Josephine Baker: did the Banana skirt start it all?

  • By The Alchemist About Town
  • 08 Jun, 2017

The only thing standing between you and your goals are the stories you tell yourself as to why you can't achieve them. 

#TheWomanAlchemist for June is Josephine Baker, a mini obsession of mine.

I can just hear you saying: Laura, really?? What has "La Baker" ,  a dancer and singer who became popular in France during the 1920s,  got to do with women in business and role modelling?

Well, Josephine Baker was born Josephine McDonald in 1906 St. Louis, Missouri - USA, in complete poverty from a dysfunctional family; at the age of eight was hired out to a white woman as a maid, ended up living on the street and then witnessed the cruel East St. Louis race riot of 1917 age 11.

By 1921 - age 15 - she has already been married twice ( she took her second husband Will Baker's name as her own );
she was uneducated /illiterate, a woman and black at time when being just one of those two was a major hinderance.

But this woman was a survivor and had dreams and she didn't believe that she was inferior to others and didn't put limitations on herself. 

In 1922 Baker joined the chorus line of the touring show Shuffle Along in Boston , after which New York City for the Chocolate Dandies (at the Cotton Club) and then the floorshow at the Plantation Club in Harlem with Ethel Waters . Her innate gift for dance, comic timing and love of entertaining ensured she gained a lot of  the attention from the audience.

Baker then made her way to Paris, her first job being  in " La Revue Negre ", performing with other African Americans, including jazz star Sidney Bechet and introduced "le jazz hot" to Paris quickly rising to fame thanks to the French intoxication for American jazz and exotic nudity. She was favourite and muse to artists and intellectuals like Pablo Picasso and Ernest Hemingway.

Her next  job at the Folies Bergere was though where  she became a sensation, dancing naked but for a string of rubber bananas around her waist, the 'jungle banana" dance/skirt.
Banana clad Josephine dolls were selling everywhere fast together with other products like Bakerfix , an hair pomade inspired by how Joshepine was wearing her hair. Magazine covers and posters added to her fame, and by 1936 Baker was one of the highest paid performers in the world ( oh and she educated herself and ended up speaking several languages).

But that is not it: this is a woman with courage and when World War II reached her adopted France, Baker didn't simply run and move to another country. Oh non - she did her part and worked for the French Resistance using her fame to become the perfect spy.
When touring across Europe , Baker carried for her shows large quantities of sheet music which had secret messages written on it in invisible ink and also smuggled secret photos of German military installations pinning them to her underwear . She rose to the rank of lieutenant in the Free French Air Force and, post war, she received both the Croix de Guerre and the Medal of the Resistance in 1946.
In 1961 Baker was also awarded the Legion of Honor , France's highest award.

During the 1950s and '60s she devoted herself to fighting segregation and racism in the United States.
Baker wanted to provide an example for the rest of the world to follow to fight racism and in 1950s started adopting orphans from all over the world and continued to do so until she had assembled a family of 12 children from a variety of countries and ethnicities, " the Rainbow Tribe ."

What she did was truly remarkable especially considering the times : no one had ever seen a black woman adopt a white child before or black woman adopt 12 children. Even less raise them in a castle in south-west France.
She raised the children like brothers whilst respecting their individual culture.
In an interview with Le Monde she said: “ I will make every effort so that each shows the utmost respect for the opinions and beliefs of the other,” Baker claimed. “I want to show people of colour that not all whites are cruel and mean. I will prove that human beings can respect each other if given the chance.”

In 1963 , after avoiding the United States for years, Baker returned to attend the civil rights march in Washington, D.C., and in the same year she performed in Manhattan to sing, dance, and "fight bias,".

When she died in 1975,  she received full French military honours at her funeral  at l'église de la Madeleine  in Paris, the only American-born woman ever.
Make no mistake, Josephine Baker was not a saint by any standards and I'm not glossing over this ; she started her career as an highly sexualised celebrity and partly used her race and people's fascination with it to lure white audiences, and get rich fast and become a superstar. 
Some accused her of using the children as  "walking, talking and sometimes costumed icons of racial typecasting" , an instrument in her war against racism and prejudice.

For me Josephine Baker is an example of making the most of your circumstances with the tools you have available, with the knowledge that you have,and grabbing the opportunities that life presents - without using excuses of why you can't.
She is an example that the only thing standing between you and your goals are the stories you tell yourself as to why you can't achieve them.

"You have to be open to using your gift/s, to embrace the opportunities and change your life" - Steve Harvey - Act Like A Success, Think Like A Success.

What are the excuses you tell yourself of why you have not/are not achieving your dreams?
STOP IT - NO EXCUSES.




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The People Alchemist Blog

By The Alchemist About Town 22 Sep, 2017
I am so utterly delighted that my book is now out, available to order both on paperback and on Kindle edition just in time for Business Women's Day - YES!!!!!! :-) 

STOP IT! It's all in your head   is my labour of love and my way to encourage, inspire and empower women to achieve what they want professionally and not be confined by societal, religious, family paradigms of what " women should do/are like" and, most importantly, the restrictions in their head.
If that is being CEO of a Global Company or a stay-at-mum or Director of Paperclip ( whatever grabs your fancy) so be it.

Writing this book was also a personal challenge ( the 30 days thingy) which confirmed to me once and for all that you can really do whatever you set your mind to, if you really want to that is.

Couple of tips for writing a book from me:
  • write about what you are passionate about, you know more than you think.
  • free-write about the parts/chapters in the book you like the most and you are most interested in first - that will give you a great boost at the beginning - you can edit and add the boring bits later - by then most of the book will be almost there
  • keep your own voice - write as you speak so to speak ( people do need to understand you though..)
  • keep an open mind, ideas will flow into you mid-way through the project
  • a deadline and going public is good to beat procrastination ( but if that stresses you out too much don't do it) - the deadline certainly helped me.
You can do it too!!!

If anyone would like to be part of the book launch, the event is live on Eventbrite and you can buy an Early Bird ticket now:
SMASH YOUR CEILING - #STOPITBookLaunch 
Thursday 12 October at 18.30
Business Design Centre
Islington
London

To pre- e-meet other super fab women in business attending the event, please use the following hashtags:
#SMASHYOURCEILING
#STOPITBookLaunch
#BDCWorks

I'm so excited about this book and I genuinely hope you will like it- I hope to meet you soon, in person or through the pages of my book.

Laura x


#Hustle #GirlBoss #SmashThatCeiling
  #SmashYourCeiling
STOP IT! It's all in your head 
#dreambig #believe #youcan



By The Alchemist About Town 19 Sep, 2017
The time is getting closer and closer to the release of   STOP IT, It's all in your head   my new book ( 22 September for Business Women's Day - US) .

I have now  received the proof copy of the paperback which looks absolutely fabulous: a couple of things to correct but overall I am super happy with the result.
A lot of marketing to do now between Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google+ ( which is PS: looking like more work than the actual writing of the book).

The book event/launch/talk is live on Eventbrite and you can buy an Early Bird ticket now:
SMASH YOUR CEILING - #STOPITBookLaunch 
Thursday 12 October at 18.30
Business Design Centre
Islington
London

To pre- e-meet other super fab women in business attending the event, please use the following hashtags:
#SMASHYOURCEILING
#STOPITBookLaunch
#BDCWorks

I'm so excited about this book and I genuinely hope you will like it.

Laura x


#Hustle #GirlBoss #SmashThatCeiling
  #SmashYourCeiling
STOP IT! It's all in your head 
#dreambig #believe #youcan



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