The ‘90s were the decade of my girlhood. In that 10-year span, I developed a sense of style, ideology, and identity around what it meant to be a woman. The mythology that I built around my gender identity is a true testament to gender as a social construct, but also a nod to the influences that helped me shape what it meant to be a girl. Pretty early on I knew that my girlhood was also wrapped up in the fact that I was Black. It was a part of myself that I learned to take seriously at a very young age. I was armed with Black dolls, books with Black characters, and outings to Black events in a way that was intentional. Naturally, my pop culture idols were often Black women as well. However, there was one who stood out to me more than all of the others. Her name was Melanie Brown, and most of the world called her Scary Spice.
Rihanna might be responsible for making “carefree Black girl” a cool thing to be. But it’s only because her rise to fame conveniently ran parallel to the emergence of technologies and social media platforms that enabled a broad sense of community among Black girls who are more comfortable pushing the envelope on respectability. But Scary Spice was my first Black girl pop culture idol. She was who I wanted to be like, and it was because she embodied the kind of individuality and freedom from judgement that draws so many of us to Rihanna today.
Way before wearing our hair natural was the “thing” it is today for Black girls, Scary Spice had already bedazzled two bantu knots atop her head, with the rest of her curls free to fly behind her. She proudly donned all-leopard everything and rocked crop tops and high-heeled shoes that didn’t affect her mobility at all. She had a tongue ring. Scary Spice was loud when she didn’t need to be — something I would be reprimanded for well into adulthood — and she didn’t feel bad about it. Neither did I. As was the theme of the Spice Girls, girl power was her guiding light in life. While many of my other friends were into the polished, Black-girl-next-door offerings of Brandy and Monica — with their smooth love ballads about boys that were meant to be sang from windowsills — the thought of ruling the world on the strength of girl power alone was magical to me.
I have spent most of my life outside of the socially acceptable parameters of Black girlhood, an identity that is already intrinsically marginalized. Where we are told to head toward "the center" — be normal, tame, and demure — I’ve firmly held my ground. There is something so comforting in the fact that I can look back and point to an example of someone else saying “fuck the rules” in an era where patriarchy and misogyny insist that women like me have somehow lost our way.
This month marks 23 years since, after auditions sealed the deal, the Spice Girls were officially formed. They ushered in a new era of female pop stars, like Britney Spears and Destiny’s Child, some of whom I would also idolize in one capacity or another. Since Scary Spice, we have seen the rise and fall of plenty of carefree black girls: in pop culture, in politics, in our social media feeds, and in real life. I’m grateful that my blueprint has always involved big hair and a commitment to what I want — what I really, really want.