The Women With The Audacity To Make Love Of Self Their Priority

"I want to be with me."


They told us we were never meant to be alone. As our breasts sprouted and our hips spread, we were told someone would eventually arrive to protect all of our vulnerable pieces.

We were encouraged to go off and get the career and the degrees, but voices chased us along the way reminding us we would never be complete without marriage or motherhood. And while success in those areas may resonate with some women, no one ever presented us with options for what a happy life could look like if those paths didn't pan out—until now. We are in the midst of a feminine revolution where long held beliefs surrounding singlehood are being reconstructed in the hands of women who dare to dream differently.

"I want to be with me," Brittaney Trent, 29 year-old producer, writer and beauty maven told xoNecole.

Courtesy of Brittaney Trent

Standing at 5'9 inches, the statuesque fashionista is not afraid to do the next chapter of her life alone.

"I'm not ready to be in a relationship right now, as crazy as it feels and sounds. I just feel like there's still more I need to do for me, and I haven't had a chance to do that yet."

It's been five months since Brittaney's devastating split from her first love. While describing the relationship as the "best one she's ever had," in retrospect, she acknowledges they did not agree on the trajectory of their future.

"The crazy thing is, everyone who knew us was shocked. We were so close. I felt blind sighted, to be honest. Because it was like, 'Wait, you feel like we want different things out of life so it's just better to end this now than later?' What the hell? But he's right. It all worked out. We just wanted long-term different things."

In the space since the breakup, Brittaney has made her needs, wants and desires take precedence over everything else.

"Relationships were my priority for the past year, and I feel like I lost myself. Also, because I wasn't really that happy in my career at the time, he was the only thing making me happy. Looking back at this girl, I don't even know who she was. I'm at this vital age where I need to figure out what's best for me."

While doing things for herself (which includes quiet time and a Netflix binge sesh), Brittaney also centers her creative work in service to others. As a journalist, she's interviewed the biggest sports stars from Serena Williams to Simone Biles, and she recently took her storytelling talents to the beauty brand side. As a skincare aficionado, the Atlanta native highlights skincare tips with her "Fresh Face Fridays" franchise and prides herself on recommending healing products to her followers.

"I get fulfillment out of helping people feel confident with their skin, because your skin is a huge deal. And if you have bad acne and you don't feel confident about it, there are products that can help."

Now Brittaney's challenge is learning to support her own needs just as much as she supports others.

"I'm re-loving myself. At this moment, right now, I'm falling in love with myself and saying, 'What does Brittaney need?'"

Courtesy of Branché Foston

Asking what do I need is a rebellious act in and of itself, particularly as Black women who are expected to emotionally and physically mule for the rest of the world. The new age woman prioritizes self-realization, and Reiki Master, yoga teacher and herbal medicine practitioner, Branché Foston, is using this momentum to energetically (and physically) rub healing balm into the shared wounds of Black women in South LA.

"I love that I'm able to support people on their healing journeys while also reaching them in really broad and creative ways," the 30-year-old CEO of wellness brand, The Honey Block, told xoNecole.

Branché has what some would call, "executive presence." Her open, Virgo Sun/Leo Rising demeanor attracts seekers who are captivated by her light and wish to hold that same warm energy in their own lives.

"As a brown-skinned black woman, I love that they get to see themselves in me," Branché said.

"I love that I live in South Central--this is ours. It's not for thin blonde women or for black people who have three degrees and live in Venice. I have never felt so fulfilled as a person before, as a soul."

Actualizing self-love in a town as color struck as Los Angeles is a modern miracle. The superficiality that once plagued LA's reputation is now being overshadowed by the collective healing work being done in its communities. "The energy in our generation is finally on a tip of genuine collaboration," Branché said.

"I think that so much of the beginning of our 20s is a little bit capitalistic--everyone on their own. Now we are kind of in this place of, oh no, this is really about working together across whatever your passion points are."

For Branché, diving deep into her own work as a healer opened up multiple modalities to heal herself.

Courtesy of Branché Foston

"The fact that I look in the mirror now, and I'm like, 'You are so fine. And whoever you date is so blessed,' means so much to me. But it took me 30 years to get to that point. The more I felt aligned in my soul work, the more I was able to see the beauty of myself."

Doing spirit work doesn't automatically satiate the human desire for companionship, but what Branché learned are the tools to move through the lonely moments versus being paralyzed by them.

"Being alone is a gift, it doesn't mean we have to feel lonely."

"And what yoga has taught me is to be the observer. When feelings of loneliness do arise, how can I acknowledge and observe them without feeling identified to them?"

Her newly earned self-awareness comes with a deep respect for who and what is in her space.

"For me, the more I did my own work, the more I fell in love with it and the more I didn't want to settle with anything in my life. That kind of energy helps you reframe all the relationships in your life. My life isn't about getting married. My life is about my soul purpose. Marriage can be an extension of that, but it's not who I am."

The narrow narrative surrounding femininity and our perceived dependence on marriage to be content seeped into our collective consciousness where it either bloomed or rotted. It bloomed for the ones who got out early—some peers stumbled upon young, healthy connections, and other women willfully, or unknowingly, committed to a life of martyrdom in the name of love.

The rest of us marched into the late 20s, 30s and 40s, well-championed by best friends, colleagues, and families, but without a forever teammate to call "home". In the loud space of alone, many women opted to celebrate a "full life", while still being hungry.

Courtesy of Cortnee Kelly

But this appetite is not our own—it's one inherited through systems of patriarchy and misogyny that were too cowardice to see what choices women would make without being forced to make them around men. Now we are in a unique position to decide what we crave, and for many women, that space is in communions with themselves.

"Sitting outside on my deck watching the glory of nature and then meditating is my favorite self-care ritual," 34-year-old nurse practitioner Cortnee Kelly told xoNecole. "Actually anything where I'm in nature and able to witness God's glory, infinite power and grace. I'm just in awe. That's when I'm most at peace and grounded in nature. In those quiet moments I find myself saying, 'This is love.'"

As a compassionate medical professional in the cardiology field, Cortnee finds purpose in getting someone to smile or laugh in their weakest moments. She is the type of soul that will give her expert medical advice to patients while holding a prayer for their healing in her mind.

While she's worked diligently throughout her career to keep sick hearts healthy and beating, ironically, her biggest self-work would be in healing her own heart.

Cortnee recently ended an on-again, off-again connection that she described as "draining mentally and emotionally."

"There were a lot of things that I put up with that in retrospect [were] depleting me of me. I stayed for fear of starting over and possibly missing my chance for a family. But this relationship was no longer serving me."

Cortnee has found her voice again in the days since the break up, no longer silencing her wishes for the convenience of others.

"My journey this year is one of self-acceptance. I'm taking the approach of feeling the fear and doing it anyways. There was one instance recently where I spoke my truth even though my voice quivered, and I felt good because I honored myself. I found myself smiling about it later because it felt good to stand up for what is right for me."

Cortnee has found freedom in this newfound respect for herself. In a posture of surrender, Cortnee is now embracing the life that's unfolding before her, instead of contorting her path to fit others' expectations of her womanhood.

"I can't control anyone. I can't make someone be faithful, fall in love with me, marry me, and decide to have children with me. Life is unpredictable and ever-changing. I realized the only thing I can control is me and being the best version of me as possible. In fact it's a priority. And it takes work. But I'm worth it."

Featured image courtesy of Brittaney Trent

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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