Being alive in a human body is a weird and sometimes wonderful experience. Your life is likely to be weirder than most.
In Unsolicited Advice, Jaclyn dispenses advice for folks who don't know they need it.
Congratulations on being born! Being alive in a human body is a weird and sometimes wonderful experience. I’m glad you get to have it.
You’re in the midst of a pretty self-focused time in a person’s life, so you may not have yet discovered that yours is bound to be extraordinary by nearly any measure. (I realize that you’re probably still working on effectively communicating which cry means hunger and which one signifies gas). Your parents—you know, the one with the food dispensers in her chest, and the one who put the mic in your face when you cried—are two of the most famous people in the world. When you arrived, Gwyneth Paltrow and Kim Kardashian tweeted in your honor. You have already collaborated on a Jay-Z track. Your experience is likely to be weirder than most.
One of the things that’s going to be especially weird, if the response to Shiloh Jolie-Pitt’s haircut is any indication, is that a non-trivial minority of the global population will soon consider what you do with your body and your sexuality their business. In fact, they’ve already started. Most people would welcome a new addition to their family as “the most beautiful baby in the world,” but in your case, perfect strangers are already being invited to assess that claim.
And unlike Shiloh's experience, race is going to play a factor. (Ask your parents to explain race. It’s a loooong story.) Some people are going to expect you to act like a “perfect lady” at all times (they will all define this differently), asking you to single-handedly extinguish centuries of cultural stereotypes about black women being sexually incontinent. Others will jump on any evidence they can find to “prove” that you’re destined to live up to that stereotype. Either way, to millions of people, you won’t just be Blue Ivy Carter, human being. You’ll be an Ambassador of Black Girlhood, and later, Black Womanhood. That’s a bullshit amount of pressure for a baby!
There’s another thing. (This is where it gets awkward, because nobody wants to think about their parents and sex.) Most of us can pretend our folks reproduced asexually, no need to ever touch each other or anyone else ever. But your parents are not only two of the most famous people on the planet—they’re two major-league sex icons.
You’ll be growing up in a sexual culture that has been shaped not insignificantly by your own mom and dad. Your mom is an incredibly talented singing, dancing, acting, business-minded icon of female sexuality, but an icon of female sexuality nonetheless. One the one hand, she once famously sang the lyric, “try to control me, boy, you’ll get dismissed.” On the other hand, she’s also perfectly comfortable promoting marriage as a commodity exchange in which diamonds are traded for vaginas. So I’m betting you’re going to get some deeply mixed messages from your mama. That’s true for many of us, actually.
As for your dad: How do I put this delicately? Some of his lyrics certainly suggest a conception of masculinity reliant on treating women as disposable sex objects. I don’t think for a minute he’s going to treat you that way, but I bet—especially in light of the protectiveness expressed in the song y’all just collaborated on (mazel tov on your first recording credit!)—he’s going to suspect other men of wanting to treat you that way, and that protectiveness may wind up being difficult as you try to explore the world on your own terms. On the other hand, he did marry a whip-smart businesswoman who earned twice as much as him in the first year of their marriage, so maybe he’s more prepared to hang with women who own their agency than I realize.
The important thing to hold onto when all of these messages start flying at you fast and furious is this: Most people who judge girls based on what they do (or don’t do) with their bodies are sad people who live in fear about their own values and choices. That doesn’t mean these people can’t do real harm with their judgments (they do it all the time!) But it doesn’t make their lives any better, nor will their concern-trolling advice improve yours. Which is why it’s also important to remember this: There is nothing you can do that will please all of them simultaneously. If you try, you too will become a sad person living in fear about your values and choices.
The best way to resist all of this mess is to pay attention to what feels good to you and your body, and what doesn’t, and start figuring out how to communicate that to the people who are supposed to care about you. That’s a big part of your job as a baby right now, so you’re off to a great start. Just try not to lose that as you get older, and more and more people try to tell you they know better than you do. People who care about you should want to make sure you feel good in your own body on your own terms. If they don’t, that’s on them, not you.
I’m getting a little carried away here—this must all seem pretty abstract at a time when, well, everything looks like a mass of blurry shapes. Just know it’s all here waiting for you whenever you feel you need it. Until then, while there may be a lot of people out there waiting to tell you what you should do with it and how you should feel, there are also a lot of us rooting for you to have whatever life you want, on your own terms, in a body that’s free of shame, blame or fear.