Much of Solange Knowles’ writing, on her records and online, highlights Black women’s power and resilience in the face of intersecting racism and sexism. She revisits these themes in a candid essay to herself at age 17, published in Teen Vogue’s new music issue.
“Seventeen will be the hardest year of your life,” she writes in “A Letter to My Teenage Self.” It will grow you up almost immediately. You will lose your best friend whom you love so much to gun violence in a single moment, and give birth to a new one within a year.”
“You will be terrified, and it’s OK that you don’t know what the future holds,” she continues. “Some people will count you out because of the decision you’ve made to bring another life into the world so young, but you made the decision out of love and will live with the decision in love.”
Knowles traces this affirmation of her motherhood and personal autonomy back to her mother, Celestine “Tina” Knowles Lawson, who she says modeled a life unrestrained by the expectations of others:
She is a wonder. You watch her drop off three kids at three different schools in the morning, pick them up in the afternoon, shuffle each of them to their designated activities, and bring them all back to the salon she owns until she closes up with the utmost grace, love and kindness.
You realize watching a woman balance being a supportive mother, building a successful business from the ground up that was started in her garage and giving back to the community will make you feel invincible and like the word “no” is just an echo in the universe that you’ll never know. You often take her for granted, but you know with every joint in your bones that she is a phenomenon and you strive to make her proud. You should thank her out loud more, too; tell her you value her. Roll your eyes and your neck less. It’s not as cute as you think. Tell her you appreciate all that she does, for she makes the impossible look effortless. She surrounds you with other Black women who do the same. You study them, and will constantly think of all their stories, their beauty, their strife and their stride. They break down all of the archetypes and stereotypes that you see of Black women on TV and in magazines, so you don’t trust those anymore. You thank them for re-writing the script before it was ever etched in your memory.
Sometimes in the midst of juggling all this, you put a lot of pressure on yourself and often crash and burn. You shut down. You go into your room, lock the door, put on music and you do not move for eight hours straight. It will feel like the heaviest and bleakest darkness you can possibly feel, and when you ask everyone to leave you alone and let you be, what you really want to say is “I want you here” and “I need help.”
Sometimes it is okay to say just that. It won’t make you less strong or less powerful. No one you love will criticize you or blame you; in fact, they will lift you up.
Published online yesterday (May 17), the essay is one of the music issue’s three cover stories that hit stands Tuesday (May 16). Another features Chance the Rapper’s conversation with “Get Out” director Jordan Peele on Black men in pop culture and their respective projects.
Read “A Letter to My Teenage Self” and see its accompanying photoshoot on TeenVogue.com.