44 Women Weigh In On The Meaning Of "Black Girl Magic"
from one sister to another
illustrated by liz riccardi
The term "black girl magic" began as a slogan printed on a T-shirt designed by CaShawn Thompson. Originally written as “black girls are magic,” the uplifting phrase morphed into an abbreviated hashtag that immediately caught fire across social media. #BlackGirlMagic was more than a trend, though—it ignited a movement and simultaneously became a safe haven where black women could connect via the Internet. As a result, it strengthened the bond that the black community has worked so hard to build—it empowered the sisterhood.
It was amazing to see so much positivity flooding on the web, but last month #BlackGirlMagic was swallowed in a controversial debate after a personal essay nearly derailed everything the term stood for. (Some women have argued that including the word "magic" to describe black women implied that they had supernatural qualities.) Instead of tripping on this misstep, black women united and continued to push each other forward. We kept on moving out of the shadows and we didn't look back.
Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but the whole purpose of the phrase was to celebrate the "beauty, intelligence, and power of black women everywhere." Thompson told the Los Angeles Times that she included the word because “sometimes our accomplishments might seem to come out of thin air, because a lot of times, the only people supporting us are other black women.” Surely, Black Girls Rock! has faced some backlash over its name too, as has #BlackLivesMatter and any other words of empowerment focusing on black people. (Somewhere online and offline, there are still debates about "Formation" going on...) At the end of the day, this isn't about everybody else—this is about us standing tall and proud.
Every day during Black History Month, NYLON featured phenomenal black women from various industries on our website to tell their stories for the Black Girl Power... The Future Is Bright series. Throughout this journey, we learned how they became who they are, what they have accomplished, and the steps they made along the path to their respective careers. In addition to asking many of these women what "blackness" means to them, we also asked them about "black girl magic" and what they think is the most magical thing about being a black woman.
Peruse through the gallery to read all 44 of their responses, below. We guarantee it will inspire you to believe in the power of #BlackGirlMagic, if you didn't already.
“Show a people as one thing, only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become.” ― Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Photo courtesy of Blavity
"I think being a black girl is the dopest thing ever. There is a sense of community and shared experiences that is assumed when you walk into a room of black women. Black girl magic is about celebrating the tension, love, sisterhood, and complexities of being a black woman in this world. The odds are almost never with us, and yet look how much we drive culture. It’s so complex and yet very simple—black women are magic."
Photographed by Hannah Sider
"Black girl magic is a melting pot of the intangibles that black women can all relate and connect to. It's that moment when you put a group of black women together in a room and bring up anything from the workforce to hair—we have most likely had similar experiences because we were black women. It's that magic, that even though the world likes to act like race doesn't matter, we can look at the world with a side eye because we know that we experience shit that other cultures don't have to deal with because we are black. It's knowing that our hair and our complexion has always been an issue and for some reason is trending now but it's nothing new to the U.S. Black girl magic is the unity of like-minded black women that changes the world. I can keep going because the magic is endless."
—Cachee "Kitty Cash" Livingston
Photographed by Miranda Barnes
"Beating the odds and loving yourself despite a lack of representation in mass media. Also, collaborating with other women of color with similar experiences and goals is also magical."
Photographed by Cris Saliba
"We live in a world where black girls have to work hard to remind ourselves and each other that we’re worthy of happiness, kindness, and success. That's what black girl magic is. It's whatever intangible thing that makes us say, 'We’re still here, we’re not going anywhere.'"
Photographed by Doreen St. Felix
"It's been so cool to watch black girl magic evolve into the sort of slogan, the visual tag only the digital age could create. It nails down our ineffability; black girl magic sounds like a code."
—Doreen St. Félix
Photographed by Bee Walker
"For me, the magical part about being a black girl is learning to accept yourself in a world that doesn’t always love and honor black women. I feel blessed to have found a sense of joy in how I was made—no matter what the prevailing ideas about black womanhood are. My family loves me and I love them. Loving myself has more to do with honoring them and honoring the gift of life than anything else. So I love the way my hair grows, I love my complexion, my health, my intellect, my fitness, my strength, and my culture. Having all those gifts, and loving them, is magic for me every day."
Photographed by Anthony Trevino
"Black girl magic is about being unapologetically, undeniably strong. It's about empowering each other. That inspiration and support, amongst us black girls, is magical and very necessary in a society that easily pits women against each other. It's knowing who you are and being exceedingly proud and unashamed of it. The most magical thing about being a black woman is owning the irresistible light that despite others' efforts to dim, continues to illuminate and inspire culture across the world. We're fiercely passionate, courageous, nurturing, exquisitely intelligent beings just like our ancestors and I'm proud of it."
—Eryn Allen Kane
Photographed by Anna Ottum
"Being a black girl is extraordinary in that it’s the feeling that you are a part of something bigger than yourself. My magic is that I have a vagina and a brain, and I know how to use both of them to my advantage."
Photo courtesy of Sasha Boykin
"The most magical thing about being a black girl is having the best of both worlds. I appreciate the richness of my culture. It is one formed from beauty and struggle. The resilience is enough to infinitely keep me going. We are constantly challenged in our everyday lives through the media, our justice system, and being portrayed a multitude of ways globally. But there is something disarming about black girl magic. I use mine to break barriers and connect with every person I meet. I use it to show the beauty and richness of life. I am proud. I am not the perfect role model, but I use this magic to inspire the queens around me and those who will reside after me. It is here to unify all women and all people. We are influential. This is a power so strong it can only be described as magic."
Photo courtesy of Amanda Seales
"Our unwillingness and sheer refusal to be ordinary!"
Photographed by Kaye McCoy
"The fact that we shine and thrive regardless of how frequently, and sometimes deeply, we're overlooked, neglected, and stereotyped. We grow, bloom, and flourish without water. There's something to be said about how special that is. In the face of adversity, we remain tenacious. With no support but that of each other, we succeed and we fight for that success even if we have to work twice as hard and be twice as good. We don't complain about it, we do it, and we do it because we're strong enough to do so. 'Black girl magic' is a term that uplifts us plain and simple. It's representative of our will to rise above no matter what. The magic is celebratory of that will. It's important to have such a positive term."
Photo courtesy of Dodai Stewart
"What is the most magical thing? Amazing melanin and a secret source of inner strength."
Photo courtesy of Sable Boykin
"The most magical thing about being a black girl is discovering that you’re a queen; that your genetic makeup is out of this world! Recognizing that our strength is hereditary is the most powerful realization; believing it, knowing it, and truly understanding it is the best part. Black girl magic is powerful, it's fierce, but it's also gentle and sweet and it's the greatest influence on the world. Black girl magic isn’t competitive, it's unifying and empowering, it's the truth y’all!"
Photographed by Kevin Watkins
"So I love the trend and the tagline, and I think it’s cute. But black women aren’t magic. We don’t have superpowers. It’s just as dangerous to allow the conceptualization of us [as] a superhuman as it is to allow the conceptualization of ourselves as subhuman. I love things about being black: like when I get in a room full of black girls and Adina Howard comes on. Bam! Great moment. But black girl magic… I think it’s more like black girl masterpiece, being able to claim that identity for yourself. The magic is only the magic of self-love and daring greatly in the face of unfavorable odds. Our only magic is joy and courage, and dynamic creativity. And that’s not something we were born with. That’s something that’s built overnight. That’s something that takes personal commitment. It takes work and generations to achieve."
Photographed by David Evan McDowell
"I love that term and I hate that everyone’s using it now. I don’t want to it be played out, but I think about the ways that we do it better. It’s not about hating on anybody else. You just have to attest to the fact that there’s something about black women that the world has either feared, coveted, or attempted to emulate. Black girl magic is reality."
Photo Courtesy of Sarah Nicole François
"The most magical thing about black girls is how against all odds, we still never cease to amaze."
—Sarah Nicole François
Photographed by David Oh
"The most magical thing about being a black girl is being confident in everything I do and not caring about what others think. My interpretation of 'black girl magic' is a black girl doing what they love to do. A black female doing what they love to do, being confident, and inspiring others to do what they love to do."
Photographed by Lesslie Hassler
"Black girl magic is just being yourself and not letting anyone's preconceived notions of what it means to be a black woman stand in the way of being who you are."
Photographed by Richard Ramirez Jr.
"Being a race that is so rich with deep history and culture is magical in itself. It's amazing to have roots that have continuously overcame battles that at one point was seemed to be the impossible. It's beyond inspiring and a blessing to be a part of such a beautiful culture."
Photographed by Shanita Sims
"Everyone is different. We just shine bright through any obstacle. I think the resilience that black women have is admirable."
Photographed by Elisia Ceballo-Countryman
"Black girl magic is all about centering black girls and women and femmes, and all the powerful and beautiful things we bring to the world out of our experiences. Femme black people are so often pushed to the margins, both in the wider world and in the black community. And when we are represented, it’s often negatively or simplistically. Black girl magic is about honoring black femmes for being—in all their complicated glory. Being a black girl has given me the chance to glimpse a world that people who are able to invest in patriarchy and white supremacy are often blinded to. My position on the margins has made it more likely that I could try and envision a world where all people are valued, and those who have been pushed to the periphery can live lives as supported by our society’s systems as everyone else. And being able to imagine, even just a little of that world, has given my life purpose. There’s nothing more magical than that."
Photographed by Elisia Ceballo-Countryman
"Black girl magic is being aware of what you are doing for those who came before you, for those who will come after you, those who work alongside you, and for those who doubt you now. When you shine, all the black girls shine, and this multiplication is magic."
Photographed by Rebecca Miller
"Having the chance to show other young black girls or women of color that your skin is not a deterrent to success. Yes, it may be more difficult, and you may have to work longer and harder but that determination and perseverance is making you more qualified and stronger in your dreams, your passions, and your craft. 'Black girl magic' means that when others try to tell you that that you are not beautiful, [you] recognize those opinions hold no veracity. 'Black girl magic' means when you're constantly inundated with magazines, campaigns, commercials, and media that do not reflect what you see in the mirror, to not allow those images to control the positive way you view yourself. Your beauty is not defined by those who do not see the beauty of your skin color. 'Black girl magic' means knowing that it may be more difficult at times but no one can stop you from what you wish to achieve in life because of the color of your skin. 'Black girl magic' means I am a woman who is black and does not waste time on those who cannot see the magic in diversity."
Photographed by Elijah Dominique
"Being a black girl is magical period. From all the different things we can do with our hair and our makeup. Our style and swag, our different complexions and colors. Not only are our appearances magical but black women are smart, creative, and very strong, mentally and physically."
Photo courtesy of Francheska Madina
"The most magical part of being a black girl in this day and age, for me, is being able to provide a perspective. Being able to make someone out there feel acknowledged, accounted for, and safe. Black girl magic is representation. And I'm so thankful to be able to contribute."
Photo courtesy of Rewina G. Beshue
"There are so many magical qualities that I love about myself, being a black girl. I can’t really specifically explain what I love about being a black girl because that is all I’ve ever known, and I wouldn’t want to be anything else. But one thing I really love about being a black girl is feeling that strong sense of pride when I see and connect with other women like me. To me, black girl magic is the ability to celebrate self-love, whether it is through our skills, personality, talents, etc. Black girl magic is the ability to walk down the street, not wishing for her hair, his complexion, or their social acceptance. I celebrate my black girl magic just by being the individual that I am, internally and externally loving myself. "
—Rewina G. Beshue
Photo courtesy of Jasmine Mans
"Our legacy of resilience is what makes black girls magical. We are the only women who give birth to babies and go to war for them the next day. Black girl magic is that peaceful and sometimes quaking reminder that we'll survive it all."
Photographed by Christine Ting
"I love the black girl magic movement because it is a space or hashtag that uplifts us as women and teaches us to embrace who we are. I think something that the rest of the world forgets is how it has treated the black woman. Black girl magic is a celebration. I constantly push myself and I am aware that I can do whatever I want because of all of the black women who worked hard and came before me. Black women are amazing."
Photographed by Rebecca Miller
"To be black in America is to realize your ancestors struggled through genocide and horrific hardships that are hard to fathom or even comprehend. To be able rise from that history, when we as a people weren't even thought of as human, is something that still holds prescient over some of us today. I think magic equates to self-belief in yourself. Knowing whatever hardships you have dealt with or will face, no one can steal your magic because you know who you are, where you've been, and where you are going. That is the ultimate form of power to know nothing can stop you... Nothing!"—Cipriana Quann
Photo courtesy of Chynna Rogers
"We're just magical beings period. Our hair, our melanin—or lack there of for my litebrites—our body shapes that other cultures have kicked yet tried to imitate since forever. Our ambition and will power. Our strong opinions and voices. Everything man. And I'm a black woman. I'm grown. The most magical thing about us is that it seems like being a black woman is the shortest possible end of the stick to the outside eye, but in that same breath, y'all are praising Beyoncé so... Yeah. We lit."
Photo courtesy of Marjorie Lacombe
"I've noticed how 'black girl magic' has exploded recently as a phrase for women and girls of color to emit powerful statements about themselves and pride for their capabilities. I think it's great that there has been an outlet for women and girls to boost their confidence in a society that might try to do the opposite. As a proponent for embracing the term 'woman,' I would love to keep seeing discussions about the impact of grouping both adults and children as 'girls.' However, I think this hashtag overall is a revealing example of how any group that faces negative pressure every day has to find ways to keep themselves from deflating by the extra societal weight they must carry. Finding your own confidence to keep your head up and keep your feet moving toward your passion is important, and that should definitely be celebrated."
Photographed by Sungwook Kim
"The most magical thing is being able to see all these young women doing incredible things. Black girl magic is embracing and celebrating one another, and empowering other women to do the same."
Photographed by Gina Nero
"This is the premise of a joke I'm writing. Black women have this freedom to be beautiful unforgivably. I talk to my white girlfriends, and we often discuss the differences in growing up. Those anti-aging ads, weight-loss, and 'blonde is best' ads, are aimed at them. Not us. I can wear my hair however I want and be as thick as a brick—I'm not, and used to wish I was—and I'm cool. It helps our confidence early on. I remembered growing up seeing hip-hop videos; I saw such a slew of different women in them. All allowed to be beautiful. My interpretation of black girl magic: I see it as a little light in my heart, that helps balance and assure me, given to me by my mother and ancestors. I don't even think about it, but it's there if and when I need it."
Photo courtesy of Sheila Rashid
"The most powerful thing about being a black girl is recognizing my value. 'Black girl magic' to me is being powerful no matter what you look like."
Photographed by Vivian Luxx
"The most magical thing would have to be just being so admired, desired, and so hated and disrespected, and exploited in the same breath."
Photographed by Geoffrey Black/EBONY Magazine
"I love that phrase so much. Partially because a woman by the name of CaShawn Thompson, who was one of my first Internet pals, she started selling the 'black girls are magic' T-shirts. Black girls are the shit, and people are always telling us otherwise, which is not true because black girls are resilient, dope, and creative. It has resounded with so many black women and it shouldn’t be confused with the same thing as superhuman, bulletproof, or that we withstand pain and soldier on, but we are crafty and dynamic in our own special way that takes nothing away from other groups of women. We have a unique set of experiences in America and beyond. And we’ve had to learn to be our own support system and foundation for one another in many ways that other groups haven’t had to. What I like about the 'black girl magic' phrase is that it’s buoyant and light. It’s not just about survival or how we react to pain or trauma. Playing Double Dutch, coming up with intricate braiding patterns, or how we wear our clothes. All the special things that we do that people take notice of and oftentimes emulate."
Photographed by Joshua Allen
"The most magical thing about being a black girl is our boldness. What came before us and what is written for us in the future. Something we can pass down for many more years. Beyond all the looks and trends that are being celebrated today, overall there is a sisterhood. I feel part of something amazing. I'm part of something many have taken inspiration from whether it be our food, hair, traditional dress, etc. My skin alone tells a million stories. That is true 'black girl magic.' I hope other young girls can take inspiration from this and feel the magic. I'm able to do whatever I put my mind to because I am not restricted by my color. Instead, I'm more confident and fearless because of it."
Photo via @amandlastenberg/Instagram
"I think it's such an incredibly positive thing. I guess the controversy was basically like, in using the term black girl magic, what you're essentially implying is that black women perpetuate the stereotype of being stronger or somehow capable of more because they have to deal with more. Which I guess is kind of a negative stereotype, but I think also a positive one. There's some truth in it. I think black girl magic means women have to deal with all of this shit, black women in particular, and yet are able to be magical and be sensitive, and be capable of so much. So that's what it means to me."
Photographed by Brad Ogbonna
"In terms of being a black woman, to me, it's the most powerful thing that you can be, especially if you are in touch with yourself as a woman. I don't even think that I can put it into words. It's a very liberating feeling because as a woman—you can do anything you want as a human—but you create life and you've got this certain level of intimacy that I don't think a lot of men possess. There are so many things about being a woman that I love. Being a black person... It's an amazing feeling. You have this rich history. It's a complicated one. I am a big person that doesn't love labels per se and I think that we often look for a label to kind of define something. It's always something rather than just us being and succeeding. If you like it, you like it."
Photographed by Ben Rosser
"The most magical thing about being a black girl is knowing you have sisters everywhere. Black girl magic is that sprinkle of realness that we share with the people around us. We are magical beings and it’s beautiful to see it being embraced after all the years of being made to feel like we don’t belong or have more hurdles to overcome than others."
Photo courtesy of Michaela DePrince
"I understand what magazines and blogs are trying to say about black girl magic. It is meant as a term of celebration of black women who have overcome prejudice or adversity to rise to a great height of achievement. And I like it used that way because having black girl magic is something that black girls can aspire to. However, there is nothing magical about being a black girl. It is an accident of fate whether you are born black, white, or Asian. To use the term loosely might convince black girls that they are entitled, and a black sense of entitlement is just as bad as a white sense of entitlement or any other sense of entitlement. I think that black girls must earn their black girl magic, whether by striving in their academics, areas of talent, parenting efforts, or through their work ethic. As a successful black ballerina, I do believe that I have black girl magic. But my younger sister, Mariel, who is intellectually challenged, also has black girl magic because of her incredible work ethic. She never misses a day of work, works hard, and is always willing to cover for a worker that is absent. It is this striving for success that creates black girl magic, whether you work in a restaurant like Mariel, or dance on a stage, like me."
Photographed by Robert Charbonnet
"I would say that the most magical thing about being a black girl is having the ability to age gracefully. My interpretation of 'black girl magic' is living in a world where there is so much against us but yet we are able to take the word 'impossible' and magically transform it into the term 'I'm possible,' and able to prove that we can achieve everything we put our mind to."
Photographed by Erik Tanner
"I’m totally in love with the black girl magic movement! It is the epitome of pride and support amongst young black women, mixed with an explosion of sparkling diamonds and a fierce snap for every accomplishment! #BLACKGIRLMAGIC"
Photographed by Charlotte Rutherford via The Isis Nicole Magazine
"That's a difficult question to answer because there are only so many things you can really try to name without obviously living a black existence. The magic of being a black girl would be that there is the broadest spectrum of black girls from skin tone to hair type, body type, ability, and many other varying factors unique to each person. Our differences and how we define them in our own way make us magical. We define our own magic and by doing that we open a door to others to define theirs by showing there is no one way to be a magical black girl, so no one ever feels left out. Black girl magic is a huge community of women supporting each other in a world that wants us to fail by acknowledging our differences, and praising them instead of letting them separate us."