If you’re reading this, it’s too late. Or it might be.
Though I hate to be as melodramatic as Drake in naming his album, this topic certainly warrants the exaggerated introduction. If you are a black woman in the U.S., at the point that you might start genuinely considering the benefits of self-care and taking the time to read an article like this, you have probably endured more to harm your health than any other demographic of people in this country. And as resilient as black women are, we are not superheroes. Our health is of the utmost importance, especially considering that we often ensure the health of the people in our households as well. Considering this, black women and girls must take intentional, uniquely positioned steps toward self-care in ways that others may not need.
Research continues to show that black women face health disparities in morbidity rates associated with heart disease, cancer, pre-term births, and other illnesses. What research is also beginning to notice is that these worse off health outcomes can no longer be altogether attributed to different behavior choices or to genetics. Particularly in a study of infant mortality, similarly positioned black women seemed to have worse outcomes than their Hispanic and White counterparts and, while science had not been able to provide a total answer for such disparities, recent research suggests that black women endure greater threats to their health because of stress associated with racism.
This new theory, coined “weathering”, is the idea that black women become more susceptible to health challenges as they are confronted with persistent stress caused by social and environmental circumstances, such as discrimination in housing, education, and job attainment. That stress, which begins at an early age, “weathers” or ages a person so that a black woman in her 20’s faces greater difficulties in her pregnancy than a black girl in her teens, for instance.
Contrary to the opening line it is, indeed, too much of an exaggeration to indicate that it is too late for anyone reading this to be healthy. However, black women must care for themselves differently and earlier than others. Black women and girls should be aware of the pressures that affect our health, the stressors that show up physically in our bodies, and the options we have for addressing them. Self-care becomes something altogether different when one is equipped with the facts about health disparities and the ways chronic stress – in response to discrimination – presents itself.
Every woman will respond to her environment and to stress differently but bubble baths and candles may not be enough for your self-care regime. More intense work like seeing a therapist and utilizing health care services may need to be standard practice for every woman who has the luxury of accessing these services. For those who do not have access, practices such as meditation or prayer, daily exercise, and finding affinity groups with like-minded people can be key to confronting the experiences that age our bodies. Nothing is out of reach for black women when we’re equipped with proper knowledge and tools to help us succeed. Optimal health can be within our reach.
Mariah Williams is an advocate for social justice and cares deeply about equitable policies that address the underlying causes of racial and ethnic disparities in health and economic status. She showcases her poetry and other musings on her blog, outofmymouth.com.