Who Exactly Is "The Carefree Black Girl"?



chiara-de-blasioPhoto: Terrence Jennings/Retna, Ltd/Corbis.
When I came across the phrase, I instantly connected with its meaning. Put simply, “Carefree Black Girl” is a way to celebrate all things joyous and eclectic among brown ladies. Cultivated online and driven by social media, it’s one telling piece of a much wider development of inspiration assembled by and for black women.

Over the last 15 years or so, there’s been a heartening evolution in the works that I’ve been proud to be involved with. A while back, I launched le coil, a curated collection of natural-hair web finds and original photography. The more I worked on it, the more I started to realize that it was helping me explore a facet of the black female experience that went beyond just hair. I noticed that I instinctively leaned more toward more joyful expressions and regal poses, faces basking in natural light, and an overall tone that was warm, relatable, and encouraging. There had been countless conversations with friends where I lamented something along the lines of “I just want to see brown ladies having a delightful time and riding bicycles — and maybe having some brunch.”

As I continued to encounter more sites dedicated to an endless array of hair textures, personal styles, and creative endeavors, I realized that I wasn’t alone in trying to capture a certain quality that eludes black women in traditional media. Lo and behold, in the last couple of years, the Carefree Black Girl concept has been gaining traction and most affectionately describes what we might have been seeking.

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janelle-monaePhoto: Via @janellemonae.
There are varying ways in which the title is bestowed, but a common tone connects everything. It’s the freedom and exuberance of simple moments and pleasures: clutching flowers, enjoying the company of your equally stylish friends, reveling in creative endeavors, and even finding the ethereal beauty in not-so-carefree moments. Admittedly, it feels weird to describe scenes that, for some people, may seem mundane or even cliché. But, for women of color, such basic depictions continue to go underrepresented.

A defining aspect of Carefree Black Girl (CFBG) content is that it’s enthusiastically generated by black girls themselves. With multiple sites specifically devoted to the idea (or a variation of it) and the phrase sprinkled throughout an abundance of posts online, many are using visuals to reflect what they feel a Carefree Black Girl embodies. It’s telling that this casual movement is most prevalent on image-centric social platforms like Tumblr (which currently hosts a great number of niche black culture blogs). There’s empowerment and creativity in the curation of these images, which pull from a wide range of sources that include style bloggers, fashion editorials, users' personal photos, and, of course, shots of their favorite CFBG icons.

While CFBG doesn’t necessarily refer to one type of personal style, the spirit seems to be cultivating an aesthetic all its own. Floral headbands make recurring appearances (à la Chiara de Blasio, New York City's Carefree Black First Daughter). The clothing is as colorful and expressive as the girls themselves. In terms of hair, 'fros seem to be the most prevalent, but there’s a great balanced mix of styles and textures (and a refreshing lack of hair politics, I might add). There’s this supportive convergence of everyday ladies sharing their own imagery and stories along with having a more prominent pop-culture support system.

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solange Photo: Via @saintrecords.
I can’t recall another period with such a wide-ranging mainstream presence as this Carefree Black Girl archetype. You may recognize it as Willow Smith rocking a pink Mohawk, Corinne Bailey Rae sauntering around Paris, Janelle Monáe serving android realness, and 100% of Solange Knowles’ life on Instagram.

I don’t know if any of these ladies would identify as such, but their influence is deeply felt and appreciated in CFBG spaces. They exhibit the qualities we all cherish to a wider audience that isn’t regularly exposed to the multitudes of black female creativity.

While the visual presence of Carefree Black Girls is exciting, some might wonder what would prompt such a hyper-specific expression. By putting the word “carefree” front and center, it’s making a statement that we don't want to be solely defined by hardships and stereotypes so we can enjoy our lives as we please. Carefree should not be mistaken with careless. This particular audience is equally exposed to content exploring identity, culture, and history and its implications on them. There’s a clear reverence for the difficulties they might face but an equal focus on embracing the qualities that make them unique and beautiful. The idea also embodies not letting an outside gaze rule the way you express yourself.

Overall, I think Carefree Black Girl is a lovely and much-needed step in the right direction when it comes to exploring black identities. There may be concern that it lends itself to a passing trend or restrictive roles, but fear not. The absolute worst case scenario is that girls might start wearing floral headbands and feeling great about themselves. And, that sounds like a pretty magical prospect, if you ask me.