by Paula Edwards-Gayfield · 01 Sep 2020 · 6 min read
Growing up, I hated how I looked. My mother is Irish, Polish, German, and Dutch, while my Dad emigrated from Nigeria. I was a biracial girl living in a majority Caucasian town. Not only was I surrounded by people who looked different than me, but I also rarely felt represented in the media. This lack of community during my adolescence gave me little to no self-esteem, self-worth, or self-confidence, which led me to want to change everything about myself: my hair, the accent I picked up from my African family, and even my skin color.
Growing up, every image depicted around me gave the message that most dark girls were ugly. So, when people would say, "You're pretty for a dark-skinned girl," I took it as a compliment.
Working with thought leaders on shaping their speaking platform is an incredible privilege. And one of my speakers, Elizabeth Molina, is a model on a mission. Known as "your beauty mentor" in the influencer space, she is redefining the modern superhero in all of us, by asking the "why" around beauty. She speaks about how beauty needs to go beyond the superficial, in the world, in ourselves and ultimately for our children.
Since I was 12 years old, I have struggled with an eating disorder. For me, being a woman of color and having atypical anorexia was definitely uncommon. In my own personal experience, we never really spoke about anxiety or depression, so you can imagine the lack of conversation around having a healthy relationship with food. In the African American culture, the more curves you have the better, and if you don't have curves, you know you aren't the picture-perfect small waisted, ample-bottom stereotypical Black woman.
I was about one month into my dream job as a forensic psychologist in a remand facility for adolescent girls in Brooklyn, New York. Unlike my old job, this one did not offer a parking lot for employees, but I was issued a state parking plaque to use in front of the building when there was space. However, that employee-issued parking plaque was enough illicit the suspicion and disbelief of the NYPD leading to me getting wrongfully arrested and detained for two nights. This experience was not the only instance of racial discrimination in my life, and it certainly was not my last as an employee. I chose to tell this one as it was, sort of, my official introduction to life in America as an educated, African-American woman.
In the the wake of Mr. George Floyd's brutal murder, the United States of America suddenly had something monumental at the forefront of its dissonant mind. The protests and the unrest that burgeoned across the country, and tellingly, across the world, simply said, "Enough, is enough."
As a psychologist — i.e. one who studies the mind and human motivations — my mind periodically returns to Sigmund Freud, the Austrian neurologist who is lovingly known as the father of psychoanalysis, which is the foundation of psychology and the basis of many of the psychological treatments that we use today.As part of his theory explains, the Oedipus complex is a childhood psychosexual stage, wherein young people harbor unconscious sexual desires that fuel their anxiety and/or frustrations that may, or may not, appear negatively in life — depending upon the successful resolution of this puzzling, internal conflict.I have periodically come back to this tenet of psychoanalysis, always with the nagging inclination that this somehow explains America's issues with racism
In the past couple weeks there has been a surge of people asking what they can do to be better. Conversations are beginning to take place and guards are beginning to come down. While that's a good start, it is just the starting point and there's plenty of work to be done. Below are six ways you can begin playing a different role in a Black woman's life.
We know that all of these things, from illness to job loss to systemic racism, hit the Black community harder, making it even more essential to develop a self-care routine that centers our own physical and mental well-being in ways that are practical yet effective.