Courtesy of Brianna Olamiju

This Physician Believes Saying 'No' Is Key For Self-Preservation

"Before I am a physician, I am a friend, a daughter, and a mentor."

Finding Balance

In xoNecole's Finding Balance, we profile boss women making boss moves in the world and in their respective industries. We talk to them about their business, and most of all, what they do to find balance in their busy lives.

As the summer comes to an end, we must welcome the time for change. Say goodbye to summer and hello to cooler weather! And we know what that means ladies: We have to switch up our fashion trends, how we wear our hair, and even our skincare routines. When it comes to skincare, we as Black queens have to make sure our products are on point for all the seasons. It is crucial for us to protect our blessed and melanated beauty.

You would think with the amount of trends and dollars being put behind beauty brands, that there would be better representation in the medical field to help us understand our skin better from the jump. Unfortunately, Black physiciansonly make up 5% of the physician population, and if we want to talk about Black dermatologists specifically, well that number is even lower.

Recently, I interviewed Brianna Olamiju, a resident doctor who graduated this past May and is joining that 3% helping to keep all shades of our skin healthy and poppin'. Brianna's interest in medicine began during childhood. She wondered why few doctors looked like her. As a college student, she majored in race and ethnicity studies at Columbia University in New York City and went on to attend medical school at Yale University. Now that she's in a new chapter in her journey, Brianna is focusing on balancing her personal as well as her professional life.

"Before I am a physician, I am a friend, a daughter, and a mentor. While I love being a doctor, those are the titles I cherish the most."

Representation is so important for our community, in all industries. We must receive the best care from our doctors, especially those who look like us. In this installment of Finding Balance, we talked to Brianna about being a Black woman in medicine, setting personal goals, and the importance of your own self-care survival kit.

Courtesy of Brianna Olamiju

What is your WHY?

Brianna: Each and every day, I go to work to serve my patients. I know there are a lot of patients in need and I see the joy on some of their faces when I walk in the room and they see a Black doctor. My goal as a Black doctor is to help decrease healthcare disparities. I didn't see a lot of Black doctors growing up, so I aspire to be someone younger girls can look up to if they want to pursue the medical field as well.

At what point in your life did you understand the importance of pressing pause and finding balance in both your personal and professional life?

So, as you can probably guess, medical school is very demanding. There were times where I would question myself about how badly I really wanted this. I remember studying for my first board exam for three months and it would take 8 to 10 hours each day. I would find myself feeling really sad and anxious during that time. Then, I realized I had to take a step back and start taking better care of myself. So I started reconnecting with my family and friends and added working out more into my routine to feel more balanced.

What did a typical week in medical school look like for you?

In medical school, each year is different. In my last year of my medical school, I did a research year, so I was studying dermatological conditions on [minority] patients. I would visit different patients and learn their stories of what they were experiencing. There were also times when I would run data stats to see what treatment options are best for patients to help their skin.

How do you wind down at night?

I usually try to go to a gym class because it gives me the structure that I need. In the gym, I've also been able to find community. The gym has really helped me let go of the day and get ready for the next one.

Courtesy of Brianna Olamiju

What advice would you give other Black women who are looking to pursue medical school?

Medical school can be hard for anyone, but [going to] medical school and being a Black woman can make things tougher. You are going to experience microaggressions and it's important to assert yourself to remind people that you belong there. We are needed in the field so you must push through, ignore the naysayers, and remember your why.

What would you say is your favorite self-care practice and why?

After a long busy day, I like to give myself quiet time. I like to reflect on the day and I like to reaffirm myself. Being the only Black woman can really negatively affect your self-confidence so I love meditation and my quiet time. I have so many thoughts swirling in my head all day, so during that quiet time, I am able to process my thoughts better. After being by myself away from the noise, I feel recharged and ready to take on anything.

What advice do you have for busy women who feel like they don’t have time for self-care?

To-do lists have been so key for me. Ever since college, I have been using to-do lists to help keep me on track. Checking off something from your list is a really good feeling, too. Another thing that I encourage women to do is to just say "no." While a lot of people want to get a "yes," saying "no" is a form of self-preservation. Saying "yes" all the time to different people can get so draining. So once you learn to say "no," it makes you feel better and it is the best boundary you can create for yourself in order to really prioritize self-care.

"I encourage women to do is to just say 'no.' While a lot of people want to get a 'yes,' saying 'no' is a form of self-preservation. Once you learn to say 'no,' it makes you feel better and it is the best boundary you can create for yourself in order to really prioritize self-care."

Courtesy of Brianna Olamiju

When you are going through a bout of uncertainty or feeling stuck, how do you handle it?

I usually like to lean in on my people or my family for advice and get their feedback. But more importantly, I pray when I am feeling anxious and focus on calming my mind, whether that is [by] listening to some smooth R&B or meditative sounds.

What are some lessons about unhealthy habits you learned from in medical school that you apply as a full-time dermatologist?

I've learned that less is more. It is better to be involved in a few activities and completely immerse yourself in them rather than being in too many activities and spreading yourself thin. In the beginning, I thought it would look good on my resume to be involved in a lot of things to impress people, but I learned from my mentors that it is better to be deeper in a small number of activities than shallow in many activities. So when trying to balance it all, I'll make sure I have enough on my plate where I still have room to just breathe.

If you could create your own self-survival kit, what would be the top three self-care items you'd list?

On this list would be another list and that is my to-do list (laughs). The next thing on my list would be a reminder to get seven hours of sleep a night. Sleep is everything for me. My third item is my skincare routine. As a dermatologist, you know I have to add that in there, as cheesy as it may sound!

What does success mean to you vs happiness?

I consider success to be building your career and reaching those personal milestones—when you're really making sure you're growing every single day. For happiness, happiness is being at peace with yourself. You feel comfort with yourself, your future, and surrounding yourself with the people you love the most.

For more about Brianna, follow her on Instagram @brianna_med.

Learn more about Brianna by following her on Instagram @brianna_med.

Featured image courtesy of Brianna Olamiju

You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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Feature image courtesy of Elisabeth Ovesen

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