Amanda Creates Body Liberation Magazine & Community for Black and Brown Women
FOR US, SELF-CARE IS NEVER AS SIMPLE AS PUTTING ON A FACE MASK OR PAINTING OUR NAILS. WE NEED TO REVOLUTIONIZE WHAT SELF-CARE AND SELF-LOVE LOOK LIKE. IS SELF-CARE EVEN POSSIBLE IN A CAPITALISTIC SOCIETY THAT CONSTANTLY TELLS US NOT TO TAKE CARE OF OURSELVES OR LOVE OURSELVES? I DON'T KNOW.
The virtual space you founded, The Unplug Collective, is dedicated to making body discrimination education more accessible to Black and Brown communities. What does “Brown” refer to when you speak about Brown people?
There was a point when I wanted the space to only be for Black women because that’s my community. While at Columbia University, however, I have had the opportunity to hear the experiences of other communities through student clubs for undocumented and Indigenous students. I wanted a term that wasn't “people of color” to say Black people and other marginalized people. I think the process of labeling people in rigid ways itself is rooted in white supremacy. I wanted to center the most marginalized people without gatekeeping. It’s not my job to identify people, I let their writing do the talking.
One statement that really stood out to me from your page is that you were told to go on a diet at the age of six. As a Latina in recovery for an eating disorder, I grew up believing that only white girls and women had eating disorders. As a Black girl growing up, what messages did you receive about mental health?
Mental health wasn't a conversation. And a lot of things were presented as universal truths. I think by “speaking the unspoken” and telling these stories we reveal some of the things we were taught. One of these universal truths growing up was weight gain not being an option. Seriously, I didn't know weight gain was an option at all. The point was to run away from any and all weight gain. These messages about weight were constant whether it was adults talking about their diets and weight loss or fat people talking about needing to lose weight. Nobody is to blame. These things are deeply structural and societal. There are very specific types of people and aesthetics I saw growing up. I grew up thinking that being somebody successful is equivalent to being somebody skinny.
As someone who grew up in Jamaica, did you experience Black womanhood differently in America?
I think it depends on what part of Jamaica because just like anywhere, there’s nuance. Your experience in Jamaica will depend a lot on your socioeconomic status. Generally, there is definitely body variation. You constantly see women of different body shapes and sizes. I think what people miss is that many Jamaicans have the privilege of watching “cable.” We grew up watching American television, too. America has a huge impact on the world. Diet culture is one of the most lucrative industries with ads like Weight Watchers and Nutrisystem being constant. Plus, regardless of the body variation I saw growing up, there were so many global messages that told me weight gain was the worst thing. I remember the first doctor's visit that I left crying. I told my mom I was never going back to see them. This doctor told me I was overweight, and in that moment it felt like the world was ending. At six years old, I definitely was not. What I've learned is that a lot of “science” like BMI (Body Mass Index) does not include the body makeups of people with different shapes and genetics. It was invented nearly 200 years ago and the overreliance on BMI actually harms a lot of people’s health. There really is a great article about it on Medium. Whether at the doctor's office or in ballet class, I was taught from very young that being anywhere above the “average weight” would hold me back.
I can empathize with being told I was overweight at a young age when I was not. I grew up with different family members being verbally abusive about my weight. I think some of their behavior stems from generational trauma. For example, some Latina elders believe that a young woman will not attract a spouse if they do not look skinny and pretty. Women that stray from conventional and European standards of beauty risk not being successful according to their terms.
Yes, it's definitely generational trauma and a survival mechanism. This is why it is so important to talk about these topics in the context of Black and Brown people because the reasons are so complex. I would never invalidate the eating disorder experiences of white women because I wouldn't wish an eating disorder on my worst enemy. But, specific to us, there is so much going on. There is the external and how we present to the world. But also, in many Black and Brown homes, parents want their kids to have the best shot at whatever jobs they're applying to or at marriage. There is a really big awareness, even if it is unspoken, on appearance as a tool for social and economic mobility. We see this with things like constant commentary on weight, hair and skin tone.
In many Black and Brown households, survival is prioritized over self-care and mental health care. For instance, putting food on the table often takes precedence over discussing feelings.
Yes, absolutely. At Unplug, we try to unpack how we measure our success based on our accomplishments. There is an emptiness to being placed on a pedestal because we are always trying to achieve more. The feeling we get from achieving doesn't sustain itself because we are always looking for more affirmation. Accomplishments, however, shouldn’t be all that makes us special and they’re rarely what our friends love about us. We don't even give ourselves space to nourish the parts of ourselves that are most important because we are not allowed to give ourselves that space. Instead, we are told to just work hard and make it. For us, self-care is never as simple as putting on a face mask or painting our nails. We need to revolutionize what self-care and self-love looks like. Is self-care even possible in a capitalistic society that constantly tells us not to take care of ourselves or love ourselves? I don't know.
That's a very powerful perspective on self-care. I think it's also worth noting the intersectionality of gender and race within this capitalistic society. For instance, many Latinas are culturally taught to take up little space and care for others before themselves. I'm curious how did you learn to practice self-care and what does self-care currently look like for you?
I think I am still learning how to practice self-care. The hardest part about self-care is that I know it is important, but I am not conditioned to treat it as important. This is no one's fault but society's. Some of the things I am working on are setting boundaries and learning to say no. As you said, we are conditioned to do everything for everyone else. Often, women are seen as doormats or sponges that must absorb everything going on around them. Sometimes it's hard to realize what is going on because we have been doing it for so long. For instance, we may do tons of emotional labor for men and spend a shit ton of time giving without getting anything in return. So for me, I try to gauge things moment by moment and determine if what I am doing is fulfilling me or if I am doing it because I think I have to.
As you mentioned, many popular notions of self-care center on appearance. But, doing a face mask or taking a bubble bath doesn't do anything to process our traumas or resolve the frustrations we feel on a daily basis due to our identities.
No, they don't. Also, a face mask can't make a dark-skinned person that wishes they could bleach and be lighter feel more desirable in the eyes of society. Same for a plus sized person who hates their body and wants to be skinny. We have identities that the world is consistently telling us don't matter either directly or indirectly. The constant focus on self-care tends to be only an external thing and it’s ineffective. People are more likely to do the opposite of self-care like go on a restrictive diet or develop an eating disorder because they will look closer to what is validated by society. This can feel like self-care even though it's not.
This is very true. When I was actively in my eating disorder, I would receive compliments about my appearance. These compliments only fueled toxic self-talk.
I also am bulimic in recovery and had the exact same experience. It is unfortunate. I actually saw a tweet today where someone described never feeling good in their body. They look back on old pictures and wonder how they could have thought they were big back then when they were so much smaller than they are now. It’s a viral tweet so obviously people resonated with it. This idea of never being happy in your body and always striving for something else. Fatphobia affects everyone. But don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t affect everyone in the same way at all. Some are affected on an institutional level, like when doctors turn people away or misdiagnose them, especially during this COVID crisis. Fatphobia is something that everyone should care about. Body discrimination is more than appearance.
Thank you for sharing. Growing up, I heard conflicting ideals about body shape. In Latin America, you're supposed to have wide hips and a fat ass and in white America you're supposed to be thin. I felt I could never satisfy either ideal. Now, we have white women like the Kardashians enhancing their bodies to look like curvy Black and Brown women. There are so many inconsistent and frustrating messages in the media. As far as The Unplug Collective, what are your long-term goals?
I'd love for Unplug to be a well-known fashion magazine that expands our ideas of beauty and health, and emphasizes the ways in which we all have a story to tell. Hopefully that’ll include podcasts, photoshoots, and a fashion line for all sizes with our own models. Who gets to be in front of an amazing background with amazing makeup and outfits? Yes, fuck luxury, exclusivity and everything that can come with fashion brands. But, we still deserve to get dressed, feel good and see ourselves on magazine covers. Unplug has its own photoshoots and for those 4 hours it’s only about you. The more that I can do these photoshoots, the better. There’s no reason that in 2020 the media should be this lacking in representation. And you’re right, the Kardashians being glorified for features that Black women have always had and been mistreated for, is really hard to watch. Black women are the blueprint.
Social media has so many unrealistic and exaggerated representations of life. For instance, we have our Kylie Jenners and other celebrities parading around in jets. I feel for younger generations that are bombarded by Tik Tok and Instagram videos daily. How toxic do you think this exposure is?
I feel there is so much potential for the future, and social media can either go in one direction or the other. We could continue to use social media as a platform that is exclusive. Or, we could continue to make people feel seen and have conversations. Even if media companies don’t hire certain models, social media could somewhat level the playing field. But, that won’t truly happen unless we’re doing the work of unlearning our own internalized shit. Certain content creators still get more clout than others, regardless of people having equal access to social media platforms. But, it’s not just our individual responsibility. You can find more of my takes on beauty, fashion and capitalism on our Instagram.
Absolutely. Platforms like The Unplug Collective and Mentally Real center narratives that do not focus on white stories and white standards of beauty. What is one piece of advice that you hope your audience takes away from your content?
I'm not sure if I'm qualified to give advice just yet. But, I would say that there are so many people you don’t know exist that are going to support you if you share what you’re going through. It's hard to see this but there are so many other people who are experiencing what you are that aren't allowed to talk about it. I'm not saying everyone should put themselves out there or do anything that makes them feel unsafe. Just know that what makes you different will ultimately propel you into a community that can support you.
Thank you for sharing your wisdom! How can our readers reach you?
Thank you for having me!
The Unplug Collective's instagram is: @theunplugcollective
and our website is: https://theunplugcollective.com/.
My personal instagram is: @amandaliztaylor. Always down to chat more!