The Black Female Body: A Figure in Motion, Never at Rest

  • An essay that explores the trichotomy of a Black woman's experience in America and the lack of space for restoration.
6 min read

Black bodies are the world’s playground. Full of color, music, song, dance, cheer, and laughter that delights the masses.

It is the happiest place on Earth; for where else could you find this much light steeped in so much darkness? Its mere existence requires a call to action by many. The experimentation and atrocities performed in the fascination of our form, speak louder than any sermon I could deliver to a congregation that shows up but doesn’t listen. My intention isn’t to be privileged with pity or entitled to empathy, but beg the question:

When does the Black body get some reprieve?

Our mental health is filed away for later, while some of us do all that we can to remain physically intact. Punishment is postponed ’til we finish the last dance, until they’ve borrowed the last braid, and we attempt to bounce away from brutality. We have put so much Magic into the world, that they placed the word “Black” in front to tarnish its meaning.

What I’ve learned is that you can’t educate, dissociate, decamp, or outrun the damage that naturally and inevitably occurs while existing in a Black body. You just have to take care.

There is so much work that goes into being a cohesive part of the complex patchwork of society, that goals and aspirations are whittled down to just… surviving. All of this transpires before we even reach the intersection of Black womanhood, a state of being governed by the contradictory feelings of strength and repression.

Our comfort is seen as secondary and we’re taught to soften our voices, relax our faces, and keep our hands in plain sight while browsing the beauty supply so the owner has an easier time following us. We block foreign, dirty fingers from hair and tolerate the marvel at scarf and bonnet routines. We turn a deaf ear to the intentional butchering of names and the denial of our softness. We stomach the refutation that we are multi-faceted and code switch for your comfort. We accept praise regarding our strength from the very people we are fighting, and are reminded to smile all the while.

This complex existence runs concurrently with the minutiae of every day living.

There are weeks when I feel like I’m nothing more than the sum of my worries and anxiety. It is easy to get lost in the shuffle of automatic payments, grocery lists, meetings, bosses, mental health, tending the flowers of friendship, and nurturing love. Navigating the waters of triple consciousness as a Black American woman creates a tired so deep that you forget what it’s like to exist without it and accept it as par for the course.

We forget how to breathe for the sole purpose of breathing. Every exhalation is used to educate, advocate, defend, solve, or soothe. It can be a relentless and exhausting world for the soul blessed to dwell inside a Black body. The combination of Black womanhood offers the world a free pass to borrow, underestimate, disrespect, discredit, and disregard – which can feel like someone stepping on your neck while telling the world that you aren’t trying to stand up.

I take every opportunity to remind myself, and everyone that looks like me, to rest.

My body has learned to say, “no” even when my mouth won’t. If I chose to ignore it, begging for a break it’ll manifest itself through late periods, chronic headaches, and random urges to cry; once on the StairMaster in the middle of a packed Los Angeles Planet Fitness.

We’ve got to learn to give ourselves a break even if the world won’t.

I wish that I could say I exercised to worship myself. Or that I meditated and journaled to nurture myself. That I cleaned or gardened to restore myself – but I don’t. I’ve tried more times than I can count to initiate change, deep within, by halfheartedly scratching at the surface. Sometimes I paint my nails, dig a face mask from underneath my cluttered bathroom sink, go outside, or listen to my ’99-2000’s playlist hoping that will be enough.

I’ve learned better and now know when I truly need to rest and restore I should do nothing.

I do nothing in the tub.

I do nothing in the chair.

I do nothing in the bed.

I do nothing everywhere.

Doing nothing is obviously easier said than done in a society that lives by the mantra “Time is money.”

I beg the universe, aka Human Resources, for time off only to fill every minute with CVS receipt length to-do lists. I’ve learned to forsake peace for productivity and convince myself that it is the responsible thing to do. I’ve tried meditation and was disappointed when I failed at being still, not realizing that just giving myself the space was enough.

There is a sexy narrative that even when we are bone-weary we must be on, creating, working, and constantly turning our lemons into lemonade. We are inundated with the message that we are never doing enough, even in our angst. Instead of just being, social media says we should be reading, posting, running, exploring, and thinking.

We are so burdened with the images and strict manifesto of what a woman looks like, talks like, smells like… that it takes years to untangle what is personality and what is performance. We present strength so well that they’ve decided to challenge us regarding our vulnerability. Our solidity is so daunting that society has attempted to deny us the luxury of being delicate. In the midst of this programming, we forget to nourish ourselves. We forget that our skin absorbs more light and that our hair grows up.

We forget that we come from women who have shouted, pushed, whispered, cajoled and forced us into the positions that we occupy today and we need to celebrate them.

I have to remind myself that it’s okay if sometimes I march and sometimes I sit.

I’ve learned that the most restorative thing I can do for me is to leave me alone and I’m trying to teach myself to treat my body like the home that it is. Why should I give outsiders the power to destroy the place that I have built? The societal forces and pressures are trying to erase what makes us individuals, smooth all of our edges, and we often try our hardest to help them.

It took me two decades and six years to realize how silly that was. It felt like tending to your own personal garden and ripping up the flowers because they weren’t somebody else’s favorite color. The minute I stopped fighting all of the different things that made up me, I was able to relax. I gave myself a break when nobody else would.

We can’t be too hard on ourselves and we must remember that we’re just a bunch of little girls that grew up. Our monsters have changed but we still get scared.

“For the culture” has evolved from a slogan to a mantra that I chant to protect myself, everyone, and everything like me because I know that no one else will.

Our existence isn’t special because we’re marginalized, but because we flourish in spite of it.

 

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