I usually try not to make too big a fuss about my accomplishments, but this time I wanted a full celebration! I was insistent that my accomplishment was worth celebrating, and I was worth celebrating.Read More
"Be not afraid of growing slowly, be afraid only of standing still."
A girlfriend called me after work the other day, clearly exasperated, and exclaimed, "Now I see why women say they can't be friends with other women! I just can't!"
Her boss had noticed her social media savvy and volunteered her to collaborate on a cross-functional project. She was initially excited - until she had to endure hours of shade and general unhelpfulness from the PR/marketing woman on the team.
"I don't get it," whined my friend. "She clearly felt threatened, but I don't know why. She's a senior manager and I'm entry level - and I'm not even interested in her department!"
I agreed - it didn't make that much sense. But maybe the woman felt threatened that the boss sought expertise from outside the department. Maybe she doesn't like working in groups. Or perhaps she just didn't like my friend. But for whatever reason, she went out of her way to be ornery.
Luckily my friend's team project will be short-lived, but this incident got me thinking:
How do I usually deal with shady ladies?
My first instinct is to avoid the person.
But that doesn't work if it's a workmate or family member that I have to see.
My second response is to re-frame the interaction.
Remind them that we're on the same team. "Hey gurl, I'm not trying to steal your job/man/Saturday hair appointment slot/Pokemon, so can we just be cool?"
And if that doesn't work?
I remain cordial but not overly friendly. I just let you do you.
Of course, shady behavior in the workplace or home is not limited to women. I just think the topic has come up a lot lately among my friends because - fairly or unfairly - we inherently expect the women in our lives to have each others' backs.
Have you ever dealt with a friend, relative, coworker, or boss who was inexplicably jealous or shady?
Let me know how you dealt with it in the comments!
Don't be afraid to get dragged: Martin Luther King, Jr. Day reflections on "Letter from a Birmingham Jail"
Each MLK day, I reread "Letter from a Birmingham Jail." This year, I'm reminded that it's our responsibility as a community, as Americans, to amplify the voices of those who have been silenced through oppression and marginalization.
More specifically, I'm thinking of ways I can do more to use my own voice to speak out for those struggling with mental wellness, many of whom are homeless and/or living in poverty - including many persons of color. I do not want to be part of a generation of silent "good" people.
I've never considered myself an activist.
During much of my life, I've been mentored by "insiders" - city officials, politicians, lawyers, and savvy white women who are rich enough to volunteer full-time. These are the folks who get a bad rap for being "the establishment," yet I've seen firsthand the passion they have for some of the same issues as activists: literacy, homelessness, affordable healthcare, fair employment, and a generally more equitable society. These are also the folks who have fostered my love for and belief in the transformative power of organizations. After all, there were many organizations - SNCC, CORE, NAACP, etc. - that were integral to the success of the civil rights movement.
However, I also acknowledge the limits of what organizations - especially large or ideologically diverse ones - can do. Dissenting outsiders play a crucial role in our society, often forcing bureaucratic governments and NGOs to get their acts together and respond more quickly to the needs of the people.
Many times I feel I'm walking a tight rope between the two.
Ideally, I'd like to be a bridge, using my business and nonprofit management background to actually implement the kinds of reforms that activists advocate for. Implementation is boring to most, but it suits me well. I was always the one making sure our family's vacation plans fit into allotted time slots, and I actually liked filling out the sorority's standards paperwork.
It's also an awkward place to be. I often feel like a party pooper, telling my insider friends that the things they're doing really aren't as impactful as they think, and telling my outsider friends that their demands are unreasonable and doing the most.
Finding the right balance will be part of the process of finding my voice, both as a writer and as a professional.
As I've mentioned before, I'm currently a fellow for a major website, which exposes my writing to a much broader audience. Some colleagues and I posed some interesting, edgy ideas in a recent team meeting, but we expressed concerns that our views may prove controversial and face backlash from readers.
"Don't worry about getting dragged, y'all!" assured our editor. "Your editors and I will let you know if we think any ideas aren’t fully fleshed out or need to be reassessed. But a lot of times the controversial posts are the most important — it’s OK to cover them."
Perhaps that's the message that's calling out to me from King's letter this year: don't worry about getting dragged! Use the talents God has gifted you to do your part, and don't worry about the consequences.
I'm not obnoxious enough to think I'm following in King's footsteps in any profound way, but I think part of the point of the holiday is to realize that we all should be following him, in our own tiny ways. This year, I'm challenging myself to speak out from my own unique perspective, publicly and privately.
I live with major depressive disorder and anxiety. I'm open about this with my friends and on social media, but I've only alluded to it thus far on this blog. At first, I hesitated to discuss it here because of the very public nature of blogging and the stigma still associated with mental illness. However, I think it's important to "come out" with my diagnosis now so that I can be a better advocate for others with mental illness. If even one person is inspired or encouraged by what I write, then it's worth it.
Living with depression is like riding a really big, really rickety roller coaster.
There are months - or even years - when life feels fine, with the expected minor ups and downs and a few exhilarating moments mixed in. And then there are other years when the coaster starts shaking and creaking and the restraint feels loose and you're hundreds of feet up in the air and convinced that you're five seconds from being flung across the park and crashing into the funnel cake hut.
2015 was definitely one of those years.
After years of dealing with seasonal depression on my own, I slipped into a deep, unmanageable hole early in 2015. I struggled with everyday functioning. By the time I admitted it to my doctor, my condition was already severe. I struggled the entire year, which became a blur of hospitalizations, outpatient treatments, and Ben-and-Jerry's-for-dinner days. I'm happy to report that I'm feeling much better now, and as I look back at 2015 I can now see that my experience taught me much about life and about myself.
Four things I learned in 2015:
1. Asking for help is okay
Vulnerability is hard. I don't like people to see me when I feel weak, helpless or anything less than my best self. It's ironic because I am an open book and don't mind sharing my weaknesses and struggles with others after the fact - I just don't like people seeing me that way.
I had to get over that quickly last year. Reaching out to close friends was one of the best decisions I've ever made. I couldn't have made it through the year without the shoulders to cry on, assistance managing treatment, and swift kicks in the rear when I needed to get my act together. Asking for help doesn't make me weak - it makes me human.
2. Failure isn't permanent
Failure isn't a sign of weakness, either. It's a sign that you're living and growing and stretching yourself to do more than you thought possible. I definitely dropped the ball on some things last year, but I still worked and remained in school, and I'm proud of that.
3. Life is rarely ever all good or all bad
Last year was by far the most difficult year of my depression, but it was also filled with some great memories. I stood by two of my closest friends as they married the loves of their lives. I met my new niece when my oldest sis had a baby, and I had a great time at the country fair with my baby sis, who'd just started middle school. And I was life of the party when my friend Allie came to town for Thanksgiving and we rocked the karaoke joint. Those are the moments I'll remember when I look back at 2015.
4. My story has power
I've become more comfortable sharing my journey with others. Group therapy taught me that there's so much power in knowing you're not alone. This year, I'm excited to reach a larger audience this year by writing for Blavity, a popular news and lifestyle site for multicultural millennials. I look forward to sharing what I've learned about self care and mental wellness.
Like any other chronic illness, depression is no cakewalk. But it's also not a death sentence. Symptom management is a lifelong journey, but it doesn't define me. The hard work of recovery and maintenance will continue into 2016, but I'm looking forward to an exciting year filled with new personal and professional possibilities, as well as the opportunity to share my story with many.
My doctor recommended the South Beach Diet this week, so I've started reading the book, and I like everything except parts of some of the "success stories." They're filled with comments describing how people felt when they'd gained weight:
- "I was about 25 pounds overweight at 174 and a real couch potato. I was pretty disgusted with myself..."
- "I had been invited to a wedding and told a friend of mine that I didn't even want to go because I was so depressed about how I looked."
- "There wasn't a remote possibility that I was going to put on a bathing suit. I thought, Here I am, I'm not that old, I'm a pretty attractive woman, and I can't wear a bathing suit. And I'm not talking about a bikini; I mean a plain old one-piece."
And how they felt after losing the weight:
- "I love myself again."
- "I fit into my old clothes again. I wear tight, sexy jeans and can still wear sleeveless tops."
- "I'm amazed by how many guys are asking me out."
It was hard to read, because I'm all too familiar with the message: being fat makes you disgusting, unlovable, and unsightly, and the best you can do is hide your body as much as possible until you finally lose the weight - at which time you'll become worthy of affection, and can finally crawl out of your whole and start enjoying life again.
This attitude is deeply ingrained in American culture. People consider it normal - and even obligatory - to shame and criticize fat people, often publicly. Fat people are stereotyped as lazy, stupid, unclean, desperate for dates, and lacking impulse control. And of course, unattractive. Because of this, fat people are taught to hate themselves, and non-fat people are taught to be terrified of becoming fat. Studies show that children as young as 5, 6, and 7 are worried about their weight. 42% of first-, second- and third-grade girls want to lose weight, and 50%-70% of normal-weight girls ages 6-12 think they are overweight. In one study, more than half of females age 18-25 would prefer to be run over by a truck than to be fat, and two-thirds would choose to be mean or stupid rather than fat.
Yes, the obesity crisis and its related deleterious health risks are real. Many people - myself included - need to make permanent lifestyle changes to improve chances of living a longer, healthier life.
But negative self-talk and fat shaming are not the answer.
In fact, negative body image makes it harder to lose weight. Studies have shown weight discrimination and stigmatization actually increase the risk for obesity. Campaigns to combat obesity that rely on fat-shaming are not motivational and just don't work. Negative body image also encourages poorer mental health outcomes; girls who are unhappy with their bodies, whether overweight or not, are at a significantly greater risk of attempting suicide.
Why am I talking about all this? Because it makes me sad, and it's 100% preventable.
Let's start more conversations about body image. Let's teach our youth that positive body image is not the enemy of better health. People take care of things that they love and value, and it's much easier to be kind to a body you love than a body you hate.
And let's stop tolerating concern trolls - those who pretend to care about a person's health but then go on to attack their appearance and self-esteem. It's as simple as practicing the golden rule. Treat other people - yes, even fat people - as you want to be treated, and hopefully as a society we'll lose the perception that being fat is worse than being run over by a truck.
Despite years of surrounding myself with body positive messages and practicing intentional self-love, I still struggle with a lot of the sentiments shared in those South Beach Diet testimonials. I went to two weddings this summer and wondered a lot if I'd look all fat and gross in the photos. And none of my self love has made its way to my arms - I wear sleeves, sweaters or shawls under any and all circumstances, including at the pool, in formal wear, and with sundresses in 100 degree heat.
But I've still come a long way. On most days, I feel pretty darn cute. I find super-cute plus size clothing online. I send selfies to my girlfriends, who I know will respond, "girl YASSSSS you look great." I had a blast at my friends' weddings. And I surround myself with a support system of friends and medical professionals who keep me accountable along my health journey while also being clear that I am an amazing, intelligent, beautiful person deserving of love and respect today, right now.
If your skin is dry but there's no one there to see it, are you still ashy?
Yes, yes you are.
Due to the icy winter weather and treacherous road conditions in Nashville, caused by a storm dubbed #Snowbama, I've been working from home for the past couple days. And for an introvert prone to excessive introspection, working from home can get weird very quickly. It is easy to sink into a bout of mini-despair while sitting braless in your pajamas, eating a hot pocket and watching documentaries about North Korea.
In an effort to save you from making my mistakes, here is my survival guide for keeping a healthy mind and body while stuck at home during an ice storm:
DON'T watch dreary Netflix programming.
It's really hard to maintain a positive mood in dreary weather when you've got a constant stream of documentaries about hoarders, dictatorial regimes, and genetically modified food going in the background. These are all important topics, of course, but watch them when you're not stuck in your home in bad weather.
Proper #Snowbama TV programming includes quirky comedies and uplifting TV documentaries about underrated 80s R&B groups. I recommend Silver Linings Playbook, Parks & Rec, and the Full Force episode of Unsung.
DO wear lotion.
The best part of working from home is that pajamas > business casual. However, some things are not optional, and lotion is one of them. Don't get lazy with your skin care routine because even though you're indoors for a while, winter is rough on the skin and this is a good time for some rejuvenation, not making it worse.
DON'T eat crappy food.
Resist the urge to revert to college habits of slugging it out on the couch and eating a bag of Tostitos in one sitting. I did make a banana nut bread for comfort food, but I'm also enjoying lots of water, fruit and veggies.
I hope this list helps someone out there struggling to maintain normalcy during Southern snow days. Do you have any do's and don't's to add to the list?
If you're returning to work today, stay safe, warm, and moisturized!
In case you missed it, Grammy-nominated R&B and jazz vocalist Ledisi performed "Take My Hand, Precious Lord" on the Selma soundtrack and as Mahalia Jackson in the movie.
Yet for some strange reason, Beyonce requested to perform the song at this year's Grammys, even though Beyonce had no connection to the movie or soundtrack/no logical reason to sing this song at the Grammys. While Ledisi sat in the audience. And both were nominated for Best R&B Performance. The situation was awkward and inconsiderate at best. And at worst, a crass attempt by Beyonce to steal another artist's shine.
Ledisi admitted to being "disappointed," but gracefully chose to focus on the positive instead:
I can't pretend to know whether Beyonce meant it as an intentional snub to Ledisi - or whether she considered Ledisi's perspective at all. Either way, Beyonce's choice to perform the song was in poor taste and inconsistent with her "feminist" brand if that brand implies supporting women, and fellow female artists in particular.
Beyonce has released some generic and unsatisfying comments about her motivations, claiming that she wanted to sing the song to honor her father's pain of living in the desegregation era, and honor "some of the families that have lost their sons." But what about our sisters? If Beyonce loved the song so much, why didn't she use the performance as an opportunity to lift Ledisi by performing it with her, giving some exposure to a brilliantly talented yet underrated colleague? (And let's not even talk about how eerily similar the performance staging and wardrobes were to her sister Solange's wedding photos...)
Controversies like this come and go, but this struck a chord with me because it made me wonder,
should women have each other's backs more often?
On one hand is the argument that women are stronger and more successful when we support each other. Groups like Lean In Circles are built on the principle that women are more confident and accomplish more with a network of like-minded support.
On the other hand, some industries are cutthroat and have clear winners and losers. Why shouldn't women compete and self-promote as much as men do? Do women automatically have to support each other, even to the detriment of our own success? Arguably, the assumption that women should be "supportive" and "nurturing" works against us in competitive environments. We're often judged more harshly than men when being assertive.
In full disclosure, I have a Helper personality type, so I'm all about helping a sista out, or at least trying to find win-win solutions to problems. I was that kid in high school who didn't mind telling my friends which scholarships I was applying to, or lending them a quarter for the vending machine (as long as you didn't ask for one of my chicken tenders...). But perhaps these qualities cause me to judge others too harshly when they choose to follow their own dreams without the added responsibility of taking care of every one around them.
Are we our sisters' keeper?
Tell me what you're thinking - about the Beyonce-Ledisi controversy, or the topic of women supporting each other in general - in the comments.
Today for Black History Month, I salute Martha Wash, a Grammy-nominated dance and R&B singer best known for "It's Raining Men" (as part of the Weather Girls), and as the featured vocalist on "Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)."
She suffered discrimination because of her size throughout her career, and famously sued Black Box and C&C Music Factory in the early 1990s for refusing to properly credit her on songs and pay royalties. Wash was also curiously left out of all the music videos she made with these groups, presumably because she didn't have the right "image."
Wash is a music industry pioneer because as a result of her lawsuits, record labels are now required to assign proper vocal credit for albums and videos.
The video above is for one of her more recent smash dance hits, 2014's "I'm Not Coming Down" (#2, Billboard Dance Club Songs).
I was introduced to Ms. Wash's story recently via a one-hour documentary of her career on an episode of TV One's Unsung, a series which chronicles legendary yet underappreciated music artists. I was incredibly inspired not only by her raw talent, but by her refusal to let others diminish her worth. She never let others' narrow view of what a pop singer should look like prevent her from sharing her awesome gift with the world. She also forced people to acknowledge the worth of her contributions by demanding proper crediting and compensation.
This story resonates with me, not only as a plus-sized black woman, but as a young professional. Many millennials began our careers with unpaid (or underpaid) internships while in school, and because of this "internship culture," some older professionals have become accustomed to viewing young people as free labor, and are eager to offer "opportunities" to "gain experience" or "skills" - which really means doing large amounts of (often important) work for which they are unwilling to compensate. I'm all for paying one's dues when starting out, but at what point does it equal exploitation? If our expertise is valuable enough to be requested, then it should be properly compensated.
This phenomenon may be more common in certain fields. I've seen other bloggers who work in communications or creative industries discuss similar challenges.
In any case, Martha Wash has inspired me to have more faith in my own talents and to remember to assert myself when I am feeling undervalued.
What about you? Have you ever felt undervalued in your professional or personal life, and how did you refocus the situation? I'd love to continue the conversation in the comments.
During Black History Month, I will be spotlighting phenomenal black women, past and present, who inspire me in the areas of food, fitness, fashion, self-love, and living my best life.
Today I salute Tracye McQuirter, a vegan trailblazer and author of the bestselling By Any Greens Necessary. She has worked to increase the number of African-American vegans and vegetarians as a way of preventing and reversing chronic illness. She directed the first federally-funded vegan nutrition program, and co-founded the Black Vegetarian Society of New York and one of the first websites to support African-American vegetarians.
In the interview above, McQuirter makes a spicy kale salad and gives tips for shopping while vegan and talks a bit about her book.
While I am not personally vegan, I do spend a significant amount of time with vegans, both at work and in my personal life, and I'm starting to understand the benefits of the vegan lifestyle. I still eat quite a bit of chicken, cheese and yogurt, but I've limited the total amount of meat and dairy in my diet.
What about you: how do you feel about vegan diets? Would you ever try it out? Let me know in the comments!