Soft + Strong: How I Am Learning To Love All of Me

BY ALEXIS JOHNSON. PHOTOGRAPHY BY DEUN IVORY.

For me, this year has been about embracing both worlds and identifying what that would mean for me. I think being soft and strong are interchangeable. I’ve learned that we can’t be soft without being strong and vice versa.

What I mean by this is, there is great strength in learning to be soft. As Black women, we are mainly taught to be strong, independent, and relentless in the pursuits of our goals. We are seldom told to be kind to ourselves but are always advised to be kind and gentle to others, even at the sacrifice of our own joy and happiness. This behavior encourages us to be so self-critical and more judgmental than we would be to a friend or stranger going through a similar predicament. While learning to consciously observe my thoughts, feelings, and actions I started to recognize how forgiving and loving I was to my friends and family members but somehow couldn’t extend that same courtesy to myself. Was I not deserving of this same loved I gave out so freely?

I found out through meditation and being alone with my thoughts that I did deserve to direct this love and forgiveness to myself; even more so than to someone else. This is because only I truly knew what I went through to get out of whatever situation or issue that was plaguing me. Only I knew how hard or not hard it was because I was the one enduring it! There is a Liberian saying that goes like this, “Only YOU know how your shoe hurting you.” It’s one of my favorite sayings, because it so perfectly describes how no one can truly know what you are going through more than you! I started asking myself “What would someone who loves themselves do?” The answer was always, “Be kind to yourself.”

There must be strength in being soft. It takes great determination to love yourself no matter what! To appreciate whatever flaws you have and understand that we all have them. I believe it is what connects us as human beings, really. We all have light and shadow. This also gives way to allowing yourself to be vulnerable. I think we can all agree it takes great strength to be vulnerable. Being soft is having the strength to say I love all of me. Light and shadow.

I used to think strong meant being tough, cold, hard, but I know now that that type of strength is a mask I used to cover up my fears and insecurities. Being strong has a lot more to do with softness than what I was originally brought up to believe. During the process of learning to love all my flaws, letting go of the shame and discomfort that these flaws produced in me I could finally acknowledge the gifts that God gave specifically to me. And just like that, confidence was built, brick by brick, in small steps, like a construction site. But like most construction sites, my confidence is constantly under construction. Strength requires us to develop confidence and confidence can sometimes be difficult to maintain. It’s slow and deliberate. It’s the small choices. It's reminding yourself that you can take up space in this world. In fact, it’s your God given right! I heard somewhere that if you want self-esteem, you must do esteem-able things.

So, what does living a soft + strong look like to me? Living a life that is authentic to who I am. Always remembering to monitor my feelings, thoughts, and actions. That sounds like an overwhelming process but it can be quite simple when you’re in direct alignment with what you want and know who you are. What I learned when I stopped being over critical and judgmental of myself is that I’m a woman who loves others deeply and fights fiercely for what she believes in. Soft + strong!

Alexis Johnson is in an exciting time in her life, where embracing change and facing her fears are vital to her existence. She calls the city of Boston home, but her family is from Liberia. Her go-to self-love practice is Meditation, Meditation, Meditation. It’s been a game changer for her since she's decided to make it a priority. Consistency is really key to getting the benefits of it. She makes sure to schedule some time out of her day EVERYDAY to meditate. Even if it’s for 15-20 minutes. For Alexis, it has truly been life changing. You can find her on IG: @glowinguplex.