On October 27th in the year of our Lord 312, Constantine the Great was converted to Christianity by a heavenly vision at Battle of the Milvian Bridge. According to the legend, a fiery cross appeared in the skies above with the message “Εν Τούτῳ Νίκα” (“In this sign you shall conquer”) emblazoned across it. The vision immediately fortified him, setting him on a path to victory and to an empire the likes of which the world had never seen. On October 27th of 2015, the world bore witness to a similar event that will surely change the course of history. On that blessed day, Amber Rose released How to Be a Bad Bitch. To call this debut book of instructions on how to fucking live your life right for once anything short of a miracle would be falsehood — NAY — heresy.
The model/entrepreneur/muse/activist/prolific taker of butt selfies addresses her readers as friends and familiars and makes her intentions for us clear early, “I want to help you be the baddest bitches ever.” That familiarity is why I feel like it’s fine for me to refer to her just as Amber for the remainder of this essay. Also because that’s already how I think of her when I’m imagining us as the goddamn best of friends whose selfies together are what could actually make America great again, but I digress. This transformation starts with developing a vision of yourself and your life and then very deliberately taking steps to make it a reality. In her words, “Figure out who this bitch is.” Between stories from her life and tips from her routine, HTBABB is sprinkled with direct encouragement, because Amber knows us and loves us and wants us to be happy.
This may come as a shock to some, but I came to HTBABB with my own preconceived notions about Amber. Specifically, the notion that she is an infallible goddess choosing to grace us mere mortals with her presence because she is as benevolent as she is beautiful. I count myself among the ranks of her die-hard fans, affectionately called “Rosebuds” to her self-described “Muva.” But since every rose has its thorn, there is also a veritable army of detractors and shit-talkers littering our lovefest with hateful bile against Amber on social media and beyond. Fortunately, she lays out precisely how to handle such detractors in her chapter devoted to fashion: “If someone doesn’t understand or accept who you are, fuck them.” Figuratively, of course. She gets into the people you should literally fuck in later chapters on dating and relationships because this book has everything.
Amber pulls no punches. Her advice is direct, laden with swears, and highlighted with explicit imagery like her description of how women’s eyes bug out of their heads when they blow a guy or how getting laid isn’t that hard because “a guy will stick his dick in a block of Swiss cheese.” You’ve got problems and she’s got solutions. A guy doesn’t want to use a condom? “…Tell him to go fuck himself.” Can’t afford fancy cosmetics? “Go wild at the drugstore for way less money.” Ridiculous standards in magazines got you feeling like you’ll never be beautiful or stylish? “Fuck that. No more.” You want to know where your date stands on having kids and it’s only the third date? “…As far as I’m concerned, you should feel it’s your right to bring it up on the first date.” Wondering if it’s ever OK to fuck around with a guy who’s attached? “Never. Hell, no.”
While the book is full of photos of Amber’s curves, I couldn’t help but see all the parallels. To my life, that is. Amber and I both worked as strippers and aren’t ashamed of it. We both have ex-boyfriends who used that piece of our pasts against us. My skull shape is weird and I look too much like a grown Cabbage Patch Kid to shave my head, but we both came into our own when we went platinum blonde. And though mine won’t sell nearly as many copies, I also sold a book this year in which I repackage a lot of suffering into something I hope is helpful to other women whom the world has conspired to convince are something less than they are.
It is because of that suffering that I write this essay with such hyperbolic joy. This essay is so exuberant in its praise not just to be silly but to serve as an antidote to the poison spewed in Amber’s direction over the seven years that she’s been in the spotlight and at countless other women with similar backgrounds. Disappointingly, much of this venom comes from self-described feminists. They claim she has no particular talents, ignoring her business acumen and activism and dismissing her as famous only because of dating Kanye West after only a brief foray into modeling and music videos. It’s funny, I don’t see many people screeching about how Kate Moss is famous only because of how she’s monetized her image and body. I don’t hear cries of injustice that Liv Tyler was “just a video girl” when she was starring in Aerosmith's "Crazy" in the 1990s. Kate Middleton — what the fuck did she do but date and marry someone famous?
The real reason she is so derided is that Amber Rose is a woman of color from a poor household in a working-class neighborhood who relied on her erotic labor to survive as a young woman, the kind of profile that makes her more conveniently into a talking point than a spokesperson. When she transitioned to modeling and music videos, it was for hip-hop brands and musicians deemed illegitimate or invisible by virtue of their proximity to blackness. Then, when she was attacked in media, she harnessed control of her image and repurposed the insults into shorthands for royalty. Instead of cowering or growing mean, she became a force of positivity. She beat their fucking swords into ploughshares and she is reaping the shit out of that harvest. The truth is, Amber Rose is precisely the kind of woman who ought to be benefiting the most from feminism because she lives its values and proves it can work. But that truth must be silenced because there are too many fragile men and mainstream media assholes and white feminists with the privilege to have only had to theorize over the concept of erotic labor rather than perform it who are terrified that some stripper from South Philly might know a thing or two more about navigating and uplifting womanhood than any of them.
It is that tidal wave of shit that people keep hurling at Amber Rose that compels me to erect this bombastic little monument to her brilliance. As far as I am concerned, she hung the moon and stars. Her voice is the pitter-patter of cherubs skipping across iridescent lily pads and her body is Eden made flesh. She is as intelligent as she is seductive, a genius and goddess in one. And I fully believe that as the parade of hate inevitably marches on in her life, she will continue to inspire girls and women who are slowly being crushed by similar cruelty because she will wave off their hate and choose to embrace love. And in that sign she will conquer.
Alana Massey is a writer in Brooklyn, New York, working at the forefront of Feelings Journalism. Her book, All the Lives I Want, is forthcoming from Grand Central Publishing. She tweets at @alanamassey.