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It’s time to leave the Strong Black Woman trope in the past. Meet the Soft Black Girl

You could say that Shanelle Genai’s word of the year is “ease.” A little over a week into 2023, the Florida-based entertainment journalist and self-proclaimed soft life enthusiast tweeted:

“I define soft life as a way of living that’s a bit more intentional. I don’t think you can buy your way into it, it’s a state of being,” says Genai. “It’s about moving intentionally, taking inventory of your thoughts, goals and intentions. I like to think about the ideal version of me and what she does, then I try to do that.”

As with many viral trends, soft life began with Black women. The idea is said to have originated among Nigerian influencers before making its way to Western culture. On TikTok, the hashtag #softlife has more than 543.3 million views and #softblackgirl is hovering around 16.3 million. 

“Soft life, to me, is really about embracing self-care in every aspect of your life from home to work to your relationship with wellness and how you manage your relationships,” says Affirmations for Black Women: A Journal author and psychotherapist Oludara Adeeyo. “It touches everything.”

Soft Black Girl vs. Strong Black Woman

It’s a philosophy that more and more Black women have been embracing as a rejection of the Strong Black Woman trope, “a perception that Black women are naturally strong, resilient, self-contained, and self-sacrificing.”

“From the moment I was born, I felt like I had to be a strong Black woman,” says Black People Breathe author Zee Clarke. “I was thinking recently about how Black women don’t have models for rest because our mothers didn’t rest. Our grandmothers didn’t rest. And when you go back to the times of slavery, we took care of white women’s children and then went home to take care of our own. That comes with a lot of fatigue and exhaustion, so the status quo becomes overworking and not taking care of yourself.”

Genai agrees, noting that previous generations prioritized being strong—physically, emotionally and mentally. Oftentimes as a means of survival.

“What soft life aims to do is highlight that we don’t always have to be strong,” explains Genai. “There’s strength in vulnerability and there’s strength in being soft. There’s strength in easing into things. I’m not saying that taking charge is negative, but we don’t always have to jump to be the saviors. I think they’re a way for the Strong Black Women and Soft Life Girlies to coexist.”

The soft life is about more than aesthetics

Whereas the soft life trend has become synonymous with Black Girl Luxury, Adeeyo insists the lifestyle is about more than Instagram aesthetic—it’s a mentality, one that elevates the importance of mental health.

“I believe that self-care needs to start practical and once you start it practical, it begins to become instinctual and bleeds into other parts of your life,” she says. “It’s not just about buying stuff, it’s saying no at work. It’s saying no in your personal life. It’s saying no because you changed your mind and you want to rest. It’s about building community with people that make you feel whole and healed.”

Living a soft life is also about determining what works (and what doesn’t work) for you.

“It’s very easy to get caught up in the aesthetic of it all and believe that you need that matching yoga set, you need to drink matcha lattes and do your ‘hot girl’ walk and cook salmon in the air fryer and sit down with your wine class,” says Genai. “You think there’s a routine or a right way to do it and there’s not. There’s beauty in individuality.”

Implementing a soft life

As author and activist Audre Lorde once said, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare.” For Black women, self-care isn’t a nice-to-have, it can literally be a matter of death.

“The issues are in the tissues, which means when something happens, that shows up in your body—whether it feels like you got punched in the stomach or you feel tension in your shoulders,” she explains. “Your mental health is very tightly connected to your physical health, especially Black women. Black people have the highest rates of high blood pressure, heart disease and a lot of those things are a direct result of the discrimination and racism that we experience.”

For people who have a hard time putting themselves at the top of their to-do lists, Clarke recommends reciting the mantra, “Today, I choose me.” She also emphasizes the importance of listening to your body.

As part of living a soft life, Clarke recommends daily morning check-ins where you ask yourself, “How am I doing? How am I feeling right now?”

“I actually use my name like, ‘Good morning, Zee. How are you?’” she says. “Something about using your name positions the question from the perspective of someone who cares for you and you can be honest.”

Then she suggests letting how you feel determine your to-do list for the day. So if you’re feeling super energized, perhaps you can get around to the extra items on your list. But if you’re feeling exhausted, give yourself permission to postpone those tasks for another time.

To start living a softer life, one has to begin by taking an honest look at their current life, needs and wants devoid of influence from family, friends and social media, says Adeeyo.

“A lot of us have a hard time being honest with ourselves because we’ve been told how we should look, feel, do, live,” she says. “So sometimes we don’t even know ourselves. If you don’t know yourself, you can’t truly live a soft life.”

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