When you think of the all-American-girl type of woman, you probably think of a sun-kissed, blond-haired woman, wearing a size 6 dress and either “leaning in” or happily being a doting, work-from-home mom.
Sure, some may say there’s nothing wrong with either of these representations, but there are other types of American women who are not getting recognized or the shine they deserve. And that’s why Sarah Huny Young’s AMERICAN WOMAN Project is much needed right about now.
The project is a portrait-and-documentary series created with the aim of reframing what we think of when we hear the descriptor “American woman.” But the series is not only reframing that concept—it’s also presenting black women, both cis and transgender, as the new face of the American woman.
Young, an award-winning creative director and 17-year veteran of the web design industry, wasn’t always a photographer or documentarian. Currently she is running her own start-up agency, Supreme Clientele, and is the co-founder and chief performance officer of Noirbnb, a home-sharing platform launching in the coming weeks. Previously she held senior and directorial positions at BET/Viacom, Vibe magazine and UltraStar (founded by the late, great David Bowie). Young’s yearning to show the world just how magical black women are was the inspiration behind the project.
“This is a project about black American girls. I started it before Trump won, and it’s even more pertinent now to tell our stories. My specific intent is to change the idea that we have when we think of American women,” Young told The Root. “The vast majority of us think of the Jennifer Lawrence type of broad, which is crazy because there are so many women who don’t look like that who are the epitome and the best of this country.”
Young, a Howard University College of Fine Arts grad, wants to embody intersectionality in her work, especially when it comes to bigging up black women. “We live in a country of our captors. We’re descended from ancestors from the African Diaspora, but we’re women, and we have a very unique existence in this country as black American women,” Young said.
“I want to do a project that when people even Google American women ... my project will pop up,” she added.
The series started out as a portrait project, but because Young wanted to take it even further, it turned into a documentary project, too. She put out a call for women who wanted to be photographed as well as interviewed, and with the help of a grant she received from the Advancing Black Arts in Pittsburgh program, a partnership of the Pittsburgh Foundation and the Heinz Endowments, Young and her camera hit the road.
“A lot of them are my friends, some women reached out to me on Twitter and some were suggested to me,” Young said about how she found participants. “I’m glad I added the video component, because I’ve heard some amazing stories of resilience and spoke to a lot of people with different perspectives.”
The women in Young’s project come from all walks of life. There’s Patrice Yursik, whom most will recognize as Afrobella, the godmother of black beauty blogging. In Yursik’s video, she discusses the process of becoming an American citizen as a Trinidadian woman.
“I realized we had a lot to say; we’re not to just be looked at. A lot of the women I talked to are immigrants and became American citizens within the last few years,” Young said.
Currently, Young is looking to add more women to the project. Her goals right now include finding a black cowgirl because of her upbringing in Colorado, incorporating more black trans women and black hijabis, and including older black women, like her mother, Miss Cassie.
In between balancing parenthood and running her own company, Young has pursued her passion project to New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago and Philadelphia, and she plans on traveling to Los Angeles and Houston to capture more women. The grant she received has helped with her endeavor, but she just recently launched a Patreon page so that people can contribute to it on a monthly basis. She also recently got help from the creators of the Safety Pin Box.
“The women at Safety Pin Box pushed my fundraising endeavor to their followers and offered to match any donations up to $2,500,” Young said.
Young’s career has taken her from creating dope websites to now creating dope multimedia featuring black women. Hopefully the AMERICAN WOMAN Project will get the shine it so deserves and change the face of the American woman for good.
“The culmination of AMERICAN WOMAN, ideally, will be at least one gallery show which will probably be here in Pittsburgh. I have some really unique ideas about how to present this in a space—the portraits will be printed at 4-by-6 feet, which is a very large format. I want videos of every woman on iPads throughout the space. We belong in the MoMA—we are works of art,” Young added.