By Nia Calloway. Photography by Deun Ivory.
I am Black. I am female. I am soft.
I am courageous. I am ambitious. I am soft.
I am fun. I am hysterical. I am soft.
I am strong. I am honest. I am soft.
I am me. I am soft. I am okay.
I can be both soft and dynamic.
I can be both soft and sultry.
I can be both soft and intelligent.
I can be both soft and powerful.
Soft does not exclude me from having power. Soft does not exclude me from making my own decisions. I can be both soft and a free agent.
I used to harbor deep embarrassment and sometimes deep shame of my softness. I blamed my softness for imperfect social interactions. I blamed my softness for why I wasn’t noticed by my crushes. I blamed my softness for why kids in middle school would make me feel inadequate. I blamed my softness for my mental health issues. I too viewed my softness as a tragic flaw. I viewed it as something that held me back socially. I viewed it as something that would always get in the way of what I wanted. I viewed my softness as a weakness.
It took me a long time to realize that softness, my softness, is not weak. As a Black-vegan-female-mental health-advocate-artista, what I am not is weak. Somewhere in the span of history, during the reign of imperialism, and the development of capitalism, society learned that being soft equates weakness. We learned that softness equates weakness when we declared "cut-throatery" as the only way to advance in society.
Softness is yin energy that is essential to living in balance.
Yang energy consumes society in times of scarcity, injustice, and tyranny. Yin rebels against that. To be soft in our individualistic society, is an act of rebellion. We are rebelling against the impetus to be hostile and relentlessly rank one another. To be soft is to maintain a sense of wholeness that has not been fragmented by the enemy. It is rebellion. To be soft is to maintain a sense of levity in these heavy times. It is rebellion. To not constantly bear your shield and sword amongst a bloodthirsty battlefield is an act of rebellion.
My softness has given me freedom. I am free from the societal bounds that tell me I am supposed to loud, angry, and impossibly strong. Black women are strong by nature, not by caricature. Because the statement “Black women are the most unprotected persons in America” (Malcolm X) rings true for many, it is natural to think that containing softness would be to our detriment. How can we as Black women be “soft” when society has always and continues to pose physical, mental, and social warfare on us?
We use our softness as a way to exemplify self-preservation, self-identification, and self-ownership. Our softness can be a daily choice against suiting up for a battle we did not call for. Our softness is a way of showing the world that we actually are self-assured, not cowardly or less-than. We rebel against the stereotype that we are ridden with attitude. What is revealed externally does not always reflect what lies internally. If we choose to don a soft exterior, a sense of levity when we walk, or smile from a warm kiss of sunshine that illuminates our glowing skin, this does not detract from our strength and confidence within, it all reinforces it. When I am soft, when I exude softness, it is because I am choosing not to hide it. When I exude softness, I acknowledge that my strength within exists.
Softness is to be at peace. To be “hard” aligns with capitalism, cut-throat competition, and hiercharchy. It is rebellious to be soft because as Black women (in life, on stage, or on the screen), society always wants us to be fighting. Softness is rebellious for me as a Black woman because society tells me that I can't experience the full and wonderful complexity that is Black joy. A key part of Black joy stems from the recognition of struggle and triumph. The struggle to be recognized as fully human (a physically, mentally, spiritually blessed and flawed being), and the triumph of surpassing society’s expectations of our physical, mental, and spiritual abilities. Despite having every right to be as loud and angry as we please, we will not adhere to the rules of a society that tells us our voices can only be heard if we are angry, distraught, and loud. We will not adhere to a society that gladly consumes Black female anger and misery and downplays Black female joy and inner peace. You will not indulge in our struggles while refusing to acknowledging our triumphs.
Speaking of triumph, my softness, my yin energy has taught me how to love and forgive myself fully.
After struggling with mental health issues, I learned that when I fully accept the yin in my energy, I feel most balanced and at peace. I let go of the need to punish myself. Am I, as a Black woman, not allowed to simply feel at peace? Why must I adhere to a soul confining stereotype of constant yang energy? Why am I not allowed to be seen as vulnerable? Must Black women always be saving some man or fixing everyone's life before she handles her own problems? Sometimes us Black women only have enough answers and resources for ourselves. Neglecting our sense of softness in order to stay strong for other people will do us harm in the long run. Softness allows the door to vulnerability to open. Vulnerability creates an honest connection with oneself. An honest connection with oneself creates honest interpersonal connections. To be vulnerable is rebellious in a time when perfection and constant kick-assery have become the status quo. Vulnerability is strength in its own right. Fully inviting my soft yin energy into my life allowed me to let go of personal shame, embarrassment, doubt, and a lot of self-criticism.
Fully accepting and embracing my naturally flowing yin energy taught me that I can still win with yin.
Softness is rebellious because yin does not try to prove itself. Softness is rebellious because it is not reactive. Instead, softness chooses to be proactive. To love is proactive, to have compassion is proactive, to show vulnerability is proactive because being honest with yourself serves as a catalyst or inspiration for someone else’s journey to honesty and wellness. To be soft is to help others feel comfortable enough to be soft as well. Yin invites, Yang resists.
“If I didn't define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people's fantasies for me and eaten alive.”
This is a quote from Audre Lorde. I related to this quote not only because I realized how self-empowering it is to define oneself, but because I have known what it feels like to be socially eaten alive. I have been crunched into the box other people have designed for me. I, like plenty of other women of color, have been fragmented and sliced up so that other’s may have their hors d’oeuvre of choice. I refuse to feel fragmented from failing to live up to someone else’s perception of who I should be. I am taking full ownership of the vast and rich land that is me. I am taking ownership of my mind, body, and soul unapologetically and that is the ultimate beautifully radical act of rebellion.
Nia Calloway contributes to Om because BGIO's wellness mission has inspired her to have one of her own. Nia notes that BGIO is the catalyst in herself and many others to get honest about our personal wellness journeys and live our best lives possible. Nia calls Austin and Houston, Texas home. Her go-to self care practices are yoga, smelling nature, and laughing.