Posts filed under Body Image

BLACK AMERICANA VOL 1: Amore of the Diaspora

Amore of the Diaspora

As an artist and scholar I want to redefine and re-appropriate Black Americana to reflect, and highlight the positive contributions of people of African decent in the Americas and through out the diaspora. The first installment of the project or BLACK AMERICANA: Volume One explores relational dynamics between black men and black women at various points within the African American historical timeline looking to quantify and establish what it took for one black man to love one black woman in the past and what it takes now and cast vision for it will take generations to come. My hope is to create a body of work that encourages healthy dynamics within the Black nuclear family and helps us identify with the love that sustains us in our darkest moments and inspires us during our best, and brightest. The mixed media creative work spans multiple creative platforms, including a coffee table book of fine art photography, scholarship and documented accounts of the lives and love of real black American couples and includes contributions of notable visual artist of color selected by myself working together to expand and nuance the conversation around the legacy of Black American’s, exploring both the pain and pride in our collective stories.

Using the same two subjects, myself and Atlanta based artist, activist, and cultural influencer Devan D. Dunson we seek to embody the "black lovers” who meet at pivotal moments within black history and various meta moments within black consciousness. Visually and creatively placing ourselves in the shoes of our ancestors, experiencing and connecting with truths and moments they endured and discovering "the love" over and over again. Let our collective knowledge of black history, esteem and honor for the countless black couples and families who’s love stories are the foundation for our own be increased as we unearth the SUBSTANCE and fiber of our communal connection. What it is that binds and bonds us as a community, as brothers and sisters, as man and woman? What is the soul, spirit and dynamic power of black love? So few of us are taught, have modeled or EVER really get to experience what LOVE looks and feels like when its healthy because "our love" story has had to unfold in the midst of injustice, poverty and a racially toxic society, to me the art and the artist are one, as I seek to unlock and creatively express what is contained in my own heart, my own pride and pain found, I hope to heal and celebrate the beauty and spirit of "our stories" and find the “love" in our legacy.  

-Tanisha Lynn Pyron

Being 12: "What Are You?" | Kids Demonstrate Their Interactions with Race.

For many, race becomes a factor in their lives even at an early age. In this video, nine kids discuss their interactions with race. Are middle schoolers old enough to understand something many adults cannot come to a consensus on? Perhaps it's time to start listening more to our children.

These kids know what they are talking about. While children seem to be able to understand and conceptualize how race affects their lives in certain situations, it's perplexing, at least, as to why there is such a lack of consensus on race for adults. 

Originally found through, Upworthy contributor Maz Ali goes on to articulate that as our media continues to report on racially charged events there is still dispute as to the racial significance of these cases. I invite you to check out the statistics there.

But he ends his article with a poignant statement: 

When a group of 12-year-olds this diverse can easily identify ways that racial and ethnic identity play out negatively in their lives, maybe the question shouldn't be, "Is race still a factor?"

Dorian Capers is a contributing blogger for 50 Shades of Black. Using Tumblr for Good; Venturing into the Facebook comment section so you won't have to. 

Posted on July 20, 2015 and filed under community, family, Identity, personal stories, race, Body Image, current events.


A few weeks ago, I had been at my nephew's 8th grade graduation. The Valedictorian and Salutatorian were two black girls who, while not being sisters, resembled each other in the fact that they both had their hair washed and set similarly; the lenses of their glasses were both held in place by black frames; and they both were constantly being called, in tandem, to the stage for awards. Before either of them had a chance to sit down after being acknowledged for their exceptional performances in one subject, they were summoned back to the stage to be recognized in another. Victory laps were being ran in the auditorium. The audience, assembled of parents and grandparents , siblings, cousins, close friends, teachers, and security guards, were in rapturous applause. But after the third lap, something changed: Hands got heavy; palms got sore; and cheers were slowly being overshadowed by shade. In any subject their names hadn't been called, the applause roared then immediately whispered when they were called again. Silent hands and malicious mouths became acts of retribution on two girls whose only crime that day was being better: "They could've at least gave some of these awards to other kids;" "I didn't come to watch someone else's kid win." Those naive enough to believe that this could only occur in an auditorium full of white bodies severely underestimate the human condition's oldest and most beloved hobby: hating. This hobby is most intense in those who recognize that part of themselves on the stage at the expense of them realizing that part that isn't. Adults and children alike recognized probably for the first time what they should've been doing and hadn't. That envy dictated the atmosphere up until the ceremony ended. That envy is dictating the current atmosphere surrounding Serena. That envy is calling her womanhood into question. That envy is using the plumpness of her ass to shade the rigor of her accomplishments. That envy is accusing her of steroid usage. But most of all that envy is unwilling to admit, like that auditorium, that the only real crime Serena, or those two girls, committed is showing us that we could all be better. 

-Yahdon Israel

Yahdon Israel  is a 50 Shades of Black featured writer.  Read his exclusive essay THE TRANSATLANTIC.


Posted on July 11, 2015 and filed under Body Image, current events.

50 Shades of Black: Viola Davis Discusses Breaking Through as a Dark Skinned Leading Lady in New ABC Show

Viola Davis, who stars in “How to Get Away With Murder,” which debuts on Sept. 25 on ABC.  GRAEME MITCHELL FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES

Viola Davis, who stars in “How to Get Away With Murder,” which debuts on Sept. 25 on ABC.


In a recent New York Times article Viola Davis kept it all the way real as she discussed the liberation she feels in having a lead role as a sexy, smart, and complex character in Shonda Rhimes' newest TV show "How to Get Away With Murder".

“How to Get Away With Murder,” which includes Shonda Rhimes among its executive producers, will be shown on Thursday nights after Rhimes’s two hit series, “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scandal,” a generous lead-in that the network hopes will result in an instant hit. But that will depend, in part, on whether viewers embrace Davis — “a woman of color, of a certain age and a certain hue,” as she says — in her new capacity. “I don’t see anyone on TV like me in a role like this. And you can’t even mention Halle Berry or Kerry Washington,” she told me, referring to two African-American stars with notably lighter skin.
— Amy Wallace, New York Times

Read this complete article to hear Davis discuss Hollywood's reasoning for not casting more black lead actors, the ability of Shonda Rhimes to weave multicultural dimensions into her shows without creating caricatures, and the impact of Taraji P. Henson, Denzel Washington, and how wearing her hair in an afro was like "stepping into myself" for the first time.


Posted on September 23, 2014 and filed under Body Image, film, Identity, personal stories, race, skin tone.

Misty Copeland Soars in NPR Interview: Broadening Beauty and Being Black in Ballet

Art by Christopher Myers, courtesy of Penguin Young Readers Group

Art by Christopher Myers, courtesy of Penguin Young Readers Group

I was pumped up this morning listening to Misty Copeland on my way to work.  Her words were as graceful as her body on the stage.  Her conviction was as strong as her body.

Listen to the American Ballet Theatre dancer discuss with poise the challenges of being told she was not the right fit based on her body and color to being one of the preeminent dancers in the country...and her new book Firebird dedicated to her mentor Raven Wilkinson, the first African-American ballerina to tour the country. 

Posted on September 9, 2014 and filed under Body Image, Identity, personal stories, race.

World Vitiligo Day: From Michael Jackson to Winnie Harlow

Clip of Winnie Harlow from YouTube Video  - Vitiligo: A Skin Condition not a Life Changer

Clip of Winnie Harlow from YouTube Video  - Vitiligo: A Skin Condition not a Life Changer

June 25th was World Vitiligo Day.  It also happened to be the day the world reflected on the loss of the person with the most well known case of vitiligo -a skin condition also shared by roughly 100 million people.

For some, vitiligo can take an emotional toll...not exclusively because of the condition itself, but because of 'weird adults with malicious ignorance'.  In the recent CNN article titled World Vitiligo Day: Skin disease takes emotional toll, broadcaster Lee Thomas reflects:

"It's not really the ignorance," Thomas said about the lack of awareness surrounding vitiligo. "It's the malicious ignorance. Adults are weird."

He remembers playing a "visual tennis match" with a man in his office. The man would stare at Thomas, then as soon as Thomas looked at him, the man looked away. They volleyed back and forth until Thomas told him, "It's OK if you want to look."

He went through what he calls an "angry spotted-guy" period when he would give menacing looks to those who stared at him.

While visual tennis matches may have also plagued the early life of the young lady below, she has taken these matches all the way to center court.  ACE!

Check out the video below of 19-year-old Chantelle Brown-Young, who goes by the name Winnie Harlow.  This video was filmed when she was 17 years old.  Now, Ms. Brown will be competing in the next season of America's Next Top Model.

Thank you Winnie for bearing witness to the fact that we are BEAUTIFUL IN EVERY SHADE.

Rebecca Knight by Creative Silence for BEAUTIFUL IN EVERY SHADE.   Order Shirts HERE

Rebecca Knight by Creative Silence for BEAUTIFUL IN EVERY SHADE.  Order Shirts HERE

Posted on July 1, 2014 and filed under Body Image, Identity, personal stories, skin tone.

The Lioness Project: Unleashing Female Beauty

"It took me a long time to realize that being beautiful has nothing to with the size you are, the shade of your skin, the texture of your hair or the price tag on your garments. Beautiful is a frame of mind--it's how you identify yourself and not how others identify you. But before I came to that realization I struggled with things about myself that the world told me wasn't good enough. It caused insecurities and self hate that consumed me on the regular basis. At 32 years old--I've FINALLY accepted me. I'm a brown skinned, bald headed, DC native turned Southern Belle who smiles a lot and is always down for a good laugh, being in the company of beautiful people and good food. What's not beautiful about that?"

50 Shades of Black Blogger
Creator of P8prbutterfly and The Lioness Project

The Lioness Project is a  collection of beautiful and tastefully orchestrated nude photos of women of all shapes, sizes, colors and sexual orientation. 

The truth is that women are some of the most exotic creatures on the earth and we often forget that and it's easy to do. Between raising children, working everyday, being a lover, a friend and rescuing the world--we lose ourselves. Our creativity fades and our identity dwindles. We forget to love the love handles, enjoy our full lips and embrace the stretch marks. It's who we are and real women don't look like Beyonce or Kim--but we are just AS beautiful. So--this will surely be a friendly reminder to continue to embrace your authentic true self in everything that you do. 

I am also happy to have acquired support from Carlton Mackey and BEAUTIFUL IN EVERY SHADE on this project. 

More at:

These shirts provided for free to the first round of ladies participating in   #TheLionessProject

These shirts provided for free to the first round of ladies participating in #TheLionessProject

Posted on May 21, 2014 and filed under activism, Body Image, Identity, LGBT.

Ashley Murphy, Ebony Williams and Misty Copeland are BEAUTIFUL IN EVERY SHADE

 June/July cover of Pointe Magazine

 June/July cover of Pointe Magazine

Congratulations to each of the beautiful women who grace the cover of the latest issue of Point Magazine.  When we saw the cover, we were reminded of our signature campaign, BEAUTIFUL IN EVERY SHADE.

BEAUTIFUL IN EVERY SHADE (TM) is the signature, global empowerment campaign of 50 Shades of Black.

We believe in the beauty found in every human being.

Our goal through this campaign is to offer everyday people a chance to see themselves in a way that many of them never have before.  Through this, we hope to connect with local communities in meaningful ways and to promote a positive and healthy sense of self-image and worth.

We've hosted 5 BEAUTIFUL IN EVERY SHADE Open Photo Shoots across the country and would love to "capture the beauty" in your community.

CONTACT US to inquire.


Posted on May 3, 2014 and filed under Body Image, skin tone.

Wonderroot Podcast: Interview with the Creator of 50 Shades of Black

In this WonderRoot Artist Feature Carlton Mackey, creator of "50 Shades of Black", talks with WR Interactive Media Manager Floyd Hall about the origins of the project, its evolution as a platform for dialogue about race, sexuality, and identity, and why the tag line "Beautiful In Every Shade" is so meaningful.

For more information on 50 Shades of Black, visit:

WonderRoot is an Atlanta-based non-profit arts and service organization with a mission to unite artists and community to inspire positive social change. By providing production facilities to Atlanta-based artists and coordinating arts-based service programs, WonderRoot empowers artists to be proactive in engaging their communities through arts-based service work. For more information, please visit:

Introducing The New Cool Kids On The Scene: The Tenth Zine

As a black, gay writer, I’m always happy when I see people from my community planting a flag in the world of media, whether it be behind the scenes, writing or designing, or giving me LIFE in pixelated in pixelated form in glossy pages or on my computer screen.

Earlier this month, I’d heard about a new magazine geared toward the black gay community called The Tenth, the first independently published project from the Brooklyn-based Pink Rooster Studio. Recently my 50 Shades of BLACK cohorts, Carlton Mackey and Chris Barker, and I checked out the online site and we all raved at what came across our screens.

The creators of Pink Rooster Studio,   André Verdun Jones, Khary Septh, Kyle Banks

The creators of Pink Rooster Studio, André Verdun Jones, Khary Septh, Kyle Banks

In the past, friends and I have complained about black gay magazines focusing too heavily on the fluff of party scenes, well-oiled Adonis models, flyers, ads, flyers and more ads. But The Tenth, though only offering a glimpse into its pages on the site, seems to skew left of middle and simultaneously travels the roads of art, fashion, sex appeal and literature.

Boasting more than 80 contributors for its first bi-annual issue, which was released on April 10, The Tenth promises offerings from the likes of performance artist Andre Singleton, fashion designer Telfar Clemens, photographers Idris & Tony, activist Darnell Moore, contemporary artist Rashaad Newsome, and literary critic William Johnson.

"We really talk about what's happening now in our culture and have no agenda to represent an image or counter any perception. We just want to play in the sandbox with other exceptional black gay boys and be faggy and angry and smart and silly and beautiful and ugly and radical and perhaps more than anything just learn to trust each other through collaboration. It really has been an incredible experience," said the founders of Pink Rooster studios to Huffington Post.

"The work is born out of our queerness. We know that we, as black gay men will always be forced into a box. This is us coloring that box, and that is a very queer thing. Making anything beautiful, elegant, and joyous," they added.

Yet, most intriguing, so far, is the Courtney Harvier helmed short film "The Masters." Perhaps playing on the layered opening phrase of “I Saw Africa On His Mind,” the stunning visual piece showcases black men, slaves, on the plantations of the south as they work the fields and their master’s home, all the while yearning for the freedom of their homeland, as well as the solace and familiarity of each other’s bodies and hearts. It’s provocative and immediately enthralling and undeniably an awesome teaser for the work that’s the come from The Tenth.

If you want to know more, check out The Tenth website here. And be sure to watch "The Masters" below. 

Nicholas Harbor

Freelance Journalist, storyteller and blogger for 50 Shades of BLACK

Posted on April 19, 2014 and filed under activism, africa, art, blog, Body Image, LGBT, Masculinity, sexuality.

Beauty Tells Lies To The Eyes of The Beholder

Beyonce - Pretty Hurts

Beyonce - Pretty Hurts

Once I heard “Oh I didn’t know that was your type”. I had to consider the possibility that I actually had a type: the type of person that I would date or even fall in love with for the rest of my life based on the last person I was seen attracted to in public. I’m a sort of tall, curly haired, very fair skinned guy, mixed with too many ethnicities to even try and claim one background, but my race as stated previously is: Black. I’m so fair skinned that I used to think my father was white. My sister and I couldn’t understand why he wanted to teach us about civil rights history when we were growing up in the 1980s. Seriously!

Insta-jokes via Instagram

Insta-jokes via Instagram

My whole life I’ve had some assumptions made about me. I’ve considered them advantages because of how other people reacted to “Jimmy, the light skinned(ed..ed) guy”. The jeri-curled pastor at a little church in Chicago called Little Mountain of Hope called it “favor”, as he stared with lusty eyes on my visiting mother standing in-between her dark skinned cousins who were lifetime members. Girl you and your kids are blessings, he said. People smile more, especially women. I’m more eligible when I am a bachelor. I’ve even heard people describe me, as “the light skinned pretty bastard”. With a long pause and laugh before the bastard. It’s like an acceptable amount of disgust, understood by all as something less than hate.

Well into my thirty’s it hasn’t stopped. Light skinned jokes on Instagram, tagged to me, even Zambian friends from my years living in Johannesburg who changed my name to Jamujay call me “Yellow” as a nickname from time to time. Their friends would introduce themselves and say “Jamujay, don’t fuck my girl”, with an LOL. I’m fine with it honestly, because there is no derogatory sentiment in the nickname or assumptions, specific to me. It’s hard to be offended when someone else is punched, right?  But I should be offended by the meaning that the assumptions hold for every dark skinned person.

insta-jokes via instagram

insta-jokes via instagram

My life experience suggests that beauty is in the eyes of the society, or rather beauty is a method and not simply an exploration of the beholder. Ugly is an awesome concept when I think about it. My closest friend and I used to dispel a sort of philosophy in college about what good-looking was and how to maximize ones potential, as the younger men would bring beer and sit around to hear us rant. We had a categorization the likes of a movie critic to establish differences between cute, pretty, beautiful, sexy, etc.

I typically dated the big-breast light skinned girls...and it was expected of me. It wasn’t forced and I was always attracted to them of course. I also liked the flat-chest, skinny, dark girls. In high school, my first was just like that. She was self conscious until I told her to just show off and that I like everything, the way she had it. Even the first girl I liked enough to steal a kiss from was a wide-eyed black girl from around the corner. It wasn’t sexual harassment in 1988.

As a bisexual, my type is pretty broad to begin with, but the socialization of what I should like combined with what I initially liked has rendered me type-less. I’m a stickler (no pun intended) for design, so lines and symmetry are important in my partner’s look, relative to me. My partners should look good with me as an accessory. Some people prefer other things. The boys just made it more complicated. My big-breast light-skinned former fiancé said to me once, “I just didn’t see you dating a skinny black man”. Projecting onto me: her tone was offended. I’m sure that she couldn’t see his beauty.

Ugly Betty w/ Bow Wow

Ugly Betty w/ Bow Wow

As I look around the LGBTQ community and consider what queer people think is beautiful or more importantly attractive, I’ve noticed a large number turn away from the norm. Skinny, Chubby, Black, Albino, Oblong, Squinty-Eyed, Wide Thigh, Effeminate, Egg Shaped, Straight Haired, Four Eyed, Bearded, boys & girls finding love in familiar places…

Men have it easy because they haven’t historically held a "beautiful" status in Western culture. Something as simple as a bath and a suit (any suit) goes a long way. Men’s attractiveness has structure; it has been taken away from their person and assigned to their stature or status or suit, even.

Feminine beauty is a seemingly cyclical business. Women, Lesbians, and Trans-people find themselves wearing their label under constant scrutiny: with immediate reactions of disgust for disapproval. Once I heard “Oh I didn’t know that was your type”, and I thought of my dark plump cousin Pooh and her girlfriend who looked like the full bodied video vixens of 2000s rap videos. Queer attractions range from narcissistic to gallant. Simply because we’ve accepted ourselves and are OUT as outcasts in a system of beauty, the love and relations are relatively uninhibited. I’ve been into a sex act with people who were given the label "beautiful" and the inhibitions surrounding beauty killed the potential for a good time. A woman who can’t mess up her hair, makes everyone frown...and grimace is always ugly.



NYE 2014.jpg

writer, cultural critic, special contributor to 50 Shades of Black

My life experience suggests that beauty is in the eyes of the society, or rather beauty is a method and not simply an exploration of the beholder.
Posted on January 8, 2014 and filed under personal stories, LGBT, Body Image.

Let's Be Honest, Black Men Have Body Image Issues, Too

Morehouse Body Image Issue.jpg

Earlier this month, the staff of Morehouse College's Maroon Tigers student newspaper did quite the amazing thing when they published thier Body Issue, which featured more than 30 students from Morehouse, Spelman and Clark Atlanta posing nude (sometimes with each other) and discussing their similar issues with body image, sexuality, sexual abuse, addiction and a cadre of other issues as they ultimately hoped to empower themselves and their bodies as well as help their readers do the same.

Of course, we all know that body image is an issue for women (and the hordes of emaciated models that I and the rest of the world enjoy seeing stomp down the Paris runways every season), but for me and all of my male friends body image is a major issue for us, too. 

In the past, it seemed like we men were exempt from worrying about how our bodies looked in and out of clothes. Being an object of sexual desire isn't really a concern when you're a part of the same group that created the ideas and rules that your society has a about sex and bodies.. For us men, our job wasn't to be praised for how our bodies looked on a pedestal. We were praised for the power we had over others, mainly women, and for what our (big) dicks could do to them. The only ones getting looked at and judged for every inch and curve of their body were women, the real stars of the ever powerful male gaze that is without a doubt the lens we all have to see the world through.

But the days of strict sexual objectiifcation are slowly fading, or rather changing, and now men are subject to a certain degree of that same objectification as well. Thanks to examples like mens magazines, music videos, and all of the hunks we see in the media,we men are all now expected to look like Trey Songz or The Rock...or maybe the Wanted...I'm not really sure about them but I know young girls (and guys) like them. We're expected to all have toned, chiseled bodies and we get shamed by both the men and women in our lives, our friends and lovers, even our families, for not fitting that physical mold. 

Even here in the south where we expect everyone to have a little meat on their bones, having too much meat and not enough muscle can stilll get you ridiculed for not being sexy/objectifiable enough. Yeah, we want meat down here, but for both men and women, we only want that meat on booties, pecs and thighs, never the gut. Men are expected to have big chests, big butts, big arms, big legs and, well, you know the other part that's supposed to be big. Basically, we're expected to have an hour-glass frame with a gigantic tea spout hanging in the front. And if you don't fit that model, you are not allowed to be proud of your body, you are not allowed to speak of it with confidence, you are not allowed to show bits of skin in public, and you are certainly not allowed to go nude because that would somehow be an affront to everything proper in this world and the eyes of anyone watching your supposedly flabby, ugly behind.

So, in the same way that girls aren't "allowed" to wear certain shirts or pants unless they look like "bad bitches," men aren't "allowed" to, say, go shirtless unless they have Shemar Moore pecs and stomach.

Because of all that, I was really really happy to see the above photo where the guy on the right be featured prominently for the issue. As a black man who is not the picture perfect model of chiseled Adonis perfection, it was freeing to see a body like his be included a body like his be praised as beautiful. It was freeing to see the guy on the left and every other various male body be praised on the same level playing field as everyone else. I may be a not-so-regular guy with an average body, but I still want to feel like my body is beautiful and that it's worthy of being seen by another human being, regardless of whether I have a six pack, barrell chest and big booty to show. We all want to be seen and embraced as is.

And equally as important, we as men want to be embraced by one another. I can't tell you how freeing it was to see two men look completely comfortable being vulnerable enough to be nude with each other and letting the whole world see that on camera. Too often, we men aren't allowed a social space to open up our hearts and minds, let alone our naked bodies, with other men in a non-sexual manner (hell, sometimes a sexual manner as well. Damn homophobia). And I think, despite society's unwritten rule that men don't need or want to open up to each other, we all just want to be able to, well, let it all hang with the people we share our lives with. Really, we all just want to feel like we're free with the men (and women) in our lives and not worry about being judged, and this photo does an amazing job of showing just how that desire can turn into a beautiful reality.

I applaud Morehouse for not only tackling the body image issues that we all face, but ultimately the issues of vulnerability that keep us from really seeing each other in totality and applauding each other's truths, bodies and courage. But don't just take my word for it. Check it out for yourselves below Maroon Tigers Body Image Issue.


Posted on November 17, 2013 and filed under activism, Body Image.