Each week, I want to talk with a different woman about all things life and dresses. My friend Kendra agreed to be my guinea pig and go first. She’s brave. This past Friday, we met up for a photo shoot in her three favorite dresses and a chat on everything from California dreaming to losing her father at age 12 to horrible people on Tinder to that time she walked into a wall in middle school. My hope is that through these weekly interviews, dresses can tell much larger stories to the complex lives of women in our world.
Name: Kendra Pressley
Location: Cincinnati, Ohio
So how would you describe where you are in life right now?
It’s a hot mess (laughs). I mean, it’s a genuine hot mess. I’m about to be done with school and that’s kind of a tough place for anyone to be. I’m looking for a big girl job and I’m trying to figure out how to move to California. It’s just transitional.
Tell me about California. Why California?
It’s very sunny there. In Southern California specifically, it’s very sunny. I mean, I mostly want to move there for work because I do want to act and get into acting, and ultimately get into producing film and television shows. But more so right now, because of the weather. I would adore living close to a beach. I keep hearing that people who move to LA don’t really go to the beach because they’re in the city, but I don’t think that would be true for me. I just kind of am ready to be somewhere not Ohio, so the furthest possible place to stay in the United States is California.
So what draws you to acting and producing?
I just watch a copious amount of films and TV series’. I’ll be really addicted to one. For a while I was really addicted to United States of Tara, which only had three seasons but was like a legit show and it should have had more seasons. I’m really into character development and how to build a character, and how to break one down and how to build it up again. That’s kind of very Grey’s Anatomyish. Like they’ll do something to all of them and one of them will be like completely shattered and then the next season it will be like “okay. I’m okay.” And then the next season they’re completely shattered. It just kind of, I think to me, shows how real life happens. I’m looking to make a more authentic way of having art imitate life.
What does being a woman mean to you?
I don’t know, I mean it’s something I’m still trying to figure out. I mean being a woman has its advantages, obviously, but more often than not I feel like I’m trying to surmount so many different things in terms of work. The whole unequal pay thing is insane to me because a woman will make what 60 cents on the dollar that a man is making, maybe 70 cents now. But then a black woman is still making below that, so I’m still trying to gage like my actual worth against other people in terms of trying to find jobs. The next person will do it for less than I would or if they are white or they are like not a very dark-skinned person of color, they’ll get an advantage and so that’s kind of difficult to me. That’s a struggle for me right now.
So you feel like there’s sort of a double disadvantage in being a woman and then being a black woman?
Yeah. It’s this weird paradox. I’m not even sure. There are black men who are usually conservative Christian types and they will place all the value of a woman on her virginity and her pureness, and how she should be this submissive person. It’s like really extreme. So there’s that on the one hand and then you have white men who are fetishizing you in every way possible. I can’t even tell you how many Tinder inboxes I’ve gotten that literally there’s no hello, there’s no introduction, it’s just like, “hey, down to fuck?” It’s insane and my other friends who have Tinder have never experienced something like that. I had a guy last summer ask me how much. Like in my inbox. It was like horrifying and he was some guy who graduated from Ball State. It was just like, “I could easily find you in your real life. You are a terrible person.” But I’m just like why would you match with someone who you essentially just want to humiliate? I felt so disgusted after that experience, and so I mean, it’s just two different ends of the coin. I don’t really know how to navigate it. I just take it a step at a time, a day at a time. Some days are much better than others.
What are things that you like about being a black woman?
Um, I mean I like looking 12. Like my pictures as a kid and pictures as a teenager; not very much has changed. So I like the advantage of knowing that my face now will likely be my face at 40. I like how insanely curly my hair is and just doing different stuff with natural hair care, because I did go natural almost three years ago. Three winters ago I cut off all my hair … well, I did a bob.
What made you decide to go natural?
Oh it was very cosmetic. My hair started thinning in the front and that runs in my family, so I’m trying to keep my hair as thick and as lush for as long as humanly possible. The real decision was when I could see my scalp and I wasn’t parting my hair. That was a true indicator that I needed to give this shit up. It was like no. So it wasn’t terribly hard for me. I mean my hair just kind of evolved as I changed what I was doing. I would do four relaxers a year, so that’s every three months. Many women go every six weeks. They can’t wait that long. I was lucky and I could. I mean I honestly didn’t need them in the first place, but it just helped me achieve that straight hair look that everybody in high school loved. I don’t know what it is about teenage girls and having pin straight hair, but I mean literally every one of my friends, black, white, Asian, whatever, pin straight was the way to go. It’s one of those other things that I don’t think white people quite get because they’re like, “It’s just hair. Why is everyone making a big deal if you put a chemical in it or not?” For me it wasn’t so much that I hated having curly hair because I was black. I just hated having curly hair that I couldn’t manage.
What are you most passionate about?
I think I’m most passionate about just having a good time. Like I think so many different things in life are so difficult and it’s a pity to waste your time on things that don’t make you feel good. So whether that’s people, places, different things you’re able to do, things that money can’t buy, things that money can buy, I think you should always seek a good foundation in happiness. Like I spend a lot of my weekends drinking with my friends but that’s how we socialize and I appreciate that. So right now that’s kind of like my very go with the flow, easy going type of situation. I’m just really passionate about feeling good about the things that I’m doing. I want whatever I’m doing, whether work-related or personal, to have a meaning.
What impact do you want to make on the world in your life?
I just want to leave it a little better than I found it. One of my biggest passions in the world is LGBTQ youth. I have had several really good friends, best friends, who have been treated terribly by people that claim to love them, or perfect strangers too, for simply being who they are. Here in Cincinnati, it’s a very difficult place to find help. There’s no homeless shelters that really offer a helping hand to LBGTQ youth citizens. Many of them are homeless. I mean the homelessness rate for LGBTQ youth is like double than teens that identify as straight. So I kinda want to have an impact with that. I’ve always wanted to open a nonprofit here, when I’ve made enough money, to pull resources. Housing, job opportunities, safe places for them to go and be, etc. I think cincinnati is up and coming, and I think with all the progressive places that come into Cincy, especially like small businesses and the people who are working for the larger corporations like P&G, need to make an effort at least to say “hey, this is a safe place for you to work.” I think along the lines of that is where I want to place more of my passion.
Who are the most important relationships in your life?
I would say my mom and my two sisters. I mean above anyone else, they’re all that I have in terms of family that I really solidly have in my corner all the time. Even when they’re arguing with each other, they’re it. I think it’s been very difficult to maintain those relationships just because of various issues, but it’s worth it. Then outside of that I have several really good friends and then I have a friend group that does not live in Cincinnati.
What has had the greatest impact on you?
There’s two things. There’s my father’s death, which just kind of completely changed my life. I think that happens to more people than we realize. You go from being a solid, stable middle class family to an unstable lower middle class family. That’s exactly what happened to us. We lost my dad’s income, lost our health insurance. All the things that kept us pretty solid were no longer there. So having to kind of grow up really quickly and try to figure out different ways to make this new life work, I think that definitely had a bigger effect on me than I think I’m willing to admit to.
Starting school here at UC I was a completely different person. I think it’s so heinous that I thought I had it all figured out. I thought it would be fine as an adult. I’m fucking horrified that that was where I was mentally. Coming out basically on the other side, it’s very interesting to see. The feelings and frustrations I have with this school as an institution, it’s not just me. I mean I think college changes everyone, sometimes for better and sometimes for worse. I think UC has given me footing in terms of having a good moral compass of what’s right and wrong, and has provided me with a decent education. Aside from that socially, I really didn’t gain much. I didn’t really fit into whatever this is. But i appreciate it.
So you were 12 when your dad passed away?
I was 12.
How did you mom end up dealing with it? She probably took it the hardest.
And still 10 years later takes it hard. I just kind of, I don’t know where this sense of I just need to make sure I was responsible for things kind of kicked in, but it did. I think my dad was grooming me to take his place because I was going grocery shopping with him for as long as I could remember. I learned how to budget food and household needs. He taught me how to fill prescriptions and pay bills. Like I knew where to go to pay our phone bill and our Duke bill, and how to fill up a tank of gas. My mother knew none of these things and she was like a 40 something year old woman.
So what was life like growing up in College Hill?
Its tough to describe College Hill. College Hill seems very much like its own little town. They have a neighborhood council, we have parks and we had a grocery store but it moved. Then we had Family Dollar and everyone went to your local family dollar. Everything closes at 9. No matter where you go, College Hill shuts the hell down at 9. So it was very much like growing up in a small town. Everybody knew everybody. My family was everywhere because most of my dad’s family lived in College Hill. It was very idyllic for most of my life. We had a neighborhood store called Charlie’s where the fire station is now. It was like a little pony keg and they used to sell these 25 cent caramel apple suckers that were like one of the best things on earth. They’re kind of hard to find now. They still produce them. And these little 5 cent bubblegums that had strawberry filling on the inside. I can remember I couldn’t even see over the counter but I could go in and be like “I need a quarter pound of like this much meat and this much cheese.” This older couple that worked the stand every day knew our faces and knew my whole family. It was very comfortable and even after my father died, there was still the comfort of being surrounded by like everyone I knew. I walked to church for I don’t know how many years. I walked everywhere or rode my bike. I had a bike for most of my childhood.
What has been your biggest life lesson?
I think my biggest life lesson is that shit happens and you can’t hold onto it for very long. There’s no point in holding grudges or being angry. I mean I’ve had a lot of shitty things happen as a teenager and as an adult, but i don’t think that I’ve allowed most of those things to have any kind of a gravity as to what I’m doing or how I’m feeling or the choices I’m making. I think you just gotta live and let live. Bad things happen, you figure out a way to deal with them and then you move on. That was just my biggest lesson. To not sweat small stuff or hold grudges.
What was your most embarrassing moment?
I was in 7th grade. Unfortunately, when I was in 4th grade, most of the Cincinnati Public schools went to mandatory uniforms. So we had days where you could dress out of uniform and I had these really great jeans. Like my ass looked really solid in these jeans … my 13-year-old ass (laughs). I was walking around the corner and there was this guy I had a crush on. His name was Dorian and he was like the most beautiful guy that I had ever seen up until that point. I was walking around the corner and he and his friend Jonathan, who was equally attractive, were both looking in my direction. I kind of did a half wave and I kept walking, but I didn’t turn the corner completely, so I walked into a wall and passed out. I walked straight into the wall. Like it was not a soft walk into the wall. When I came up it was very embarrassing because the whole lunch room had seen me. They laughed, I mean once they realized I was actually okay.
What were your childhood dreams?
So all through my childhood I wanted to be a Radio City Rockette. I don’t really know why that was. I couldn’t dance and had never taken a dance class. And then I stopped growing in the 6th grade. Like I’m the height now that I was then. There was just no possible way that was going to happen because you have to be at least 5 ft. 7 to get in. So that was a far out idea that I could just go to New York and become a Radio City Rockette.
What do you think our world needs more of?
I think people just need to mind their business. People get very frustrated, whether it’s about gay marriage or the Jews or Muslims. People are just automatically fearful of Muslims because they think they are all just Muslim extremists and terrorists, and that’s just insane. People who think all these really extreme thoughts about things that they don’t know or understand, I think they just need to stop. I think if we could just get a solid moment where we’re like okay, every Muslim is not a terrorist and every black person does not hate white people and you know every cop isn’t bad. If we could get into this space where we stop grouping everyone into an either or category.
Thank you for reading! Know of a lady in a dress with a story to tell? Feel free to e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.