Our social media culture only purports a sense of individuality. In reality, social media is fueling copies of copies of copies. A lot of our collective creativity goes into crafting visual “lifestyles” that mimic one another, often inspired by people who are being paid to push the products in the first place, whether they believe in them or not. Expression is modulated to gain followers and gauge likes. Strangers comment their own opinions on how we look and what we do, pushing us to follow the direction of their gaze. This is assimilation. 

The visual culture we live in thrives on aspiration. Social media gives us an idea of who we think we should be and encourages us to strategize how to get “there”. We perform in ways outside of ourselves, following a script we didn’t write. Social anxiety is at an all time high because of these imaginary ideals and the existential weight they carry. Our scrolling is passive, dimming the light within each of us until we become easier customers, desperate consumers fueled by the propaganda we cradle in our very hands.

The moniker #WHOOPITAUGHTME came to fruition almost four years ago. I was on year five of working as a wardrobe stylist for a entertainment news show. Though this job was a blessing financially, I felt extremely oppressed as I shut myself up in order to survive as a woman of color in this vapid environment of cellulite reportage and plastic surgery trends. My former employer encouraged a culture of dissecting women’s bodies for sport. 

One day, I caught Whoopi on The View while channel surfing. I had to pause the show when I noticed her look - Black and White Polka Dot Platform Pumps worn with a pair of Black and White Striped Socks, Denim, a Crisp White Button Up Shirt and, to top it all off, a New York Knicks Jersey layered on top. It was “Eddie” meets business meets pleasure. Pure genius. I screamed joyous expletives, excited to witness this artistry of wear. Once I looked further into Whoopi’s politics and read her book I was excited yet disappointed that this prototype of strength in a woman existed right under my nose as I watched “Bogus” in my youth. Yet, I was completely unaware of her deep sense of self as a young woman. I felt like I was late to class. 

Whoopi is an example of a woman of color who has effortlessly figured out the art of being her true self, even if mainstream media doesn’t find value in influencing more women to follow in her lead. She’s a Hollywood anomaly, seemingly unafraid of hate or ridicule, comfortable in the truth that is being herself. 

I am intrigued by the power of expression each of us has from the knee down. Most people don’t realize how much their personality shines through choices in shoes and hosiery. Having always been obsessed with framing feet during my eight years as a wardrobe stylist, I was inspired to paint expressionist footwear.

I painted people - musicians, kids, prisoners and friends. I also found subjects in my own vintage collection. We all have feet, no matter what words our identities are described with. We all use them to get where we are going, figuring life out on a path specifically designed for each of us. It’s my hope that we can all do so with style and afford the same respect to our peers.