Ask Ayana Iman: My Workplace Feels Like The Black Version Of 'Mean Girls'
Dear Ayana Iman: I work in corporate America. I've tried to play politics and I feel like I was criticized.
I stay to myself and come in to get the job done, and then I'm criticized. If I'm not smiling, I'm criticized. If I don't speak to everyone (majority people don't speak), I'm criticized. I never point out my co-worker(s) flaws or their faults but it seems like they have no problem pointing out mine under the guise of "I'm looking out for you, how dare you not appreciate it." I've never asked them to look out. As a matter of fact, they are the ones who project attitudes towards me and I've let it slide.
I've had co-workers who've voiced the frustrations about the job to me and when I agree or slightly voice mine, now I'm called negative. The co-worker(s) are black too, around my age (mid-30s). I feel like I'm stuck in high school, it's Mean Girls, black adult version. Once, I confronted my co-worker, I was professional, she was louder so that people could hear her "going off" on me as if I'm a child, and now I feel that everyone is even weirder when dealing with me because she is manipulative. At this point, I feel like really going into my shell and not dealing with my co-workers.
The sad reality of this situation is that we all deal with forms of toxicity at work in one way or another. The silver lining: you have the power to change it. You've already recognized the issues happening at your office, from attitudes to criticisms; this is the first step towards your breakthrough. Before moving forward, my question to you is have you looked in the mirror lately? Seldom, do we recognize our own negative behaviors and become victimized by our thoughts. I want you to really think about your actions to make sure you were in alignment with the policies and positivity.
This clarity will allow you cash checks and not feelings.
Working around people of color is a privilege, especially when diversity is lacking around the country. As the great Zora Neale Hurston once said: "All my skinfolk ain't kinfolk." To make it plain, just because they're black does not mean they are automatically tribe members. A person's skin color does not determine their character. This is one of those situations. I hope you find it in you to give mutual respect as a fundamental right if nothing more. Regardless of color, no one deserves to steal your joy - don't give them your power.
Here are a few survival tips:
Embrace Emotional Intelligence
Emotional Intelligence (EQ) measures your capacity to be aware of, control, and express one's emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically. It is the key to both personal and professional success. This skill will allow you to manage how you react to situations, as well as, influence others. Some additional ways to increase your EQ is to pause before talking, control your thoughts, embrace criticism, apologize, and give praise to others. Increasing this skill will help you navigate uncomfortable situations by acknowledging not everyone has the mental capacity to do the same.
Affirmations + Self-Care
Your personal space should reflect beauty to promote peace and love. If you have not done this already, spend some time decorating your cubicle or working environment. I personally love affirmations - positive words for change - and think placing them around you could enhance your mood for the better. Affirmations can affirm your self, your job, and the people around you. Ex. I accept responsibility for my own happiness and development.
Also, fresh flowers are great for scent and visuals. Various studies have shown that flowers can improve a person's memory and make them concentrate a lot better in the workplace; buy yourself a small bouquet or indoor plants to place on your desk.
I know it can be tough, but it's worth it to find gratitude for your current place of employment. Gratitude is the ultimate sign of abundance and the more you pay homage to it, the more you receive. This starts with changing your thinking and being appreciative of receiving a paycheck in exchange for your time, or for the clarity you've acquired that you deserve more out of your professional career. Whatever it is, there's value.
"Gratitude is the ultimate sign of abundance and the more you pay homage to it, the more you receive."
Look For New Employment
If you think you've exhausted all possibilities, then it's time to look for employment elsewhere. Use your free time to refresh your resume and network. This is the best time to visualize your next role, the company culture, and benefits. Vision boards are a great way to implement these goals in a tangible productive way.
Just remember, it is not enough to write the vision. Affirmations without action produce no results. Carry that with you and you'll go far.
Ayana Iman xx
Featured image by Getty Images
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Ayana Iman is a certified life coach, professional speaker, and mama of one based in New Jersey. She's also known for her love of big hair, travel, and cooking. Find her across social @AyanaIman.
Unapologetically, Chlöe: The R&B Star On Finding Love, Self-Acceptance & Boldly Using Her Voice
On set inside of a mid-city Los Angeles studio, it’s all eyes on Chlöe. She slightly shifts her body against a dark backdrop amidst camera clicks and whirs, giving a seductive pout here, and piercing eye contact there. Her chocolate locs are adorned with a few jewels that she requested to spice up the look, and on her shoulders rests a jeweled piece that she asked to be turned around to better showcase her neck (“I feel a bit old,” she said of the original direction). Her shapely figure is tucked into a strapless bodysuit with a deep v-neck that complements her décolletage.
Though subtle, her quiet wardrobe directives give the air of a woman who’s been here before, and certainly knows what she’s doing. At 24 years young, she’s a “Bossy” chick in training— one who’s politely unapologetic and learning the power of her own voice.
“I'm hesitant sometimes to truly speak my mind and speak up for myself and what I believe,” she later confessed to me a couple of weeks after the photoshoot. “It's always scary for me, but now I'm realizing that I have to, in order to gain respect as a Black woman— a young Black woman— who's still navigating who she is. And you know, I'm realizing that closed mouths don't get fed. And if I keep my mouth shut just because I'm afraid of what people's opinions of me will be or turn into, then that's not any way to live.”
For Chlöe, the journey into womanhood is about embracing who she is, without succumbing to the perceptions of what others think of her. From the waist up she’s everything you’d imagine. A gorgeous goddess with the kind of sex appeal that some work hard to embrace but fail to exude. But unbeknownst to anyone not on set, her bottom half is covered by a white robe, surprising coming from the girl who boasts “'Cause my booty so big, Lord, have mercy” on her first hit single “Have Mercy.”
But that’s the beauty of Chlöe. There’s more to her than meets the eye. More than what a few sensual photos sprinkled throughout an Instagram feed could ever tell you. Just like the photo-framing illusion of her portrayed from the waist up, what we know about the songstress is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s so much more beneath the surface.
Some hours later Chlöe leans back in a high chair as her locs are transformed from a formal updo to a seemingly Basquiat-inspired one. It’s pure art, and at her request, no wigs are a part of the day’s ensemble. She’s fully embracing her natural hair, a decision that wasn’t always a socially accepted one.
In the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia, (Mableton, to be exact) Chlöe began to explore the foundation of her self-image. At an early age she and her younger sister, Halle, demonstrated a vocal prowess and knack for being in front of the camera that caught their parents’ attention. Soon after, they were sent on a parade of local talent shows and auditions, and eventually broke into the digital space with song covers on YouTube.
It was during these early years that Chlöe first learned that the entertainment industry could be unforgiving to those who didn’t fit a particular beauty standard. Despite the then three-year-old snagging a role as the younger version of Beyoncé’s character, Lilly, in Fighting Temptations, casting agents requested that her natural locs be exchanged for more Eurocentric tresses. Ironic, considering that growing up Chlöe saw her hair as no different than that of her peers. “I remember specifically in pre-K we had to do self-portraits and I drew myself with a regular straight ponytail, like how I would put my locs in a ponytail,” she says. “I just never saw myself any different.”
Chlöe would also learn the true meaning of a phrase that would later become an affirmation posted on her bedroom mirror: “Don’t Let the World Dim Your Light.” After attempting to wear wigs to fit in, the Bailey sisters instead chose to rock their locs with pride, which undoubtedly cost them casting roles. Yet they would have the last laugh when making headlines as the “Teen Dreadlocked Duo” who landed a million-dollar contract with Parkwood Entertainment, and the coveted opportunity to be groomed under the tutelage of a world-renowned superstar.
Credit: Derek Blanks
While that could be the end of a beautiful fairytale of self-empowerment, the reality is that it’s just the beginning of the story of her evolution. For most girls, the transition into womanhood takes place in the comfort of their own worlds, often limited to the number of people they allow to have access to them. But for Chlöe, it’s happening in front of millions of critiquing eyes just waiting for an opportunity to either uplift or dissect her through unwarranted commentary.
Many in her position wouldn’t be able to take that kind of pressure. But Chlöe is handling it with grace. “I feel like all of us as humans, we have the right to interpret things how we want,” she says. “I put art out into the world and it's up for interpretation. I'm learning that not everyone is going to always like me and that it's okay.”
Chlöe isn’t the first artist to receive criticism for her carnal content, and she certainly won’t be the last. In 2010, Ciara writhed and rode her way to banishment on BET when the then 24-year-old released her video for “Ride.” In 2006, 25-year-old Beyoncé received backlash for “Déjà Vu."
"I put art out into the world and it's up for interpretation. I'm learning that not everyone is going to always like me and that it's okay.”
So much so that over 5,000 fans signed an online petition demanding that her label re-shoot the video because it was “too sexual.” Even 27-year-old Janet didn’t escape critical headlines when she shed her image of innocence for a more risqué appearance with the 1993 release of janet.
It’s almost as if public reproach is a rite of passage for young Black women R&B singers on the road to stardom. Good girls seemingly “go bad” whenever they embrace the depths of their femininity, and fans only like you on top figuratively. But Chlöe has learned not to bow down to other people’s opinions, but to boss up and control the narrative. As the saying goes, well-behaved women seldom make history. If sex appeal is her weapon, she wields it well.
On set, Chlöe exudes the energy of Aphrodite in an apple red, off-shoulder dress with a sexy high split. In between shots, she mouths the lyrics to Yebba’s “Boomerang” as it echoes throughout the space in steady repetition at my recommendation. The hour grows late, yet Chlöe is heating things up as eyes stare in deep mesmerization of the girl on fire.
Credit: Derek Blanks
Through music, she explores the depths of her being, a journey that seems to be, at its foundation, rooted in self-discovery. Whereas their debut album The Kids Are Alright (2018) boasts a young Chloe x Halle empowering their generation to embrace who they are while finding their place in the world, their second album Ungodly Hour (2020) shows the Bailey sisters shedding the veil of innocence for a more unapologetic bravado.
What fans looked forward to seeing is who Chlöe shows herself to be on her debut solo album In Pieces. In an interview with PEOPLE, she confesses that releasing her first project without her sister was “scary.” "It was a moment of self-doubt where I was like, 'Can I do this without my sister?’”
Chlöe has never been shy about sharing her insecurities or her vulnerabilities, all of which are laced throughout the 14-track album. “I want people to have fun when they listen to it and to just realize that they're not alone and it's okay to be vulnerable and raw and open because none of us are perfect; we're all far from it. And I think it's healing when we all admit to that instead of putting up a facade.”
The gift of time has given the self-professed “big lover girl” more encounters with romance and heartbreak. Love songs once sung for their beautiful riffs and melodies become more than just abstract lyrics and are replaced by real-life experiences, which she tells me is definitely in the music.
In her single “Pray It Away,” for example, she contemplates going to God for healing instead of going at her ex-lover for revenge for his infidelities. “With anything dealing with art, I am completely vulnerable,” she says. “I'm completely myself, I'm completely open and transparent. So it's pretty much all of me and who I am right now.”
Has Chlöe been in love? That still remains to be said. Of course, she’s been linked to a few potential baes, but dating in the digital age isn’t as easy as a double tap or drop of a heart-eyes emoji. It requires a level of trust and vulnerability that’s hard to earn, and easy to mishandle. To let her guard down means to potentially set herself up for disappointment. “It’s difficult dating right now, honestly, because you really have to kind of keep your guard up and pay attention to who's really there for you. And you know, I'm such an affectionate person and I love hard.
"So when I meet the one person that I really, really am into, it's hard for me to see any others and I get attached pretty easily. And you know, I don't know, it's…it's a scary thing.”
Credit: Derek Blanks
“With anything dealing with art, I am completely vulnerable. I'm completely myself, I'm completely open and transparent. So it's pretty much all of me and who I am right now.”
While broken hearts yield good music (queue Adele), what’s in Chlöe’s prayer is the desire to be happy. What does that look like? Well, she’s still figuring that out herself. “Honestly, I'm the type of person who I don't truly learn unless I experience it. So it's like I can view and watch my parents and watch the loving relationships that I see in my life and be like, ‘Oh, I want that. I would love to have that.’ But then I also have to experience [love] on my own and see what my flaws or my faults might be or see what my good things about myself are. I feel like it's really all about self-reflection. And even though our base is our family and that's our foundation, we are still our own individuals and we have to find out specifically the things about ourselves that may be different from what we saw from our parents when we were growing up.”
Her ideal beau, she tells me, is someone she can feel safe to be her fun, goofy self with, but who also gives her the space to be the boss chick chasing her dreams. A man who understands that just because the world compliments her doesn’t mean she doesn’t want to hear those words from his lips or feel it in his touch. A bonus if he shows up on set after a long hard day of work with vegan cinnamon rolls. You know, the basic necessities. “I like whoever I'm with to constantly tell me they love me and that I look beautiful because I do the same. I am a very mushy person, and if I see something or you look good, I will never shy away from saying it out loud. And I want whoever I'm with to do the same, be very vocal. Tell me that you love me. Tell me what you love about me because I'm doing the same for you because that's just the person I am.”
Until she meets her match she’s married to the game, and for now, that seems to be perfect matrimony.
Credit: Derek Blanks
On stage at the 2021 American Music Awards, Chlöe solidified her position as a force to be reckoned with. It was a full-circle moment. In 2012, bright-eyed and baby-faced Chloe and Halle would walk onto the set of The Ellen Degeneres Show and blow the audience away as they bellowed out their future mentor’s song. Ellen would present the sisters with tickets to attend the AMAs, assuring them that they would be back and had a promising future. Nine years later, Chlöe descends from the sky cloaked in a snow-white cape and matching midriff-baring bodysuit for her debut performance. It’s the first time she’s graced the stage of the very award show that she was once an audience member of.
As she shakes and shimmies and boom kack kacks out her eight counts, it’s clear that she’s in her element. Just like her VMA performance a couple of months prior, and the many more stages she’ll continue to grace, she brings an energy that has earned her comparisons to the beloved Queen Bey herself. An honorable statement, considering few R&B songstresses are getting accolades for their entertainment capabilities. It’s on these very stages, in front of hundreds of astonished eyes and millions more glued to their televisions at home, that she tells me she feels most sexy. Powerful, even.
But off stage, it’s a different story.
It’s more than just the commentary about her image and media-flamed rumors that get to her. Mentally, she’s in competition with herself. The desire to be the best burns at the back of her mind with every performance, every production, and every time she steps into the booth. Before, she could share the weight of this burden with her sister. Being a part of a duo meant she could turn to Halle for quiet confirmation and encouragement without a word being exchanged. But lately stepping on the stage means stepping out on her own. And despite being a breathtaking, five-time Grammy-nominated star, Chlöe doesn’t escape the reality that sometimes we can be our own worst critics.
Over the last year, she’s been coming to terms with who she is on her own while overcoming the fear of failing to become who she’s destined to be. While the world waits to see how Chlöe wins, the real triumph is in every day that she chooses herself and continues to walk in her purpose. “I don't really have anything all figured out, honestly. But what I try to do, a lot of prayer. I talk to God more and I just try to do things that calm my mind down and just breathe.”
To whom much is given, much will be required. She’s been chosen to walk this path for a reason. Once she fully embraces that everything she’s meant to be is already inside of her, she’ll be an unstoppable force. “My grandma, Elizabeth, she just passed away and my middle name is her [first] name. So I feel like I truly have a responsibility to live up to her legacy that she's left on this earth. I hope I can do that.”
There’s no doubt that she will. With a role in The Fighting Temptations at three years old, a million-dollar record deal, a main role on five seasons of Grown-ish, five Grammy nominations, a number one solo record in Urban and Rhythmic Radio, a debut solo album, and starring roles in recently released movies Praise Thisand Swarm (just to name a few), Chlöe’s certainly already made her mark, and she’s just getting started.
Photographer & Creative Director: Derek Blanks
Executive Producer: Necole Kane
Co-Executive Producer: EJ Jamele
Producer: Erica Turnbull
Digitech: Chris Keller
DP: Alex Nikishin
Gaffer: Simeon Mihaylov
Photo Assistant: Chris Paschal
2nd Photo Assistant: Tyler Umprey
Features Editor: Kiah McBride
Special Projects: Tyeal Howell
Hair: Malcolm Marquez
Makeup: Yolonda Frederick
Fashion Styling: Ashley Sean Thomas
For More: Cover Story: Issa Rae Comes Full Circle
Normalizing “The Talk”: How To Break The Ice Around STIs
April is STI (Sexually Transmitted Infections) Awareness Month, and let’s be honest: bringing up the STI talk with our potential (or existing) sexual partner can be… well, awkward.
According to the WHO, over 1 million new cases of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are collected every day, and the CDC’s 2021 STD surveillance data revealed that STIs are continuing to rise across the nation. Although STIs are highly common among adults over 25, the topic of safe sex and prevention still remains stigmatized.
Sharing your sexual history with a new partner can sometimes bring up an array of uncomfortable feelings. You may be worried that your partner will see you as “damaged goods,” fear being judged, shamed, or concerned that they may find you uptight for encouraging them to get tested. But according to Dr. Kameelah Phillips, board-certified OB/GYN and founder of Calla Women's Health, STIs don’t discriminate, nor should we.
“Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) happen to everyone, regardless of socioeconomic, religious or political lifestyle, she tells xoNecole. “There are many misconceptions and stigmas around contracting an STI, but it really only takes one partner to get infected, and STIs don’t care who you are, where you come from, or what your background is.”
Since most sexually transmitted infections are asymptomatic and can solely be detected through passive screening methods, undergoing testing is vital in determining your status and reducing the risk of developing serious health consequences in the long run.
Transparency, openness, and proper education are all keys to helping destigmatize the STI talk and normalizing the conversation. Creating a safe and non-judgmental space where individuals can discuss their sexual health without fear of criticism can help to dispel misconceptions that fuel the stigma surrounding STIs and allow both parties to feel safe during intimacy.
But maybe you still don’t know where to start. To help you get your STI talk moving in the right direction, we’ve tapped Dr. Kameelah Phillips to share how to break the ice when having “the talk” and get you on the way to safer and more secure sex.
What are some effective prevention methods for not contracting STIs that you feel may be overlooked?
"There are plenty of ways you can ensure you’re practicing safer sex — from condom use to dental dams and mutual pre-relationship testing and agreed monogamy. Now, I get it, mutual monogamy cannot always be guaranteed, so even for the longest-standing relationships, I recommend routine testing. Self-pleasure is also a sure way to avoid STIs. There is still some risk involved with every sexual encounter, which is why it is so important we remove the stigma associated with STIs and encourage patients to test regularly for STIs."
How often should sexually active individuals get tested for STIs, and what types of tests are available?
"A standard STI panel will include chlamydia, gonorrhea, trichomonas, syphilis, HIV, and hepatitis. Providers follow CDC guidelines, which vary depending on the STI. For chlamydia and gonorrhea, for example, we should be testing women 15-24 years old annually for these STIs regardless of the patient’s reported sexual behavior. Because these two common STIs are often asymptomatic, and there’s a lot of stigma around having an infection, automatically screening these young women for chlamydia and gonorrhea can help identify more cases and help protect patients’ reproductive health.
"A good rule of thumb is to ensure you’re getting tested for STIs annually or with every new partner. If you don’t get tested, you may never know. Many STIs don’t have symptoms, so the only way to know for sure is to get tested."
What populations are at highest risk for STIs, and what are some targeted strategies for prevention and education?
"The CDC just released new data that found some racial and ethnic minority groups, gay and bisexual men, and our nation’s youth are disproportionately impacted and continue to experience high rates of STIs. In 2021, the highest rate of reported chlamydia and gonorrhea cases was among non-Hispanic Black or African American persons.
"Diversity in our healthcare providers is one way that we can foster a safe space for patients to feel comfortable talking about STIs and voicing any symptoms or concerns.
"Another important strategy specific to chlamydia and gonorrhea is an opt-out screening approach. Unless they decline, young women 15-24 years old are tested annually for STIs regardless of their reported sexual behavior. The CDC acknowledges this screening approach in its latest CDC guidelines as a way to improve patient acceptance, substantially increase screening, especially among patients who do not disclose sexual behavior, and be cost-saving."
How can individuals communicate with their partners about STI testing and prevention?
"Anyone who is sexually active should feel empowered to discuss their sexual health with their partner. Communication about sexual health is a normal and healthy part of a sexual relationship.
Some conversation starters include:
- “I like to talk with every new partner about STI testing for peace of mind.”
- “When were you last tested for STIs?”
- “I’ve started seeing someone new and want to make sure we both get tested to start fresh together.”
- “I’m worried someone I had sex with might have exposed me to something.”
What advice do you have for individuals who are nervous or embarrassed about getting tested for STIs?
"Getting an STI can happen to anyone. It's very common, and in fact, half of sexually active people will contract an STI by the time they're 25. Getting tested for STIs is easy and can be free, fast, and confidential. It is usually painless and just a quick swab or pee in a cup.
"If you do test positive, it's just the first step toward treating it. And with common STIs, like chlamydia or gonorrhea, antibiotics will treat your infection. The real problem is when STIs go undiagnosed. Take chlamydia, for instance, it can lead to serious health issues like infertility."
If you’d like to find a clinic near you, you can use the CDC clinic locator at https://yesmeanstest.org/.
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Featured image by Rowan Jordan/Getty Images