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'These Pink Lips' Founder Iris Bonner Built A Brand That's Provocatively Empowering

BOSS UP

Upon graduating from Arcadia University with a Bachelor's in graphic design and taking on a job in her rightful field, Iris "Barbee" Bonner felt creatively stifled by the restraints and rules that are attached to the 9-5 life. With full faith in her path and the willingness to manifest her destiny, she knew a "normal" career path wasn't for her, and called her corporate lifestyle quits in pursuit of her passion. Later, Iris became known as the artist behind the vivacious brand, These Pink Lips.

These Pink Lips has been worn by a number of celebrities including but not limited to Mary J. Blige and Cardi B., whose large personalities complement the brand and their shared mission to empower women. As I walk the halls ready to enter this palace of pussy that I've stalked via Barbee's Instagram account, I'm almost immediately greeted by the provocative writing on the wall that screams, "pussy garden," confirming one thing, and one thing only: We. Had. Arrived.

The brand made its debut in 2012 at the Black Light District Showcase, but the concept was born long before then.

Iris told xoNecole that her artistry dates back all the way back to kindergarten. The young creative went on record in her 8th grade yearbook saying she would be fashion designer and artist, proving that even during childhood, she was hip to the power of manifestation. She later began sketching voluptuous women in skin-clad clothes who are otherwise hypersexualized by society, which would turn out to be the foundation for her business.

Some of the brand's mantras include: "Pussy not war," "pussy power," "goaldigger," and many more proclamations from the soft-spoken Bonner, which all aim to prove that our sexuality cannot be characterized by an outward appearance or persona. Through the brand, she hopes to evoke confidence in women and men alike without regard to societal rules.

Warned against naming her brand 'Pussy' during its inception, Iris displays the type of faith that affirms she would've been successful regardless of her company name.

Through the pursuit of her passion, one thing is undeniable: Iris has built a brand with her identity at its core and little regard to the opinion of naysayers or conformist.

She and her body of pussy prints march to the beat of their own drum.

Despite her normally reserved nature, having an edgy, provocative brand has helped nudge her extroverted side to the forefront a bit more as she navigates press, networking, and growing interest in her art and fashion. However, that doesn't stop people from drawing their own conclusions on who and what Iris and her work represents.

"People look at my work and they're like 'oh this girl is crazy.' And, I am ... a little bit, but you have to get to know me. I go out and people expect this 'AHH!' and I'll be like 'I'm still a little shy.'"

Being the only black woman in many places, Iris cites judgment as one of the most challenging parts of her work -- finding that, "People [are] judging or people [are] not really paying attention to the work. They're only looking at one word or one painting without knowing. I don't expect everyone to get it. I just let my work speak for itself."

"This art is supposed to be a way of me expressing myself, so if I'm not even able to express myself and do the things I like then what's the point?"

Certainly you, my fellow girl bosses, have heard "your vibe attracts your tribe" before and this seems to be a philosophy that Iris effortlessly lives by. This is only made more evident as she recalls the excitement she felt garnering celebrity attention, and the day Cardi B. chose These Pink Lips to pull her wardrobe from. She exclaims how perfect she feels the femme-c was and still is for a brand that shamelessly embodies feminism at its finest.

"It feels good, but most of those relationships happened so organically. Like, Cardi B. I think she's the perfect person for the brand."

Other notable entertainers being draped in pussy power include everyone from Amber Rose, Remy Ma, and Missy Elliot, to PINK!.

Despite the obvious excitement that comes with gaining celebrity attention, Iris modestly explains that while celebrity recognition is great, the "everyday people" who have been "rockin'" with her are equally appreciated and thrilling. She maintains a humbleness that is critical to maintaining momentum and success, yet a quality that is frequently M.I.A. as she thoughtfully acknowledges, "They really believe in me." And, that we do!

In addition to believing in the vision, the goal, and the brand, there's also so much we can take away from Iris Bonner and her ever-growing movement. The young creative had this message for budding girl bosses:

"Before Instagram, before any of that, I'm Iris and I would still be doing this. You gotta be passionate, original, and true to yourself."

Hold onto that with your faith in tact and a desire to manifest all that's yours and you shall receive it.

When I was ten, my Sunday school teacher put on a brief performance in class that included some of the boys standing in front of the classroom while she stood in front of them holding a heart shaped box of chocolate. One by one, she tells each boy to come and bite a piece of candy and then place the remainder back into the box. After the last boy, she gave the box of now mangled chocolate over to the other Sunday school teacher — who happened to be her real husband — who made a comically puzzled face. She told us that the lesson to be gleaned from this was that if you give your heart away to too many people, once you find “the one,” that your heart would be too damaged. The lesson wasn’t explicitly about sex but the implication was clearly present.

That memory came back to me after a flier went viral last week, advertising an abstinence event titled The Close Your Legs Tour with the specific target demo of teen girls came across my Twitter timeline. The event was met with derision online. Writer, artist, and professor Ashon Crawley said: “We have to refuse shame. it is not yours to hold. legs open or not.” Writer and theologian Candice Marie Benbow said on her Twitter: “Any event where 12-17-year-old girls are being told to ‘keep their legs closed’ is a space where purity culture is being reinforced.”

“Purity culture,” as Benbow referenced, is a culture that teaches primarily girls and women that their value is to be found in their ability to stay chaste and “pure”–as in, non-sexual–for both God and their future husbands.

I grew up in an explicitly evangelical house and church, where I was taught virginity was the best gift a girl can hold on to until she got married. I fortunately never wore a purity ring or had a ceremony where I promised my father I wouldn’t have pre-marital sex. I certainly never even thought of having my hymen examined and the certificate handed over to my father on my wedding day as “proof” that I kept my promise. But the culture was always present. A few years after that chocolate-flavored indoctrination, I was introduced to the fabled car anecdote. “Boys don’t like girls who have been test-driven,” as it goes.

And I believed it for a long time. That to be loved and to be desired by men, it was only right for me to deny myself my own basic human desires, in the hopes of one day meeting a man that would fill all of my fantasies — romantically and sexually. Even if it meant denying my queerness, or even if it meant ignoring how being the only Black and fat girl in a predominantly white Christian space often had me watch all the white girls have their first boyfriends while I didn’t. Something they don’t tell you about purity culture – and that it took me years to learn and unlearn myself – is that there are bodies that are deemed inherently sinful and vulgar. That purity is about the desire to see girls and women shrink themselves, make themselves meek for men.

Purity culture isn’t unlike rape culture which tells young girls in so many ways that their worth can only be found through their bodies. Whether it be through promiscuity or chastity, young girls are instructed on what to do with their bodies before they’ve had time to figure themselves out, separate from a patriarchal lens. That their needs are secondary to that of the men and boys in their lives.

It took me a while —after leaving the church and unlearning the toxic ideals around purity culture rooted in anti-Blackness, fatphobia, heteropatriarchy, and queerphobia — to embrace my body, my sexuality, and my queerness as something that was not only not sinful or dirty, but actually in line with the vision God has over my life. Our bodies don't stop being our temples depending on who we do or who we don’t let in, and our worth isn’t dependent on the width of our legs at any given point.

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