About 15 minutes after stepping into the place, I wanted to go back home and go to bed. A few friends and I decided to check out this “special night” hosted at a popular Washington, D.C. nightclub. The party, according to the radio spot, was for the “grown and sexy.” I didn’t know what the phrase meant exactly, but it sounded alluring.
Decently paid professionals, my friends and I were certainly grown—we made our own money, lived alone, paid our own bills, etc.—and relatively sexy. (We had attitude and made sure we looked damn good every time we left the crib.)
But the “grown and sexy” night was a bust. It was like walking into an overgrown fifth-grade dance: Women in low-cut clothes and ultra high heels congregated on one side of the bar, while guys in flashy, pointed-toe loafers and French-cuffed shirts stood around on the other. The DJ was predictable; the mingling was tentative, to say the least. Folks stood around watching each other, sipping on overpriced cocktails and posing for cameras that weren’t there.
That was a few years ago, and since then, I’ve heard the phrase used dozens of times to promote parties, clothes, blogs and even incense. Given the ubiquity of the phrase in urban circles in recent years, “grown and sexy” has been rendered meaningless. But the term never had a clear definition to begin with. Urban Dictionary offers a “formal” one: “… used to describe people who [have] reached a point in their lives where playing games and immaturity is behind them, and they have grown up and are ready to take on bigger and better things.”
But this has nothing to do with sex appeal. Often, the term has been attached to things or events of little significance, such as a party in a cramped club or a sleep-inducing CD by a ’90s superstar. (Yeah, Babyface, I’m talking about you.)
I have also noticed that those who frequently drop the phrase in everyday conversation are neither grown nor sexy. They may be over 25, but they possess the interpersonal skills of a restless college freshman. Being grown for these folks usually means putting on button-down shirts over wife beaters, but their pants still hang off their waists. For women, it means squeezing themselves into painted-on jeans, teetering on four-inch heels and tossing their weaves in an effort to look like America’s Next Top Model. For these folks, “the look” is everything, and conversation reveals next to nothing.
There’s also the underlying suggestion that “grown and sexy” means being able to sleep around. That may have been the thing to do back in the day when Donna Summer left her cake out in the rain and Studio 54 was hot. But in an age where STDs are off the charts, reckless promiscuity just isn’t cool. It’s downright dangerous.
Most adults don’t need to emphasize the fact that they are “grown.” And if being sexy is a state of mind, something one exudes, then formally announcing “I’m sexy” implies that deep down one knows he or she is not.
What “grown and sexy” really suggests is a further example of low standards and expectations. All the supposed accoutrements of being “grown and sexy” (having a job or career, a healthy self-esteem, a strong sense of personal and perhaps communal responsibility) are things any self-respecting adult should have. Why is a self-assured black man or woman who takes care of business and feels good about him or herself such an exception to the rule?
Can anyone suggest a better term? How about “proud and together” or “strong and lovely”? Admittedly, neither has much zing, and they sound kind of like hair relaxers. Maybe black people have come far enough that we don’t need vapid, pointless, low-market monikers at all. Or is that more “grown” than folks want to be?
Rashod D. Ollison is former pop music critic at the Baltimore Sun and has written for the Dallas Morning News and the Philadelphia Inquirer.