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An Ode to Joan Carol Clayton


Girlfriends, a foundational television series about four Black women loving, working, and understanding in Los Angeles, premiered in 2000 on UPN. Joan Carol Clayton, along with her friends Lynn, Maya, and Toni share a unique bond that is cozy, powerful, and real. 

I can hear the theme song.

Some background on Joan. She is a lawyer working on the path to becoming a partner at the law firm. She wants a loving relationship but doesn’t long or whine about it.

In Season 1, Episode 8, titled “Pregnant Pause,” Joan’s friends have her convinced that she is pregnant after they face the reality that Joan has had sex. In the episode, Joan declares, “See? My breasts are tender. That means my period is coming.”

I was astounded. 

Joan Carol Clayton showed me the power of my body when I was a kid. She pressed against her chest, holding onto the delusion that she may not be pregnant. Still, she was aware of her body, her knowing that despite having sex, and her friends pressing through her pores that she was pregnant, she may have not been. That was because she was present with her body, its tenderness, its preparation for the arrival of her period, which she may have wanted more that month than ever. Only she knew her body. I’ll let you watch the episode to learn the conclusion. 

I knew about what a period was but it was still a curiosity to the process. Joan said a simple line yet when my body changes for the arrival of my period, I think of Ms. Clayton. 

Tracee Ellis Ross, who played Joan and is a starburst of glamour and gumption, continues to be a voluminous powerhouse. With her hair care company, Pattern Beauty, I remembered that I take up space. My curly hair is a crown bouncing with glory. I make room with extra breaths through life’s waves. I remember my humor, my joy of loneliness, and my compassion. 

The complete series of Girlfriends is streaming on Netflix. 

Thank you, Joan. Thank you, Tracee.

Ashley Paul is a hopeless wanderer, baker, runner, and photographer. She is passionate about supporting high school juniors and seniors to write compelling stories for their post-secondary careers. Her favorite genres are young adult, literary fiction, and memoir.

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