Pretty Girl

First written May 19, 2014 by Zakiya Jackson

When I was a little girl I wanted to be pretty like my mom and tough like my dad. I equally enjoyed playing in mud, shooting hoops with a bunch of guys, wearing dresses (as long as they were not bright pink) and watching beauty pageants. Um — yeah, I was one-moment playing football with my brothers and the next wondering if I would ever be Ms. America and BEGGING my mom to let me wear make-up.

I actually dabbled in modeling just a bit in high school. Unfortunately, I felt less beautiful. It was not the fun, joyful thing I found it to be with my mom, when she and I would have fashion shows at home. It embellished the tension I still feel with beauty sometimes. Modeling and photo shoots were about looking and performing a certain way. With my mom it was about just being. Just having fun, being myself and playing with different outfits, accessories and make up.

Well, recently I had an experience that really made me return to the joy of youthful beauty and feel like a pretty girl. Don’t get me wrong, I feel pretty sometimes– just more often than not with a catch. Some of you know what I mean right? Feeling pretty except for my ____________ < — — — insert whatever thing(s) you don’t like about yourself.

So this prettiness all went down at Howard University because I had the last minute idea to have pictures done there while I was in the DC area. I picked Howard because my father got his master’s there. This month is the anniversary of his passing and I am usually on the look out for creative ways to keep his memory alive. My father highly valued education and he passed before I got my own master’s, so this felt like a good way to give credence to my beloved daddy.

Plus, Howard is an elite HBCU in the town I was born in and I’d never been on the campus as an adult. Win-win.

The morning of the shoot I was nervous and excited and happy. I wore a blue (dad’s favorite color) dress because I love dresses. I also wore comfortable and pretty heels (thanks Sari and Auntie Dhu), had good hair thanks to a friend helping me tame the natural wildness I’ve been experiencing, and had great accessories and make-up. I’m not saying I was a Brick House…but at least I could say like Chalie Boy that I look good. ;-).

Well…Howard’s campus is BEAUTIFUL. It was warmish except it was kinda cold. So the photographer kept saying “You look cold, don’t look cold.” And then he would make me laugh or in some other way motivate me to be distracted from the cold! It was so fun. He’s an affable, charming guy who’s also easy on the eyes, so I can’t say it was terribly hard for him to motivate me. Ha! But you know what really stood out for me is that he really just encouraged me to be myself.

Most of the time I was smiling and laughing and that’s really indicative of how I like to be anyways. I did not have to work hard to look or be a certain way. What I’m trying to say is that he just drew the best of me out by encouraging me to be myself. And that made me feel really really…yeah, pretty. And free.

On top of that, the photos of me are so interesting. Because. I love them. But the things I don’t like about my appearance — well they aren’t hidden. Haha, but I’m not even mad about it. Cause they also aren’t an eyesore to me this time. It’s me. Just Z. And I’m okay. I’m okay, just as I am. You know, I could stand to be thinner. Or have “better” curves. Have clearer skin. And so on and so on. But oddly enough, in these pictures and in that space in time for a couple hours, I felt like I was just enough. I was pretty enough and Z enough and it felt awesome.

For me, that’s a large part of what being a pretty girl is about. Being enough in my own skin and not being so critical of myself. From when I was a little girl until he died, my father’s nickname for me was Pretty Girl. I was his pretty girl. I didn’t do anything to earn the title, ya know? I just was…I was just being crazy little Z and that was enough. I’m not saying nothing else matters, but understanding that in my essence I’m a Pretty Girl, that frees a sista up to just really have fun with things.

So I’m grateful for the 24 years I got to be my daddy’s Pretty Girl, for the history and setting of Howard University in my family, and for the charming photographer that helped me be 100% Z that day. I’m shooting for being more and more like that everyday. Could there be a better tribute to my dad than to just be Z? Nope — hahaha, cause come to think of it he was always telling me “Just be yourself Pretty Girl. Just be yourself.”

Think about it…maybe you, like me, should take his advice to heart!

Thanks Dad.

*Shout out to my photographer Justin D. Knight (hit me up if you want to reach him) and his great assistant Sydnee Monday.



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Corey Ponder

Corey Ponder

Tech policy professional by day, wannabe superhero by night. Passionate about building communities, spaces, and platforms focused on inclusion and empathy.