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I Went To The Largest Self-Care Retreat For Black Women In The US & It Changed My Life

Wellness + melanin + wildnerness = lit AF.

Wellness

Last weekend, I sat with more than 700 Black women in Estes Park, Colorado at the 3rd annual Stress Protest, where a woman named Veronica shared a story about rediscovering self-love only a year after the death of her daughter; later, a woman named Arnetta opened up about how losing her son, father, and brother in less than five years taught her to find her strength in God and value self-care.

While both of these women came from very different walks of life, they both have one very important piece of their journey in common: GirlTrek. Instead of isolating themselves and drowning in their despair, they chose to lace up their sneakers and lean into their pain, and it all started with a pledge to take one 30-minute walk a day.

Courtesy of Girl Trek

There is a health crisis in the Black community, both mental and physical, and GirlTrek, an organization that Oprah Winfrey says is "doing some of the most transformational work on the planet," is here to kick its ass. Founded by Vanessa Very and Morgan Dixon only nine years ago, GirlTrek has now become the largest non-profit health movement for Black Women and girls in the country and is on a relentless mission to save one million Black women's lives by 2020.

It took me crying in a room full of women on top of a mountain to realize that I wasn't keeping it real with myself, about myself. 7 days ago, I was emotionally exhausted, anxious, and stressed TF out.

On top of the normal amount of stress that comes with being adult, Black and female, I was feeling perpetually overwhelmed and unproductive in my professional lane, rushed by my biological clock to find romance, and terribly pessimistic about what it is that I have to offer this world, nevertheless, that still didn't keep me from saying "good" when someone asked me how I was doing. But on Friday, I stepped foot into a transformational three-day long experience that helped me realize that I'm not "good". In fact, sometimes I'm not okay at all, but I'm also not alone.

Courtesy of Girl Trek

If the world looked more like the Stress Protest, it would probably be a much better place. Being surrounded by hundreds of women who look like me and are seeking the same happiness was everything I didn't know I needed, and on October 1st, please believe that your girl will be registering to head up that mountain once again in 2020.

Whether you were in need of a good Reiki healing, a transcendent prayer, or a quality turn-up, the Stress Protest was the perfect way to get your entire life this past Labor Day Weekend. Along with learning to admit my own truths and confront my emotional deficits, I also became a part of a family. I gained a sister named Nicole, who is a filmmaker with an 8-year old from Louisiana, and an auntie named Angie from the East Coast who appreciates the legality of cannabis just as much as I do. While I can't totally put into words how much this experience truly meant to me, I can give you a recap of a few of my favorite moments.

Wellness + melanin + wildnerness = lit AF, and for further evidence of this phenomenon, scroll below for 6 of my favorite moments from this year's Stress Protest:

1.Moving Mountains

Courtesy of Girl Trek

Even though we were surrounded by wild elk, deer, and a number of other forces of nature that you wouldn't want to run up on in a dark alley, Black women moved mountains in Estes Park last weekend by taking on the several hikes that were available. Scaling terrains that ranged in difficulty from beginner to advanced, the Stress Protest offered the perfect hiking option for every kind of adventurer.

2.Tarot & Chill

Courtesy of Girl Trek

3.Miraculous Massages 

Courtesy of Girl Trek

After a long hike through the mountains, there's nothing better than being rubbed down with intention, and that's exactly what was going down in the Mind Body Soul tent. Along with fun activities that will get your heart pumping, the Stress Protest also offered massages, acupuncture, and Reiki healing sessions that got our tribe all the way in alignment.

4.Trap Yoga

Courtesy of Girl Trek

5.Surf & Swag 

Courtesy of Girl Trek

Whoever told you Black girls can't swim was a damn lie, because this weekend we were getting our hair wet, backstroking, and serving you all of the mermaid energy. According to statistics, Black Americans drown five times more often than white Americans, but this one-hour workshop came to change the narrative. Led by the CEO of Swim Life Fitness, Ms. Adrienne Wesley and the founder of Black Girl Swim, Dr. Asherah Allen, this course was for Black women who were looking to learn the basic swimming techniques while breathing and staying mindful during their aquatic experience.

What are you waiting on, sis? Take the pledge now and join the movement in your city by clicking here! Keep up with GirlTrek's nationwide events by following them on Instagram @GirlTrek!

Featured image courtesy of Story Street Media.

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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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