Why you should care
OZY’s partnership with the Oprah Winfrey Network for the new show, Black Women OWN the Conversation, awakens feelings about image and self-worth.
Tune in to Black Women OWN the Conversation, an unprecedented “speak-easy” TV show produced by OZY and the Oprah Winfrey Network, on OWN each Saturday from August 24 to September 14 at 10 pm (9 pm CT), and catch 100 Black women discussing beauty, motherhood, love and mind, body and soul.
An array of Black women from diverse backgrounds, all dressed in their Sunday best, huddled up and made small talk in the outdoor VIP tent at Piedmont Park in Atlanta recently. Not even the squelching Atlanta heat could quell the sense of anticipation for an opportunity to join a first-of-its-kind studio audience for and about Black women — sisters sharing views on motherhood, love and beauty.
“I wouldn’t miss this for the world,” one attendee said. “Oprah’s name was on the e-blast, and I was in. I’m so grateful.”
In Black households and hair salons for generations, conversations around hair, image, raising children, love — even entrepreneurship — have been typically reserved for Ebony, Jet, Essence and Black Enterprise magazines. Publications like that were deemed “safe spaces” to have intimate conversations; mainstream media hardly spoke for Black women because there was no seat at the table.
A new partnership between OZY Media the Oprah Winfrey Network to create an unprecedented new TV discussion show — fittingly called Black Women OWN the Conversation — and filmed in a town hall–style setting in front of an audience of 100 Black women is a first, and long overdue.
“This is wonderful,” said Dr. Georgianne Thomas, a 77-year-old adjunct professor of humanities at Clark Atlanta University who was seated at a table with a small group, including a minister. “Look around this room, and look at us. Yes, it’s a little hot in here — it’s summertime in Atlanta — but nobody’s complaining.”
I was a chubby kid … but it didn’t do anything to my spirit. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned that I have to say I’m beautiful.
Actress and comedian Kym Whitley
The room got even hotter when Garrise Newbold, also known as DJ Reese, cranked up Experience Unlimited’s (E.U., to those in the know) 1988 head-banger “Da Butt” — which charted at No. 35 on the Billboard Hot 100. And just like that, space was cleared for a makeshift dance floor.
“This is how we do it in Atlanta,” another attendee said, high-fiving friends at her table.
“Something happened when I played that song,” said DJ Reese, whose background — her mom is Jamaican and her father is Bahamian — spoke to the diversity in the tent. “But this is how Black women do it; they have a good time and they don’t need much space to do it in.”
When the audience finally settled in their seats to talk about the day’s chosen topic, Beauty, host and OZY co-founder Carlos Watson scanned the room and asked: Who in this room feels beautiful?
A sea of hands went up — some quickly, some slowly.
“I didn’t grow up thinking I was beautiful,” admitted panelist Stacey Abrams, who was the first Black female major-party gubernatorial nominee in the history of the United States and who, last February, became the first African American woman to deliver a response to the State of the Union address. “Beauty has never been the hallmark around which I build who I am,” she continued. “They would tell me how smart I was, and I got the hint. Later on, I began to realize I had internalized the diminution of my physical exterior. … I don’t quite think of myself as unattractive anymore, but I haven’t quite got to the other side of the conversation.”
Singer and songwriter Monica, who was born and raised in College Park, Georgia, talked about how her life as an entertainer started at age 10. She spoke glowingly of her mother, who always praised and encouraged her while giving cues on how to ignore and disregard negativity that is often a hallmark of the entertainment business.
“I was really fortunate to grow up in a kind of family that was always praising us,” said Monica, 38, whose trophy case includes a series of successful albums, including the global bestseller The Boy Is Mine (1998), as well as the No. 1 albums After the Storm (2003), The Makings of Me (2006) and Still Standing (2010). “We’ve experienced a lot of levels to what beauty was perceived to be. I always thought I could really fly if that’s what I put my mind to.”
Actress and comedian Kym Whitley, best known for her roles on television sitcoms such as Animal Practice, The Boondocks, Young & Hungry and The Parkers, brought some levity and realness to the session, freely revealing portions of her own personal story that brought head nods from the audience.
“I never thought about beauty because I was a tomboy,” Whitley said matter-of-factly. “I was a chubby kid … but it didn’t do anything to my spirit. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned that I have to say I’m beautiful.”
One at a time, audience members joined the conversation — a first for many to speak publicly about their fears, and even regrets. One woman, dark-skinned and petite, admitted that she struggled with being teased as a young girl for her slim build. “I feel like I have a little boy’s chest,” she said. “I’m still trying to grow and embrace my skinniness. But I do feel like I’m beautiful.” The audience was right there with her and gave her a round of applause by way of an embrace.
The panelists for the Beauty episode of Black Women OWN the Conversation included:
Stacey Abrams: Growing up poor in Mississippi, Stacey Abrams rose to serve as minority leader of the Georgia statehouse after careers as an entrepreneur, lawyer and romance novelist. The Georgia Democrat ran for governor in 2018, losing by 1.4 percent in a race that drew national headlines for accusations of voter suppression. She has since traveled the country advocating for expanded access to the ballot box. In January, she became the first African American woman to deliver a major party’s rebuttal to the State of the Union.
Monica: Grammy Award–winning singer, actor and entrepreneur Monica is among the most successful R&B singers of the past two decades. She joined a traveling gospel choir at age 10 and released her first album at 15. In the 1990s, she became the youngest-ever musician to record two consecutive chart-topping songs on the Billboard Top R&B Singles chart. She has acted in TV series such as Felicity and American Dreams and in multiple movies. She has her own label, Mondineese Music.
Kym Whitley: Comedian and actor Kym Whitley is best known for her starring roles on The Parkers and Animal Practice. Her docuseries Raising Whitley on the Oprah Winfrey Network captured her life between 2013 and 2016 as she raised a young son whom she had adopted. In 2013, she and actor Rodney Van Johnson launched a line of T-shirts with the words “Don’t Feed Me,” aimed at alerting caregivers about children suffering from food allergies.
Another woman admitted that while she feels beautiful today, she didn’t feel beautiful until she was 25. “My mom was a hard worker, but she wasn’t there,” she explained. “She loved us, but never talked to me and my sister about girly things — about being pretty — and my father wasn’t there. It took time, but now, in this moment today, I feel beautiful.”
For Abrams, the journey has included a history-making electoral campaign last fall. She told the audience, “I ran for governor as a sturdy woman with natural hair and a gap between my teeth. The reality is, I didn’t care. My competence and my capacity are what I care about. My question to myself was when people who had supported my ambitions for years said, ‘You can’t be the first.’ I like who I am … I knew I was the best person for the job. There has not been what I am. Therefore I am going to be what I am.”
When the conversation turned to body image, a tightness descended over the room, especially after one woman stood up and talked about her struggles of always being “the biggest and the tallest one.” She explained how her former best friend offered her a role in her wedding — as an usher, not as a bridesmaid — because she wanted “only petite girls” in her wedding party.
“That broke me,” she admitted, her voice cracking a bit. “My best friend in high school was my comfort zone … yet here I was, and I wasn’t good enough. So I thought: Who am I good enough for?” Still, she said, she accepted the opportunity to be an usher, flying from the U.S. to the Bahamas to be by her friend’s side.
Whitley took particular umbrage to the story, telling the young woman that she needed to confront her friend and share her feelings. It’s important, Whitley said, to hold people accountable — and in the process, help them grow. “I can’t grow if you don’t show me who I am. I know I’m not perfect. I had a friend pull me aside and she made me look at myself. She said, ‘You’re hurting people’s feelings with your little jokes.’ I said I thought I was funny. She said, ‘It’s not.’”
Watson allowed the conversation to flow organically, from talk around jealousy among friends and not needing a partner for validation to allowing negativity to permeate families and relationships.
One audience attendee, a personal trainer, expressed frustration, saying, “I work with women every day as a personal trainer. And there’s something deep inside them that makes them feel like they’re not beautiful,” she said. “My job is to say, ‘You are beautiful.’ And when they leave me, they feel good because I motivate them.”
Monica agreed, encouraging talk around embracing the difference Black women all have. “We can’t ask other people to treat us in a fashion that we don’t treat ourselves,” continued Monica, a mother of three. “We all have something different because that’s how it was intended. We can be so many different things.”