Recently legendary Pop Music & Movie Icon Diana Ross made a rare appearance on Oprah with her five children and new grandson.  I found myself very moved by the appearance as were hundreds of other black women on Facebook & Twitter.  Every few seconds there was a tweet or post about how fabulous Diana looked, or about how emotional we felt as we watched this original Feminine Diva at 67 still do her thing–and do it well!

I was in Florida yesterday speaking to a group of college students at Broward College just outside of Miami.  I was a speaker for Black History Month and for my “Redefining You” college tours that will go nationwide this summer and fall.  My topic was the image of black women in today’s modern culture and how those images still impact us in the workplace, relationally and otherwise.  On these tours I engage students and I do a lot of listening as well.  One young black man in his twenties (video to post soon) made some stunning observations after we watched clips of the infamous Pepsi Max Superbowl ad and the “Black Marriage Negotiations” video that went viral earlier this year.  Both clips depict black women as angry, abusive, buttoned up, harsh, controlling, overbearing, and just down right unattractive and even a bit “masculine” for lack of a better word.

What this young man said was simply jaw dropping for me (but not to far out of line of what we know from the book research). After watching the ads he stood up and respectfully said, “Sadly, the images depicted in these ads do represent many young black women I know. I am not saying all, but most of my black male friends say they just cannot handle the anger and attitudes of black women.  Here on campus, and in the law firm where I interned last summer, most of the black men dated Hispanic or White women.  They say the other women are just nicer and more attractive.  I think it is sad actually, because there are nice sisters, but the images of black women are so negative, and in some cases so true that men are just walking away from them without even giving it a chance. I think black women have to come to terms with this if they want it to change for the better.”

For me, when I think of Black female femininity I think of the image of Diana Ross on the cover of her Best-selling LP “Diana” (pictured herein).  She represented something we had not seen before.  She was a true black woman superstar–in some ways she transcended race. She was thin–brown skinned, she had her hair wet (OMG can you imagine a sister with her hair wet in a photo for all to see)–she had on a white T-shirt, blue jeans, she was bold, but soft, powerful, yet sensual.  The images of Diana Ross are the ones I grew up with and that I remember well to this day.  She was all W-O-M-A-N.  She was a wife, a mom (and according to her kids a very devoted and loving mom), she could stand in Central Park, New York in the pouring rain and sing to a SOLD-OUT crowd of over 750,000 fans in a tight red see through dress, and pull it off with a smile.  She was free, she was fulfilled, she was affirmed.

Many of us could use some of that in our own lives. As we start this redefinition revolution together this May, we must examine closely how the images that have defined and shape us are impacting our men, our places of work, places of worship and our everyday lives as black women.  Images have power beyond what we can imagine sisters–lest we gain control of how we are depicted, we will never get past how we are perceived.