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This Is What Self-Care Looks Like To Media Maven Karen Civil

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, their life, and most of all, what they do to find balance in their busy lives.

The moment Karen Civil and I got into the questions, she said "Whew, I'm about to be 100% real with you. Let's go," and I knew there was no turning back.


Karen Civil is a woman who needs no introduction — from her countless businesses, to being a certified game-changer in the hip-hop industry, Civil is a name and face you absolutely know. Many say she's "self-made" (though Civil definitely gives shoutouts to her amazing team), and for countless women, Civil is perhaps one of the first or leading examples of a female powerhouse in what has conventionally been a male-dominated arena.

Karen is also one who needs no warm up to get to her point — she jumps in head first. The first few minutes of our conversation, I found myself receding, feeling like Karen was coming in a little hot on our late night call. Immediately, I realized that I was suffering from the very disease society has taught women, and Black women especially. I was operating out of discomfort to see a woman who was fully unapologetic in her approach and the facts she was going to spit, a woman who many could term "aggressive" or "demanding" or even "scary."

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I realized that Karen was in fact none of those things, she just knew what she was going to say and wasn't going to take the scenic route to say it, and it made me wonder why we have silenced countless women before for the same thing. That's a lesson I learned right then and there, one of understanding that a woman can be confident and say what's on her mind. Point. Blank. Period.

In this installment of xoNecole's Finding Balance series, the media maven talks health, spirituality, time management, and most importantly how to walk in your highest purpose and calling.

What does an average day look like for you?

For everything a little bit changes, but there's Always Civil. That's my marketing and branding agency. We have various clients. I'm really proud of the clients that I have right now, which is Russ. Russ is getting ready to drop his project. I have London On Da Track. I have YG, Teyana Taylor, and so many more. We do activations for people, so I just helped James Harden with his James Harden weekend. That was a big moment. I'm starting to do some work with Kamaya that I'm really excited about. That's one aspect of it.

Obviously, we have the Karen Civil brand, which is all things entertainment. I have a great team set in place that's self-sufficient and it runs. I'll peek my head in. I have Live Civil, which is all things empowering, and all things motivating. I have a team for that. I peek my head in. I have the True Women brand, which is our number one vegan based bar on Amazon. We recently launched that a few months ago, so that's something that's not in the hip hop or entertainment space. It's something that's totally different. It's very health conscious. I have a lot. I've taken a lot of calls. I'm handling the schedules, making things happen. In between meetings, because I work with other brands from Louis Vuitton to XYZ, then I'm an influencer myself. I'm a lady who wears many hats and I'm living my life that I set forth for myself. Every day is a little bit different.

Karen Civil/Instagram

How do you find time to balance all your hats?

It's that time management. I make sure I put the energy and time in what needs to be done. I have a great team around me that helps elevate and execute, because that's really what it's about. It's not me just shining. It's the people around me helping us shine together. I make sure that the clients that I work with are all like, they really want it, so I don't have to chase behind and beg and plead. So, it works.

What is the most hectic part of your week? What obstacles pop up since you are juggling so many things?

The hectic things are, you know, you have very rambunctious clients. You have people who are outspoken, so I continue walking through TSA and in four minutes, I'm looking at my phone like "What the hell is this, World War III on social media?" Sometimes, I wish people would allow me to do my job and give me a minute. Then, a lot of people I have relationships with want you to be there and you can't be there for everybody. You can't be at every single event. When you're up in one place, you're down in another. If I'm at this event making sure this person is right, I try to make sure this person is well too, but it's about managing and balancing my times. I still make it work. I do it with a smile on my face and I try to give them the best effort I can to make them feel even when I'm not there that they feel Karen's presence and she still made it happen.

What does self-care look like for you?

Listen, I'm very spiritual. I'm very spiritual when it comes to that self-care. I get reiki healing, I light my candles in my home, I sage. I need the energy to be right. I pray to my God. I follow the Muslim prayer, so it's like I'm at 4:56, 12:54, 4:33, 7:24, and 8:47. I am on my rugs, I am praying to the east, and I am talking to God. That's important for me. I'm blessing my food before I eat it.

"I'm just making sure I incorporate God through my whole day."

I don't care what I'm doing. I will excuse myself so I can go pray. People understand that, they don't take offense to that. I do my healings, I light my spiritual candles. I'm just trying to make sure that in a world that honestly feels like they don't want me to belong in an industry that is trying to break me, that God continues to keep me whole and my spirit feels intact. I just got to give all glory to God and ask him to remove. Please remove the negative people in my life who are not supposed to be there. I pray for my friends and things of that nature. I've got a therapist who I will see and I lay on the couch. At the end of the day, my mental health is more important than anything else.

How do you find balance with friendship?

Listen, I realized I did quantity over quality and then people's true colors started to come out. Now, more than anything, I reversed it. It is all about quality and not quantity, because people will burn you out. Especially being in Los Angeles. They pretend they are for you when the objective and the motive is to align... It's like spaghetti to the wall. They want to stand with whatever sticks. People want to stand in your light. Now I have a great tribe of women around me who believe in me, who uplift me, and guess what? We uplift each other, so I'm good in that space. God has helped me gravitate all these wonderful people around me that I can call friends, that I can call sisters, that are part of my tribe.

Do women find balance or do you have to settle?

When it comes to my life... I'm not settling. I'm not settling in a personal relationship, I'm not settling in my business, because I want more for myself. More than anything now, we are in a day and age where they respect [women of color] and they are listening to us. We are running the boardrooms. Forbes said we are listed as the fastest growing entrepreneurs. You think I'm not running around with my invisible cape and knowing what I'm capable of? Ain't nobody going to diminish my light. You will never diminish my life.

"Ain't nobody going to diminish my light. You will never diminish my life."

How do you find balance with love and relationships? Do you even have time to date?

I did a public relationship and I embarrassed myself. You know why? Because I wanted to pretend to have it all. And that was my fault because I wanted girls to know you could have a career and a man, and you can do this and you can support him, and you can do everything else. I knew he wasn't right for me but I cared more about what social media thought because I wanted people to be like, "Oh, perfection," and this and that. That's where I failed myself and I failed the audience and the people who believe in me because that relationship was a sham and a lie. Now, more than anything, I am dating. I'm in a great place. I have people who appreciate me, who understand me, and who want the best for me. It's me and us. It's not me, us, and social media.

How do you find balance between your sanity and haters?

People will diminish your light before you even get to turn it on. No sir, no sir. I pay my light bill on time every month. You will not have me in the dark, you will not dim nothing over here unless it's some dim sum and we eating. Nothing over here will be dim. Nothing. I walk in purpose and I walk in light. I'm not dimming down nothing.

How do you find balance in your life with exercise, health, eating?

I have an incredible chef who helps me stay on my diet. My trainer. He is like everything. His name is James Banks and James will be like like, "Karen, let's get it together. Let's get you where you need to be." From training and everything to train, [if] you want change, James is it.

When you are going through a bout of uncertainty, when you're feeling stuck, when you're hitting obstacles and whatever else, how do you handle it?

Oh, I'm got my female tribe. I talk to God, I pray to Him on it to give me clarity. I write it down. I write my thoughts down just to make sure I'm not missing anything. Then, I have my tribe of women that I talk to to help guide and understand me. Those are my three things to provide that balance and to make sure that I'm making the right things. I never want to make a decision out of a heated argument or just in the moment.

What does success mean to you ?

Success to me is living in purpose. This society and this world when it comes to people of color, the race was not set up for us to win. Not being afraid of failure, not letting it hinder or dictate where you see yourself. That is success. I don't put a monetary value on it because when you're chasing your purpose and you're chasing your goals, that comes with it.

"Success to me is living in my purpose."

Success is looking my momma in the eyes and knowing I got her a house, you know what I mean? Success is knowing that I'm able to create opportunities for the people around me. Waking up happy knowing I'm living the life that I chose for myself.

For more of Karen, follow her on Instagram. Also be sure to check out some of the other amazing ladies we've featured in our Finding Balance series by clicking here.

Last year, Meagan Good experienced two major transformations in her life. She returned to the small screen starring in the Amazon Prime series Harlem, which has been renewed for a second season and she announced her divorce from her longtime partner DeVon Franklin.

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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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