Aala Marra's glow is enough to illuminate an entire room, which makes it easy to spot the autoimmune survivor amid the buzz at lower Manhattan's Ludlow House. Her radiant skin, framed by natural curls, is a testament to her commitment to wellness and a nod to her ability to flip the darkest chapter of her life into light.
It's hard to imagine that nearly four years ago, the vibrant spirit who has amassed and inspired thousands of followers, was at the mercy of a debilitating disease. It started with drastic hair loss. Merely two months before ringing in her 23rd birthday, Aala woke up to half of her waist-length hair on the floor. "I thought I was dreaming at first," she tells xoNecole over lunch. "It was absolutely traumatizing."
The dismal moment prompted an instant trip to the doctor but left her with unanswered questions. As she bounced from one medical professional to the next, Aala's symptoms took a grim turn and her mental health followed suit. Working for an investment bank at the time, she crumbled under the stress of Wall Street and the weight of eczema, migraines, and muscle spasms.
It wasn't until her last doctor visit that she discovered she was battling an autoimmune disease, which heavily mirrored lupus yet had no name of its own. With the revelation also came the reality that the medication proposed to her would put her at risk for additional symptoms and, ultimately, would not address the source of her failing health. "At that point in my life, I was in such a dark place. I couldn't afford any more symptoms financially, emotionally, and physically," she stresses. "I respectfully declined the offer to get medicated some more, and I walked out with no plan."
Courtesy of Aala Marra / Kofi Dua
"At that point in my life, I was in such a dark place. I couldn't afford any more symptoms financially, emotionally, and physically."
Shortly after, a conversation she had with a woman who raved about her journey to wellness with the late herbalist Dr. Sebi earlier in the year sprang to mind. While Aala didn't seek treatment from the Honduran healer, the testimonial swelled her desire to do research on herbs, gut health, and the ancient African diet.
The Brooklyn resident went on to craft a cleanse grounded in what she learned, increasing her water intake and eliminating inflammatory foods from her diet in the process. The results were dramatic. Her symptoms not only reversed within two weeks but were completely erased three months later. "I wasn't even back to normal. I was glowing. I was energetic," she reflects as tears well up in her eyes. "It never gets old."
Though fiercely private at the time, Aala couldn't resist the urge to share her story in hopes that others would find solace in her triumph. "I knew that there were people who could identify with it or it could at least reach people that needed to hear it, and it's just my truth. I wanted to celebrate it and definitely advocate for wellness and health and destigmatize it," she explains.
Courtesy of Aala Marra / Kofi Dua
"I knew that there were people who could identify with it or it could at least reach people that needed to hear it, and it's just my truth. I wanted to celebrate it and definitely advocate for wellness and health and destigmatize it."
In less than two years, she drew thousands of eyes to her Instagram page. "It was super organic," she points out. "It was all in response to what people wanted." After revisiting her cleanse in November 2017, Aala's followers tagged along. When they asked for recipes she infused into her diet while recovering from her disease, she released Aala Marra's Cleansing Cookbook two months later. As supporters requested an even deeper look into her journey to wellness from start to present day, she granted them access through her September title I Am the Cure...And So Are You.
The health enthusiast, who also teaches an online course on her cleanse, hasn't limited her influence to the virtual world either. While returning to New York from Coachella last spring, she took an impromptu detour to Kansas City to directly work with a follower named Keyonna who couldn't see past her multiple sclerosis. Within three days, the ladies took a trip to the grocery store, revamped her kitchen, and prepared meals together. Once strangers, Aala gushes that the two are now friends and have both marveled at Keyonna's restored energy and dissipating pain since then. That summer, she hit the road once again to connect with three more women whose lives have been impacted by her cleanse. "It's been the gift that keeps on giving," she muses. "I get DMs, emails, and messages every single day."
The Sudan native credits her affinity to uplift others to her father, who dedicated his life to building schools, wells, and clinics in sub-Saharan Africa. "I've always known this, but I just care about people. That's the energy that I grew up in," she says.
Courtesy of Aala Marra / Kofi Dua
"I've always known this, but I just care about people. That's the energy that I grew up in."
It's in that spirit that the impact entrepreneur has designed her lifestyle healthcare brand aalaCare. Launched this April, the wellness resource strives to support people in their surviving moments and usher them into a thriving reality. It's a movement that starts with a six-week master healing course and will later expand to include a virtual cooking program, live events, and products intended to spark change on a community level.
"I'm very different from people in the wellness industry," Aala emphasizes. "While it's an amazing industry, there's a privileged tone to it, and a lot of people that need wellness don't have access to it."
Her platform aims to combat just that by creating a space for people of color--especially black women--to enhance their lifestyles holistically. "We're not taught to go within," she says. "When I noticed that I wasn't feeling well, everything that I was seeking in order to figure out what was going on was external."
Now on the other side of a disease that once threatened to end her life, Aala has come to know that health is more than the physical. It's also mental and emotional. "There was a traumatic event that happened in a personal relationship of mine in February . In July , I developed my first symptom. There's absolutely no coincidence," she maintains. "I was eating a certain way since the beginning of time. Why was it then that my body decided to break?"
While she's not one to push her example on others, Aala cautions not to succumb to the idea of waiting for an optimal, or even distressing, time to make better life choices. "The only perfect time is now. You're about it or you're not about it," she says.
Courtesy of Aala Marra / Kofi Dua
"The only perfect time is now. You're about it or you're not about it."
No longer chained to the pain of her past, Aala emits hope to those seeking to reclaim their health simply by owning hers out loud. Humbled by the lives she touched and those she will continue to inspire along the way, she walks in gratitude knowing that what she suffered was not in vain. "I'm never out here to force anyone to do anything. I just share my truth," she closes. "Knowing that my story literally transforms people's lives really shows the power of authenticity."
For more of Aala, follow her on Instagram.
Originally published on April 29, 2019
All images courtesy of Aala Marra
Shanice Davis is a writer from New York, dedicated to illuminating women of color and Caribbean culture with her pen. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter: @alwayshanice.
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7 Sex-Related Problems That Ruin Sex (And Possibly Your Relationship)
Not too long ago, while in an interview, someone asked me to define one of the main purposes of sex in a long-term relationship: “Probably the most intimate form of communication that we have is sex because it’s an act that connects one’s physical, mental and emotional state to another human being simultaneously — and communication doesn’t get much more profound than that.”
That’s part of the reason why the term “casual sex” irks me to the billionth degree (check out “We Should Really Rethink The Term 'Casual Sex'”); it’s because, even if you think that sex with someone is next-to-nothing, there is so much going on within you (oxytocin highs, if you’re unprotected, fluid bonding, chemical reactions in your brain, etc.) that doesn’t know if someone is “the one” (in your mind) or not. So, in many ways, it acts like they are (check out this YouTube video from a Catholic woman who studies some unexpected ways that sex affects us physically here; sex goes deep, y’all!).
Yeah, sex is so much more than a notion, and that’s why I’m a firm believer that it is such a barometer for long-term relationships overall — because, as I’ve shared before, I once read that, “Good sex in a relationship is 10 percent of the relationship while bad sex in a relationship is 90 percent of the relationship because sex tends to set the tone for what’s happening in the rest of the house.”
And that’s why I think that there are certain sex-related issues that can not only damage your sex life with your partner but could also end up ruining your relationship if you’re not careful (very careful). Let’s get into seven of them now.
1. Being Unaware of Your “Body Clock”Giphy
I can’t tell you how many clients I’ve had who’ve come to me in some serious trouble, in part due to their flailing (or partly nonexistent) sex life. When I ask them if they went to premarital counseling (if you’re engaged, please do; you have a 33 percent greater chance of avoiding divorce when counseling transpires), many say “no” and the ones who say “yes” usually say that it was no more than 3-5 sessions and the topic of sex barely came up (le sigh). Meanwhile, with my premarital meetings, I try and stick with intimacy for three months if I can because there is a lot to unpack, from what you learned as a child, to your first time (or if you are a virgin), to your needs and fantasies, to how you see it from a spiritual perspective — like I said, there is a lot to unpack there.
Take the mere practicality of sex, for example — and more specifically, your body clock. Do you prefer to have sex at night or in the daytime? A lot of couples struggle with intimacy because one prefers the former while the other likes the latter. Do you keep track of when you’re ovulating? It’s pure science why you are probably hornier during that time of the month (because your body is signaling that it’s time to conceive) vs. the fact that you might not be the most interested in sex when you’re PMS’ing. Are you premenopausal? Hormones shift a lot during that time, and here’s the thing — while menopause only lasts a year, the premenopausal stage (which typically starts between 45-55) can last between 7-14 years. Even paying attention to when you have more energy (some do in the day…morning sex, anyone? While others do early in the evening) can play a role.
So yeah, getting to know your body clock (and discussing your partner’s clock with them) can play a role in how much — or how little — sex you have…and that can add life or drain it from the relationship overall.
2. Comparing Your Present with Your PastGiphy
There is a wife of almost 20 years I know who, when I asked her if she thought that her husband was good in bed, she paused for a second, shrugged her shoulders, and simply said, “I was a virgin when I got married, so I have nothing to compare him to. I mean, he’s good to me.” On the flip side, there’s a now divorced couple who I also know (who almost made it to 20 years) who had multiple partners before each other while also having a deep interest in porn who once said to me, “Sometimes, there’s as much as 15 people in our bed because of all of the people from our past and the porn that we’ve seen that’s running through our heads.” Yeah, y’all can act like body counts don’t matter, but there is so much evidence out here that says otherwise — that couple just gave one that doesn’t get talked about as much as it should.
You know, one of my favorite throwback shows is King of Queens (Kevin James, Leah Remini). A few weeks ago, I watched a rerun where Doug and Carrie were talking about the images that come up in their minds, sometimes during sex. Neither was too happy about it, and I can totally see why. I mean, if sex was just about “getting off” (and it’s not), then whatever. However, AGAIN, it’s also about connecting with your partner on a mental and emotional level, and that’s hard to do if you’re there with them in the body while you’re fantasizing about a celebrity, a porn actor (porn is usually acting, don’t let it fool you) or an ex (check out “You Love Him. You Prefer Sex With Your Ex. What Should You Do?”).
And what if that is what’s going on? I once spoke with a sex therapist about this very thing. What she said is people should be less concerned about celebs (if it’s on occasion) and more concerned about that ex because rarely is sex with an ex…just about the sex.
And that’s why this point made the list. If you’re physically with your partner and mentally or emotionally with your ex at the same time, please don’t ignore that. There are definitely some unresolved issues there that you need to work through, whether it’s with a therapist, counselor, or coach, a trusted friend (who won’t add fuel to the literal fire), or even with your ex — although you might want to run that by your partner first because…I’m pretty sure you’d want him to do that with/for you. RIGHT?
3. Not Being Clear About Your Sexual NeedsGiphy
Question — if someone were to walk up to you right now and ask you what your top seven sexual needs are, along with what your top five sexual dealbreakers are, would you be able to answer? It really is kind of wild how many people get upset with their partner for not being able to sexually satisfy them when even they can’t articulate what they need/require in order for that to happen. Yeah, it’s another article for another time about how many people UNREALISTICALLY (and yes, I am yelling it) think that someone loving them well means that they should be able to read their mind. Nope.
It truly can’t be said enough that sex — especially good sex — is about communication. Hmph. It makes me think about a clip that I saw from Tonight’s Conversation podcast (can’t find it at the moment; sorry) where a woman asked how she should tell her partner that he hasn’t been pleasing her, I believe she said for years. My first thought was if he doesn’t know that, she must be faking orgasms (more on that in a bit) which is not only lying — well, it is —, but it’s also pretty counterproductive because while he thinks that he’s “getting the job done,” she’s not fulfilled and resentment is setting in.
Please don’t let rom-coms (fiction) and social media (which is oftentimes fictitious) have you out here thinking that a good lover is someone you automatically gel with who knows exactly what to do; sometimes that is the case, and oftentimes it isn’t.
So, if the sex-related issue that you’re having in your relationship is that your sexual needs aren’t being met, first do you (and your partner) a favor by doing some sex journaling (check out “The Art Of Sex Journaling (And Why You Should Do It)”) so that you can tangibly see what those needs are and then plan time within the next week or so to pour a couple of glasses of wine, put on some 90s R&B and discuss with your partner what you need. Because actually, what a good lover is, is someone who listens and retains. This brings me to the next point.
4. Minimizing Your Partner’s Sexual NeedsGiphy
A husband once told that when he and his wife were in premarital counseling, something that he mentioned was a bona fide need was fellatio. According to him, his wife told both him and their counselor that she loved giving head. Fast forward to eight years of being in their union, and guess how many times that act went down? A measly four. FOUR TIMES (check out “Sooo...What If You HATE Oral?”).
It’s another message for another time, the amount of people who will “false advertise” during the dating stage in order to get to their goal of marriage. It’s also another message for another time how much that is a form of manipulation that tends to backfire in ways that the manipulator is oftentimes not prepared for.
For now, what I will say, is never think that just because something may not be a need for you that it isn’t a legitimate one for someone else. I mean, how would you feel if that’s how someone treated you? Yeah…exactly.
Yet that is just what happens in a lot of relationships, including when it comes to their bedroom. They will think that their needs should be met, hands down, yet when their partner comes with what’s important to them, all of a sudden, there is dismissiveness, nonchalance, and/or excuses — and how could that not rear its ugly head on so many levels?
Your partner’s sexual needs are essential, even if they are not your own. Never assume that you automatically know everything about them. Also, never assume that what worked two years ago is what will “scratch the itch” now. Hmph. Come to think of it, while you’re sipping on that wine and clearly articulating to him what turns you on, use that as an opportunity to ask him to return the favor. Listen with humility, receptiveness, and intent — the best kind of relationships process their partner’s needs with this kind of vibe…across the board.
5. Taking the “If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It” ApproachGiphy
Lazy lovers. When you hear that phrase, what’s the first thing that comes to your mind? If it’s someone who is just lying there during sex, that would certainly qualify; however, I’m actually speaking of a different kind of laziness here. Believe it or not, some synonyms for lazy include words like apathetic, inattentive, tired, passive (cough, cough), procrastinating, neglectful, and slacking. So yeah, if you and/or your partner can use any of these words to define what sex is consistently like between the two of you — red flag, red flag…RED FREAKIN’ FLAG.
Speaking of being passive, another potentially serious sex-related problem is taking on the attitude that if something ain’t broke, you shouldn’t fix it. What I mean by that is, just because you know that getting on top and riding for exactly six-and-a-half minutes is what will get your partner off, that doesn’t mean that it should be your automatic go-to all of the damn time.
Why? Because. While a part of the fun of having sex is “reaching the peak,” another component that should never be underestimated is discovering new territory: trying new positions, creating a sex bucket list, taking (more) sexcations, playing sex-themed board games (put that phrase in Amazon or on Etsy’s site and go ham!)…you know, doing what will inspire creativity and deter either of you from becoming bored.
That said, a husband of 17 years once told me, “A man can be satisfied with the same woman. We just don’t want the same kind of sex with her.” Words to live by. Yes, indeed.
6. Using Sex as a Deflection or Coping MechanismGiphy
A few years ago, I wrote an article for the platform entitled, “Make-Up Sex Might Be Doing Your Relationship More Harm Than Good” — and with good cause. Words cannot express how many divorced (or soon-to-be divorced) women have told me that a part of what kept them in their marriage, for as long as they stayed in it, was the fact that the sex with their husband was beyond amazing…even though so much other stuff completely and totally sucked. Hey, good sex isn’t a bad thing (c’mon now); however, if it’s the only real thing that’s keeping you with someone, it can turn out to be a toxic deflector.
The reason why I say that is the purpose of sex isn’t to make love; it’s to celebrate it. And if all you’re doing with your partner is f — king and fighting or avoiding issues by stripping down or thinking that sex will “make it all better,” all the while not really knowing what the problem/issue is or what needs to be done to get down to the root of it, that is using sex as a pacifier and again, that’s not what sex is designed to be. Sex doesn’t deserve the pressure of being the end-all to “fixing” ish.
So, if what’s transpiring in your relationship lately is very little talking and a whole lot of sexing, and then once the sex is over, something still feels “off,” that’s a good indication that you’re misusing sex on some level. Get out of the bed, put on a robe, and do some talking (preferably in a room other than the bedroom; leave that space for sex and sleep only as much as possible). Because remember — as much as the wives that I mentioned said that their husbands once had them climbing the walls, those men are still ex-husbands now. Bottom line, sex is good, yet when it comes to keeping a relationship together, it will never be enough. Again, it was never designed to be.
7. Faking ItGiphy
I will never be a fan of faking orgasms. Maybe it’s because I’m a Gemini (we may be a lot of things, but “fake” isn’t really our style). Maybe it’s because I’m a very word-literal individual, and I know that fake means things like “prepare or make (something specious, deceptive, or fraudulent)” and “to conceal the defects of or make appear more attractive, interesting, valuable, etc., usually in order to deceive.” Or perhaps it’s because I don’t get how acting like you’re sexually fulfilled when you actually aren’t is doing anyone any good. Whatever it is, whenever a client (or someone in general because men fakealmost as much as women do) tells me that it’s something they do, I immediately find myself on a mission to shut that mess down (check out “Why You Should Stop Faking Orgasms ASAP”). ALL THE WAY DOWN.
The main reason is that, regardless of if the motive is to hurry things along, not hurt your partner’s feelings, or it’s something more cryptic than that (cough, cough, some form of manipulation tactic), there’s no way around the fact that fakeness is tied to deception and deception is a word that should never be connected to a healthy sexual dynamic.
Besides, one could argue that faking is a form of deflection as well because…wouldn’t it be better to just get it all out in the open WHY you are doing it than to keep pretending when life is too short and great sex is too good to not get the absolute most out of it, as much as possible?
Besides, again, chances are that if you’re faking that you’re sexually pleased, you’re probably faking something else in your relationship (or situation), and how could that possibly be good, right, or beneficial?
Yeah, when it comes to being satisfied across the board, please don’t fake it. State your case in the way that you’d like to hear something said to you, and let the chips fall where they may. If you’ve got a good man, he’s gonna — no pun — rise to the occasion. If his ego can’t handle it, well…that’s something that you should find out sooner than later — when it comes to the bedroom and outside of it? Right? #shoyouright
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Featured image by Giphy