My Strength Is Not Solely Measured by My Struggle or Ability to Save Everyone
As much as I love being called a “strong Black woman,” it also makes me cringe because so much of our strength is defined by the struggles and hardships we face rather than how we find healing and enjoying our daily state of being.
The compliment can also cause severe anxiety and trigger the Superwoman Syndrome. According to Cheryl L. Woods-Giscombé, PhD, and her research, Superwoman Syndrome was born when Black women started denouncing society’s negative characterizations of Black women, such as “Jezebel” and “Welfare Queen,” in efforts to highlight the traits that go unnoticed. She cites gender oppression, racism, and disenfranchisement as the reason why Black women had to take on all the roles such as being providers, nurturers, and breadwinners for their families.
Having always heard of Superwoman Syndrome but never knowing the true meaning, I was not surprised once I finally understood the roots. This syndrome came from Black women doing everything in their power to prove themselves to society, shed light on their magic, and do everything for everybody. We work so hard to maintain this strong image that we can end up losing ourselves and becoming disconnected.
Also, do not forget about the people, institutions, and groups that constantly look to Black women to fix their messes and be the voice of reason. It gets tiring having to put the whole team on our back time and time again, especially when we are not shown verbal or monetary appreciations that others receive for doing only half the work that we do.
The constant pressure of trying to hold it all together, do it all at once, and keep it going nonstop can make even the sweetest strength compliment feel like a looming reminder that there is no time to rest or catch your breath.
And after the year 2020, you can imagine how many Black women were praised for their strength after enduring unthinkable amounts of loss — from losing family members to the virus and as mothers mourning the loss of their children to police brutality.
That’s why I chose to redefine my strength. The source of my strength no longer comes from the pain and trauma that I’ve carried and sometimes still grapple with. My strength comes from finding moments to let my hair down despite the chaos around me and the anxiety in my head.
I finally started therapy in December 2020 after putting it off for so long. I had convinced myself that I was far too busy being a student, working part-time, and doing the million other things on my plate to carve out time to take care of the most important person, myself. I logged onto therapyforblackgirls.com, found a therapist. I affirmed my strength after going through a few sessions and putting my healing first.
And sometimes I don’t want to do anything at all. There are times when being productive, getting dressed, and being social is just too much so instead I chose alone time to reconnect and decompress. That’s strength, too. I am strong in that moment because I am aware of my needs and have devoted time to myself.
Black woman strength is finding time to laugh and play in the midst of it all. Two days before Valentine’s Day, my friends and I ventured to a sushi spot on H Street in D.C. and stuffed ourselves silly with spicy tuna rolls and mojitos. Having been awhile since the whole gang assembled in person, we did our check-ins and vented about whatever was on our mind. We spoke words of encouragement, offered advice, discussed the latest in pop culture, and politics and just enjoyed each other’s company. We ended our night by a car ride sing-along to Jazmine Sullivan’s latest project, “Heaux Tales,” which I highly recommend listening to if you have not already. As a Black woman, being surrounded by village of Black women who can uplift you and help you forget about the negativity for a few hours is an ode to the our strength and ability to find joy, even in a whole panoramic.
Our strength can be defined by so many other things than just the bad stuff. Strength is starting that business venture or creative idea you’ve been sitting on for a moment. It is beginning your fitness and healthy lifestyle journey. It is advocating for yourself in the workplace and asking for that well-deserved raise. Don’t get me wrong, Black women are incredibly strong for waking up each day in America and getting stuff done, regardless of the critics, racism, trauma, and grief. Yet, our strength also comes from going to therapy, sticking to our ab workouts, teaching ourselves how to do small box braids, to our butt, and letting go of the weight of the world.
Our strength can be measured by simply existing and being unapologetically ourselves. Let’s abandon the thinking that our strength solely comes from pain, heartache, and struggle. Black women’s strength comes from all parts of our being, not just when we put on a cape to save everyone and everything around us.