Embracing a ‘Soft Life’: Redefining Strength and Identity for Black Women

Rather than dealing with stress, trauma, depression and racism, Black women deserve a day-to-day life of ease.

Oprah Winfrey, Fantasia Barrino and Taraji P. Henson attend the 29th Annual Critics Choice Awards on Jan. 14, 2024, in Santa Monica. (John Shearer / Getty Images for Critics Choice Association)

For Black women like myself, Taraji P. Henson struck a familiar nerve when she recently voiced her frustration of unfair pay over the course of her otherwise successful acting career: “I’m just tired of working so hard. Being gracious at what I do, getting paid a fraction of the cost,” she revealed on a publicity tour for the box-office smash originally based off of Alice Walker’s novel, The Color Purple.

As enticing as the idea of the “strong Black woman” sounds, this myth of fierceness, fearlessness and resilience doesn’t hold up under the weight of the racism and sexism Black women face in trying to thrive daily. 

While stress, trauma, depression and racism are imposed on Black women, they also do a number on how we think about ourselves. We forget that we can imagine different ways of being and eschew some of the weight of expectations pushed on us. It is true we have a great deal of work to tackle the systems that hold us back, but we also have the power to begin shifting cultural norms that make life hard.

Enter the “soft life.”

The soft life intentionally pursues an easy and peaceful life. A soft life is a lifestyle of comfort and relaxation with minimal challenges and stress. Black women rarely get to experience that and often are expected to be the backbone of their families. The ultimate goal is to thrive and enjoy life without having to endure hardships, pain or burdens. 

Soft life is not about the flamboyant expressions of materialism or wealth typically associated with a life of leisure, but instead what the day-to-day life of ease could look like. A life of simplicity benefiting peace, tenderness, vulnerability, slow living, intentionality or purpose. 

What does it truly mean to live outside of the struggle of survival?

Black women all over the world have embraced a soft life:

  • Raevyn Rogers, an American track star, said a soft life and personal growth made her a better person on and off the track. 
  • SZA is an advocate of soft life, through her music and on social media. She also embodies empowerment and strong friendships. 
  • Since 2021, Simone Biles Owens has shown the world she is on the path to a soft life. Back in 2021 during the Tokyo Olympics, she prioritized her mental health and decided to not finish the Olympics. She made the decision that was best for her at the time mentally and physically. Since then, she has been an advocate for mental health awareness in hopes it inspires others.  

The soft life is how modern-day Black women are fighting against stress, trauma, depression, racism and reclaiming our livelihood. We see the value and importance in mental health and a wellness mindset or lifestyle. It’s about incorporating balance into your life, making decisions that lead to enjoyment, and asking the question: What does it truly mean to live outside of the struggle of survival? In order to truly obtain a soft life, one must unlearn being identified as a “strong Black woman” but how when the most disrespected person in America is the Black woman.

Black women face health risks with discrimination from health professionals who don’t take concerns seriously or with urgency. They also receive it from chronic stress by just living, the wear and tear of everyday life. The burden of having to do it all and carry the added weight leads to health issues. Black women experience racism in employment, housing and interactions with the police, presenting them with a 26 percent higher chance of coronary heart disease. Higher risk can be associated with genetics, obesity ane diabetes, but stress also plays a big role.

As children, young Black girls are conditioned to believe we must show up and be better than others. Growing up, we have been told and shown that being resilient and enduring pain is a personal victory and triumph. We have to work twice as hard and prove ourselves in society.

Harvard Law School graduates take part in the Black Commencement at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., on May 23, 2017. The ceremony is designed to celebrate Black students’ unique struggles and achievements at the institution. (Keith Bedford / The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Black women make 67 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men. As an adult, one must consider wage gap differences, socio-economic disparities, highlight systematic issues, gender bias, occupational segregation and lack of career advancements. We are often seen as lacking competence in the workplace or receive lower pay.

Black women are the only race-gender group whose turnover and promotion are negatively impacted by the race of their co-workers. As if life wasn’t already unfair and problematic, if a Black woman brings a child into the world she faces the highest maternal mortality rate in the United States—69.9 per every 100,000 live births, almost three times the rate of white women. 

One might argue the art of slow living is not attainable, at least for Black women. It’s questionable why this perception exists when women of other races are able to embrace and showcase it in their everyday lives. Black women deserve to experience the same level of peace, mindfulness and wellness as anyone else. 

It’s easier said than done for a Black woman to just switch to a soft life. It’s a lot of things to unpack and resources such as therapy might not be accessible to everyone.

Licensed psychologist Taisha Caldwell-Harvey, Ph.D., founder of The Black Girl Doctor said, “A one-size-fits-all approach to mental healthcare and wellness is ineffective because our experiences of stress and its triggers vary significantly based on our individual identities.” 

Therapy is a good place to start. Another way is by prioritizing mental and emotional health. Taking care includes getting enough sleep, eating well and working out. Soft life means taking moments to slow down and enjoy life. Time being finite, we will never get those moments back.

Kick off a new year of the soft life with a few lifestyle changes such as: 

  • Create a word for the year, set goals, and check in monthly.
  • Mediate for 10 minutes.
  • Write a letter thanking your body for all it has done for you.
  • Move your body, treat it with respect and love it deserves.
  • Write in your journal.
  • Travel, visit a new city.
  • Take a bubble bath.
  • Treat yourself to a massage/

A soft life for Black women provides creativity, slowness and freedom. It allows us to reclaim time and pour into our mental health with intention behind everything we do.

Up next:

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LaCriessia Malone is a communications expert, project manager, advocate for amplifying Black voices, and a public voices fellow with the OpEd Project.