She’s been called one of the most influential teenagers in America. Her video history project “Don’t Cash Crop My Cornrows” went viral with nearly 2 million views. She recently co-directed a series called #BLACKGIRLMAGIC for Teen Vogue. And she’s done it all before even graduating from high school.
However, 17-year-old Amandla Stenberg says she has trouble seeing herself as a legitimate activist. After all, she hasn’t led any revolutions, organized marches or participated in a resistance. “I’ve tweeted,” she laughs. “And I’ve left controversial comments on Instagram.”
“It’s been difficult for me to claim the space of an activist when the most revolutionary thing that I’ve done is type vigorously on a 6-by-3-inch touch-screen,” Amandla says. “It felt really silly to be called brave, at first, when I did most of my activism from the comfort of my bed with some popcorn and some old episodes of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.”
What this wise-beyond-her-years teen has come to realize, however, is that she is creating change with one simple act: loving herself. In her powerful SuperSoul Session, Amandla explains why being comfortable in her own skin is the core of her activism.
“When we grow up as black girls, we are told that we should be ashamed of our hair,” she says. “We are told that we should be ashamed of our bodies. And we should be ashamed of our voices.”
At first, Amandla thought she was immune to these messages because of the way her mother raised her. “When I was about 16, I realized I was actually combating a lot of self-hatred,” she says. “And what I did in order to deal with that self-hatred is I decided to start writing. And I wrote, and I wrote, and I journaled, and I wrote some more. And in writing, I found my voice. In writing, I found my identity, and I found self-love.”
Through social media, Amandla has connected with other teenagers who promote self-love. Now, she gives herself permission to celebrate herself. “Just by choosing to love myself, choosing to honor myself and be comfortable in my identity in a society that tells me I shouldn’t, I am starting a revolution,” she says. “Just by deciding to be comfortable in who I am, I’m doing something revolutionary and I’m doing something political.”
Her message, she says, is simple. “If you have experienced oppression, if you have been historically oppressed, then your love for yourself is your revolution. If you have historically been an oppressor, then your love for yourself and everyone else, especially, is a revolution. I don’t think that we can go forth and fight anything if we are still fighting within,” she says. “And so to me, that’s the first step—but imagine all that we can do if we are first just comfortable in our own skin.”