The Faux Veil of Innocence and Purity

Innocence is a distraction. It blinds us from the humanity, growth and endurance of young black women and presents us as misconstrued angels – held to a high, unfair and unattainable standard which limits our sexual and emotional freedom. Over the years, pop-culture and music has provided us with iconic figures and blueprints who continuously rebel against the flawed and untrue concept that women are one dimensional and docile individuals. I will be referring to this concept as ‘The Faux Veil of Innocence and Purity.’
In a world where women are often told not to take up too much room, not to be too ‘much’ or too loud, it feels refreshing, liberating and amazing to listen to artists who do not subscribe to these unspoken codes. Rico Nasty screams as loud as she wants on most of her songs, one of my personal favourites being ‘Rage’ from her sixth mixtape ‘Nasty.’ I feel confident when Doechii asks “how does it feel to be you?” on ‘Persuasive.’ As a 20 something Nigerian woman, I think SGaWd is so important because she raps with conviction. On ‘Are You Dumb?’ she does not hold back on being sexual, lyrical and audacious. When Ayra Starr says “I put the water in the ocean in the city that I’m from,” on ‘Fashion Killer,’ it gives me chills to listen to her sing with so much confidence, fearlessness and belief in her sauce.
Chloe x Halle’s sophomore album ‘Ungodly Hour’ was one of my favourite projects that dropped in 2020 because it felt authentic, relatable and showed that the sisters were experimenting with an image and sound that is a clear departure from The Faux Veil of Innocence and Purity they initially cloaked themselves with earlier in their careers. Records such as ‘Busy Boy,’ ‘Forgive Me’ and ‘Ungodly Hour,’ delve into unchartered territory for the sister group and arguably serve as a poster child for young women artists rebelling against any misconceptions of their innocence wrongfully rooted in purity. For instance, on ‘Tipsy,’ Chloe x Halle joke about burying men who do not treat them right. There is humour, wit and unapologetic fierceness in ‘Forgive Me,’ as the sarcasm makes it obvious that Chloe x Halle are not sorry. They do not want to be forgiven and they do not mind being judged for hurting and loving too hard. The visuals accompanying the ‘Forgive Me’ video are also great as the women take inspiration from ‘Tipsy,’ as they hold shovels – ready to bury anyone who hurts them; dressed in black leather with a tropical backdrop and mystic undertones. These represent rebellious symbols against purity, as black and leather are often associated with emo, punk, grunge, and darkness. Blackness and leather screams ‘other’ and is the direct opposite of white – the normative depiction of innocence and purity. The tropical backdrop in many scenes could also symbolise wilderness, freedom or possibly a search for the unknown.
Rihanna is a staple when it comes to women artists experimenting and ensuring that sexual freedom and liberation is reflected through art. Rihanna’s third studio album, ‘Good Girl Gone Bad’ was more than just an album. It was a change in trajectory and a shift in Rihanna’s career and essence as an artist. It was a clear indication that she did not plan to fit into a pristine image of the ‘perfect’ youthful archetype which was common in the early 2000s pop industry. ‘Good Girl Gone Bad’ set Rihanna apart and laid a solid foundation for what would eventually make her one of the biggest pop stars in the world.
Women artists do not only rebel against the Faux Veil of Innocence and Purity through art but also in their personal lives as many of us do. For instance, Janet Jackson’s 1986 release of the song and album titled ‘Control,’ serves as an early act of breaking down The Faux Veil of Innocence and Purity in pop culture. Janet Jackson was 20 years old when she decided to leave her management and create a project which celebrates the autonomy, freedom and independence of a young woman trying to find her way and step out of the shadows of a famous brother. The Control album ended up selling over 100 million records and spent 91 weeks on the US R&B charts [1], therefore teaching us that stepping away from restrictive constraints is a risk worth taking for the purpose of creating art on your own terms.
Although all women grapple with the Faux Veil of Innocence and Purity as previously acknowledged, this paradigm affects black women to a stronger degree. Black and Indigenous cultures are often rooted in ideas, social norms and rules which uphold the Faux Veil of Innocence and Purity. This is not to say that this concept is not upheld within western cultures because it is. However, many black women are not taught or encouraged to take off the veil and be their true selves. It is ‘useful’ to keep the veil on in order to be good wives, daughters, sisters and abiding members of society within varying black cultures. As discussed in the essay titled ‘The black female body: Representation of the erotic in contemporary visual art in Africa,’ the feminist scholar Hortense Spillers echoes similar concerns. Spillers contends that “black women are often absent participants in their sexual autonomy, calling them: “the beached whales of the sexual universe, unvoiced, mis-seen, not doing, awaiting their verb.”” [2]
Connections, resources and the genre of music an artist gravitates towards are some key factors which heavily influence the extent to which women have the confidence, bravery and capability to rebel against the Faux Veil of Innocence and Purity. It is much more common to challenge the Faux Veil of Innocence and Purity through rap music and culture than to do so in more conservative genres such as country music. With greater connections and resources, artists also have more confidence and freedom to create without financial or authoritative constraints. At 21 years old, Willow is currently making music on her own terms. One of my favourite projects from the artist is her self-titled, third studio album ‘WILLOW,’ – a beautiful, fluid and emotional project, which encapsulates what young adulthood means to Willow. Songs such as ‘overthinkingIT’ and ‘prettygirlz’ are relatable and vulnerable. Through these songs, Willow breaks down the Faux Veil of Innocence and Purity in a different way. She shows us that being emotionally messy is not only normal but important. It is part of what makes us real and human in a way women are not often allowed the space to be, particularly when we put on the Faux Veil of Innocence and Purity.
However, there is no denying Willow has the resources and support to be who she is and wants to be as an artist. She does not need the approval of and neither is she dependent on a label, which is often times the machine that convinces young women to present an unrealistic image of purity to sell records and appeal to a much younger audience. Highlighting this does not distract from Willow’s great artistic capability and neither does it deny it – instead it forces us to grapple with the unsettling possibility that she might not have had the confidence to stand up to her famous father (when she no longer wanted to play the lead role in a black adaptation of the ‘Annie’ musical) if he was a famous music executive, whom she relied on for a large advance to create her art.
Breaking down the Faux Veil of Innocence and Purity is necessary but so is extending grace towards young women artists who cannot do so on their own terms – breaking away from such a dominant and restrictive ideology is difficult. Despite the struggle, I hope any artist reading this feels encouraged to challenge and discard the Faux Veil of Innocence and Purity through anything she creates. Discarding a culture of purity will give more women the courage to create sexually liberating and emotionally messy art. It emboldens us with the freedom to stay true to our authentic selves, not versions of who society or authoritative figures tell us to be.
written by zbk
[2] Tayler Friar, ‘The black female body: Representation of the erotic in contemporary visual art in Africa,’ paragraph 10
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