The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
In honor of Black History Month, I am dedicating my articles to essays I’ve written for my course in Black girls’ and women’s health. This class allowed me to research and find ways to actively contribute to the well-being of Black women and girls. Too often Black women are expected to be strong and work ten times as hard as non-Black women to be visible. To Black women reading this: I see you. I love you. I appreciate you. Most importantly, it is okay to rest.
Here is “In Resting There is Freedom”
From the very beginning, Black women are not afforded the luxury of expressing their pain which has contributed to negative associations when they finally do rest. This is due to the Strong Black Women myth, the cultural stigma around mental health, and the normalization of living chaotic lives. These combined, have embedded themselves into Black women’s identities to the point where showing weakness is an act of erasing oneself. The harmful view of what strength is has led to negative impacts on Black girls’ and women’s physical and mental well-being. We need to shift the narrative that there is strength in resting. Strength is vulnerability. Strength is reflecting and declaring, “I choose me” when needed (Ricks, BGWH Class, 2021).
The normalization of chaotic lives has become a trauma response for Black women. This negatively impacts their health because “they continue to engage in self-defeating and unhealthy behaviors and are less likely to recognize potential mental and physical health distress” (Ricks, 2018, p. 344). The expectations to be strong pressures Black women and girls to keep going without stopping to take breaks. This stress not only manifests its way into mental health issues but also attacks the immune system, leading to physical health conditions. This is one of the many reasons why Black girls and women experience disproportionately high rates of health conditions such as “high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes–compared to other groups” (Woods-Giscombé, 2018, p. 333). Easing and eliminating stress in Black women is the key to keeping them alive and healthy both physically and mentally.
Redefining strength is essential to treating Black girls’ and women’s health. The idea that strength is not showing weakness continues to negatively impact Black girls’ and women’s health. They are not allowed to take a day off or seek out mental health treatment. This idea of strength and the Strong Black Women myth is internalized in the identities of Black women–is she Black if she doesn’t persevere through pain? Is she a woman if she speaks up? Is she still a Black woman if she allows herself to rest? The answer to these questions is obviously yes, however, the Strong Black Women myth has led them to think no. This is why only 7% of Black women seek mental health help (Ricks, 2018). This continuous cycle of feeling pain and not expressing it has been passed down for generations. The cycle can be broken by redefining strength, eliminating the SBW myth, and educating the Black community about mental health to reduce the cultural stigma.
To redefine strength we need to use strength-based approaches in regards to mental health treatment. This shifts the narrative from seeing failure as a weakness to instead reflecting and focusing on accomplishments. Too often Black girls and women are told by society that their worth is based on their productivity and they are not allowed to rest. Internalizing emotions and constantly overworking causes Black women to lose themselves in their work until it becomes all that they are (Woods-Giscombé, 2018). When we shift the narrative, we are eliminating the inhumane pressures that society places on Black women and girls. In this, the guilt from resting is eliminated and in return, Black women can set themselves free.
In redefining strength, we are then able to shift the narrative. Strength is not seeing how far one can walk on broken feet before falling but rather stopping to rest to ensure the continuation of their journey. Most importantly, strength is reflecting and awareness of how stress can damage the body. Black women cannot know strength without resting, being vulnerable, and reflecting. In resting and taking care of one’s self, there is freedom.
Carter, L., & Rossi, A. (2019). Embodying strength: The origin, representations, and socialization of the strong black woman ideal and its effect on black women’s mental health. Women & Therapy, 42(3-4), 289-300. doi:10.1080/02703149.2019.1622911
Green, B. “. (2019). Strong like My Mama: The legacy Of “strength,” depression, and suicidality in African American women. Women & Therapy, 42(3-4), 265-288. doi:10.1080/02703149.2019.1622909
Jones, L. V., & Harris, M. A. (2019). Developing a black feminist analysis for mental health practice: From theory to praxis. Women & Therapy, 42(3-4), 251-264. doi:10.1080/02703149.2019.1622908
Ricks, S. A. (2018). Normalized chaos: Black feminism, womanism, and the (re)definition of trauma and healing. Meridians, 16(2), 343-350. doi:10.2979/meridians.16.2.15
Woods-Giscombé, C. L. (2018). Reflections on the development of the Superwoman Schema CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK: An INTERSECTIONAL Approach guided by African American Womanist Perspectives. Meridians, 16(2), 333-342. doi:10.2979/meridians.16.2.14