Death to “The Strong Black Woman”

Death to “The Strong Black Woman”

That’s right. I said it.

Death to her. We can host her funeral right here. I’ll chip in for some orchids.

Don’t get me wrong, either. This isn’t some attempt to demean The Black Woman and make Her appear weak, useless, whatever, however people want to describe this. If anything, this is an attempt to enrich The Black Woman (or any individual who feels forced to be eternally strong to the point where they’re literally blocked from self-development) with the most important tool required in the fight against emotional eating and the path toward better understanding self-care… or one’s ability to care for self.

See… I look at it a lot like this.

I think back to when I used to emotionally eat. It was the only way I had that would allow me to feel some relief – some semblance of peace – from everything around me that wouldn’t allow me to acknowledge or tend to my feelings. I didn’t really have any mechanisms to help me cope with anything… no remedies to help me calm down, nothing to give me the opportunity to help me re-focus my thoughts, no opportunity to just… sit. To just.. be. (And as I write that, I’m almost certain that there’s a woman somewhere who thinks that’s the strangest idea, ever. “Just sit and be? Girl what?” Yes, girl. Just sit and… be.)

I didn’t understand it then, but I understand it now.

Y’know how there’s a line from a book that reads something along the lines of the Black woman being the mule of the world? I don’t find that to be too far from the truth. Mules don’t think. Mules don’t feel. And if they do, who gives a damn? We don’t understand them, anyway. They’re mules. They’re merely there to carry out my will. I have a task. I need it done. I make the mule handle what they can, and then maybe I’ll handle what’s left.

Maybe. That is… if I can’t squeeze that last little bit of time out of my favorite little mule and have her do it.

Okay, but little mule, let me ask you: if you’re carrying out the will of everyone else – afraid to assert yourself and demand that someone else finally accommodate you in the same way they expect you to accommodate them – when, on Earth, do you have time for you? If all you do, all day, is care for everyone else – being everyone else’s mule, everyone else’s work horse – what the hell do you do for yourself? And think about that, as you remember that this is the very reason why you skipped the gym or opted to get the fast food and eat on the way to another errand for someone else instead of setting some things aside to care for, cook for and nurture yourself.

I feel like a lot of us have allowed our lives to become structured in a fashion that removes time for self from our lives. You’re a strong Black woman, right? You can handle everything that comes to you, right? What do you need time for yourself, for?

It’s bull.

If you want to believe there’s some semblance of strength to be obtained through shouldering everyone else’s burdens, fine. If you want to allow yourself to be duped into thinking there’s power in doing everyone else’s work, fine. If you are so arrogant as to think the world couldn’t continue to function if you delegated some of your responsibility to someone else, fine. Paint that picture however you choose…

…but one thing will eternally remain. The lack of care that we give to ourselves. Sacrificing not only our time but our bodies – our physical and mental health – for others is a kind of martyrdom that I do not wish on any woman.

You might think that denying a Black woman her “strong”ness (because it certainly isn’t strength) is attacking The Black Woman, but I disagree. If anything, I’m attempting to re-humanize the idea of the Black woman. This mentality that assumes we’re just these wondrous automatons… these robots that can make anything and everything happen… we do everything but care for ourselves. And somewhere along the line, we’ve created a culture that says outright that even the slightest implication that a Black woman needs to take time out to care for herself mentally – thereby delegating a responsibility to someone else (be it a significant other, family member or otherwise) – or physically is selfish and wrong.

…and then we question why women are sneaking and coping with stress by eating their emotions. We question why so many women cling so closely to their “hair appointments.” Trust me, that’s not all about the hair. It’s about the fact that it’s the only socially acceptable opportunity for a Black woman to give her kids to “someone else” and let someone else pamper her. It’s the fact that she can sit in that chair and think about nothing but herself – how good she’s gonna look, how good she’s gonna feel, how happy she is to “get taken care of,” for once. The hair is almost always secondary to that.

Turning us into robots not only denies us our right to have feelings, but it denies us the opportunity to acknowledge our own feelings. Take anxiety as a prime example:

Fear and anxiety are part of life. You may feel anxious before you take a test or walk down a dark street. This kind of anxiety is useful – it can make you more alert or careful. It usually ends soon after you are out of the situation that caused it. But for millions of people in the United States, the anxiety does not go away, and gets worse over time.

If I don’t get the opportunity to acknowledge when a situation is giving me anxiety – because the assumption is that I shouldn’t be developing anxiety in the first place – then I never get to talk myself down off the ledge. I never get the opportunity to “come down.” If I never learn how to cope with my anxiety, then I never learn how to care for this issue that is causing me to stress out. If I never learn how to deal with the stress, my body translates that into… well… this pretty much explains it:

Once upon a time, in a land not very far from your home… lived mankind. No fast cars, no shiny structures, no skyscrapers, nothing. Just man.. rock… and animals.

See, this worked for man because his only task was to hunt wildlife, and gather his kill for his family. That was his responsibility. His purpose was to bring the salt and fat from the animal to the family. Not work, not bills… just hunt. Because life was much simpler then, this was man’s sole source of stress.

One day, man could not hunt. Every time he threw his spear, he’d miss his prey. He just couldn’t catch SQUAT! His family was to go hungry and he just… he couldn’t take it. The stress started to build up inside of him.

Because stress about the inability to eat is the only source of stress for man, his body became used to the eventual chain of events. His body knows: Lots of stress = lack of food coming in. How did his body react? His body decided to hold on to what it had – by way of diminishing the amount of energy his body could exert all at one time, by way of making sure his body took a very long time to lose weight, by way of making sure it held onto every pound and fat cell it could. This bodily reaction would only further compel man to step up his hunting skills… why? Because he didn’t want to feel that way! He didn’t want his family to feel that way! He had to get his caveman hustle on! When man was finally able to tackle that antelope or whatever-what-have-you, the fats and salts in the meat were sooooo satisfying that they would cure man of the bodily reaction to stress.

Compare this to emotional eating. The body’s reaction doesn’t change no matter what variables you swap out. Regardless if the stress comes from traffic, bad work day, or family problems… the body’s reaction to stress has not evolved as fast as society has. Now, we can get food within ten minutes if we drive or own a microwave. So presuming our body believes that stress is caused by a “famine on the way,” then it’s going to trigger feelings to make you go hunt! Our bodies just don’t know how easy it is to get food just yet. It hasn’t caught up.

No matter what the source of the stress may be… our bodies perceive it all to be the same thing: a reason to hold onto weight. And if the weight gain that takes place also causes us anxiety? It becomes a cycle that is secondary to the original problem, which is not being allowed the time and space to care for ourselves.

Let’s not even get on the fact that failure to acknowledge an emotional shortcoming does not erase that shortcoming… it’s still there. Still affecting you. Still causing you to eat emotionally. Failure to address it as a means of maintaining your “strength” only results in it weakening you in the end..leaving you far less “strong.” Funny how that works.

Now, I could talk a lot about how our culture doesn’t allow Black women the space and places to be emotionally vulnerable – how many times do you hear “Therapy is for white people?” – and I could talk about how Black women are always on guard and fearing being taken advantage of – who needs to look after and protect a mule? they’re mules, for crying out loud – but I wont.

I take it back.

We allow ourselves to be ruled by an outdated ideology that says “you shouldn’t be using therapy,” but the reality is… if you never learned how to cope (or you are suffering the effects of depression brought on by an influx of sugar in the brain) and you were never taught how to cope (or you never learned how to deal with… well, you get the picture) with stress, what do you do? You lash out, you overstress, you sneak to the junk food, you get your fix… and you go on about your day. We shun the thought of therapy. We turn our noses up at it and call it “white girl sh-t,” as if to imply that therapy is for “those weak white b-tches.”

I hope you realize how ludicrous that sounds.

The reality is that all people – men, women, Black, white and otherwise – suffer from sacrificing themselves for any and everyone else. We all know that we need to do better in caring for ourselves. We all fall short on the concept of self-care. Learning how to curb emotional eating is something that is not reserved for Black women…

…but when we embrace a catch phrase that makes the entire thing acceptable? When we co-sign this ideology that turns us into mules, not human beings with feelings that must be addressed – even if it’s just to tell ourselves that we’re being silly? When we raise our daughters to embrace a catch phrase that not only denies them the ability to ever learn how to deal with their emotions but denies them the opportunity to ever learn about their emotions at all? When we misunderstand the concept of strength and proclaim ourselves as strong even though failing to address our weakness only leaves us weaker in the end? That’s a special kind of problem that we must fix.

It takes a strong woman to face her weaknesses head on with a desire to change them. Why? Because she has to face it without feeling like it makes her less of a woman. She has to acknowledge that patching the hole in the roof makes the house more reliable and sturdy – she can’t ignore the hole and act like she doesn’t feel its presence when it rains. She has to exhale, take time to recharge and pass on that understanding to her daughters.

…and maybe, juuust maybe, we’ll be able to get beyond this silly “Strong Black Woman” meme.

By | 2017-06-10T11:21:53+00:00 December 12th, 2014|Social Construct|38 Comments

About the Author:

The proud leader of the #bgg2wlarmy, Erika Nicole Kendall writes food and fitness, body image and beauty, and more here at #bgg2wl. After losing over 150lbs, Kendall became a personal trainer certified in fitness nutrition, women's fitness, and weight loss by the National Academy of Sports Medicine. She is also certified in sports nutrition by Precision Nutrition. She now lives in New York with her husband and children, and is working on her 6th and 7th certifications because she likes having alphabet soup at the end of her name.


  1. Pretty Keish January 31, 2011 at 2:16 PM - Reply

    May she rest in PEACE, literally.

  2. LaCrecia January 31, 2011 at 2:27 PM - Reply

    Playing the violin while people come to witness the lifeless shell that no longer exists………

    • Tiana January 31, 2011 at 3:28 PM - Reply

      *throwing flowers on the grave*

  3. Jeannine January 31, 2011 at 3:17 PM - Reply

    That was simpy beautiful!

  4. T.R. January 31, 2011 at 3:55 PM - Reply

    I killed mine years ago. I believe in therapy and anything else that allows you to explore your emotions and deal with the pain in your life. I like the reference to our need to get out hair did and how there is a much much deeper meaning behind that. And you just hit the tip of the iceberg. Well said Erica, well said indeed.

  5. Courtney January 31, 2011 at 4:07 PM - Reply


    I never realized how hard it was to do that until I took a stand and started to take better care of myself.

    It seemed as if opposition came from everywhere. I was if others said “How dare you start to actually LIVE your life? You’re supposed to be here to bail ME out and make me feel better about my sorry life.”

    It was then that I realized that some people in our lives like to have you in a certain postion so that they can remain comfortable in their position. The minute that you “get out of position” by changing your life, they immediately get uncomfortable. The saying “misery loves company” couldn’t be more true.

    I agree with you. I say throw the deuces to ole girl. I know how stressful it is to be that woman.

    The real “strong black woman” realizes that she is not perfect, continually works to improve herself and accepts that she is incapable of really helping anyone else until she has first helped herself.

    • Jackie November 5, 2012 at 7:36 PM - Reply

      All of this! ^^

  6. Toya January 31, 2011 at 4:33 PM - Reply

    *sends to every black woman I know*

  7. Roz January 31, 2011 at 7:47 PM - Reply

    Thank you, Erika. I feel…so relieved.

  8. IshopMonet January 31, 2011 at 9:44 PM - Reply

    Awesome article! I can relate I used to be an emotional eater.

  9. yesplease February 1, 2011 at 12:00 AM - Reply

    oh wow. This is so amazing. It sort of demeans those of us who have HAD to be the mule to help our families survive, but the overall point is well-taken. Most of us aint on some color purple sh*t, we are here. The bit about our historical relationship to food is FASCINATING. THank you.

    • Erika February 1, 2011 at 12:14 AM - Reply

      I hate that an element of my post comes across as demeaning – I acknowledge that a lot of us HAD to “be the mule,” but the question is “Why?” Are there no friends, no families, no significant others to help? Are they all busy suffering that same syndrome we all struggle through?

      I have girlfriends who do “switch-offs.” One day a week, one of them will scoop up the kids and take them to a playground or park, and the next day another girlfriend will do the same. The kids grow up together with a group of friends they’ll have forever, the girlfriends get to have time with hubby/boo thang/self, and peace can be had.

      All I want from this post is for us to question this very real phrase that interferes with our ability to administer appropriate self-care to ourselves. I’d never want to demean a woman, although I do acknowledge that a bit of shame comes into play when we see something for the first time in a different light.

  10. Debbi Estelle February 1, 2011 at 9:39 AM - Reply

    …but one thing will eternally remain. The lack of care that we give to ourselves. Sacrificing not only our time but our bodies – our physical and mental health – for others is a kind of martyrdom that I do not wish on any woman.

    I certainly HOPE (sincerely) that enough of us ‘get it’ that this doesn’t eternally remain. 🙁 This mentality is killing us softly but NOT slowly!

    I am with you on this one!!! I pray we find the internal strength (not the facade of it), courage, confidence, peace and support to understand that life will go on if we are not the arm, leg, brainchild and gofer of EVERY project!!!

    I say “Damnit, I am nobody’s gofer or mule!” LOL! 🙂

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