We all have heard the terms "Black girl magic" and "self-care" thrown around a lot over the past few years, and they seem to do this very confusing dance that a trauma-bonded couple might enjoy. What self-care means can depend on the person, their socioeconomic status, their lifestyle, their culture, and their career. And, of course, Black girl magic seems to apply to any woman of color who is wearing that same superwoman cape Karen White very beautifully lamented about in the '80s.
And for many women, self-care is something that has to fold into their desires to hold their households, spouses, and families down or pursue the life of their dreams. If you work hard, achieve, and gain recognition—well, there's the "magic"—then you just throw in a few bubble baths, mani-pedi appointments, and European vacays in there for the self-care checklist, so you don't "burn out."
You might even go a bit deeper into therapy, diet and exercise transformations, 24-7 leisure living, or religious epiphanies. Go off, sis.
Well, I want to give an honor and shout out to the pro athletes who have recently shown many of us a very different version of self-care. Though their actions aren't new to celebrities and high-earning everyday professionals, they've shined a renewed light on what truly matters when one thinks about preserving what's important in the grand scheme of things. The concept certainly takes a whole different turn once sports records, millions of dollars, career credibility, and people's livelihoods are at stake.
I know I might hurt a few feelings with this one, but I'm going to go there: Their latest exercises in self-care on the part of our amazing athletic sisters puts the term "Black girl magic" on its heels and sparks a question of identifying what "strong" can look like that many of us don't want to face.
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Self-care takes a different spin when you think about the power of shaking off the mystical label given to Black women who are simply being excellent, gifted human beings (and should not be solely defined by race or skin tone when talking about our amazing-ness).
This version allows us to throw that stereotypical, overused, superwoman cape to the side, and really start to look at what being the best version of ourselves requires—no matter what phase of life we might be in.
Take pro gymnast Simone Biles, who was all set to light the Tokyo Olympic games on fire when she abruptly chose to sit this year's festivities out. She already holds records in her sport and is known as a young legend at 24, with more than 30 Olympic and world medals. She faced harsh criticism for her decision and was accused of letting down her team, but she stood her ground, telling reporters:
"I just felt like it would be a little bit better to take a back seat, work on my mindfulness."
She's also decided to focus more on mental health advocacy. For one of the few Black women on her level in a sport that's majority-white, that had to have been a difficult decision, and even beyond the racial aspect, there's this sense that athletes should be able to push through both physical and mental challenges to get the job done.
Just take a look at this story about Serena Williams' Australian Open win while pregnant or this one about a past Venus Williams win at the U.S. Open or this whole list of athletes that have performed—and triumphed—through painful injuries. (My own father played basketball and once completed a whole game with a torn ankle. By the time he got home, his whole leg looked like an elephant's. He shrugged it off, wrapped it, iced it, and was back playing a few days later.)
Sound familiar? As Black women, we're often expected to just bare the brunt of pain or hardship in order to "push through" or reach a certain goal, and even the progressive among us (i.e. me) who tell ourselves that we will not be defined by the echoing voices of our grandmas, aunties, or moms—those voices don't allow for "giving up" or "letting people down"—we still push ourselves to the limit almost by default.
There's a trigger there that says, "Nah, I can't just walk away. I have bills to pay," or "Taking a break is weak. I can do more. That's what it takes to be among the best. I must ride this wave until the wheels fall off and reach success by any means."
And to the sis shaking your head, like, "Nah, that ain't me," just think about that last time you didn't say no to an opportunity because you didn't want to miss out, when that Twitter post, IG photo, or Facebook message didn't trigger a response of wanting to do something that would push a boundary, when you couldn't say "I'm busy" to that fantasy bae, or you had to get that 10th toy for your kids that you really couldn't afford. Yea, you, too. You are us, too.
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When Naomi Osaka, the world's second-ranked tennis player, withdrew from the French Open this year to focus on her mental health, she faced thousands of dollars in fines for not completing a press conference in her effort to preserve her sanity. She was publicly shamed and met with doubt, as critics turned on her stating that she was simply making excuses.
It's all "Black girl magic" until you need a day off or a break. Being great at what you do in your career doesn't allow for a sick day or even a change of course, and if you're this super-powered character--as many high-achieving Black women have been pegged to be—you can't really be human.
This, to me, is dangerously similar to those archaic, racist theories about the performance and endurance abilities of African slaves and how they had a "higher tolerance for heat," an built-in "immunity to certain diseases" and "were impervious to pain."
And here comes that trauma-bonding two-step between self-care and Black girl magic yet again. Who needs much self-care when you're a durable, high-functioning, well-oiled, enchanted supernatural creature who's just expected to thrive and survive?
Simone Biles, Naomi Osaka, Serena and Venus Williams, shot-put Olympian Raven Saunders, WNBA stars Maya Moore, Renee Montgomery, and Chamique Holdsclaw—these are just a few of our athletic Black queens who are showing us that self-care means taking the time to step away and advocate for the foundational parts of life that enrich all that so-called "magic." Their pause-for-the-cause moments haven't diminished their accomplishments, greatness, or legacies—they've enhanced them.
Our mental and physical health and safety anchor us and allow us to be able to be our full selves, whether that means winning trophies, breaking records, making big bucks, or not. And there's no amount of superhuman stereotyping that can deny that.
These women prove that self-care can indeed mean walking away from high stakes and taking a few steps back to address and develop elements of our lives and selves that lend to balance. As Black women, we've got to be inspired by these athletes to redefine what self-care really means for our lives beyond a surface-level, fly-by-night buzz word.
When we lay the incredibly draining pressure of holding "magic" in our bosoms and embrace the vulnerability of our humanity in a way that honors the fullness and balance of who we are and what we're called to accomplish, we can truly reach our God-given potential.
Featured image Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images
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September is National Self-Care Awareness Month, so for my girlies who have been putting off self-care, here’s your opportunity to start. Self-care means exactly what it says: taking care of self. Why is it important? Well, many of us have busy lives that may include careers, family, and activities that consume us daily. Taking some time for self regularly can help prevent depression, stress, anxiety, and burnout.
In February 2023, Future Forum polled 10,243 people in six countries, including the U.S., and 40% said they are experiencing burnout, and 46% of that number are women. According to CNBC, many factors contributing to burnout include companies demanding employees return to the office, hiring freezes, and layoffs.
Psychologist Debbie Sorensen explained to CNBC why women and millennials are experiencing burnout in higher numbers. “We haven’t had time to recover from the trauma of what we’ve been through the last few years,” she said. “Women and young people, in particular, are putting an immense amount of pressure on themselves to keep going, keep working, no matter the cost.”
As women, particularly Black women, we tend to carry the weight of the world on our shoulders. Other people's problems become our problems, and then we are expected to show up to work and show up for our family and friends with a smile on our faces. Whew, chile! What if we are having a bad day? How are we supposed to cope if we have to be everything to everyone? Well, here’s your sign to make time for yourself, especially on the days when you are feeling down.
Below is a list of self-care ideas for when you are having a bad day.
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Spend time in nature
Sometimes something as simple as surrounding yourself with trees, grass, and/ or water can improve your mood exponentially. The American Psychological Association’s (APA) research shows that spending time in nature can improve attention, lower stress, and reduce the risk of psychiatric disorders.
Got to a Spa
There’s nothing like going to a spa. You can relax in a sauna, get a massage, and just be. According to research, massages help release serotonin and dopamine, which are often referred to as “feel good” hormones, that will instantly perk you up and have you going about your day with a smile on your face.
When was the last time you did arts and crafts? Drawing a picture, painting, or even coloring can help you discover your inner child, thus boosting your mood. Purchase an adult coloring book, or go to a paint-and-sip class by yourself, or you can make it a group activity and bring your besties.
Look your best
The old saying, “When you look good, you feel good,” didn’t just come out of thin air. There’s some truth to it. The Kentucky Counseling Center shared a link between self-care and feeling good. “Self-care regimens are extremely important not just to stabilize your day but to make you feel great. Simple things like getting a facial, taking care of your hair done, or exercising can make you confident because when you look good, you also feel good,” according to its website.
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There’s a reason why it is suggested that you breathe when you begin feeling overwhelmed and stressed out. Breathing brings oxygen back into your body, and WebMD reports that it can decrease the fight or flight response that happens when you are stressed.
Spend time with babies
I don’t know about you, but nothing makes me smile quicker than a baby, especially a smiling baby. If you’re the same way, then spending time with a baby or babies may help put you in a better mood, too.
Last but certainly not least, do nothing. There’s nothing like laying in your bed and not being forced to do anything. Stay in this moment and use this time to relax and replenish your energy.
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