by Deanna Duxbury
Yes, this is exactly as cool as you think it is (if not more). Just read the title again. Nod to yourself. Grab a bag of chips. Get ready to lurk social media for hours.
Richenda Grazette was invited back to McGill to speak on a project she had finished before graduating. She wanted to make something visual and interesting and not have to write a paper, if she’s going to be totally honest. But it’s a kind of archival, curatorial curiosity that makes me think, “Damn, people need to see this”.
Bad Bitches of Instagram began as an independent study with the hope to curate black women and femmes on a single platform. She wanted to allow the images to speak for themselves and obtain as many varietals of beauty and body shape as possible.
“So, you want to be a bad bitch? Well honey, you came to the right place.
We’re combing Instagram to find some of our fave Black women & femmes to show us how we can translate our bodies and minds into success.
In the Internet age, white supremacist capitalist hetero-patriarchy is weakening.
Crush it with your bare hands.” - Richenda Grazette, “What is BBOI?” on Bad Bitches of Instagram Page.
On the blog, every post contains a link to the Instagram it represents (obviously), as well as four pictures Richenda felt best represents that person’s aesthetic.
While she intended to curate a group that was specifically Instagram famous (gaining their reputation from social media marketing alone), it was impossible to not include figures like Black China or Amber Rose. She noted that a lot of the women featured seemed to be in the know – they were girlfriends of rappers, gangs of YouTubers, collaborative beauty bloggers, and other kinds of social media cliques that have recently immerged. Honestly, nothing is better than finding out all the people you love that you follow are also friends (only deepening the fantasy of then being a part of the #squad).
An interesting development Richenda found in archiving these black women and femmes was in the way Instagram’s archival system both aided and complicated her search. In the beginning, finding these women and femmes was extremely difficult. It was fighting against the tide of white beauty. Only later, when Instagram recognized a pattern in her searches, did it begin to flood her with models, beauty bloggers and famous personages that she wanted to see. It was an interesting look into how one can become empowered and take control of social media by tailoring one’s feed to present images that you can identify with.
“This blog is about showcasing and celebrating the multifaceted ways that Black women and femmes achieve success through Instagram fame. Everything from models to YouTube personalities to fashion bloggers to emerging actresses or singers. We’ll be giving you a few photos that we think capture their Instagram feeds best, and one reason why we believe they deserve the title “bad bitch.” – Richenda Grazette, “What is BBOI?” on Bad Bitches of Instagram Page.
Instagram users, and social media users in general, really do have more power than they realize. Most of the women and femmes featured on the blog wouldn’t be where they are today without the influence of social media. A follower, some likes, comments- all of this goes back into their pocket. Social media users, to a certain extent, really do have the power to affect change and bring the people/representations they want to see to the forefront. Richenda felt, by retailoring her feed, she was knowingly supporting women and femmes of colour.
Though, Richenda recognizes the limits of this study: therein, the limits of her research and the capitalist aftertaste that is not a hard-core catastrophe but is open to critiques. The women on the blog, she recognizes, all fit a kind of theme. They’re hot, lighter skinned and generally famous. While she tried to curate a group that was diverse as possible, and still would like to find a variety of representations, it may just be a matter of representation of women and femmes of colour online.
When it comes to black beauty, social media and feminism there are many different voices and perspectives that need to be taken into consideration. Hell, notable trail-blazing feminist scholar bell hooks criticized Beyoncé’s Lemonade for being too sexualized even though Beyoncé is a self-identified feminist and advocate for women’s rights. It’s really all about perspective, opinion and recognizing the limits to a field of study. Bad Feminist, by Roxanne Gay, is a great collection of essays for this (hilarious, easy to read, very much worth it- I promise).
Anyhow, the point is that, while this blog can be critiqued, Bad Bitches of Instagram is meant to circulate visibility, conversation and curiosity. It’s all a part of the growing pains of black feminism and the ways in which social media can be a device for diversity.
I was able to do a little Q&A with Richenda Grazette. Read our exchange here:
DD: Why did you decide to pursue this project?
RG: I decided to pursue this project, specifically Instagram, because I think social media & feminist studies focused on Black women, queer folks, and femmes specifically is lagging behind, but there’s so much information there worth discussing. I love Instagram as a platform, and think the social impact of it are fascinating.
DD: What are some of the biggest critiques you recognized while curating black women and femmes for the blog?
RG: The biggest critique I recognized was kind of an obvious one: that beauty standards, and then the success that any Insta-personality would have, are constructed around shade of skin, body type, etc. While darker skinned and/or fat folks will still have a lot of followers, there is a greater presence of lightskin and thin women with the biggest level of “fame”.
DD: Would you consider this blog an artistic space? Why? What about social media and this collection could be relevant to the art community?
RG: I do think I consider it an artistic space, more like a curation of other people’s work, and through that curation creating a large-scale resource. What we consider “art” should be broadened to include - also - the curation of the self and the brand. The way that these women & femmes create their feeds is a kind of art, and putting them together on the blog can be like putting on a show.
DD: Do you feel that black beauty and black female culture is fully represented here on the blog?
RG: No I don’t think it’s fully represented - but it easily could be with a little more time and care.
DD: Random fun question: If you could be close friends with one person from your blog, who would it be? Why?
RG: If I could be close friends with anyone, I would choose Yaris Sanchez, just because I love her aesthetic.
Sites Richenda recommends for
more information/further reading:
Markovinovic, Monika. “Beauty Blogger Offune Amaka Creates ‘Cocoa Swatches’ App to Help Women of Colour Find That Perfect Shade”. Huffington Post Canada. March 8, 2016.
Thompson, Eliza. “Amber Rose Talks Sex, Stripping, and how the Internet Made Her a ‘Feminist Monster’”. Cosmopolitan. June 8, 2015.
Loza, Susana (2014). “Hashtag Feminism, #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen, and the Other #FemFuture” Ada: A Journal of Gender, New Media and Technology 5 (“Queer Feminist Media Praxis”).
Tracy Kennedy (2007). ‘The Personal is Political: Feminist Blogging and Virtual Consciousness Raising’, Scholar and Feminist Online5(2).
Ramsey, Donovan X. “The Truth About Black Twitter”. The Atlantic. April 10, 2015.
Jamie Nesbitt Golden, “Feminism can’t just be for white women”. Salon. August 15, 2013.
Hairston, Tahirah. “This web series asks Black women around the world to explain what beauty means to them.” Fusion. June 2, 2016.
Oredein, Tobi. “Why my hair is both a personal and political statement in 2016”. The Debrief. June 1 2016.