How the “Strong Black Woman” Identity Hurts Self-Image

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The stereotype of the “strong black woman” sounds like a compliment on a surface but can get complicated when you dig deeper. Many black women in America report feeling pressured to act like “superwomen”; projecting themselves as strong, self-sacrificing, and free of emotion to cope. They are coping to deal with the stress of race, gender-based discrimination, and the difficulties in their daily lives. Being a “superwoman” could help African American women cope with the stress of their lives but it may have some drawbacks.

“[Women] talked about every day walking out of their houses and putting on their ‘armor’ in anticipation of experiencing racial discrimination,” said Amani M. Allen, associate professor of community health sciences and epidemiology at the University of California, Berkeley, describing focus groups she led with African American women in the San Francisco Bay Area. This armor is a natural defense to the world in their jobs, social settings and even home lives. This armor can do more harm than good because it can alter the self-image of black women. “What they were really describing was this idea of being strong black women and feeling the need to prepare for the racial discrimination they expect on a daily basis; and that preparation and anticipation adds to their overall stress burden,” Allen continued.

These pressures have a direct link to the physical health of black women. This is a reminder that you are worthy enough to be yourself. Whether you are feeling mad, sad or you are just simply over always being the “strong black woman”, you are allowed to take a breather. Focus on your mental, physical and emotional health. Until we are in a space where society improves you have to be concerned about yourself because no one else will make sure that you are okay.

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