Practicing self-love as a black woman

Photography: J.P. Hanney

I wouldn’t have to teach  my people to love themselves if they weren’t being taught to hate themselves first.” -Unknown

Back to the South

I recently traveled home to visit my family in Birmingham, Alabama. I’ve always been aware of Birmingham’s role in the deeply-rooted history of racism in America. Still, returning to the City this time around felt different. While home, I made a point to re-visit the infamous 16th Street Baptist Church, where four innocent Black girls suffered and died in one of the most gruesome terrorist attacks in our nation’s history. My grief was palpable during this trip. But, at the same time, I felt so grateful for the resilience of my ancestors. I reflected on the messaging I was taught growing up in today’s society and how I’m intentionally practicing self-love as a black woman during this season.

black woman
Handbag: “The Ashley Bag” by Kisa Kisa Fashion here

Growing up Black In America

Standards of beauty

America teaches little Black girls fear, isolation, and subjugation at any early age.  I remember being the only little Black girl in my dance class. I remember an extended family member scrubbing my knees with Ajax (a chemical cleaning agent) so they wouldn’t be “black.” If I had a dollar for every time I was called “pretty for a Black girl,” I could’ve retired by 20. And can you imagine being told not to play under the sun for too long because you would get “too dark”? I can. Believe it or not, this was my experience. And I could imagine this experience resonates with others as well.

Every aspect of my physical appearance presented a problem that needed to be managed.  My natural hair was considered “nappy” so my hair was permed with chemicals until it was straightened to conform with European standards of beauty also known as “presentable” and “nice.” I remember the persistence of my curves, and how I secretly wanted to be skinny or light skinned with “good hair”, which at a time was the standard of beauty in America. 

black woman

First, only, and different

I also remember working ten times harder than my white classmates in my Advanced Placement classes at an International Baccalaureate School. I was 1 of 5 Black students in my senior class (and experienced everything that comes with being “first, only, and different” in high school). Like many Black kids who grew up in the South, I still remember the first time I was called a “nigger.”  I was 17 years old when a random white man screamed the ugliest of slurs at me from the comfort of his red truck. This was my reality. This was my childhood. This was my experience growing up Black in America.

black fashion

Learning and unlearning

Being taught that I wasn’t pretty, that I would never measure up, and that I wasn’t good enough simply because of the color my skin has weighed heavily on me. I could change my hair, speech, mannerisms, clothes, education (e.g., I obtained two degrees from an elite undergraduate institution and multiple certifications as a health-care professional). But, at the end of the day, I was still a Black girl to society. All of my “excellence” and attempts to adapt to mainstream culture didn’t matter. And honestly, I shouldn’t have needed to earn the respect I deserve as a human simply because I am Black. I quickly learned that love and empathy for others is what humanity is missing.

black woman

Shifting the narrative

Black is beautiful

Thankfully, I am able to view my place in the world differently as an adult. I remain proud of who I am in majority spaces because it gives me another chance to shine my light. I had to learn, however, to practice self-love and be proud of myself for who I am at my core. I embrace my scars, dark knees, and elbows as a story to tell others. I am pretty, period (not just “for a Black girl”). As a matter of fact, I am beautiful. When I go outside, I live for the way tanning activates my melanin and makes my skin literally glow in the sun.

black is beautiful

Natural hair, not “nappy” hair

I’ve been living the natural hair life for 10 years now, and I rock my coils and curls with pride. My hair is a tribute to my fullest self; it allows me to celebrate my individuality and diversity. I don’t believe in “nappy” hair. Rather than get caught up in binaries around “good” and “bad” hair, I have learned to love my texture and I give it what it needs to flourish and thrive. I work hard because I have a standard of excellence within myself and not because I have anything to prove because of the color of my skin. And, most importantly, I do not internalize racial slurs because I know I am a Black queen. Shifting the narrative is critical when you are persistent about self-love. P.S., I’ve linked a list of powerful quotes from Black women on Self-love here.

Outfit details:
Top: Bar III (sold out); similar here and here
Harem Pants: local shop in Ghana; similar here and here
Shoes: “Iriza” pump by Christian Louboutin here
Jewelry: local shop in Ghana

Black pride as a form of self-love

Black pride is a lifestyle that encourages, supports, and promotes the well-being, prosperity, and economic growth of Black people around the world. It is a set of actions, including supporting black-owned businesses, bringing attention to issues that impact the Black community, nurturing and protecting Black youth, and encouraging Black people to take pride in our history and legacies.  In a previous post found here, I provided a list of ways to support and lift women higher, but I do believe these same principles apply to uplifting the black community too.

Black pride dismantles the hate and oppression embedded in the Anti-Black messaging I grew up with. By changing my internal narrative, Black Pride has shown me how to love myself in ways I never believed were possible as a little Black girl raised in the Deep South. There is so much beauty in being Black. It honestly makes me emotional when I think about people who have worked so hard to make Black folks believe otherwise. Pro-Black isn’t anti-white. Anyone who would deny Black folks the opportunity to celebrate and uplift our communities after centuries of oppression is part of the problem. All lives cannot matter until black lives do. 

black woman model

Black and I’m Proud

The resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement has given us all an opportunity to revisit the conversation around Black lives and what it means to be Black in America. The movement has many layers and activism can mean a lot of things.  As for me, I commit to engaging in uncomfortable conversations with my digital community, celebrating Black culture and spreading joy, supporting black-owned businesses, and utilizing my platform to amplify Black voices and movement work. Black people can and should control our own narratives while using the gift of our collective experiences to uplift our communities and one another.

The only way we can begin to heal from so many wounds is to be able to love ourselves first. Pro-Blackness is a practice of self-love.  Practicing self-love as a black woman fuels our resistance against systems of oppression. It teaches us to imagine and demand better ways of being for ourselves and our descendents. Only through unapologetic self-love and collective healing, we can walk in our truest selves, reclaim our humanity, and change the world. This is how I am choosing to practice self-love as a black woman in this season.

black power

I hope this post inspires someone (no matter what color you are) to embrace who you are no matter what society says and no matter what’s going on around you. Dear human, remember this: You are fearfully and wonderfully made in God’s sight. You’re here on purpose and your very existence is necessary. It’s important for us to know who we are and to acknowledge our value as human beings.

How can you practice self-love and embrace the skin you’re in this week? I challenge you to encourage someone, to read about the current climate in today’s society, and create safe spaces to have more conversations like this. More importantly, let’s fight for justice for Breonna Taylor, a woman who was killed because of the color of her skin by taking action in some way here. Until next time, remember that self-love is the best love!

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EmpowerHER: 7 Ways to Support and Lift Women Higher

“People who are truly strong lift others up. People who are truly powerful bring others together.”

Michelle Obama

March was Women’s History Month—a time to honor women in history, inform the present and inspire future generations. While March marked the national celebration of women, I believe it is our job as women to empower, uplift, encourage, motivate and support women higher every day. We must commit to serving each other in order to fulfill our purpose and make this world a better place. Your sister needs you and below are 7 ways you can support and lift your sister higher:


Pictured with Houston style blogger: @aroundthewaygyrl
Photographer: @sweenshots

1. Show up for her, physically and emotionally

Your sister needs to know that you are there for her and that you care for her. Sometimes the only person that can relate to you is your sister because she has been through what you are going through and/or understands you. She needs your support and to know that you have her back no matter what. Ask her if you can help her with something or be of service to her in any way. Whether it’s stopping by her house to check on her, or showing up at her event, let her know that you care! If she is going through a rough patch, lend a shoulder for her to lean, pray for her or send her words of encouragement. Lastly, celebrate her accomplishments and victories along with her! She may need the reinforcement and reassurance to keep going.

2. Collaborate, don’t compete

This one is simple. We are a movement by ourselves, but we are a force when we’re together! There’s power in numbers and we can work wonders if we collaborate and build together. The goal should be to build each other up instead of tearing each other down or competing against one another. Let go of the selfish “mine, mine, mine” mentality. There is enough out here for all of us to eat. We can build so much more together than we ever will apart.

3. Create a safe space for women to use their voice

Let’s open up! We need to create more safe spaces for women to come together and openly share their experiences, struggles and triumphs. Likely your sister is going through the same thing you are and she needs your support too. And if she hasn’t, it is highly likely that your story will inspire you in some way or shed some wisdom on you or give hope. It’s our stories that give us access and connection to each other.It’s uplifting and encouraging when you know you are not alone in your journey and the only way we know that is by sharing our stories with one another. Let’s continue having conferences, brunches, dinners, talks, girl’s night, interviews and other spaces for women to thrive.

4. Speak to who she is at her core

Society tells us to focus more on external beauty rather than who we are on the inside. We continue that narrative with projection of physical beauty and validation toward each other. No, I am not saying not to compliment women for being beautiful. Please continue to keep that energy going! However, let her know that you value other attributes about her as well! What about her generosity, kindness, humility and integrity? What about the way she gives back to her local community? Speak to who she is at her core. Remember: The most attractive thing about you should have less to do with your face and body and more to do with your heart and how you treat people.

5. Support her new pursuits or life transitions

If she is starting a new business, support it by telling others about her business or purchasing her new product or service! If she has a new baby, visit her and take her food! And if she’s moving into a new apartment or home, ask if you can help her move! Sometimes we need that extra push and encouragement to know that our sister has our back through life’s transitions. It gives a sense of security knowing that someone is supporting us along the way.

6. Create authentic relationships and friendships with each other

This one is huge! How often do you go to events, meetups or conferences and other women size you up before you even open your mouth? They either don’t want to speak to you because you don’t “appear” to be important or they run to you because they feel that you can take them to the next level. Listen, we need to forge genuine relationships with everyone! Let’s give everyone the same energy, time and attention. Trust me, you never know who you will need one day and you could miss out on a great relationship or network by putting up a wall.

7. Open doors for the women coming behind you

Lastly, let’s continue to create opportunities for the women that are coming behind us. Hire women, inspire women, uplift women, give back to women, mentor women and teach women things that you have learned. Be the person that you had or wished you had when you were in that same position. Sew the seeds that others have sewn into your life.

Let’s continue celebrating each other beyond Women’s History Month, beyond #WomanCrushWednesday, and beyond the exterior. We are all powerful in our own right and it is time to unleash that power within us and within each other! What is one way you can commit to uplifting women in the coming days, weeks or months? I want to hear from you!

Don’t forget to like, comment, and share this post for everyone to read on your social media platforms! Until next time, let’s go on a living spree!

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Cape Off: Self-care as a remedy for the Superwoman Syndrome

“Self care is how you take your power back.”

Superwoman syndrome

Last year, I experienced extreme burnout. I gave until I couldn’t give anymore trying to be “everything for everybody.” I did it all: worked full and part-time as a nurse practitioner, managed a blog, worked towards a healthier lifestyle, served in my church and community, had somewhat of a social life, traveled, kept in touch with family back home… the list goes on! Notice, I didn’t include myself in that equation because that literally was my reality. I spent so much time pouring out that I never poured back into myself. This left me weak, depleted, and empty in so many ways. I learned that this was called superwoman syndrome–wanting to do it all and play multiple roles perfectly but underneath it all suffering anxiety, exhaustion and burnout.

Taking my power back

At some point, I felt like hustling was the way to success, I cared more about how others perceived me, and I was extremely hard on myself by striving to be “perfect” in every way. I had tricked myself into thinking that I had to show others how hard I was working at all times rather than take time to rest, revive and restore. Now, I realize that self care is the remedy to this superwoman mentality. I don’t have to be everything for everybody. And, it is unfair for me to be so hard on myself.  I can be “super” without having to be superwoman and give myself grace without the fear of appearing weak. Self care is how I take my power back!

Cape off

In lieu of International Women’s Month,  I’m here to remind you it’s time to take care of yourself! Take the cape off, sis. When is the last time you took the time to check in with yourself? What do I want? What do I need? How could I spark more joy in my life? We spend so much of our time tending to the needs of others that we often put ourselves on the back burner. Yes, we are doing a good deed by serving others, but not at the cost of sacrificing ourselves. Putting our personal needs on the back burner can be detrimental to our mental, physical, and emotional health in the long run.

An ode to self care

No, self care is not always bath bombs, facials, massages and candles. While those things are great and necessary at times, we must realize that self-care is a daily practice of reclaiming your own time. Sometimes, it’s doing the inner work, forcing stillness in our routines and putting an end to toxic behaviors. It’s taking care of ourselves and making decisions that are in our best interest daily. Here are 10 ways to take the cape off and take care of yourself:

1. Meditate

Take at least 10-20 min per day to practice mindfulness. You can practice this by sitting still, removing all distractions, and becoming one with yourself in silence or with guided meditation music (here). Inhale/Exhale. Count to ten. Eliminate all thoughts in your mind. This practice not only helps you get in touch with yourself and your inner emotions, but it also relieves stress and anxiety significantly.

2. Express gratitude

Writing down things you’re grateful for helps you to focus on the positive things that are happening in your life. The more things you’re grateful for, the more things will come to be grateful for.

3. Schedule a “me” day

When is the last time you became present with life? With yourself? Taking time to rejuvenate is a key factor in the process of plotting our “next move” and making it our “best move.” Every energy source needs a period of time to rest and recharge…including you! Take yourself out to dinner, to the movies, or even try a new hobby!

4. Say “no”

We have to learn to say no to things that we don’t want to do, don’t have time to do, or are unable to commit to doing. How many times do we inconvenience ourselves for others by saying yes to things we really don’t want to do? Let’s start saying “no” to any requests to your time, energy and efforts that don’t align with your wants or needs. It is okay to be selfish to preserve your sanity. People pleasing can become a toxic trait if we don’t learn this concept. 

5. Exercise

Exercising has so many benefits! It helps us feel better by increasing your mood, improving your physique, increasing your energy, promoting better sleep, and reducing stress. Exercising at least 30 min at least 3x/week can make a difference in your physical and mental health. 

6. Wake up earlier

This allows you to incorporate a morning routine. Your morning routine may include reading, journaling, planning your day, praying, meditating, or completing your daily devotional. How you start your day is critical because it sets the tone for the rest of your day. Starting early with a morning routine allows more time and clarity.

7. Protect your peace

Get rid of anything that interrupts your energy, including toxic relationships and toxic behaviors.  You have to protect your peace at all costs. Don’t hesitate to cut of any and every source of negativity including people, places, things, music, social media accounts, or habits. Keep your spirit positive and full of joy.

8. Give yourself the love you’re extending to others

Practicing self-love starts from the inside out. How you speak to yourself matters more than you know. Look in the mirror and tell yourself, “I love you. You are so beautiful.” Every day, make the conscious decision to love on yourself, flaws and all, and appreciate your own beauty. You must not rely on others to be the first people to do this for you.  

Remember, you are only one person and it is unrealistic to believe that you can do it all and be everything for everyone. Don’t delay and put it off until you complete everything on your to-do list. Oh, it can wait! Trust me. Sometimes it takes more courage to stop than to keep going. Yes, you may feel like you could be “getting more stuff done” or “helping others” but don’t let it be your downfall. If you want to have a big impact without compromising your health and well-being, be kind to yourself. That mindset shift alone will help you soar even higher. You are enough. How do you plan to take care of yourself this week?

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Becoming: Reflections from My First Year of Blogging

“The brand you are building will impact the world. So will your success story of how it all began.”

How it all started

When I started My Living Spree a year ago, I had no idea what I was getting myself into, what the blog would become, who would support it, or how I would manage it. All I knew was that God placed a calling on my life that would help me realize my God-given purpose. As mentioned in my first blog post, I felt an intense urge to move beyond my comfort zone and to express my creativity in a new way. I decided to go on a living spree that entailed doing anything and everything that came to me naturally. I wanted to work on improving every area of my life—mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. Simply put, I wanted to live my best life from the inside out.

One year later

Here we are one year later, and I am immensely grateful for growth, fulfillment, and everything that manifested in my life as a result of my decision to abandon my comfort zone. I’m proud to say that My Living Spree has excelled exceedingly, abundantly above all that I could ever ask for or think about and it’s all because I said “YES!” to my purpose and allowed God to move freely in my life. Today, My Living Spree is not only a blog, but it is also a brand and a lifestyle. It is one of my greatest accomplishments to date.

The key to growth

I could give you the “Social Media” politically correct answer to growth (and I probably will in a later post just for your reference lol). But honestly, the key to real growth is believing in yourself, and not following an ever-changing algorithm. If you focus on external or superficial measures of growth, you will always have to change who you are, and you will never find your true voice. Instead, I learned to focus on creating content that I loved and having confidence in myself and my platform. No matter the odds stacked against me, including low or stagnant follower count, imposter syndrome, and self-doubt (to name a few), I believed relentlessly that I would defy and overcome all barriers to realizing my purpose. And I did. I knocked the analytics out of the park and grew in every tangible way you can imagine. I am extremely grateful for the growing community of people who genuinely love, support, and believe in me and my brand.

With your support and my faith, I landed numerous brand collaborations, magazine features, and partnerships. I sold hundreds of dollars in apparel and created a lifestyle brand—all with no prior experience. I attended New York Fashion Week for the first time as an influencer and blogger for an incredible fashion show. I say all of this to show you that it can be done! The key is to tap into the greatness inside of you and to hold onto it fearlessly, even in the face of doubt and insecurity.

Purpose over popularity

Although I am grateful for growth, the intangible results matter the most. All the external markers of a successful blog community pale in comparison to the countless messages I received from people who believe my daily devotional posts enhanced their prayer life; people who have explained how my fitness journey motivated them to level up and become their best self; or the people who have been inspired to experiment with fashion trends they never would have considered before. I’ve encouraged, motivated, and inspired people near and far just by sharing my story with transparency and being true to Ashley. Sometimes God uses your purpose to propel others into their destiny. Operating in your purpose is crucial because it can help others become who God destined them to be.

The growth that I am MOST proud of is the growth that I’ve witnessed from within. My life suddenly changed. I realized that God empowered me to deliver something that ultimately delivered me. Above all else, My Living Spree is a form of therapy for me. Through its transformative power, I am healing and allowing God to deliver me from everything that has ever held me back! I am rewriting the narratives of “no” and “you’re not good enough” that plagued my life. If you recall from this blog post, I was in a very dark place in 2016. The self-hate and insecurity I felt had seeped into every aspect of my life to a point where I didn’t even recognize myself. Today, as I reflect on a year of My Living Spree, I declare victory over every lie I was taught to believe about myself. I now know that confident, fierce, and fabulous Ashley was right here all along.

Transparency is key

I used to go back and forth about how much of my story I wanted to share with the world until I realized that this is bigger than me. My Living Spree is not your everyday lifestyle blog. Rather, it’s a “Life” and “Style” blog teaching you how to “live on purpose, in style.” Here, you will see the shine and the struggle. The glow-ups and the let-downs. As I motivate and empower you to level up, trust me I am doing the same. I realized that I have a responsibility that is beyond me. If I am to fulfill my purpose, I must be as transparent as possible about my journey to becoming everything God wants me to be. My prayer is that by sharing my story I encourage at least one person not to give up.

Yes, I am going to keep serving, slaying and educating on the latest in fashion, fitness, travel, and more! But, beyond that, I have committed to digging deeper and sharing more of my life and my journey to the woman I am today. The beauty of it is, I am not done. I am constantly evolving and becoming. Let me just say, it’s about to get real y’all. I promise it will be worth it, so tap in, fully commit and buckle up for this ride! In 2019, I am living life unapologetically! And I invite you to do the same. Let’s go on a Living Spree!

Photographer: @jp.hanney_visuals

Styled by Me

Beret: Nasty Gal

Lace Bodysuit: Mod Chic Couture

Leather Pleated Skirt: H&M

Red Suede “Wagner” Booties: Steve Madden

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EmpowerHER: The PowHER of Your Unapologetic Self

“Phenomenal Woman, That’s Me” –Maya Angelou 

Image above captured by Urban Love Tree Photography

From Cubicles to Cocktails

Recently, I attended an amazing event entitled “The PowHER of Your Unapologetic Self,” hosted by one of my fellow Houston bloggers—Christa Clarke! This event was part of her signature series Cubicles to Cocktails, a quarterly soiree for success-minded women of color to unite after work and exchange thought-provoking conversation over cocktails. Sounds fun, right?! IT WAS!

Christa’s blog www.freeingshe.com and Instagram page @freeingshe are both dedicated to empowering career-driven women of color to truly flourish in ALL aspects of life! She is the go-to person for inspiration on ways to invest in your career, create your ideal lifestyle, and for tools/resources to live life unapologetically free. She produces amazing content, so do yourself a favor and go check out her webpage and social media when you get a chance!

Sip and Shop

It was such a pleasure seeing so many success-minded women of color networking, fellowshipping, and investing in one another. The event hosted local vendors and attendees were able to sip and shop with minority-owned businesses prior to the start of the workshop. Here are some of the local vendors in attendance that evening:

 Kisa Kisa Fashion | www.kisakisafashion.com/
Sterling Silver Vision | Instagram @sterling_silver_vision
I Am So Kate Boutique | www.iamsokate.net/
OurFroPicks Natural Hair and Body Care Products | OurFroPicks.com/
Spectrum Bartending | www.SpectrumMobileBartending.com

After the first hour of the soiree, the setting transitioned into a workshop. Tracy Carmen-Jones, President and Founder of The WaterLight Group, led us in a thought-provoking discussion on the importance of being your authentic self in the workplace.

Unzip the layers

She used her hobby of skiing to drive home the message that in order to be your authentic self in the workplace, you have to be vulnerable and relatable! For example, when we go skiing we have to layer up. We put on a tank, a shirt, a thermal, a jacket, and a coat. But, if you want your life to change at work, you are going to have to unzip the layers! You want your fellow colleagues to get to know you as a person, so when opportunities arise they will consider you.

What are you a resource for?

People want to know who you are—what makes you relatable? Can they consider you a resource? Performance capital alone is not enough. You want to establish performance capital AND relationship capital. For me, I want my colleagues to know that excellence is the standard and that I am the go-to person to get the job done as far as performance! As for relationship, I want my colleagues to know that I am fun, outgoing and creative! I am currently “on a living spree” and I am not shy about sharing my travel experiences, my creative pursuits and fashion inspiration. I am not ashamed of who I am and I want to own that same confidence in the workplace as well as outside of the workplace.

Create Your Own Personal Narrative

As Ms. Jones stressed, you are the creator of your personal narrative—what do you want to say? You get to decide what people know about you and how they interact with you. Decide what you want them to know and LIVE IT! Start talking about the things you care about and things you like to do. Start creating your own personal narrative in the workplace!

Bring YOUrself to Work!

I encourage you to consider topics you can bring up next time you have a conversation in the workplace. I challenge you to figure out what exactly you want your colleagues to know about you professionally and personally and begin developing that narrative in your conversations and interactions the next couple of days. What can you do as early as tomorrow to have more open dialogue about yourself in the workplace? Could you possibly attend a happy hour after work with coworkers that you don’t normally engage with? Take a coffee break or attend lunch with someone mid-day? Remember, you create your own narrative. Bring yourself to work, not your representative!

Don’t forget to check out Christa’s website www.freeingshe.com and subscribe to her blog for updates on the next Cubicles to Cocktails event. Trust me, you do not want to miss it! Invest in yourself, invest in your business, and invest in your life!

 

 

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