It hit me like a ton of bricks but also flew right past me.

It was a Friday night. My roommate and I were at one of our favorite parties appropriately, or disgustingly, called Sweat Haus (which more than lives up to its name). After sweating our lives away to the atmospheric sounds of house mixed with hip hop and old-school R&B, it was the last call so we decided to get taco truck tacos and then head home to blissfully dive drunkenly into bed. 

While my roommate went to see if he could finagle one last drink from the bartender, I hung back and waited for him by the door. As I stared into the abyss of my phone, a tall ginger-haired man tapped my phone screen.

“Boop!”

I looked up at him. Well, that’s one way to get someone’s attention, I thought to myself. He then got in my ear and whispered, “You’re gorgeousss.” Like most compliments from random cis-hetero men, it was annoying yet simultaneously flattering. He went on his merry way, and I forgot about his existence as soon as I could no longer see him.

Then, about two minutes later, another man who saw the “Talk to me!” sign I apparently had taped to my shirt came over. 

“Wow, you’re hot,” he said. 

I smiled with what I hoped was enough forced apprehension in my face that he got the hint to shoo fly and not bother me. 

“What does it feel like to be a hot girl?” he continued. 

Excuse me? 

I can’t remember what I said to him or even if I responded at all, I imagine I gave him more of a “whatchu talkin’ bout Willis” face. 

via GIPHY

Whether he was being facetious or not, up until recently, being a “hot girl” wasn’t something I ever claimed.

I’ve always been a “late bloomer” in my group of friends: late to wearing makeup and girly clothes, late to being kissed, and really late to have my first relationship. I was teased for my African features and, in a world where light skin is the “right” skin, my dark skin was usually the last choice to draw the affection of any man’s desire. Now, the term “late bloomer” is slightly problematic because milestones happen for everyone in their own time. Life is a marathon, but growing up, being a late bloomer was like a badge of honor.

As he floated into the background, probably because he left me stupified by his question, I pondered on this longer: I don’t know… what does it feel like? 

We’re in an interesting age of the internet where, amidst the self-help memes, TikTok dances, and quarantine challenges, the bad bitches of Generation Y & Z are undeniably dominating Black Instagram and Twitter.

The queen of the Gen Z “hot girls”, Megan Thee Stallion, determined in 2019 that it was a hot girl summer and we all subsequently fell in line waiting for the next order from our hot girl lieutenant. As hot girl summer became hot girl fall, and hopefully an ongoing hot girl decade, everybody from Badu-adjacent hippies to bamboo-rocking mamis from the hood are boldly proclaiming their hot girl status up and down our feeds. The mantra, “real hot girl shit” is hard to disassociate with. It’s catchy, empowering, and frankly, a lot of fun to say. It’s more than a fun slogan, it’s a manifesto on loving yourself as you are and being the baddest bitch you can be with all the gifts you were born with.

But as someone who was “late” to find herself, the hot girl movement is one that I only recently felt like I could belong to. 

Picture this: you’re 8 years old and hate how hairy your legs are. You secretly try shaving, but your “strawberry legs” are still visible. It’s summer in California, it’s HOT, and the first day of school is upon you. You have a cute pair of shorts that if you could just work up the courage to wear, you’d be both stylish and ventilated. After 20 minutes of going back and forth, you muster up the courage to put them on and hesitantly make your way to your parent’s room where you’d wait for them to give you a ride to school. As soon as you enter their room, your dad sees you and asks you if your shorts are too short. You immediately agree and run back to your room to change. You don’t wear anything that shows your legs (other than to play sports) for years to come. 

Or this: You’re 10 years old and just transferred from private to public school. You want to lay low because you heard that public school kids are mean. You’re pretty shy and wouldn’t know how to stand up for yourself if you were addressed. You fall into a group of misfits who are your friends out of convenience, and one day one of them tells you that your nostrils are so big “they could probably fit walnuts inside.” The whole group laughs and you go home crying to your mom. After a few more jokes from them and others, you now are embarrassed about your nose and try to fade into the background at all times as to not draw attention to it. You don’t raise your hand in class and don’t speak much. 

Or this: You’re 15 years old and in high school. You’re not unpopular but you’re also not the coolest, so you get by. There’s a guy in your class who you’ve secretly had a crush on for months now. He’s tall, plays basketball, and is somewhat stylish compared to the other boys. One day, you tell your friend about him and she goes behind your back to tell him. He tells her that he’s flattered but isn’t looking to date anyone right now. A few weeks later, you see that he’s officially dating one of the cooler, lighter-skinned girls in your grade. 

Over and over, in spaces both quiet and loud, you experience rejection, teasing for your features, and begin to retreat more and more into your shell.

In her essay, “Trying to Feel Love-Worthy (While Working for a Dating App)”, Loré Yessuff writes:

“Far too many Black women are taught that romantic fantasies do not belong to us, that we are never someone’s first choice or second or even third, and that we should feel lucky if we are wanted, which really means that we should feel suspicious.” she continues, “Romantic desire is complicated for everyone, but for us, it is so often political. Nearly every Black girl I know has a story about being blatantly rejected for her Blackness — if not rejected outright, then fetishized or dismissed in some other racially charged way.”

In 2019, Ayesha Curry appeared as a guest on Red Table Talk, where she went viral after sharing that seeing women throw themselves at her husband, while she gets “zero attention” from men made her feel insecure. “I have zero — this sounds weird — but, like, male attention, and so then I begin to internalize it, and I’m like, ‘Is something wrong with me?’” Curry said to Jada Pinkett-Smith. While I understand why she received a lot of shade for her comments—she is already married to Stephen Curry with three beautiful children—I also understood exactly what she meant. Self-esteem ultimately comes from within, but in a society like America’s where beauty is packaged and sold as something that can only be achieved externally, can you really feel beautiful if you rarely hear it from others? 

We live in a world where beauty is currency and unfortunately, Black women, particularly dark skinned Black women, have been deemed the lowest form of said currency. However, Black women are no longer accepting this narrative. Thanks to Black female creators on social networks like YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter, Black women have been fighting back against bad behaviors we regularly experience such as misogynoir, fetishization, and gaslighting. As a result, we’ve been leaning into self-care more, tapping into our femininity, and supporting each other as a means to affirm our worth. Not to the world, but to ourselves. As a result, an unofficial sisterhood has been born on and offline. If someone comes for a Black woman in even a remotely derogatory way, you can be sure to find a tribe of fellow Black women coming to shield her and lift her up. 

It’s easy to miss the moment where everything began to change for me. If I had to say, it was probably my junior year of college when I studied abroad in London. That trip alone gave me a freedom I didn’t know I needed and, ultimately, helped change my perception of who I was. I was conquering a new city alone. I was invited to my first fashion show during London Fashion Week, if my friends didn’t want to go to a concert or an exhibit then I took myself out and enjoyed, and men (many men!) actually saw me and asked me out. My confidence skyrocketed.

I started to see myself less by what I lacked physically and more through my blooming spirit. I dreamt of all the experiences waiting for me once I gave myself permission to enjoy them. It wasn’t just the attention—I was taking risks, being bold, and choosing myself. This is when the glow up began.

For a lot of us late bloomers, patience is indeed our truest virtue. What we didn’t get to experience as 18-year-olds, if we play our cards right, we’ll experience in droves once we hit our mid-to-late twenties (or even thirties!). Or, even better, we’ll realize how lucky we were to have been spared some of the experiences our peers endured early on. 

From then on, I started traveling more. I met new people and experienced new cultures. I put myself out there with my writing and won awards for my words. I read my poetry on stages. I made out with strangers. I told people how I felt about them. I distanced myself when the relationship no longer fed my spirit. I left jobs that undervalued me. I stopped caring what people thought of me. I spoke my truth (this part is still hard but is the most worth it). My shell continued to shed, slowly and sometimes painfully, but it shed. And with it, my level of attraction rose. I felt more attractive to myself; like I was becoming the woman I was supposed to be, and subsequently, people became more attracted to me. I treat my life like an adventure, not something I need to shrink to fit into. Who knew that was the secret sauce all along? 

My dark skin, big nose, and hairy legs may deter some but I’m at the point in my life where I’d be quite relieved to have those people kept the fuck away from me. The 8-year-old me would be proud to see what she’s become, and I wish I could tell her that it all gets so much better. Not because boys actually desire her, but because she truly desires herself. The liberation that comes with claiming yourself is not to be taken lightly. For many of us, it can take decades to cultivate self-acceptance, so when it comes it deserves to be relished in. 

As for the earlier question: what’s it like to be a hot girl? Here is another hot girl mantra to answer that for you: “I love myself unapologetically. My self-worth isn’t determined by others, and anyone who doesn’t like it can stay mad.” How’s that for an affirmation?

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