The Radical Performance of the Carefree Black Girl

The Carefree Black Girl (CFBG) in its most simple definition is user-produced and circulated portraiture of black women being happy. This concept and practice has its roots in Tumblr and has been written about at refinery29 as well as on Jezebel. These images depict black women smiling or laughing, often in natural settings such as fields, woods, or bodies of water, but they do not have to be. CFBGs often depict women with natural hair as these images seem to stem from an embrace of the eclectic and convey a “hippie” aesthetic with head wraps and beads. They sometimes feature women with multicolored hair and untraditional sartorial choices such as suits or un-matching prints. Many times they are selfies showcasing new hair and beauty choices but are more often pictures of black women doing things like riding a bike, dancing in the street, or lying happily in bed. An important aspect of the Carefree Black Girl is motion, movement that is un-choreographed, unmitigated, exuberant, sometimes languid, but always full of life. The key here is freedom. Freedom of expression, emotion, and presentation.

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When discussing CFBGs, it’s important to acknowledge the historical underpinnings of this phenomenon. Much has been written on the phenomemon of the selfie and recently about how young women’s use of selfies challenge traditional beauty standards. Though the Carefree Black Girl stems from this tradition of self-produced and circulated images, it is also couched in a specific black woman history. It is a direct and public rebuttal of traditional stereotypes and caricatures of black women as constantly angry, unusually aggressive, and always strong. The use of the identifier of “girl” rather than “woman” suggests that black women can and do exist in states of childlike happiness and joy. It does the work of combatting historically rooted images and perceptions of black girls never truly being children because of automated roles of laborers, servicewomen, and Mammies. The CFBG is a burgeoning trope that combats these pervasive narratives of black women in the media.

The image of the CFBG revels in the complexity and multiplicity of black women’s experiences and identities but notably does not do so for the edification of others. These images are intimately self-referential, and it is clear that they exist most importantly for black women to see themselves. To see themselves happy, to see themselves whole (or not so whole but still having fun), to see themselves carefree (but not careless), and to just simply see themselves. The importance of seeing different possibilities of self in the media and in the world in general cannot be overstated. To see someone in a wide range of emotional states who looks similarly to you and may traverse the world in a way that you do, is a deeply humanizing experience.


At the same time, the Carefree Black Girl is more than just image and representation, it is practice and embodied performance as well. As with many modes of visual production via social media such as selfies or mirror pics, the CFBG often involves the performative act of taking or posing for a picture. The selfies most often involve hair, makeup, or styling choices that the subject sees as deviating from normative images of black women. I have encountered Carefree Black Girl images that feature naturally or un-naturally textured hair that is dyed purple, or pink, CFBGs with braids or locs past their waists, or with springy joyful teen weenie afros. These stylistic choices as well as the decision on the part of black girl users to label them as carefree involve a performance of self that is both created and fantastically imagined.

Images of CFBGs frequently include those of singer Solange Knowles, Janelle Monae, and various black models in outfits and poses that communicate their comfort in their bodies and happiness being where and who they are. When a black woman labels an image of herself or another black woman as #carefree it is not merely a comment on an image that could be described as looking cheerful, but a radical act of owning the state of being and becoming free. She is enacting, reenacting, and embodying an affective state that was never supposed to be hers. Queer scholars such as José Muñoz have argued that aesthetic production plays an important role in imagining hope for the future of marginalized populations. The circulation and production of images of Carefree Black Girls creates an inhabitable present that looks towards a future in which they are recognized as fully human.


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