"I'm a 32-year-old successful, fun, funny, energetic, attractive and—wait for it—single! African-American woman. Does that mean I can't send a photo holiday card featuring an image of myself? I'm being serious, and in the interest of full disclosure, I've already done this once, two years ago (skipped a year just because of a busy travel and work schedule). People thought I was being ironic or silly, and that's fine, they can take it how they want. But this year when I talked about doing it again, I got some pushback. (Especially from my lovely mother. You know the deal. She's traditional, etc. Plus she wants grandbabies and is a little panicked that I'm going to be some type of single successful black woman statistic, and my eggs are going to shrivel all up, so she probably doesn't want to look at me standing all alone.)
"I'm happy for my friends who have cute babies and growing families. That hasn't been in the cards for me so far, although I do want children and the chance to make a 'normal' holiday card, but for now I'm happy, I like the way I look, I want my friends and family to see a nice photo of me with their greeting and frankly, I don't see the problem! Do you?" — Single for the Season
Do it! Seriously. Short answer: It's your life and your time (and money) spent on VistaPrint. It doesn't harm anyone. My guess is that the people who have a problem with this are likely the same ones who become so deeply angered and traumatized by seeing holiday decorations more than six weeks before Christmas that they're forced to go on Facebook to post a rant about how hard life is.
I'd love to encourage these folks to redirect some of that holiday angst to issues like, oh, I don't know, families going hungry? Short of being assigned to a local charity this season, they should be assigned to read 10 daily headlines and choose something else to be upset about. Anything at all.
Of course, there's more underlying your dilemma than generalized holiday hate.
First, your mom's concern seems to be based in part on media-fueled histrionics about how black women (and in particular, successful black women) never get married. Just this week someone made it their mission to use their highly mediocre Photoshop skills to remind us all that the cast of The Best Man Holiday married nonblack women. (Nate Hill gave his take on a similar view of love and dating with a photo project using white women as scarves. Don't ask, just check it out here.)
We at The Root have said it before, and we'll say it again and again: The "black marriage crisis" is not that big of a thing, and racial disparities that do exist are really overblown. Check the stats. Read them with Mom over some hot chocolate. Then tell her to read them again. Nothing about your race, gender and income means you can't eventually have the family you want.
Once you remove those race-specific scare tactics, we're still left with the potential criticisms that you're being inappropriate, that this greeting card reflects some personality flaw on your part or that it's unacceptable for you to be quite this celebratory about being single.
Let's talk about why those twists on the scrooge scrutiny you're anticipating don't make much sense, either.
There's no actual reason that only people with families should get to do photo cards.
When I told Pepperdine University's Thema Bryant-Davis, a psychologist and past president of the Society for the Psychology of Women, about your question, she reaffirmed that the only real consideration when sending a holiday greeting is that it "reflects your identity and your values." If those don't include kids, a husband in a holiday sweater or a dog in reindeer ears, guess what? You still get to have and share them.
She also cautioned against the widespread idea of putting your life on hold until you have children, which your mom seems to be buying into a little bit. "You can end up having a lifetime on hold," she said. "It's important to celebrate the season now." Bonus: She says there's a good chance that the self-appreciation and self-satisfaction embodied by this greeting card will connect you with more likeminded people—including, yes, men who could be holiday-card co-stars in years to come.
And don't try to say we only share pictures of children in this society. See Instagram and Facebook. And the Oxford English Dictionary's word of the year, "selfie. "
I guarantee you, this will not be the first time this year that any of your friends or family have seen a photo of an adult, alone, shared by that adult.
The practice of taking and distributing images of yourself—even those taken by yourself—is so common that it now has an entry in the dictionary.
Just last week, the argument that "selfies" represent a cry for help was widely and swiftly shut down as super-oversimplified. (Check out the feminist who took to Twitter to demonstrate that “the selfie is an aesthetic with radical potential for bringing visibility to people and bodies that are othered.” Chew on that for a minute.)
And what about the concern that showing others a photo of yourself is narcissistic? Um, have you read some of those family-update holiday letters chronicling the most minute achievements of every member?
"It all depends on the attitude. There are people who send family pictures who are narcissistic. Who is in the pictures doesn't automatically tell you what they're thinking," said Bryant-Davis.
People always freak out when you do something different (especially if you're a woman) but that doesn't mean they're right.
Bryant-Davis acknowledged that your greeting card of choice will buck tradition and that people will notice. "What typically get sent are family pictures or pictures of a tree or something. Whenever you are willing to stand up against tradition, you have to know that not everyone will appreciate that," she warned.
But that doesn't mean those who are hanging on to the old ways are right. I don't have to remind you that there was a time when crazy things for women to do included wearing pants and working outside the home.
Also, you're under no obligation to explain or defend what you're doing here. "All the recipients need to know is that you feel happy where you are right now, that you wanted to share that and that the picture reflects your joy," said Bryant-Davis.
If that's the hardest new thing the people on your Christmas card list have to adjust to this year, they should say an extra prayer of gratitude at Thanksgiving and make a New Year's resolution to lead more exciting lives.
Nothing about celebrating your single self interferes with your future family self.
In fact, "When you're miserable and desperate, you don't attract good people," said Bryant-Davis, who added that she's familiar with single women who would like to eventually be married who worry, "Am I sending out some signal that's going to block my happiness?" But she told me to assure you that this choice doesn't block off future options and in no way says you're not open to love and family.
The bottom line, in her view, is, "The picture isn't going to be the determining factor in whether you find a relationship. It's how you are when you interact with people."
If you're feeling joyful and festive enough to do this, you're better off than a lot of people.
Another suggestion for anyone who doesn't like this: Retire from the volunteer greeting-card police force and volunteer for the suicide hotline.
Seriously, "the holidays are the biggest time for depression and suicide, so we want to encourage people to do things that bring them joy and connect them with their family and friends," said Bryant-Davis. So go ahead and spread your cheer. Consider it a public service, even. The very people who take issue with you sharing your joy in this way are probably the ones who need it the most.
The Root’s staff writer, Jenée Desmond-Harris, covers the intersection of race with news, politics and culture. She wants to talk about the complicated ways in which ethnicity, color and identity arise in your personal life—and provide perspective on the ethics and etiquette surrounding race in a changing America. Follow her on Twitter.
Need race-related advice? Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Previously in Race Manners: “White Wedding, Black Servers: Bad Optics?”