Born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama, Jeniese Hosey, PR/Marketing influencer and creator of the fashion blog The Jenesaisquoi, discusses self-acceptance, going for your dreams, and the importance of saving a little bit of magic for yourself.
What was life like growing up for you?
It was pretty okay, like there wasn't a lot of trauma. I hate to say it, but my life was kind of ideal on most fronts. Of course there are childhood traumas. There are people that are mean to you. Growing up plus size in a household where your mother and father don't really talk about your body, but other people do is different. I didn't even know that my body was to be perceived a bad thing until I reached elementary school. To this day, my mom still doesn't say anything about my body, but it was more of the kids saying things like, "Oh you're bigger than what's-her-name or she's bigger than you."
What was life like once you realized that you were "plus sized"?
I feel like I compressed it all and put it away. It started to manifest itself once I got to middle school because then I would do things to try to control. I would do these crazy diets and then by high school I feel like it had such a large effect on me that I let it dim my light a little bit. I didn't really shine as brightly as I probably could have during that time in my life. I really had to go through the whole metamorphosis of coming out of that. You realize how much of an effect it has on you. I always dressed well, but I was shy and far less vocal than I would have been had my light not dimmed. I think at some point something happens in everyone's life that could make their light dim whether it's just trying to survive or not being encouraged to do bigger things than what their doing now. You know there's always something that starts people on the path to becoming who they are. I don't feel like I brightened my light until I got into my 30s and decided that I would do what I wanted to do.
What was that point that kind of changed the path you were on? For me, I feel like my light was dimmed because I was smart and my peers thought that I wasn't "Black enough". That was something that I didn't really understand and I still don't totally understand it to this day, but I feel like that period of my life was when I really acquired my feminist values.
I also feel like that too. I don't understand why we condition our girls to be dumb. I don't get dimming people's lights. I was still yearning for a certain level of acceptance when I realized that the thing that was missing was my own self-acceptance. It's always an ongoing journey and I realize how some of that stuff was still coming to the surface.
I think it was really those last years of my 20s going into my 30s where I realized that there were people who dimmed my light because they were insecure themselves and there were people who dimmed my light just because they could. I've now realized that I don't have to invite people into my life, that I can uninvited people from my life, and that I can really focus on me, which is what I decided to do.
Where I really feel like I failed in my life though was coming out of college and not taking off and going to New York like I wanted to. That was the biggest failure of my entire life. It's not that I would've stayed there or that it would've been all that it was cracked up to be especially not at 21 because emotionally I wasn't ready. Maybe it would have forced me into changing earlier because I would have had to make all new friends and things like that. I don't know what it would've pushed me into, but it definitely was the biggest failure of my life -- the fact that I did not leave Birmingham when I could have.
Do I think it could do it now? Yes. Do I think it would be like seventy-nine thousand times harder? Of course because I'm used to having a certain lifestyle now. I think when I was around 29 I started to realize how big of a mistake it was. It weighs heavy on my heart to this day. Everyday.
So why don't you just go?
I don't know. I cannot answer that question. I don't know if it's because I have so many responsibilities now or what. I think that there is still a certain amount of fear around it -- a fear that I could fail. I'm hoping that in the next year or so I figure it out and squash the feeling or actually try it for a year.
"I was still yearning for a certain level of acceptance when I realized that the thing that was missing was my own self-acceptance. It's always an ongoing journey and I realized how some of that stuff was still coming to the surface."
Have you always dealt with a fear of failure?
Oh yea. I'm a perfectionist. So there's a certain layer of if I can't balls to the wall and do it right, then I'm not going to do it at all. Everything that I do has to be done with a certain amount of rightness. I'm really nitpicky, like for example, with my blog, giving someone else the editing process to do is really difficult. I used to edit my own pictures for years, but now I'm giving the photographers control and I'm realizing that it's really hard for me.
Speaking of your blog, what made you want to create it? Was it out of response to wanting to go to New York City and did you struggle with any fear?
Yes. I saw these amazing girls who were young and doing this and I thought "I can do this!" and so that's how I started. It would be as organic as me sitting in a coffee shop with you in a cute outfit and asking you to take a photo with my hot pink polaroid camera. That's how it started -- cell phone camera, iPhone camera, outside of the club with these outfits. Just ridiculous stuff.
There wan't any fear when I started which is so strange with me. There's no fear when it comes to blogging. Sometimes I do get nervous that some people aren't going to like what I share and I always struggle with the comparison box.
So do you think that it's just a natural confidence in yourself that makes you fearless about it?
I wouldn't say it's confidence because there are definitely times when I question what I'm wearing. For example, at my full-time job, I've started to dim my light because I'm around all these regular, normal women and when I wear outlandish things they don't understand it or they freak out. So I've started to wear these thing that I don't normally wear and lots of time I find myself wondering why am I wearing this. But you know, it is what it is. Because people don't have to read my blog and I don't do it to get a ton of money. Do I want to be in Glamour? Yes! Did I love being on the cover of Redbook? Of course. It was amazing. Never in a world did 10-year old Jeniese who was constantly made to feel like she wasn't good enough imagine that she would be on the cover of a national magazine -- or a September issue at that. That will forever be the greatest moment of my life.
"...keep some magic to yourself. Don't share everything with the world because the world will strip you of your magic if you let it. That's my reminder for myself in 2017. Keep some magic for yourself because once you give it away, you can't get it back."
It's really admirable that you're so fearless. Would you consider yourself a role model?
Oh no. I know I drop nuggets on girls, but that's because I don't want you all to make the same mistakes that I made. That's why I'm always saying "Eh. Get out of here. Pack your bags. Meet new people. Fall in love -- a million times." I know that I'm hard on young black girls, but that's because I want you all to be great. And I want you guys to not just relax into what's happening, because it's easy to relax. I feel like that's what happened to me. I've just relaxed into my comfort zone and I don't want that for anyone. Comfort zones are so hard to push yourself out of. It leads to fearing so many things. Right now it's so easy to fear being a freelancer because our insurance just got taken away from us and the economy is damn near doomed. There's a part of me that feels like I should just get a regular job. But there's really no security in any job . It's just easier.
Reflecting back on your life, what is the best advice that you have for young women of color?
Try it. Don't allow the world to box you in. Don't feel like you have to look a certain way. I feel like the physical pressure on black women is stronger now than ever before. You know, you have to have these brows and you have to have your hair either natural or straight. I just don't understand why there has to be a war between us. Just be who you want to be. Date who you want to date and go where you want to go. Don't get caught up in what it means to be "black". That pressure is there and I think it's so unrealistic.
Also keep some magic to yourself. Don't share everything with the world because the world will strip you of your magic if you let it. That's my reminder for myself in 2017. Keep some magic for yourself because once you give it away, you can't get it back.
There is so much grace in the journey, but I think that grace is where we lose ourselves because we don't know how to show grace to ourselves or our journey. Without my journey, I don't think that I would have ever been able to encourage young women or get out into the world and express how my fat does not define or stop me.
Any other advice when it comes to failure?
Don't be afraid to fail and if you do, learn from it. Wallow in it for a little while. It's okay to wallow. Reflect on it. Enjoy every step of life. It's hard and there will be plenty of ups and downs. There will be periods of epic happiness and periods of epic sadness, but don't be afraid to try new things. It's normal to have healthy does of fear and it's normal to fail.
Photography by Audrey Davis