Culture


Love is big business and a powerful emotion. This Valentine’s Day, Americans will spend more than $19 million to celebrate their love for romantic partners, family, friends, and even pets. Recent psychological research shows romantic love improves thinking, enhances focus, and improves physical health.

If romantic love is like a vitamin boost for your well-being, then self-love is like eating vegetables, drinking water, and getting plenty of sleep—it provides a stable emotional center, allowing us to suffer less and thrive more. Reducing self-criticism, increasing self-acceptance, and treating the self with compassionate kindness leads to better decision-making, greater resiliency, lower stress, reduced anxiety, and improved health.

Crucial as it is, compassion for the self can be painfully difficult to achieve. This is especially true for black women. Despite the growing visibility of African American women in media, popular culture, and public life, black women are still more likely to live with stigmatized identities. Black women are more likely to live in poverty, to be unmarried as adults, to parent children alone, to carry more weight than is deemed socially acceptable and to have less formal education than their counterparts. Even black women whose lives are not marked by these circumstances are still aware of the damaging racial and gender stereotypes. Black women are more likely to report serious psychological distress, including feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and worthlessness. And they’re less likely to receive adequate treatment.

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Cultivating deep, honest, and sustaining self-love can be a difficult journey. A guide to model self-love can help. One of my self-love role models is Marley Dias, the 13-year-old social activist behind #1000BlackGirlBooks, an international movement to collect and donate children’s books that feature black girls as the lead character. Marley is also author of the newly released New York Times bestseller Marley Dias Gets It Done: And So Can You! In January, she and I lead a group of black girls—young women and their adult advocates—in a conversation about the Black Girl State of the Union. Marley posed a powerful question: “What do you most love about being a black girl or woman?”

The responses to Marley’s question articulate a joyful, compassionate, loving embrace of the journey through black womanhood. They are a Valentine of self-love for black girls.

Clockwise from top left: Jerrika Hinton, Marley Dias, Brittney Cooper, Naa’ilah Frazier, Monique Dorsainvil, Vivian Anderson

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“What I love most about being a black girl is my hair. I know this many seem superficial to some, but my hair is something that is unique to me and my culture. I can create beautiful styles and shapes that are original to me. Ever since I was little, I’ve kept my hair in an Afro, which made me stand out. To many other kids my hair was viewed as weird or messy, but to me it was my stamp on the world.” —Marley Dias

“What I love most about being a black woman is knowing the genius, beauty and courage that flows through my blood.” —Vivian Anderson, activist and executive director and founder of EveryBlackGirl, Inc.

“What I love most about being a black girl is when my family calls me ‘Cocoa Puffs.’ They call me that because I am brown like chocolate and sweet too.” —Anari Davis, a 10-year-old in New York

“What I love most about being a black girl is when folks come for one of us, we will send up the black girl bat signal and show up for each other. There is something spectacularly black girl about the way we have one another’s backs.” —Brittney Cooper, Rutgers professor and author of Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower

“My favorite part about being a black woman are the points of intersection—the place where my queerness meets my blackness, where my blackness meets my gender identity and expression. While some may read these identities as contradictions, on the contrary— they inform how I think, who I am, and what I set out in the world to do.” —Monique Dorsainvil, progressive outreach at Facebook

“What I love about being a black girl is that we are very strong women. We can show a wide range of emotion, but no matter what, we are still strong. And of course I love our hair, it’s so versatile!” —Naa’ilah Frazier, a high school senior in Brooklyn and a youth organizer with Girls for Gender Equity

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“What I love most about being a black woman is skin elasticity. And immediate camaraderie with the other black women.” —Jerrika Hinton, Grey’s Anatomy actress and star of the upcoming HBO drama Here and Now

Clockwise from top left: Alicia Garza, Christina M Greer, Erica Jordan, Marsai Martin, Monique Morris, Gabby Larochelle

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“What I love about being a black woman? I love the sway of our hips. I love our laughs and the way we love on each other. I love the way we hold down our families of all types. I love everything we create that moves the world forward. I love how we don’t take any nonsense. I love how vulnerable we are. And I love that when we come together we change the world.” —Alicia Garza, activist, writer and co-founder of #BlackLivesMatter

“What I love most about being a black girl is is growing into my own strength and seeing so many of my sisters do the same in this moment in time. Globally, we are a double majority as women and people of color. We occupy a unique space in this world as symbols of perseverance, strength, and joy. We are also recognizing we must practice self and squad care in order to maintain our resilience and brilliance. It is becoming apparent that the world needs to trust black women. Hopefully due respect will follow.” —Christina M Greer, professor at Fordham University and host of The Aftermath with Christina Greer on ozy.com

“I love the way we communicate with each other. Black women are the best at giving compliments. Everyone wants to steal our lingo because black women are just naturally cool. All we have to do to compliment someone is say ‘okay’ and then the noun that we admire: “OKAY hair. OKAY dress. OKAY nails.” It’s incredible. We’re also so funny. Our skin is impeccable. I just love us.” —Erica Jordan, junior at Wake Forest University and 2016-2017 Elle.com Scholar

DeAsia Sutgrey, Savannah West, Olivia Sedgwick, Sierra Williams, Seleiny Novas, Sherri Williams, Teresa Younger

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“What I love most about being a black girl is the spectrum of styles, colors, and inspiration that comes from our culture. We uplift each other, we strive to see each other flourish academically and outside of the classroom, within the workplace and within the media. We also have this history of being great within everything we do, from hair to politics to education to music to food to style. We are just unapologetically great! I love it all.” —Gabby Larochelle, college student and writer with Galore Magazine

“I love everything about being a black girl, but if I had to name a favorite thing, it would be my hair. It’s big, wild, magical, can do all sorts of things, and has a mind of its own.” —Marsai Martin, star of Black-ish

“What I love most about being a black woman is the rhythm. Across the globe, we walk, talk and breathe with an energy that disrupts the status quo. We get it from our mothers, and our mothers’ mothers’ mothers. It’s an injection of rigor that I really enjoy. And that’s why I work hard to preserve it.” —Monique Morris, author of Pushout: the Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools

“What I love most about being a black girl are my big eyes. They allow me to see the ongoing struggles in the world, and help change them!” —Seleiny Novas, a 10-year-old in New York

“What I love most about being a black girl is having unique experiences that create this strong bond with other black girls around the world. The experiences that were meant to disrupt our success are the same things that unite us and make us a force to be reckoned with. To me, that is the beauty of being a black girl.” —DeAsia Sutgrey, blogger, student journalist and member of the 2018 BLACK ON CAMPUS cohort

“What I love most about being a black woman is the way that we love. It is an all-consuming love that is deep and unconditional. Though we aren’t immune from being hurt and experiencing pain when that love is not reciprocated, we aren’t afraid to try again. It may take some time, but we always strive to give that same deep and unconditional love again. Our love is persistent, enduring, and revolutionary; it drives all that we are and do, which is why I feel it’s the best part of us.” —Olivia Sedgwick, law student at Howard University

“What I love most about being a black girl is being equipped with the confidence that enables me to thrive and enjoy life, while being naturally and unapologetically myself, in a world that suggests I should be anything but.” —Savannah West, Clark Atlanta University senior and member of the 2018 BLACK ON CAMPUS cohort

“I love my skin. I am a dark girl. Because there is such a negative connotation with darker skin, it’s powerful to truly embrace yourself and have others see that you love yourself and are beautiful. It makes me happy to be black and to be darker, too. And I feel proud to be part of the legacy of strong women who paved the way. I love knowing there were women who looked like me, and cared about the same issues I do who lead the way.” —Sierra Williams, a high school senior in Brooklyn and youth organizer with Girls for Gender Equity

“My favorite part of being a black woman is being an extension of my grandmothers Ida Bea and Celestine Marie. These black women from the Deep South came of age during the Jim Crow era and moved to Michigan during the Great Migration seeking safety and success. Societal constraints of gender, race, class and time didn’t allow Grandmama and Grandmaw to obtain the education they desired and deserved but they are among the smartest women I’ve ever known. From the mother wit and wisdom they possessed to the sanctified and stylish sophistication they balanced—they were black girl magic before it had a name. Both of them sprinkled that magic all over me.” —Sherri Williams, American University professor

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“I love my skin tone and my eyes and how they blend together perfectly. And most of all, I love standing beside [other black women].” —Teresa Younger, resident and CEO of the Ms. Foundation for Women



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