans and colleagues, cheered from the sidelines.

Davis landed back in the anchor chair a year ago, this time at Atlanta’s CBS affiliate. I kept up with her success through social media and checked on her through mutual friends. Her own posts in the minutes before her death, interestingly, have helped me to make peace with her untimely departure.

She gleefully posted photos of her Lyft driver, who had picked her up decked out in a festive holiday outfit with a vehicle decorated in similar fashion. Despite the emotional reason for her trip, she was smiling and in great spirits as she recorded herself walking toward the airport, joking about dreading long security lines and having to check her bags. She looked happy and beautiful, in a vibrant red turtleneck, eyeglasses framing her famous face.

It’s still hard to accept, but seeing her so happy and upbeat in what would be the last moments of her life has given me a sense of calm. Davis made it through the lowest of lows and inspired us all in the process. I hope she can rest in peace knowing that her biggest assignment — the lessons she lived to teach us all — was finally complete.

Former WNBA player Greeba Gamble has a new invention While balancing a blossoming sales career and family life, the mother and entrepreneur said she works hard to be No. 1

Greeba Gamble is 5-foot-10 and strikingly beautiful. She has the looks of a model, the moves of a seasoned athlete and the brains of a salesperson who could easily go to medical school. She’s also a mother, a wife, an entrepreneur, a sales rep for a global company and an author.

She dominated basketball courts for more than half of her life. Now, she is in the next chapter of her career as she has transitioned out of basketball.

Gamble recently spent a day in Washington, D.C., during the 47th Annual Congressional Black Caucus, where she was the only woman and former WNBA player to participate in a sports panel. What she looked forward to most that day was hearing from other athletes on their transition out of sports and sharing her own story.

Many professional athletes have a hard time transitioning into life after their career is over, but Gamble is spending her days as a sales rep for Boston Scientific in one of the hardest metro areas in New York City.

“I have one of the biggest accounts, Mount Sinai, Presbyterian,” Gamble explained. “We currently have medical products, and we go into the cases and some of the new products that the doctors are not familiar with and we guide them through the case using the product. We’ve got to make sure that clinically we’re up to par.”

Gamble graduated from St. John’s University, where she was a point guard. Before transferring to St. John’s, she played two years at George Washington University. She was a guard with the Los Angeles Sparks and spent time playing professionally in Puerto Rico, Africa, Poland and Israel. Married to her friend and confidant Edward Campbell, she is a mother of 2-year-old son Edward Anthony Campbell Jr.

Basketball was life for Gamble, but now she is balancing work, entrepreneurship and motherhood. She’d been playing the game since she was a child, but she had a good foundation in her daily life growing up. Although her transition out of the game wasn’t easy, it has been manageable and positive.

“When I left basketball I wanted something different,” Gamble said. “Basketball controlled my life since I was 8 years old, and it made me happy, it made me sad. It brought the greatest joys. People always say, ‘Well, you shouldn’t be what you do,’ but you kind of are what you do, and that’s what I was. I was a basketball player.

“It was definitely a hard transition, but I realized that just sitting down and talking to mentors, people who are in my family, and they said, ‘Here’s your skill set. This is what you provide. This is what you offer,’ and I also did some internships during like college, so I wasn’t strictly just basketball. I was a criminal justice major, so I worked at a law firm thinking I wanted to become an attorney.”

Gamble’s mentors explained to her that corporations are eager to hire athletes, so she was able to evaluate her skill set and plan for her next move. The eye-opening experience led her to hone her strength and inner abilities past the basketball world.

“I’m sitting there, I’m talking, I’m like, ‘Oh, because we’re winners, we’re structured, we’re determined,’ ” she said. “As I’m going through all these verbs and describing what we are as athletes, I realize that I could offer a big corporation something valuable, but what I need to do is get trained. How do I get trained?”

Gamble turned to her uncle, who had a lucrative career in medical device sales for more than 20 years. She took his sage advice on how to get her start and began structuring her career toward sales.

“I started with a small catering company in the alcohol industry,” she said. “I’m basically starting from the bottom. I was the man at one time in basketball, and now I’m kind of starting a career entry-level, putting up boxes, making displays for alcohol companies, going store to store and just trying to sell beer and wine — and I didn’t even have a plan. I learned watching and I learned from asking questions, and then E & J Gallo Winery, which is one of the biggest wineries in the world, saw my resume and wanted to bring me into the management training program.”

Gamble sat through about seven different interviews to get that sales job.

“I talked to people all the way from the West Coast to New York City, and they screened me really well and they put me through the training program. I’m still putting up 100-case displays. Nothing glamorous. I’m not in the club partying with P. Diddy drinking. It was definitely not glamorous, but I worked hard. I always wanted to be No. 1. When that email came out — who was selling the most, who was making the most money — I wanted to be No. 1, and that’s how I challenged. From basketball to corporate, that’s how I challenged. I guess that leap from being the No. 1 in winning and that progressed and I became a sales manager within the division.”

In July 2010, she published the children’s book Indoor Family Fitness with Greeba, which offers advice on how children and parents can come together as a team to lose weight.

Gamble spoke to The Undefeated about life after basketball, managing her sales career, motherhood and her new invention: The B-Ball Machine.


How and why did you decide to invent B-Ball Machine?

When I was playing professional basketball, I needed something to help me handle the ball a little bit better, a little faster, pound the ball a little stronger, and I couldn’t really find anything out there. I decided to come up with this belt with like these resistance bands, and I went to Home Depot and ended up getting all these different parts together and basically making like a prototype just to help me out.

It wasn’t fine-tuned, so there were times where it used to just kind of break and snap during my dribbling drills, but then I was able to connect with a guy here in New York City and he said, ‘Hey, there’s manufacturers that can kind of basically do a prototype and make it a little bit more durable. What do you think? I can give you the contacts.’ I said, ‘Oh, that’d be great.’

I contacted the manufacturer and they sent me a prototype, and I loved it. I put it in process for patenting and I received the patent on it. I was creating it to not only help me, but when I saw that during the trial period with kids and other high school and professional athletes that it was a great tool, people loved it. It was helping people.

Are any basketball programs incorporating the B-Ball Machine into their workouts?

My first program is at St. John’s University women’s basketball team. They were the first actual, like, program to purchase the B-Ball Machine. We did like a little seminar with it, and I had a guy who’s probably one of the best dribbling coaches here in New York City come and do a demo.

Do you ever miss the game?

I miss it. Yeah, I definitely miss it. I love the game. I wish I could start over again and continue playing, but unfortunately being a woman and into basketball sometimes you don’t make any money.

Aside from your uncle, who else would you say inspired you?

My parents. My mother’s a black attorney in Baltimore city. My dad used to own a gas station, and now he runs a wine business. That’s who got me in the alcohol business. He runs Total Wine. My husband, he inspires me as well. He’s a great supporter. He’s always been there from day one: coming to my games, just being a cheerleader and a supporter and being able to talk to when you’re down because everybody likes you when you’re up, but nobody’s there for you when you’re down. So he’s supported me.

What was the hardest part of transitioning out of basketball for you?

The hardest part for me was feeling like I gave up on my dream. But not knowing there was something out there that was added to my dream. Knowing I could do something better and greater, which I’m doing now. When you’re young, you can be selfish. I guess it’s cliché, selfless instead of selfish and trying to help others and trying to figure out how I can make an impact in my everyday life and how I can make an impact around people. My job is definitely, No. 1, we save a lot of people. It’s hard. Sometimes you come home and someone has passed right in front of you, and that leaves an impact in your brain and in your mind, but you’ve got to also count how many people you’re helping.

Serena Williams, with or without a baby, has always been a ‘real woman’ She used photos from her pregnancy to fight the ugly criticism she’s faced throughout her career

The Vanity Fair cover was #shotsfired.

I remember gasping upon seeing it. Serena Williams’ pregnant belly had popped, and there it was, along with the rest of her — glamorous, wind-swept, nearly nude, elegantly trolling us with a glance back to August 1991.

First thought: This b—- betta WERK.

Second thought: Eat your heart out, Demi.

On Friday, the 35-year-old Williams gave birth to her first child, a girl, at St. Mary’s Medical Center in West Palm Beach, Florida. She entered the hospital Wednesday, claimed an entire floor of the maternity wing and was induced Thursday evening. She and her fiancé, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, 34, have been engaged since December 2016. The birth of the Williams-Ohanian baby marks the culmination of several months of famous-mommy-to-be hullabaloo for America’s greatest living athlete. Said hullabaloo allowed us to re-engage with all our worries, anxieties, hostilities, unsolicited opinions and concern-trolling about Williams and that magnificent body of hers that will never allow her the luxury of being a shrinking violet, even if she wanted to be one.

Instagram Photo

Fortunately for us, Williams was more than happy to publicly exult in her knocked-up condition, gifting audiences with glossy, high-profile photo shoots in Vanity Fair, Vogue and Stellar, the magazine of Australia’s Daily Telegraph. There was the #squadgoals baby shower that doubled as a sock hop, an appearance with Ohanian at the Metropolitan Museum Gala in a silky, jewel-toned gown that breezily skimmed her swollen belly, and plenty of Instagram pics showing off her tummy’s transformation. This was how Williams, tennis player extraordinaire, fashion maven and certified friend of Anna Wintour, was going to publicly perform her pregnancy: with aplomb. In the course of an unexpected pregnancy, Williams stumbled upon an opportunity not just to express herself but to once again reassert and broaden definitions of beauty.

It was refreshing to see her so nakedly happy and maybe, just maybe, enjoying the opportunity to tweak some of her rivals and twirl on her haters. After all, Williams just so happened to “accidentally” share the news of her pregnancy with a photo on SnapChat the same day as her rival Maria Sharapova’s birthday.

For as long as she’s been in the public eye, Williams has been asserting her femininity because for just as long, it’s been under attack. Williams is well-aware of her public image and the critiques of it. And while she’s come to a level of comfort and acceptance with herself, she’s also bristled for years over the conversation about her physique and her athleticism. So for her, a pregnancy was more than a chance to welcome a new life into the world. It was an opportunity to assert, once and for all, something that should be obvious: that, yes, Serena Williams is indeed a “real woman.”


It doesn’t take a gender studies major to understand that the standard of femininity that exists for American women is centered on whiteness. And not just any kind of whiteness, but a delicate, blond, thin, toned-but-never-overly-muscular, WASP-y whiteness. Lady lumps are welcome, as long as they don’t protrude so much as to give the impression of cheapness or signal a tawdry lack of control over one’s body or eating habits.

It’s a rigid standard that, despite our recognition of it, has continued to hold firm. And so, even though Williams is in a class of her own as a tennis player, Sharapova nets more in endorsement deals because she’s more “marketable.” This despite her 15-month suspension for using a banned drug.

Which brings us to Vanity Fair.

Courtesy of Vanity Fair

When Moore appeared on its cover in 1991, nude, pregnant and head turned just so as she stared into the middle distance, it was a pivotal moment in the way our society thought about women’s bodies and pregnancy. Being visibly pregnant was — well, it was a really obvious indication that a woman had had sex. For decades, pregnant celebrities were expected to make themselves scarce as they carried, and here was Moore, flaunting her fecundity all over the newsstands. It marked the moment that pregnancy, at least for celebrities, could be a publicity asset. It could be sexy and daring and provocative, and you didn’t have to cover it up in a series of unflattering muumuus a la Princess Diana — if you were white.

In 2013, Olympic beach volleyball gold medalist Kerri Walsh Jennings posed for ESPN The Magazine’s annual Body Issue.” She did two shoots, both nude: one while pregnant and one postpartum, cradling her sleeping baby against her body. Moore basically opened the door for images like those to exist and not be a big deal.

But there was a double standard for black celebrities. Twenty-six years after Moore’s momentous cover, Williams and Vanity Fair took a shot at that double standard by overtly referencing it. Williams’ pose wasn’t an exact replica — it was a little more defiant. The hand bra, as the pose came to be known, was the same, but Williams had her free hand cocked on her hip. In contrast to Moore’s relatively short locks, Williams was Lady Godiva, staring head-on into a wind machine out of frame. She’s completely in profile, rather than facing the camera. And she’s not quite naked. Instead, she’s wearing a belly chain over a thong matched to her complexion.

But more than anything, like Moore, she was hugely, roundly, unmistakably pregnant. For Williams, pregnancy provided a way to announce and assert her femininity, something she’s been doing over the whole of her career.

In an August interview with Stellar, Williams told the magazine, “I am about to be a real woman now, you know? It’s going to be something incredibly impressive to go through.”

It seemed like an innocuous quote, especially if you were familiar with the attacks that Williams has endured for decades about her looks. But some didn’t see it that way, and slammed Williams. “Didn’t know I had to have a baby to be a “real woman”..thanks for letting me know,” sniped one Twitter user.


Williams shares an unfortunate sisterhood with Michelle Obama. They’re both high-profile black women who have been repeatedly subjected to racist, sexist insults suggesting that they’re not real women, or that they’re not even human. Both have withstood barbs about their bodies simply because they don’t conform to WASP beauty standards.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, The Washington Post ran an interview with a Donald Trump supporter in western Pennsylvania who believed Obama “could be a man.” It’s a rumor that’s followed Obama since she entered the national spotlight, and it continues even though she’s returned to her role as a private citizen.

Opponents insulted Obama by calling her “Moochelle” and insisting she was overweight. A West Virginia official was suspended from her job after posting on Facebook, “It will be refreshing to have a classy, beautiful, dignified First Lady in the White House. I’m tired of seeing an ape in heels.”

Because of her muscular physique, her aggressive style of play and her blackness, Williams has weathered similar accusations. Williams couldn’t even escape “misogynoiristic” comments from professional journalists. In 2009, Jason Whitlock, then a columnist for Fox Sports, called Williams lazy and fat, compared her to a horse and accused her of “grazing at her stall between matches.”

When Williams won Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of the Year designation in 2015, she had to face the fact that a number of sports fans were angry that she took the honor over American Pharoah, a horse — which, being, you know, equine, was not a sportsperson.

Williams accepted the honor with a bold, sexy photo shoot for the SI cover. She donned a black lace leotard and patent leather stiletto heels and posed on a throne, one leg draped suggestively over the arm of the chair. She confronts the viewer head-on, staring straight into the camera. If there was a thought bubble above her head, I swear it’d say, “You come at the Queen, you best not miss.”

We don’t have to guess about her thoughts on the Vanity Fair cover. “Being black and being on the cover was really important to me,” Williams told Vogue in August. “The success of one woman should be the inspiration to another, and I’m always trying to inspire and motivate the black girls out there. I’m not a model. I’m not the girl next door. But I’m not hiding. Actually, I look like a lot of women out there. The American woman is many women, and I think it’s important to speak to American women at a time when they need encouragement.”


Her father, Richard, anticipated the animus that Serena and her sister Venus would face as they ascended to tennis’s biggest professional spotlights. He famously trained his daughters on the public courts of Compton, California, and paid people to shout racist, sexist invectives at them to make them as tough mentally as they were physically. It’s become part of the lore of the rise of the Williams sisters.

When she yells at game officials, it serves as confirmation for those who see Williams as unrefined. When she first expressed a serious interest in fashion and developed a line called Aneres, many a male sportswriter dismissed it as frivolous and unimportant because it wasn’t related to tennis. When she decided to go to beauty school to become a certified nail technician (she even once gave Oprah Winfrey a pedicure) it was easy to wave off the move as a lark.

Williams has managed to do what she wants, regardless of public reaction, whether it’s sporting a black catsuit that leaves little to the imagination or launching a fashion line for HSN and presenting it at New York Fashion Week. When she joined Beyoncé in the “Sorry” video for Lemonade, she was the epitome of “thick thighs save lives.”

Instagram Photo

But that doesn’t mean the insults haven’t gotten to her. Because there’s no way to train yourself to tune out hate, not when it’s so loud and so personal.

“I don’t touch a weight, because I’m already super fit and super cut, and if I even look at weights, I get bigger,” Williams told The New York Times in 2015. “For years I’ve only done Thera-Bands and things like that, because that’s kind of how I felt. But then I realized that you really have to learn to accept who you are and love who you are. I’m really happy with my body type, and I’m really proud of it. Obviously it works out for me. I talk about it all the time, how it was uncomfortable for someone like me to be in my body.”

Just last year, Williams told The Guardian that she’s criticized for being “too muscly and too masculine, and then a week later too racy and too sexy.”

It’s easy to understand how pregnancy and motherhood could hold an outsize importance for Williams in her journey to loving, accepting and understanding herself as a woman in the body that she lives in. And it’s ironic that the life event that led her to exhibit such control over her public image is one that also requires ceding a bit of it, or sometimes a lot, to a tiny human gestating in utero.

If giving birth gives her a measure of comfort she wouldn’t otherwise have, no one should begrudge her. But Serena Williams, baby or no, has always been a real woman.

Explaining Beyoncé’s public performance of pregnancy and motherhood Reclaiming a positive image for black women amid a history of degradation and slander

They’re here!

Finally, really and truly here — according to news reports.

By “they,” of course, we mean Beyoncé and Jay Z’s twins.

For months, we’ve been lapping up whatever dribbles of details we could find about Queen Bey and her pregnancy, dining on a steady diet of Instagram posts and public appearances as her belly kept growing with two more heirs to the Knowles-Carter empire. And true to form, Beyoncé took the opportunity to give us a spectacle laden with meaning.

Perhaps the most significant thing about Beyoncé’s decisions about how her pregnant body would be publicly displayed was her understanding that no one can define themselves by a series of negatives. Black womanhood and black motherhood are always performed in minute-by-minute assertions, and that doesn’t become any less true if you are married, or wealthy, or well-educated. Just ask Michelle Obama.

It’s not enough to say “We’re not welfare queens or breeding wenches or “subfeminine,’ ” to use Eldridge Cleaver’s word. Telling society what you are not is not the same as defining what you are, as evidenced by the efforts of black clubwomen in the early 20th century. Thanks to, as Mary Church Terrell wrote, “false accusations and malicious slanders circulated against them constantly, both by the press and by the direct descendants of those who in years past were responsible for the moral degradation of their female slaves,” black women learned to present themselves as largely asexual to counter prevailing images of themselves as wanton Jezebels. It’s a legacy that’s continued to affect how we see black women, into the 21st century, as we’ve learned that sexual respectability politicking is just as confining as stereotypes that defined black women as irredeemably lustful.

Rather than be pigeonholed, Beyoncé used her second pregnancy to position herself, and by extension black womanhood at large, as the center of life.


Of course it was all connected.

It turned out that the Feb. 1 Instagram announcement of twins and the library of maternity photos released on her website were a harbinger of what was to come at the Grammys less than two weeks later. A club flyer, if you will.

With her last two albums, it’s clear Beyoncé has become wedded to the idea of letting her work communicate in the aggregate. The whole speaks louder, more concretely, and more decisively than any one individual element. That doesn’t apply just to her music, or the music videos (Beyoncé) or cinematic offerings (Lemonade) paired with it. Beyoncé boasts an unparalleled skill in stretching her artistic statements into multipronged events, taking full advantage of the internet, her performances and even step-and-repeat photo ops to present a consistent narrative.

“I think she was giving us a different vision of what black children’s futures could be.”

Her Grammys performance was a continuation of what Beyoncé was already aiming to communicate with her pregnancy announcement, through a series of photographs that had been art-directed and contemplated quite deeply. Looking back, it now seems like the most visible chapter in a highly curated story: how Beyoncé was not only embracing pregnancy and motherhood, but providing new fodder for what it means.

While some rightfully detected traces of Peter Paul Rubens’ many works depicting the Madonna and child in Beyoncé’s explosion of florals, the kitschy, Sears portrait gallery nature of the photographs referenced something else: the provocative, radical appropriating element of a Kehinde Wiley portrait.

Wiley is known for painting black people in a style that references the old masters, elevating ordinary modern black people to the status of nobility by immortalizing them in the same mythmaking environs as lionized white historical figures. With her maternity photos, and at the Grammys, Beyoncé elected to do the same.

At first glance, Beyoncé’s decision to channel Wiley seemed incongruous. She’s not ordinary at all. This is a woman who is known not just as a mononym but as Queen Bey, and for a time King Bey.

Why install yourself like the subjects Wiley recruits off the street when you’re a woman with the power to turn a man into a “black Bill Gates”? Quite simply, Beyoncé was tapping into a pop cultural black populism. She took the subtext of Lemonade and made it plain with the speech she gave upon accepting the Grammy for best urban contemporary album. In it, she aligned herself with and understood herself to be a stand-in for all black women, especially American black women.

“We all experience pain and loss, and often we become inaudible,” she said. “My intention for the film and album was to create a body of work that would give a voice to our pain, our struggles, our darkness and our history. To confront issues that make us uncomfortable. … This is something I want for every child of every race, and I feel it’s vital that we learn from the past and recognize our tendencies to repeat our mistakes.”

Instagram Photo

Instagram Photo

This might have been surprising if you only paid glancing attention to Lemonade, and took it as Beyoncé giving a public middle finger to her husband for cheating on her with Becky with the good hair. But the gossip was a lure for a deeper message.

Remember, the Lemonade film included the Mothers of the Movement: Sybrina Fulton, Gwen Carr and Lezley McSpadden, better known as the mothers of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and Michael Brown, respectively. And so, on the night when Beyoncé was recognized for her work, her decision to depict herself as the madonna, as a multitudinous, many-armed deity, and as the orisha Oshun, was a decision to offer herself as a vessel for black women’s self-love. It was Beyoncé’s way of marrying the messages within Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman” and Boris Gardiner’s “Every N—- is a Star.”

Three years ago, Beyoncé opened the Grammys with a steamy performance of “Drunk in Love.” Seated on a French cafe chair, she writhed and vamped in fishnets and a black sheer leotard, exulting in the bliss of hot marital sexytimes, eventually joined by her husband. A British newspaper, Metro UK, responded with a headline spitting fire and judgment: “ ‘Whore’ Beyoncé angers parents with raunchy act.”

For Beyoncé to then align herself, and by proxy, black women as a whole, with the iconography of the madonna was significant. When you consider that she did so after releasing a self-titled visual album that was a frank celebration of sex, it’s explosive. Even on Beyoncé, released in 2013, the singer was toying with imagery of the Pietà, casting herself as Mary and a black man as the fallen Christ in the video for “Mine.”

Beyonce portraying “Mary” in the “Mine” video


As with just about everything she does publicly, Beyoncé takes basic ideas and remixes them to great effect to suit her own needs. So of course she did it with a public pregnancy, too. Beyoncé’s pregnancy was political because black women’s bodies are laden with politics, whether we want them to be or not. Such is the burden of history.

Government has long sought to define and characterize black motherhood for its own ends. There are the “greatest hits” we all know and detest, such as legally defining black women as unrapeable in service of a “capitalized womb,” or determining that babies born to enslaved women inherited the status of free or enslaved from their mothers. There’s the Moynihan report’s prescription that black women’s achievement needed to be impeded in service to black men, presidential candidate Ronald Reagan’s use of the mythical welfare queen as a scapegoat, and even former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s attempt to characterize the Affordable Care Act, with its provisions for free birth control and well woman exams, as a governmental “Uncle Sugar” enabling the actions of wanton, morally bankrupt women.

But attacks on black motherhood have also manifested in the form of attacks on their children, something that was visceral in Beyoncé’s inclusion of the Mothers of the Movement in Lemonade. Beyoncé communicated that there was no space between herself and these women. She is the mother of a black child, subject to the same dangers resulting from white fear and white supremacy. There’s no daylight between Beyoncé and, more recently, Diamond Reynolds, the woman whose partner, Philando Castile, was shot to death by a police officer during a traffic stop, in front of her young daughter, who was seated in the back of the car.

It was Beyoncé’s way of marrying the messages within Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman” and Boris Gardiner’s “Every N—– is a Star.

But while Lemonade, with its opening salvo of “Formation,” references modern attacks on black children and black motherhood, the fear black mothers harbor runs deeper than the past few years. It spans generations. Perhaps no such attack drives that point home like the gruesome 1918 lynching of Mary Turner and her unborn child in Brooks County, Georgia.

After a black man shot and killed a white plantation owner, a lynch mob murdered Turner’s husband as part of a rampage of terrorism and revenge. Turner, 21 years old and eight months pregnant, had the temerity to protest. Upon learning that Turner intended to seek legal recourse for her husband’s murder, the mob came for her.

According to The Mary Turner Project, a Georgia educational collective dedicated to preserving her memory, “ … at Folsom’s Bridge the mob tied Mary Turner by her ankles, hung her upside down from a tree, poured gasoline on her and burned off her clothes. One member of the mob then cut her stomach open and her unborn child dropped to the ground where it was reportedly stomped on and crushed by a member of the mob. Her body was then riddled with gunfire from the mob. Later that night she and her baby were buried ten feet away from where they were murdered. The makeshift grave was marked with only a ‘whiskey bottle’ with a ‘cigar’ stuffed in its neck.”

Simply terrorizing Turner was not enough. It wasn’t just that her husband was considered a threat — so was she, and the black child she surely would have imbued with a sense of justice and liberty had they lived.

Lemonade is partly about defiance and resilience. And arguably, there’s no greater show of defiance than making the decision to bring a black child into this world and shower it with love and pride and joy, knowing the hostility that awaits her or him.

The legacy of our society’s anxiety toward black female bodies are evident in the work of Beyoncé’s artistic predecessors. After Beyoncé’s Grammy performance, Vanessa Williams tweeted, “They never showed my pregnant belly when I sang my nominated “Save the Best for Last” — Oh how times have changed! Kudos Beyoncé!” The vision of a conservatively clothed, pregnant Williams was apparently too controversial for the Grammys in 1993, two years after Demi Moore appeared nude and pregnant on the cover of Vanity Fair.

In her 2003 memoir Chaka! Through the Fire, Khan revealed the angst of male record company executives who worried that her sex appeal would vanish because of a C-section scar cutting its way across her belly.

So what is there to do? How do you find a way to be celebratory instead of huddling in fear? Khan responded by continuing to perform in her trademark itty-bitty stagewear, exposed scar and all. If you’re Beyoncé, you bring the house down at the Grammys. If you’re Erykah Badu, you start ushering in black life.

While there are few public images of Badu pregnant with her children, Seven, Mars or Puma, she appeared in the September 2011 issue of People in a photograph that accompanied a story detailing her work as a doula — a service she provides for free to pregnant mothers, subsidized by her financial success as singer.

Badu appeared with her hair parted in the center. It flows in waves down her shoulders and over her breasts. She’s dressed in a loose-fitting white caftan, accessorized with a long, gold beaded necklace and rings of various sizes on both hands. In her arms, she’s cradling a nude black baby, Marley Jae Taylor, then 2 weeks old, whom she delivered. She’s standing in the middle of a Dallas field, surrounded by tall grass that appears to have parted for her. She called herself the “welcoming committee.”


The Grammys may have been the high point for audience numbers — it was more accessible on network television than Lemonade was on HBO — but Beyoncé’s pregnancy messaging apparatus continued to churn with her public appearances with daughter Blue Ivy and Jay Z at NBA games, when she and Blue Ivy showed up to the premiere of Beauty and the Beast or celebrated Mother’s Day dressed in the high-fashion equivalent of Mommy-and-Me togs.

Instagram Photo

All those images of black fertility and black motherhood rippled across the internet to reinforce the ideas first introduced with Lemonade — and then were reintroduced at the Grammys when Beyoncé deliberately lingered on a line from poet Warsan Shire about the “hips” that “crack” from giving birth.

Even the pink tuxedo Blue Ivy wore communicated a vision of black girl power. When her mother wants to convey messages about female power, she tends to revisit variations on menswear. She did it in the stagewear for her performance of “Love on Top” announcing her first pregnancy. It’s an element in the music videos for “Suga Mama,” “Upgrade You,” and “Haunted,” all of which feature Beyoncé playing with the idea of gender roles.

Blue Ivy Carter and Jay Z during The 59th GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center on February 12, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.

Kevin Mazur/WireImage

At the Grammys, Beyoncé, who endorsed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for president with a performance in which she and all of her backup dancers wore pantsuits, seemed to echo the most memorable notes of Clinton’s postelection concession speech: “Never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world,” Clinton told the little girls of America on Nov. 9.

As she delivered an acceptance and concession speech of her own (if you choose to believe, as I do, that Beyoncé knew before the Grammys that she wouldn’t win Album of the Year), the singer had a similar message.

“It’s important to me to show images to my children that reflect their beauty so they can grow up in a world where they look in the mirror — first through their own families, as well as the news, the Super Bowl, the Olympics, the White House and the Grammys — and see themselves and have no doubt that they’re beautiful, intelligent and capable,” she said, again becoming a megaphone for the desires of all black mothers.