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  • Writer's picture Jayla Ebanks

Not Your Doll

“One of one,” reads the caption of my latest post on Instagram inspired by Beyoncés song “Alien Superstar.” It’s my favorite song on the album as it is filled with inspiration and encouragement for loving oneself. “One of one” means unique, one of a kind, and someone who has lots of confidence. While listening to this song as a whole gives me motivation, zooming in on that phrase makes me feel I can conquer anything. That is the healthy mindset I am trying to truly believe in; the uplifting of self.

Taking an initial glance at my social media, one may assume I have the most confidence in the world as an out and proud queer girl. However, my life offline carries a different story. Maybe my style is kind of decent and I am comfortable in my clothes, but that doesn’t mean I am fully confident. The way I appear online is not entirely the same as reality.


“Girls play with dolls," my mom said as I played catch with my brother.

This phrase was ingrained in me from my earliest memories. I wasn’t the type of girl who was into playing with dolls or wearing dresses, skirts, and makeup. I was into playing catch, basketball, playing card games, and wearing t-shirts and pants, which in our society is seen as what “boys” do while growing up. As a result, my mother would taunt me — “you’re not a boy, you’re a girl,” “boys do that, not girls,” and "sit like a lady.” My mom felt obligated to educate me on “female roles” and “feminine identity.”

Pictured: Jayla Ebanks

My mom grew up in Harlem, NY in a very conservative, traditional, and religious household fostered by my grandmother. She was taught to wear dresses and skirts and that the opposite sexes were supposed to romantically be together. Additionally, she learned that women were supposed to do housework such as cooking and cleaning while the men went to work. Eventually, that closed-minded way of living she learned as a child was projected onto me.

Parents are supposed to be a support system and provide unconditional love to their children, not make them afraid to be who they are and control their lives. Unfortunately, my mother's traditional views of gender roles and preconceived notions of a daughter do not align with my identity.

My upbringing followed me into my adolescence. Growing up, I was afraid to truly be myself because I was different. Pretending to be someone I was not took a tremendous toll on my self-esteem. I used to pretend that I liked boys and wore clothes that were depicted as “girly” such as skirts or dresses, which made me feel very uncomfortable. I began to isolate myself because I no longer wanted to keep up the act. Every day felt like a war between who I wanted to be and who I should be because I was not in control of my own individuality. For my Sweet 16, my mom picked out everything I wore from my hair down to my heels. I was miserable at my own party because I had to conceal my true identity. I was afraid to defend myself and feared the ramifications of standing up to her.

Pictured: Jayla Ebanks

These moments throughout my early years showed me I was different from society's standards of what it means to be a woman. I never realized I was being forced to conform to society's expectations of being a girl until I discovered my sexuality and my clothing aesthetic. Although it may look like I have everything all figured out from the outside, I don’t. I am still in the process of expressing, exploring, and accepting my sexuality. Being comfortable in my skin and having confidence is a challenge when I still hear my mom’s judgmental, disapproving tone in the back of my mind.

However, I knew I was tired of hiding and was ready to express my true self to the ones I love. My happiness would no longer come second. Coming out was the most relieving yet challenging obstacle I have overcome. Mentally I was ready and prepared, but when the time came, I struggled to articulate myself. Once I came out to my mom, I could finally breathe again. It felt as if a heavy weight was lifted off of my chest. I knew I was ready to focus my efforts on finally being comfortable within my own skin. This began with the style of clothes I wear.

Fashion is the primary way I express my identity. I often found myself searching for the person that I wanted to dress like. However, I quickly recognized it was time to step into my uniqueness and create my own style using others as inspiration. I developed what I describe as a “streetwear/feminine tomboyish” aesthetic. Ever since then, I’ve been shopping and never stopped. Sometimes, when picking out my clothes for the day, I struggle with what type of vibe I want to convey. I wear very androgynous clothes on some days. On others, I do a cross between androgyny and feminine outfits, but never dress fully feminine. I want my social media to reflect a space for others to feel like they have someone to relate to, someone that is going through the same things as them, and someone who expresses themselves in similar ways through clothing. I wanted to be a role model to younger people.

Pictured: Jayla Ebanks

I still worry that my mom will have something negative to say about what I wear, but I am learning to overcome that by building up my confidence and surrounding myself with friends and relatives who accept me for who I am. My love for fashion is what drives me to be the best version of myself. I hope that my fashion will inspire others to develop that “one of one” confident mindset and to be the best versions of themselves, too.

I constantly remind myself that despite how my mom treated me, I am not a doll that can be dressed, clothed, and used. I am a woman that will continue to fully embrace and discover her own identity.

Edited by: Ava Emilione

Photo Credit: Jayla Ebanks

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