On Unapologetically Owning Your Greatness and Other Lessons We Can Learn from Grace Jones

by Kimberly Denise Williams

Before recognizing Grace Jones’ talent, you are first struck by her appearance. The smooth dark skin coupled with androgynous style is not one often portrayed and glorified in mainstream media. It was her looks that helped catapult her into early success as a model, where she walked in shows for the likes of Yves Saint Laurent and appeared on covers of publications like Essence, Vogue Italia, and Elle. She translated her success as a model into music and acting, while leaving an indelible stamp on the art world. Her memoir, entitled I’ll Never Write My Memoirs is an unabashed celebration of her life and a lesson for those coming up. It also serves as a reminder that women can create their own visions for themselves, own their stories, and should stand confidently and unapologetically in their grace.

Jones announced her book with an explanation of the title. "I wrote a song called Art Groupie. First line said 'I'll never write my memoirs' — that was a long time ago. Since then, I thought, if I don't do it, somebody else will." This book is Jones taking control of her legacy. Jones is correct to say that by not telling her own story, she leaves her story out there to be manipulated by others. There is a danger in that. To quote Zora Neale Hurston, “If you are silent about your pain, they'll kill you and say you enjoyed it.” It is not only healthy, but a necessity to have your story told, and accurately. Who better to do that than yourself? The story in this memoir gives life lessons on image, performance, and authenticity.

When Jones explains her decision-making techniques or her refusal to be marked as a diva because of the connotations it comes with, she is teaching us not only about her personality but also solid lessons on standing on your own two feet. By writing a memoir, Jones falls in line with popular story telling and psychological mantras of today. A quick search on mastering your own story leads to popular theories espoused by the likes of gurus Brene Brown and Susan Cain. Own your story. Write the narrative. Create the ending that you want. This is not only reaffirmed by today’s pop psychology, but also by our cultural history. The Caribbean Cultural Theater has long used “Tellin We Own Story” as their slogan. It is part of the reason why a separate section of every storytelling industry has gained prominence within the black community from the black church to black magazines. We deserve a space for our version of events. Grace Jones took that power into her hands by writing her memoirs.

The audacity of believing your story is worth being told is also a positive sign of confidence in one’s accomplishments. Jones writes in her book that she was often “the first not the beneficiary” of several trends that launched people to pop culture fame and fortune. These trends include Keith Haring body paintings, extreme fashion, photo shoots with Jean Paul-Goude, and much more. While Jones may not have earned as much as some of the stars she’s inspired, she has the right to come back and claim ownership of her work. At 67 years old, Jones is actively protecting and safeguarding what she has produced. This confidence betrays a healthy self-esteem and is an action that is beyond warranted. On one level it reaffirms self worth, which is healthy. Furthermore, it allows Jones to continue innovating and slaying. By laying out past achievements plainly, Jones is free to move forward with new cultural productions. Memoirs written, Jones did just that taking to the stage in this past summer’s AfroPunk and several other festivals, reminding everyone of her brilliance.

Unsurprisingly, several previews of her book focused on her comments concerning the number of pop stars that have copied her style.
"Trends come along and people say, 'Follow that trend.' There’s a lot of that around at the moment: 'Be like Sasha Fierce. Be like Miley Cyrus. Be like Rihanna. Be like Lady Gaga. Be like Rita Ora and Sia. Be like Madonna.' I cannot be like them -- except to the extent that they are already being like me."
Reviewers and sensationalists have been quick to use terms like “scathing,” “disses,” and “calls out” in reference to Jones’ comments, as if this was solely a chest puffing exercise. This is nothing but an honest assessment of her impact. In a culture where people quickly forget trailblazers, it is often leftup to trailblazers to remind people of their prowess. To put it in Beyonce terms, Jones is 80 percent saying “I Was Here,” with 20 percent “Bow Down.”

I’ll Never Write My Memoirs is the ultimate connection of owning your story and brandishing a healthy confidence. The story of Grace Jones belongs to Grace Jones. What happens with time and memory will happen, but right now Jones has the ability to shape how that memory will be formed. The same magazines that she once modeled in now style pop stars to look like her on their covers. There’s no reason to wait for a researcher to discover the ingenuity and prowess of Jones in ten years when it can be acknowledged at this moment.

The creations of black women have been appropriated and attributed to everyone else in today’s society from slang like “squad goals” to hairstyles like cornrows. Jones’ assertion of her worth and her value to the culture is nothing short of brilliant self-assurance. She repeatedly asserts her desire to be a teacher, and the lesson has been taught. Everyone would be wise to learn it, before you attempt to pull up to her bumper.

Photo: Bootneckstu / Shutterstock.com

Kimberly Denise Williams is a Brooklyn born chatterbox living at the fringes of pop culture. You can tweet her @kimberlythinks or visit her website: www.kimberlydenisewilliams.com.

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