It’s the time of year that calls for deep reflection and even deeper self-inventory — and Codie Elaine Oliver, co-creator of the Black Lovemulti-verse, is feeling the effects, “I've been in this really deep place lately, so forgive me.” It’s a place that many of us have found ourselves in, after a pivot, a moment of self-discovery, or simply in the quiet moments of our day-to-day routines. It’s the light bulb that illuminates in our heart, almost blindingly, to reveal inward truths, “I've learned to recognize that I am tender and require tenderness from those in my life. I've learned to own it as opposed to [trying to] fit into the box of having thicker skin.”
For Codie, whose personal and work life are so intimately intertwined, these moments produce profound awareness, with lessons learned and applied both on and off the camera. In many ways, the Black Love docuseries is an extension of Codie’s lived experiences. The show’s honest portrayal of married life, the best and worst of it, was birthed out of her curiosity of “how to make it work,” stemming from her parent’s divorce when she was just 11 years old.
Photo Credit: Tommy Oliver
Into adulthood, Codie’s earnest allurement for all things love and relationships began to merge with her natural storytelling abilities. Crossed between opposing narratives of a “Black marriage crisis” and her own desires for partnership, Codie began to explore the possibility of her own Black love story, “People tell you the more degrees a Black woman has, the less likely you are to get married. I lived in LA and they tell you you can't meet anybody there,” she continues thoughtfully, “I felt like I could either accept that [marriage] was not going to happen or I could immerse myself in how possible it was.”
Instead of conceding to these disparaging narratives, Codie decided to tell a new story, thus creating the Black Love docuseries.
Cut to now, Codie, alongside her husband and co-creator, Tommy Oliver, have highlighted the journeys of over 250 couples through their docuseries, social platforms, and live events. Together, the couple is able to play off each other’s strengths; with Tommy administering the structure and Codie applying her nurturing essence to make space for transparent discourse to be exchanged and handled with care, “I love the behind the scenes, I love to bring people together. My personality makes it so that I bring authenticity and comfort out of others.”
Photo Credit: Monkeys and Peas Photography
It’s this comfort and authenticity that has, in itself, restored the hope and possibility for love in countless hearts. This points to a legacy that has not only beared fruit in her lifetime but has also planted seeds in her children to carry forward. Or as Codie shares, “the editor of Black Love, Christopher Scott Shapiro, always says, ‘Yes! Keep raising those boys with this trauma-free Blackness.’”
Knowing that you had something special with your docuseries, what were the initial steps to get in the right rooms to pitch your series to networks and eventually OWN Network?
Codie Elaine Oliver: I would say the confidence came from the fact that I just knew that I needed it, I knew my friends needed it, and I knew that I'd never seen it before. I knew there was a hole right in the “market.” That's what kept me going.
When my husband and I started this project, it was meant to be a documentary. So we went the traditional route with an independent documentary and our expectation was to raise a little money or crowdfund, to go to film festivals or maybe in theaters. But it was an independent job and there's an end date or shelf life. When we pivoted from the traditional route, we were met with a lot of pushback. A lot of white [executives] were asking questions like, is that it? What else? People had a lot of questions about traditional documentary storytelling and what we really needed, but we felt like hearing from the couple would satisfy the goal.
Tommy and I decided to make it as “foolproof” as possible; an "inevitable yes" as he would put it. We shot for two years, from 2014 to 2016, edited the first episode, wrote a treatment for the entire season, and did a sizzle for the full season. That gave potential buyers a really clear picture of what this was, the structure, what it felt like. That's how we got around the traditional structure because it's unlikely that we would have gotten it made off of a pitch and no actual video.
What have you learned overall about turning your pain points into purpose?
For me, leaning into the big questions that I've had in my life, my uncertainties, and the things that made me uncomfortable, allowed me to learn about myself and the people around me. A friend of mine recently said, “Trauma is not what happens to you, it's what happens within you.” When I think about people's trauma, I think most of us have had scenarios that may seem small to someone else, but what matters is what happens within us. When I’ve leaned into those experiences, to ask myself questions and seek answers, it’s helped me be a better person, professional, wife, and mother. And my hope is that leaning into those uncomfortable places helps others as well.
"When I’ve leaned into those experiences, to ask myself questions and seek answers, it’s helped me be a better person, professional, wife, and mother. And my hope is that leaning into those uncomfortable places helps others as well."
Photo Credit: James Anthony
They say relationships are like holding a mirror up to yourself. What have you personally learned about yourself through the work that you do along with co-creating with your husband?
Oh, so many things. I'm learning about myself every day. I'm learning about partnership and marriage. I'm learning about what I was always dying to know: which is what it takes to make a marriage work — and I'm learning that through our couples. The show is more than a show for us. Every time we sit down and interview a couple, it's not like we're shooting a TV show, that's not what it feels like in the room. Every time we spend time with a couple, it is an opportunity for us to learn and grow.
For me, the Black Love docu-series is this exciting and sometimes painful therapy. I'm constantly learning, but my greatest lessons have come in the form of seeking balance and peace in my life, amid the blessing of having a business that is my purpose and my passion and having a family.
You mentioned early in our conversation that you’re in a “deep place” right now. What has this time taught you about yourself?
I’ve learned that I have to set boundaries to protect my mental health. Sometimes those boundaries come in the form of difficult business decisions, canceling something, delegating things that I may be afraid to delegate.
I've also learned that I need to treat my mind and body better and speak to them more positively; feed them better, both in terms of literal food and through meditation and movement. These things are key to my personal and professional success. Too often we run all of those things into the ground: our bodies, our minds, our boundaries, our softness, to try to check boxes and meet deadlines. But it's very important to consider when and why to actually sacrifice yourself for something.
“Too often we run all of those things into the ground: our bodies, our minds, our boundaries, our softness, to try to check boxes and meet deadlines. But it's very important to consider when and why to actually sacrifice yourself for something.”
Photo Credit: Breanna Jones
What is your perspective on carrying down generational wealth through love? To your children, tribe, and community?
My biggest goal and passion — and the place where I get simultaneously excited and emotional, is passing that radical self-love to my children in every way. How can I make sure they love themselves so much so that no one can tell them they aren't good enough or attractive enough. I want them to laugh at anyone who thinks that they are not beautiful. That's one of the places where I think we have the greatest responsibility as people because our kids are looking at us. And not just the ones that come out of us; the kids are looking at us. That's where we have the responsibility to really pour into them.
The outside world is going to do what the outside world does, but how can we inflict the least amount of trauma onto our children? Where they simply love each other, and themselves deeply.
You were a 20-something navigating your career and balancing your love life all at the same time. What advice would you give to 20- and 30-something Black women who desire to have a career and family?
I would want to do away with the words, “have it all.” Or at least encourage everyone to define that for themselves and to listen to themselves as they grow and change because you don't really know what “having it all” means or what it looks like until you're juggling it all. I could not fathom what those words meant 10, 15, 20 years ago, when I was still at home, looking at grown-ups, like, “Oh, she has it all right.”
Thankfully, for our generation and those coming after me, we've become more inquisitive. We've become more thoughtful and transparent. We seek authentic candor from one another and from our parents and grandparents, we're asking questions. I hope that the notion of having it all becomes something that we discuss and question earlier; that's my biggest advice.
“Because having it all doesn't mean that I'm happy. Looking at these women that we look up to, what did they sacrifice? What is their self-care ritual? Those are the things I think about. If I can't take a 15-minute walk every day, if I can't feed myself and my soul the way that I deserve, it doesn't matter.”
I wish I could quote Tai Beauchamp, she shared something to the effect of, “It changes depending on the season, but the goal is to be able to do things that you love and still have like peace within yourself,” and that is pretty much the definition that I've adopted. Because having it all doesn't mean that I'm happy. Looking at these women that we look up to, what did they sacrifice? What is their self-care ritual? Does it exist? Those are the things I think about.
If I can't take a 15-minute walk every day, if I can't feed myself and my soul the way that I deserve, it doesn't matter.
Featured image courtesy of Codie Elaine Oliver
Aley Arion is a writer and digital storyteller from the South, currently living in sunny Los Angeles. Her site, yagirlaley.com, serves as a digital diary to document personal essays, cultural commentary, and her insights into the Black Millennial experience. Follow her at @yagirlaley on all platforms!
Exclusive: Gabrielle Union On Radical Transparency, Being Diagnosed With Perimenopause And Embracing What’s Next
Whenever Gabrielle Union graces the movie screen, she immediately commands attention. From her unforgettable scenes in films like Bring It On and Two Can Play That Game to her most recent film, in which she stars and produces Netflix’s The Perfect Find, there’s no denying that she is that girl.
Off-screen, she uses that power for good by sharing her trials and tribulations with other women in hopes of helping those who may be going through the same things or preventing them from experiencing them altogether. Recently, the Flawless by Gabrielle Union founder partnered with Clearblue to speak at the launch of their Menopause Stage Indicator, where she also shared her experience with being perimenopausal.
In a xoNecoleexclusive, the iconic actress opens up about embracing this season of her life, new projects, and overall being a “bad motherfucker.” Gabrielle reveals that she was 37 years old when she was diagnosed with perimenopause and is still going through it at 51 years old. Mayo Clinic says perimenopause “refers to the time during which your body makes the natural transition to menopause, marking the end of the reproductive years.”
“I haven't crossed over the next phase just yet, but I think part of it is when you hear any form of menopause, you automatically think of your mother or grandmother. It feels like an old-person thing, but for me, I was 37 and like not understanding what that really meant for me. And I don't think we focus so much on the word menopause without understanding that perimenopause is just the time before menopause,” she tells us.
Photo by Brian Thomas
"But you can experience a lot of the same things during that period that people talk about, that they experienced during menopause. So you could get a hot flash, you could get the weight gain, the hair loss, depression, anxiety, like all of it, mental health challenges, all of that can come, you know, at any stage of the menopausal journey and like for me, I've been in perimenopause like 13, 14 years. When you know, most doctors are like, ‘Oh, but it's usually about ten years, and I'm like, ‘Uhh, I’m still going (laughs).’”
Conversations about perimenopause, fibroids, and all the things that are associated with women’s bodies have often been considered taboo and thus not discussed publicly. However, times are changing, and thanks to the Gabrielle’s and the Tia Mowry’s, more women are having an authentic discourse about women’s health. These open discussions lead to the creation of more safe spaces and support for one another.
“I want to be in community with folks. I don't ever want to feel like I'm on an island about anything. So, if I can help create community where we are lacking, I want to be a part of that,” she says. “So, it's like there's no harm in talking about it. You know what I mean? Like, I was a bad motherfucker before perimenopause. I’m a bad motherfucker now, and I'll be a bad motherfucker after menopause. Know what I’m saying? None of that has to change. How I’m a bad motherfucker, I welcome that part of the change. I'm just getting better and stronger and more intelligent, more wise, more patient, more compassionate, more empathetic. All of that is very, very welcomed, and none of it should be scary.”
The Being Mary Jane star hasn’t been shy about her stance on therapy. If you don’t know, here’s a hint: she’s all for it, and she encourages others to try it as well. She likens therapy to dating by suggesting that you keep looking for the right therapist to match your needs. Two other essential keys to her growth are radical transparency and radical acceptance (though she admits she is still working on the latter).
"I was a bad motherfucker before perimenopause. I’m a bad motherfucker now, and I'll be a bad motherfucker after menopause. Know what I’m saying? None of that has to change. How I’m a bad motherfucker, I welcome that part of the change."
Gabrielle Union and Kaavia Union-Wade
Photo by Monica Schipper/Getty Images
“I hope that a.) you recognize that you're not alone. Seek out help and know that it's okay to be honest about what the hell is happening in your life. That's the only way that you know you can get help, and that's also the only other way that people know that you are in need if there's something going on,” she says, “because we have all these big, very wild, high expectations of people, but if they don't know what they're actually dealing with, they're always going to be failing, and you will always be disappointed. So how about just tell the truth, be transparent, and let people know where you are. So they can be of service, they can be compassionate.”
Gabrielle’s transparency is what makes her so relatable, and has so many people root for her. Whether through her TV and film projects, her memoirs, or her social media, the actress has a knack for making you feel like she’s your homegirl. Scrolling through her Instagram, you see the special moments with her family, exciting new business ventures, and jaw-dropping fashion moments. Throughout her life and career, we’ve seen her evolve in a multitude of ways. From producing films to starting a haircare line to marriage and motherhood, her journey is a story of courage and triumph. And right now, in this season, she’s asking, “What’s next?”
“This is a season of discovery and change. In a billion ways,” says the NAACP Image Award winner. “The notion of like, ‘Oh, so and so changed. They got brand new.’ I want you to be brand new. I want me to be brand new. I want us to be always constantly growing, evolving. Having more clarity, moving with different purpose, like, and all of that is for me very, very welcomed."
"I want you to be brand new. I want me to be brand new. I want us to be always constantly growing, evolving. Having more clarity, moving with different purpose, like, and all of that is for me very, very welcomed."
She continues, “So I'm just trying to figure out what's next. You know what I mean? I'm jumping into what's next. I'm excited going into what's next and new. I'm just sort of embracing all of what life has to offer.”
Look out for Gabrielle in the upcoming indie film Riff Raff, which is a crime comedy starring her and Jennifer Coolidge, and she will also produce The Idea of You, which stars Anne Hathaway.
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Feature image by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images
If you haven’t scrolled upon Olivia McDowell's TikTok famous dinner parties, you may need to reconfigure your "For You Page."
What began as a passion for hosting aesthetically themed meals for her closest friends has quickly become a viral sensation. With an astonishing 12 million viewers, women describe Olivia’s picturesque dinner parties as the “dream girls' night,” complete with classy cocktails, beautiful table settings, elegant outfits, and, most importantly, food plated to perfection.
Seemingly reigniting the feminine urge to host fancy dinner parties, Olivia has perfected the finer details. Overlooking the skyline in her beautiful NYC apartment, she never fails to make her signature handmade pasta dishes while simultaneously looking effortlessly chic in the wardrobe of dreams while doing so.
Replying to @nara0630 what should the theme of my next dinner party be? #minivlog #nycliving #dinnerpartyideas #caviarinnewyork
What I love most about hosting intimate dinners for close friends are the connections and relationships that form over food. They don't require a caviar budget with a high-rise apartment, it just takes determination and a little creativity. Watching Olivia’s journey inspires viewers to be a part of a community of positive and uplifting women who share common interests and tastes in food, fashion, and decor. Simply stated, she’s raising the bar of friendship goals.
If you’re aspiring to host a holiday-themed dinner party this season, check out the four tips that will guide you along the way.
Choose Your Theme
Replying to @emz.life.tsv what was your fav part? 🤍 hope this gives you some inspiration to host a fancy friendsgiving too! #hostingtip #dinnerparty #pastamaking
Set the ambiance with a thoughtful theme, which will indeed be your guiding light for less stress during the planning process. Establishing a theme sets the tone for everything else to fall in place, such as menus, table design, and presentation. For example, a holiday-inspired dinner party is a perfect occasion for elegant all-white decor paired with draped table cloths, pillar candles lit atop luxe holders, floating floral arrangements, and, for a personal touch, handwritten place settings.
Utilizing free resources such as Canva for menu templates and creating a “Dinner Party” moodboard via Pinterest is perfect for gathering dinner inspiration for themes, decor, and recipes for the special occasion.
Simplify the Menu
How to host your own pasta making dinner party — part 1: pasta making from scratch 🤍 Hosting dinner parties has become my favorite thing to do this year. More goes into it than you expect, the prep, planning, guestlist, tablescape, etc. but it’s always worth it in the end. What do you guys want to see next? #hostingtips #dinnerparty #pastamaking
Don’t overcomplicate the menu. A simple dinner party formula to use as your guide to making sure your guests leave full of food and joy is appetizers, salads, entrees, sides, desserts, and beverages. As a starter, assemble an aesthetic spread that your guest can nibble on while awaiting the main course with starters such as bread, cheese, jam, nuts, and fruit. A simple salad will do, complete with a light dressing right before your entree. For a main dish, pasta recipes always go a long way and also allows your guests to interact with one another, which leads to McDowell's third dinner party hosting tip.
Include an Interactive Element
Replying to @itstai.tv 🖤 #girlhood
To break the ice and encourage guests to get to know one another, introduce interactive elements to the evening. Moments of interaction allow everyone to connect, like capturing content for social media or memorializing the essence of the night through fun Polaroids. Olivia also encourages her guests to participate in the pasta-making dinner process as a group, or if hosting a brunch, her friends indulge in building their own coffee bar as an opportunity for forming connections and conversation starters. Group board or card games are also great for laughs and healthy competition to help get the vibes flowing.
Don’t Forget the Dress code
Replying to @samantha_mendiz when all of your friends are the main character 🖤🥂 #dinnerparty #nycfashion
Tis’ the season for glamour and sparkles, so why not go all out with a super chic dress code? You can’t have a picture-perfect holiday dinner party without the coordinating attire to match. When planning, make sure to make the required attire specific yet broad enough for a range of personalities and preferences to comfortably partake while looking stunning doing so.
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Featured image by Justin Lambert/Getty Images