Starting Your Dreams Later In Life and Embracing the Detour

Jenee Darden speaking at Creative Mornings I know it's been a while since I've posted anything but that's because of my job. I'm working as a reporter covering Oakland and I host an arts segment on the radio where I get to interview amazing artists from around the Bay Area. Plus I'm publicizing my book  and building my speaking career!  You know what's funny? I thought this would all happen by the time I was 27-30.  Nope. That wasn't God's plan for me. I'm finally beginning to do the things I've wanted to do and I'm almost 40 years old. Some people reading this who are 40 will say 40 is still young. But some younger people reading may think 40 is nearly ancient. But I'm writing this post for those who like me, thought their career and personal dreams would come true much early in life. I'm here to tell you not to give up.  You know, death inspires life. A number of my relatives and friends have passed away, ranging in

Damn, Get Over Vanessa Williams and the Nude Photos

Leave my girl Vanessa Williams alone!
This photo was taken around 2007.

I am so TIRED of people bringing up Vanessa Williams and her nude photos from back in the ‘80s.  The woman is a great actress, has a beautiful voice and is gorgeous beyond words. That all should supersede sexy pictures, but people like to stay stuck on the negative. She didn’t kill anyone. She didn’t start a war or boil kittens. She took naked pictures. It’s time to get over it.    

I’ve been a Vanessa Williams film since I was a little kid.  The girly-girl in me loved watching pageants as a child. I remember being so excited that a black woman finally won the Miss America crown in 1983. Many African-Americans were proud. My mother kept the Ebony issue with Vanessa Williams on the cover, wearing her crown and sash, on our coffee table.  At four years old, I was too young to remember how Vanessa Williams competed in the pageant. I admired her for beauty and poise.

When news broke that Penthouse had nude photos, black people were so disappointed. Miss America represented this idea of wholesome womanhood and America’s sweetheart. The photos pushed Vanessa Williams into the nasty girl category. Apparently, a contestant expressing she’s a sexual being isn’t Miss America-like, but rating women as they strut the pageant’s stage in bathing suits is acceptable.

Less than a year of becoming the first black Miss America, she made history again becoming the first Miss America to give up her crown. Again I was too young understand, but I knew why she stepped down. Looking back, that was probably my first lesson in slut-shaming.

A few years ago I finally saw the photos of Vanessa Williams online. Yes, they were very erotic. I like erotic art and thought she looked amazing. However, I understand why those photos with that level of heat became such a big deal back in the conservative ‘80s. But you know what, I don’t give a shit about the photos. So what?! She took those photos 30+ years ago and never gave the photographer consent to publish them. Penthouse reportedly paid morefor her photos, then any others during that time. I think she was only 19 or 20 when she posed. Who hasn’t done something wild in their youth? Vanessa Williams is in her 53. Can you imagine people constantly bringing up choices you made back in your late teens, early 20’s?  The people judging her probably have done/are doing all kind of wild, kinky, freaky, nasty even illegal things on the low.

I’m addressing this issue because Vanessa Williams will be judging the Miss America pageant this Sunday. It is rumored that officials will re-crown her. However some from the Miss America committee feel she should apologize as well. To that I say, “Hell naw.”

Vanessa Williams doesn’t owe anyone an apology. She’s actually doing Miss America a favor by appearing on the show since their ratings are so low. Vanessa Williams is probably the most successful woman to wear the Miss America title. She could have let that awful scandal ruin her, instead she kicked ass in her career. And she kicked ass on many levels in the entertainment industry. Not too many people in show biz have done TV, film, music, Broadway, books, dance, and been the voice of an M & M--all successfully. Her Christmas albums are some of my favorites. The only thing shameful regarding Vanessa Williams is that with all of her amazing talent, it’s ridiculous she hasn’t won a Grammy or Emmy.  

When I hear Vanessa Williams what comes to mind are her roles in Ugly Betty, A Diva’s Christmas Carol and Soul Food. I think of opening Christmas gifts while her holiday CDs played in the background. I think of songs like Save the Best for Last and Love Is, her 90210 soundtrack duet with Brian McKnight. It’s still one of my favorite songs today. I think of having the pleasure of meeting her.

Vanessa Williams is more than her sexuality and her body. By rising above the scandal and slut-shaming she also proved that she’s more than a pageant queen. Her resilience is admirable. She has strength and courage to overcome the past and keep moving, even though journalists and TV hosts continue to bring it up today. It’s been over 30 years. How many more ways can she answer the question about the photos?!

We get it. 

 She posed.

She’s still amazing.

Move on!