Still Holding My Breath: Revisiting Waiting to Exhale As A 30-Something
If you're a Black woman in your 20s, 30s, or 40s going through some transitions in your life, re-watch Waiting To Exhale. I guarantee it feels different as an adult. Here’s my new take on Waiting To Exhale as a more seasoned young woman.
The first time I saw Waiting To Exhale I was a kid. The movie came out in 1995. The only thing I knew is that I loved the soundtrack. My mother played the music of Mary J. Blige and Whitney Houston in the car often and my sisters who were teenagers at the time also loved playing it.
The thing I loved the most besides the music was the look and feel of the movie. It was unfamiliar to me living in Detroit. I loved the aesthetic because they all looked so beautiful and free. They had struggles but they didn’t look tired and worn out. They didn’t look like they were busy all day in the kitchen or being stressed at work. They weren’t wearing the more contemporary styles of the era because these were grown and sexy women ya’ll and as a little girl who wanted to be grown, I loved it.
At that time I had no real connection to the plot of the characters besides idolizing their beauty. You had four outstanding Black women who all represented different things. Different styles. Different body types. Different roles and places in their lives. It was just a moment in time for me as a young girl to see them not to actually understand their stories or who they truly represented.
I remember watching Angela Bassett then and not understanding why she was so upset. He moved on so what? Why is she so angry? Why is she burning things? Why does she look so hurt? Whew Chile… adult me just side eyed my nativity. Adult me understands wanting your family to work out so badly that you compromise your sense of self. Adult me understands ignoring red flags for the sake of potential. Grown me understands ignoring your intuition then having to be accountable for the situations you all yourself to be a part of.
Grown ass me gets it!
Then, as I watched Lela Rochon I remembered wanting to have that type of beauty and sex appeal. I wanted men to look at me in that light. I wanted to be wanted that way. And again, adult me just does not understand what young me was really going through. 30-somethign me just wants to run into the grocery store and not be catcalled.
I like to be complimented but not harassed. I almost vomited at a man biting his lip while handing me change at the gas station this morning. It wasn't flattering, it was lusting. It’s not that I’m above wanting to be seen. It just doesn’t hold as much weight as it did when I felt beauty was the ultimate prize and goal for me.
I didn’t realize the difference as a girl without that experience though. As a young woman who didn’t feel beautiful outside of my home where I was given reassurance, I felt the connection to beautiful actresses and singers in pop culture because in a sense, they taught me the way. As an adult I understand the issue of being seen as just pretty both personally and professionally and how your true feelings and desires can be virtually ignored by everyone, including YOU.
When I watched Whitney Houston I wanted her career! Both in the movie and in real life. I didn’t know of her struggles at the time. I just knew Whitney was always all smiles. Always fabulous. Always in the spotlight. As Savannah she was a career woman who was strong and knew what she wanted although she made some decisions that didn’t always reflect that. I’m right there with you, sis. As an adult I still idolize how she was bold in her career as this character and also so serene as she navigated complex and forbidden relationships. She had such a calmness about her that I truly love. It’s the quiet confidence we all need.
Now Loretta Devine’s character Gloria was one I didn’t have much of an understanding of or true compassion for. Especially as a child. This woman was beautiful with this beautiful home and doing something she loved, hair. She was established but insecure. She had so much going for her and yet she was so overwhelmed by overthinking and caught up in her past that she wasn’t being true to her own needs.
Boy do I get it now! I get having what seems like everything, except the life you actually envisioned for yourself. It’s like, yes, this is good but is the life I want? Is this what I’m settling for? I started to really feel for Gloria as I watched again. It seems that the character I least understood initially is the one I have the most empathy for now because I wanted better for her. I wanted better for all of them.
Unlike certain movies that I will never watch again…(“For Colored Girls”.. This is about you!) I feel like Waiting To Exhale has aged well especially for its core audience.
Now, in our time, a woman like Bernadine who knew the inside and out of the business would’ve been running her own from home, online and building the funds while her husband was cheating. She would’ve secured that bag regardless. A woman like Gloria with all that she had to offer including those extra pounds she mentioned with shame would have a man who loves and appreciates her just as she is.
Savannah and Robin wouldn’t settle for married or emotionally unavailable men for the sake of temporary happiness. They would be the better half of some of Instagram’s hottest couples. Or maybe they wouldn’t. Maybe these stories are from a place of privilege. These are women with more than the average financially and professionally. Even the city they lived in reeked of more opportunity than most. These are women in a very different environment and era than what we see everyday.
I guess in watching and appreciating the story of Black women who just desire to be loved fully, openly, and unconditionally I felt more hope for the future. It didn’t feel as depressing as I imagined it as a child although it did have painful moments because of personal experiences. What I took from this and more Black movies from the 90’s and 2000’s is the idea of hope. Having faith that this isn’t all you’re worthy or deserving just because it’s what you’re going through.
So, the moral for me as a 30-something revisiting Waiting To Exhale is you are in charge of your destiny. You are in charge of your life. No matter how bad it is or how bad it is, you’re the author of your life. Even if things aren’t your fairy tale at the moment. You haven’t reached the ending. You still have the capacity to write the story the way you desire it. You can still exhale.
Oh, and get some friends that you can be your authentic self with. Friends you can bond with no matter the season of your life. Because they matter too, not just the men folk.
Shoutout to Terry McMillan.
Re-Kenya Roberson is an author, creative consultant, mom, and a bunch of other things that you won't actually remember later. Follow her on Instagram @iamrekenya