This time last year, Ayesha Curry was the third-most-popular member of the Curry household, behind husband and NBA MVP Stephen and their 3-year-old press-conference scene-stealer daughter Riley. Ayesha was quite likely the sixth-most-popular member of the Curry family—behind father-in-law Dell (a 16-year NBA veteran), brother-in-law Seth (now a guard for the Sacramento Kings), and mother-in-law Sonya (whose winsome mugging has made her a favorite of sports TV producers).
She was inconspicuous in part because she seemed so ... normal. Strikingly and refreshingly normal and cool. And not an Ace Hotel, “are-my-jeans-even-tapered-enough-to-order-bitters-in-my-drink?” cool, but a self-aware corny cool. The beginning of her relationship with her husband involved a series of meet-cutes. They met at church camp as teens, and Steph courted her through Facebook messages. It was all something out of a Vacation Bible School coloring book. Everything about her gave off a low-key kind of cute. She posted videos to her YouTube channel with titles like “Little Recipe of Mine: Sun Dried Tomato Caprese Panini” and “Husband TAG (Part Two).” Her daughters were given alliterative first names. If her life were any cuter, it’d be a panda GIF.
Today, however, Ayesha Curry is a brand. She is the star of an upcoming show on the Food Network (tentatively and cutely titled At Home With Ayesha), the author of an upcoming cookbook (The Seasoned Life: Food, Family, Faith, and the Joy of Eating Well), and the subject of thinkpieces, podcasts, and profiles everywhere from the Root and Essence to New York mag and the Wall Street Journal. When she tweets passive-aggressively about the NBA Finals, it’s news. She is still normal, but she is conspicuously normal now. How she got to this point, however, was anything but normal. She first had to become a kind of digital demarcation, a constant point of contention in certain corners of the internet. It is not uncommon to jump on Twitter and find Ayesha Curry’s name trending for reasons completely unrelated to Ayesha Curry. As a result, she is quite possibly the world’s most controversial couscous-recipe-and-yoga-tip-tweeting demi-celebrity.
How did this sweet, unassuming cook and mom and woman of faith become so polarizing? To understand this, we have to jump back to a series of tweets she published in December 2015.
Everyone's into barely wearing clothes these days huh? Not my style. I like to keep the good stuff covered up for the one who matters 😂😂😂— Ayesha Curry (@ayeshacurry) December 6, 2015
Just looking at the latest fashion trends. I'll take classy over trendy any day of the week. #saturdaynightinsight— Ayesha Curry (@ayeshacurry) December 6, 2015
At first, Curry’s seemingly innocuous tweets led to a relatively sane internet conversation where both the intent of and message behind her tweets—or, rather, the presumed intent of and message behind her tweets—were unpacked and deconstructed. What exactly is there to unpack and deconstruct? Because there’s no there there, you might ask. Plenty, actually. There’s the rich and privileged housewife directing a stealth dig at women who’ve chosen a different lifestyle from hers. Which ultimately could be interpreted as a sweet and subtle slut-shame. There’s the implicit suggestion that dressing differently is a sign that a woman has chosen an alternative lifestyle, as if the only way to housewife is while ensconced in the Banana Republic spring collection. There’s the hint that since Curry chooses to bare more skin for her husband, her husband is the one whose feelings dictate how she chooses to dress. There’s the idea that Curry’s tweets were a bit of a straw man. Because who is this mysterious “everyone” she referred to? Other NBA wives? Women in line at H&M? Elle Varner?
Also, there’s a particular type of person who masks her ambition to be considered extraordinary by highlighting and reiterating her ordinariness. We see this quite frequently with national politicians campaigning on a platform of being a Washington outsider. Ayesha Curry seems to have embraced the anti-celebrity path to actual celebrity. It’s quite shrewd, actually, to place yourself above the fray by feigning disinterest in it. And it’s proven to be greatly effective for her. Pretending that this isn’t exactly what she’s doing is more than a little disingenuous.
Either way, the reaction to her tweets didn’t seem to have any legs. It looked as if it would stay confined to certain pockets of progressive and pedantic black people who happen to have the Twitter app downloaded on their phones, a demographic known as “Black Twitter.” The majority of Black Twitter seemed to wish nothing but the best for Ayesha Curry and wish merely that she were more aware of the messages her tweets conveyed.
But then another subsection of Black Twitter caught wind of this conversation: a less progressive, nuance-averse demographic comprising faux-Afrocentrics and misogynists (male and female) and often derisively referred to as “Hotep Twitter.” They scoffed at the notion that a woman (or man) would dare have anything negative to say about what the presumably virtuous Curry tweeted. And they proceeded to make her the most prominent proxy for their ongoing spiritual and existential battle against all things feminist. Ayesha became their Madonna, the fuckboy Virgin Mary. And all of the women who didn’t fit their ideals of how a woman should be were the whores.
Also, it cannot be overlooked that Curry—a relatively petite and light-skinned black woman with long hair—possesses certain aesthetic qualities that made her, in their minds, the perfect contrast to the type of black woman they assumed would be a feminist. According to Hotep Twitter, these women hated her because they were hating on her. They wanted to be her, to “get chose” the way she did, but they couldn’t, and so they railed against her.
Of course, this belief is patently wrong. The point of the initial conversation wasn’t to paint women like Curry—family-minded women who dress conservatively—in a negative light; it was to reinforce that dressing conservatively doesn’t make a woman inherently better (or worse) than women who choose not to. #AllWomenMatter, essentially. While Hotep Twitter interpreted it as exclusionary, it was actually inclusive.
(Also, conveniently left out of this conversation is Stephen Curry. While the dues-paying rank and file of Hotep Twitter seem to be preternaturally obsessed with insulting women who’ve chosen paths other than Ayesha’s, there’s not much of a rush among the male membership to be as virtuous as Steph seems to be. Because women must adhere to some arbitrary standards of perfection. And men, well—men will just be men.)
Anyway, as a result of Twitter World War 3,221, Ayesha Curry’s name began to get dropped whenever a famous young woman deemed sexually unscrupulous happened to be in the news. To them, she was the hummus-making rose emerging from the concrete thots.
Perhaps the best example of this phenomenon came on March 28. That day, I noticed that Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving was a trending topic on Twitter. This initially struck me as odd and somewhat unnerving. Odd because it was early afternoon, several hours before any NBA games would be played. And unnerving because, if an athlete’s name is trending while no games are being played, it’s usually because something bad has happened to them. An arrest or a drug-related suspension, perhaps. Considering Irving’s considerable injury history— which, in his short career, includes a broken right hand, a concussion, a fractured jaw, a nasal fracture, a broken toe, and a broken kneecap—I assumed he was diagnosed with degenerative shin gout or something. And this assumption was particularly unsettling for me because Irving is my favorite NBA player.
But that’s not why he was trending. He was trending because of an incident involving singer-songwriter Kehlani Parrish and musician Jahron Anthony Brathwaite, known as PartyNextDoor. After investigating, I learned that PartyNextDoor had recently shared a picture of himself and Kehlani in bed together. Which connected to Irving because Kehlani and Kyrie were assumed to be a couple. Which meant Kehlani was presumably cheating on Kyrie. Which resulted in a day’s worth of remarkably creative and cruel tweets and memes mined from Kyrie’s very public misfortune. (The story took a tragic turn the next day, as Kehlani apparently attempted suicide. It was also revealed by both Kehlani and Kyrie that no cheating had taken place. Although their relationship was public, they’d quietly broken up before any of this had happened.)
Now, if you’re reading this and you have no clue who any of these people are, you can be forgiven. Irving is an all-star with a signature shoe, but he doesn’t quite have the name recognition of LeBron James or even Russell Westbrook yet. Also, several digital and print publications actually pay me actual money to follow and deconstruct pop culture, and I still can’t name a Kehlani song without Wikipedia’s aid. And I’m not even sure what PartyNextDoor does or even looks like. Or why he calls himself PartyNextDoor when “my next-door neighbors are having a party tonight” is a sentence no one ever has been happy about saying.
Anyway, while this story remained a top trending topic for the rest of the day, something peculiar happened. Ayesha Curry also began to trend. Her name didn’t appear to be particularly newsworthy then, as nothing she had done recently would’ve warranted that type of attention. It was still a few days before news of her new Food Network show had begun to circulate. And while her “Little Lights of Mine” YouTube page had grown popular, she hadn’t released a new video in more than a month.
She began to trend, however, because of the Kyrie-Kehlani-PartyNextDoor love triangle. Because Kehlani’s acts proved she wasn’t an “Ayesha”—a woman worthy of protection, defense, praise, courting, dates, commitment, and unprotected sex. As Kehlani’s name got dragged through the Twitter mud, Ayesha’s name was invoked ad nauseam to shame her.
Which is both depressing and substantially unfair to each of these women, as well as to Amber Rose, Kim Kardashian, Ciara, and anyone else this has happened to. The process of being paired in an invidious comparison only dichotomizes their existences—making them vectors whose sole purpose is to be compared to and graded against another “type” of woman—instead of just allowing them to exist. It’s a unique and terribly problematic strain of contemporary celebrity, one in which status is determined by social-media–fueled juxtaposition. And it’s no accident that it’s usually women on the receiving end of these Goofus-and-Gallant discriminations. Even Michelle Obama’s name has been invoked by misogynists to draw comparisons between “good women” and “women only worthy of Netflix and chill.”
It’s been unfair perhaps most of all to Ayesha Curry. The news of her Food Network show and new book should be celebrated without having to risk starting another digital food fight.
But fuckboys will fuckboy, and they’ll continue to use Ayesha Curry as a proxy for their frustrations with women and an excuse to articulate them. Hopefully she’ll be able to somehow block this out and devise new recipes for her show. Because I actually tried her brown sugar bacon the other day, and it was amazing.