The Challenges of Self-Love for Black Women
In many cultures, Black girls and Black women are taught to put everyone ahead of themselves.
As a result, we have very little time for self-love. We live a life of service; we’re too wrapped up in keeping our family, our “village,” running to take the time we need for ourselves. We tend to forget to take care of ourselves too.
Historically, Black women have also been undervalued by society. And it makes you wonder…
If society doesn’t value me, why should I value myself?
Well, because you matter.
We’re beautiful; we’re strong; we’re totally badass. We should apply some self-love.
We are taught to have an Amazonian warrior stance; we are taught that we can’t break. I think about Zora Neale Hurston’s quote, "Black women are the mules of the earth.” Yeah, that’s harsh. But when I look at the evidence, at how we’re portrayed in the media, it’s so easy to be conditioned to embrace this trope of the “strong Black woman” with superpowers. Even when we already have too much on our plate, we say, “Don’t worry; I’ll deal with [insert one more thing here].”
Although we are powerful to some extent, we’re also human. We’re not going to be able to serve ourselves or serve others if we’re exhausted all the time. And we’re not going to be as efficient as we could be if we’re too busy. So, asking for help is important—even if a little scary. I can understand the fear of rejection, the fear of judgment. We fear that the person we want to reach out to won’t understand why we need their help.
The first step in bridging that fear and creating a connection with the person we’re asking help from is to realize that, even if the worst happens and we’re misjudged or rejected, we’re going to be just fine. At the end of the day, people will judge, and we’re still going to be fine. It’s not the end of the world to face rejection. If you can realistically imagine the worst-case scenario, we’ll find that it’s not so bad.
And it’s only one of many possibilities.
Chances are, if we ask for help, people will naturally want to do all they can to help us. There’s a chance they might not have the capacity to help, but that’s rare, and not at all our fault. Practice asking for help by rehearsing a script in your mind of what you want to say to the person you are approaching. And when the time comes, just take a deep breath and speak clearly and slowly and state what you need to say. There is an added stigma related to asking for help. Black women are supposed to be able to handle anything life challenges us with, and it’s a hard stigma to break, but it’s necessary to end that kind of thinking. We can’t handle everything on our own, and the sooner we stop trying, the better it will be for everyone.
Another strategy that helps us to not become overwhelmed and to practice self-love and find time for ourselves is to learn to say "no." Again, it comes with practice. It’s a good idea to give ourselves a goal to say no to one thing every day. And then as we say, "no, no, no, no, no," we become good at it. And before we know it, our plates are half-full and we have all this time to think about ourselves and take care of what we need. Wise people around the world subscribe to the following idea: "When you say no to someone else, you’re actually saying yes to yourself."
We don’t say yes to ourselves enough.
As a Black woman, our mental health is in jeopardy. So, say, "no." And learn to speak for yourself.
We’re not taught to speak up. We’re taught to be able to deal with conflict, but we’re not taught to speak our truth about ourselves. If you would ask my teenage self, “How are you feeling?” I’d answer automatically, “Oh, I’m all right. I’m fine.” We’re not taught to express ourselves. In the ‘90s, in the ‘80s, we were generally not taught to share or speak up about how we were feeling, so we just don’t do it. It’s a hush. It’s a violence. Our elders do not talk enough about prioritizing mental health. According to them, we don’t need a counselor, we don’t need therapy.
In addition, we deal with imposter syndrome. Black women talk about it all the time, especially parents. They are constantly asking, "Am I a good enough mom? Am I good enough at work?"
I think that showing compassion to others will make it easier to show compassion to ourselves.
How do we think about ourselves—and about other Black women? On one end of the spectrum, some Black women won’t go to their front door unless they put their face on; they’ll never step out of the house without full-blown makeup. And then, you’ve got women who are critiqued for wearing bonnets in public. I want us to get to a place where, as women, we can see another sister and not judge her based on the way she presents herself. Some might be trying to preserve what hair they have by wearing a bonnet, and/or trying to fit into a white beauty standard, so it’s not fair to judge. We’re all at different stages, we’re all going through different things. Sometimes I find that when I feel the worst, I will make myself look good so that no one has to ask, “Are you okay?” So, it’s a complete cover-up. And I don’t necessarily agree with the idea that we’re showing love by criticizing.
Let’s stop dragging each other down. I often hear Black girls say to one another, “Oh, look at her, she thinks she looks nice.” What is wrong with thinking you look nice? Why are we not saying, “Oh, yeah, you look good.” Why can’t that be the norm? We’re not a monolith; we’re all different. And we need to challenge our own assumptions and things that we’ve internalized about ourselves. bell hooks once said, "Black people are socialized to embody the values and attitudes of white supremacy, but we can [also] exercise "white supremacist control over other Black people." Likewise, sometimes we [Black women] can be really harsh to one another because we’ve internalized this oppression and then use it against one another.
But, if we love ourselves, we can show compassion to one another without resorting to colorism, classism and/or whatever it is that we’re using to judge ourselves by.
There’s also this habit of not taking a compliment when it’s given and playing it down. I wonder why we can’t just accept that we can feel good about ourselves and express our confidence without having to apologize for it.
I invite us to think about self-love every day. I know it’s a difficult concept to wrap our heads around if we’re not used to putting ourselves first. But, before we can be there for anyone else, we must be there for ourselves first and foremost. To know that our voice deserves to be heard, to know that what we do matters, is such an important process for all of us.
As a Black woman, our voices have a hell of a lot of weight.
A creator of safe spaces, and an initiator of difficult conversations, M.J. Fievre, B.S. Ed, spent much time building up her Black students, helping them feel comfortable in their skin, and affirming their identities. Her close relationships with parents and students led her to look more closely at how we can balance protecting our child’s innocence with preparing them for the realities of Black life. When―and how―do you approach racism with your children? How do you protect their physical and mental health while also preparing them for a country full of systemic racism? She began to research the issue and speak to school counselors and psychologists to find (and apply!) strategies parents and teachers can use with their children to broach uncomfortable but necessary topics.
M.J. is the author of Badass Black Girl, a daily dose of affirmations for Black Girls
“You'll come away from Badass Black Girl feeling as if you've known the author your entire life, and it's a rare feat for any writer.” ―“Mike, the Poet,” author of Dear Woman and The Boyfriend Book
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Affirmations for strong, fearless Black girls. Wisdom from Badass Black female trailblazers who accomplished remarkable things in literature, entertainment, education, STEM, business, military and government services, politics and law, activism, sports, spirituality, and more.
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