Black women & the superhero burden: 3 areas of self-care you're neglecting
July 10, 2016 at 2:00 am
The idea of the “strong black woman” has been around for what seems like forever. We continue to perpetuate this myth that Black women are born and built to endure more without breaking a sweat. This uncommon strength and knack for surviving when life throws its very worst our way is so deeply ingrained into our minds that we don’t give it a second thought. We look toward the matriarchs of our families and admire and awe at their incomparable resilience, and we swallow the jagged pill that repeats over and over again — ‘just get it done.’ Tropes such as, “life is hard, it’s not supposed to be easy,” or “you have to be strong” echo in our minds when things get tough, and we often compare our durability with that of our grandmothers or mothers: “If they can, I will. Suffering doesn’t last always.”
Not only does the myth of the strong black woman make those around us treat us with less empathy, it more often than not makes black women accept this ‘superhero cape’ that they might not have signed up for at all. Instead of empowering, this cape oftentimes cloaks our pain, masks our vulnerability and muffles our cries for help. In an attempt to fill a role that was placed upon us, not actually asked for, we neglect basic and fundamental aspects of self-care because they’re seen as luxurious and superfluous. Asking for help is not weakness. Saying, “I can’t do it all” is not failure. Self-care is not optional.
To say that black women are literally “cut from a different, more durable, cloth” gives those around us an out. They think they don’t have to acknowledge our humanity and complexities as we are seen as otherworldly and can do it all alone. This stereotype is literally killing us. According to author Tamara Winfrey-Harris: “Black women are more likely to suffer from chronic health problems that may be alleviated by self-care, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stress. One in four black women over the age of 55 has diabetes. We are more likely to die of heart disease than any other group in the United States. Black women have a rate of depression 50 percent higher than that of white women, but in 2003 the California Black Women’s Health Project found that only 7 percent of black women with symptoms of mental illness seek treatment. And, according to a 2009 National Institutes of Health manuscript, a 2008 study of African-American women’s perspectives on depression found many “believed that an individual develops depression due to having a ‘weak mind, poor health, a troubled spirit, and lack of self-love.’” (Link to original piece in Bitch Magazine).
Here are some easy ways to take care of yourself and fight the stereotype:
Are you listening to your body and making sleep a priority? There’s a reason that we spend up to ⅓ of our lives asleep. It’s obviously an integral part of our lives. To say that you don’t have time to sleep simply means that you refuse to make the time. But don’t worry, it’ll always catch up to you! Lack of sleep is known to affect mood, digestion, diabetes, cause weight-gain, depression, heart failure, stroke, irritability and lack of focus. Those are things you truly don’t have time for. Sleep on the other hand, you can make that work.
When’s the last time you took a really deep breath? Deep breathing is so important to our health because it improves oxygen delivery and levels in our blood and bodies. Just by inhaling deeply, your body releases endorphins, your muscles relax, and your blood pressure lowers. Basically, it improves your overall well-being and stress levels. By constantly breathing shallowly, you deprive your body of oxygen and make it work that much harder to function.
I’m not talking about online friendships, per say, I’m referring to those relationships that fulfill a need offline and in person that make you feel safe and accepted. You’re not meant to do this whole life thing alone, and the stronger your network and your tribe, the more secure you’ll feel. Allow yourself the option to rely on those around you, share yourself and be vulnerable. Invest in your tribe and they’ll return the favor.
It’s time to take off our capes, not out of weakness and defeat, but because we don’t need them to prove or validate our strength.
There’s much more strength and power in a strong ‘no’ than we give credit to. It’s time that allow our humanity to shine through, because if it’s not clear already, even superheroes fall. And when they do, they fall hard — and there’s no one there to help pick them up again. I urge black women to listen to their bodies, embrace their humanity, be preventative rather than reactionary, and most of all, allow yourself to rest. My mom used to tell me all the time that life “is a marathon, not a sprint.” What steps do you plan on taking toward the revolutionary act of self-love and self-care? Take off the cape: It’s your turn.
It’s time to take on the most beautiful and profound role of all — human being.
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