Resources on Minimalism and Simplicity

The spring season is afoot which means we are considering what spring cleaning can look like for our lives and households. As we navigate how to declutter our spaces, both physically and mentally, our guest writer, A. Kurian, continues her dialogue on choosing simplicity and shares her favorite resources on the approach of minimalism.

Minimalism is a trend, but simplicity is a lifestyle. In the Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster writes, “We are made to feel ashamed to wear clothes or drive cars until they are worn out. The mass media have convinced us that to be out of step with fashion is to be out of step with reality…Simplicity sets possessions in proper perspective…Simplicity is the only thing that sufficiently reorients our lives so that possessions can be genuinely enjoyed without destroying us.” We can learn how to live simply by reading and learning from those who have chosen a minimalist approach. Below are a few resources:

The Afrominimalist

Brown Kids

Black Minimalists

Becoming Minimalist

Through My Lens

Miss Minimalist

Frugalwoods

The Minimalists

Be More With Less

 

“The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less.” – Socrates

I will be the first to admit I did no reading in college, not for fun anyway. As a self-proclaimed proud bibliophile, I continued to buy books by authors I adored and let them collect dust for what I called, “My Gap Year Reading List.” Since graduating in May (shoutout to my family, mentors, friends and partner who helped get me to the finish line), one of my top priorities has been to refuel my love for reading. From audiobooks to anthologies, and everything in between, the following resources have helped me stay consistent, aware of new and upcoming works by Black women authors, and nourished my soul in only a way Black women’s words and stories can. I hope these help you as much as they’ve helped me!

  1. Rebel Women Lit’s Diversity Reading Challenge

Rebel Women Lit is a monthly book club based in Kingston, Jamaica centered around Black sisterhood and literature. Before the New Year, they created a reading challenge for book-lovers at various speeds that includes prompts which focus on books on and by POC, women, and LGBTQIA+ individuals. I’m currently working on the Avid Reader’s Plan! Members have also shared links to books they’re hoping to read this year, like Sasha’s list here.

 

  1. Black Womanhood: The Syllabus

Now this is a course I wish I’d had in undergrad! Dr. Martha S. Jones and Dr. Jessica Marie Johnson, professors in History and Africana Studies at Johns Hopkins University, have created an exceptional syllabus for their Black Womanhood course this spring. Their syllabus covers weekly topics that span from Black women in the Triangular Slave Trade to Black women’s vocality on social media, and they have been gracious enough to share it with all of us.

  1. The Root’s Black Book List for 2018

I love this list by Hope Wabuke for numerous reasons, but perhaps the most significant is that Wabuke took the extra time to arrange these upcoming works by release date. Now that I’ve already purchased my first two on the list, Naima Coster’s Halsey Street and Morgan Jerkins’ This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America, I’ve used Amazon’s pre-ordering to keep track off their release dates. Much like how we broke records for pre-sale tickets to Black Panther, pre-ordering sets the tone for publicity and sales for authors.

  1. Bitch Media’s List of 2017 Black Women’s History Books

I was still a college student for half of 2017 and, as a history major, nothing makes me nerdy senses tingle more than reading about Black women change-makers in history. Oftentimes we need to look back to move forward and these nine books, most of which also written by Black scholars, revolutionize the histories we were taught in elementary and rightfully position Black women at the center of American history.

Whether you’re a once-in-awhile reader or the most dedicated bookworm, these lists and challenges by Black women and for Black women are sure to help! Happy reading booklovers!

Written by Alexandria Miller and Photography by Jamaica Gilmer for TBP

You’ve seen the beautiful women featured in the Self Care exhibit. We would also like for you to get to know the women behind the cameras. We asked our contributing photographers to reflect on their experiences with the women they interviewed and photographed. If you are a Black woman that would like to contribute to our exhibit, check out our guidelines here.                                                                                                                                                                                               Khayla shares her reflection photographing her mother Kitty.

What was your favorite moment about the photo shoot?
My favorite part about participating in this exhibit was having the opportunity to take photographs of Kitty, my mom in an intentional way. My mother loves taking pictures. In all actuality, she is the true photographer of the family. She loves capturing beautiful moments on camera, whether it is a sunset or memories with family. I wanted to turn the camera on her and have the opportunity to capture her beauty as I see it every day.

 
Do you have a favorite quote from one of your interviews?
“Self-care is trying to look inward and trying to maintain my connection and relationship with God. I think that’s a big part of self-care.” I admire my mom’s relationship with God and her unwavering faith. When life gets hectic, she knows how to quiet the noise and chatter around her, just spend time with herself and God.

 
What did you learn during this experience?
I learned that it is so necessary to take some time to be self-indulgent and just enjoy your self. We are often taught to be selfless and serve others always. Yes, it is important to serve and I try to practice it daily. However, to serve others, it is necessary to take a break, relax, and release.

 
How do you practice self-care?
Self-care for me is a lot of different things. I’m a natural talker and love to have interesting & meaningful conversations with my friends.  Other times, I prefer the quiet and to reflect to myself in my journal. I write daily and it is a great space for me to release tension, capture happy days, or pray to God. I also enjoy jamming to good music and curating playlists for different moods and occasions.

 

Khayla Deans graduated from the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill in 2013 with a degree in Public Policy and African American Studies. She is passionate about amplifying positive media and images of communities of color, especially in the Black community. She currently works for Frontline Solutions, a social change consulting firm. Follow her on twitter @khayla_d.

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

– Audre Lorde, poet & activist

Alexis Dennis is efficiency and sweetness. She is a titan in her own right. And we are so proud she is ours. The Beautiful Project is elated to present The Self Care Exhibit: A Word & Image Act of Self-Preservation & Political Warfare. Showcased in our online gallery, this exhibit includes the work of many image makers in our collective including Khayla Deans, Cyrita Taylor, Elisabeth Michel, Precious Graham, Alexis Dennis and Jamaica Gilmer. Check out Alexis’ post about how the Self Care Exhibit came to be!

In my last year of college, I participated as a student intern/photographer with The Beautiful Project. I remember the end of my final semester – we were trying to pull together our final quotes and images of girls for our Black Girl Triptych Exhibit. The other student interns and I were also trying to make sense of our lives, given our impending transition – final exams, graduations, goodbyes, new jobs, new cities, new relationships, uncertainty. It was an incredibly stressful time – the first big drop on a roller coaster of emotion that I’d later realize would characterize my “20s.” Throughout the year, we’d served as role models for young girls and adolescents, helping them to learn how to recognize their inner and outer beauty, to have confidence in themselves, and to strengthen their self-esteem and self-worth.

Yet, as I took stock of my own feelings, and observed my peers, I noticed that despite our pride in our accomplishments – both in our work with The Beautiful Project and throughout our undergraduate careers – we were both worn down from our efforts and also anxious about our futures. Then came the moment of exasperation:

“It’s great that we work with and for girls, but can we add a component to Black Girl Triptych that focuses on women?  Like, I need to know how they take care of themselves despite everything going on in their lives! I need to know how to take care of myself. HOW do I take care of myself!?”

The seed for the Self Care Exhibit was planted in that moment. In the years since that moment, I’ve experienced many more transitions in my own life, and observed transitions in the lives of my mother, my sister, my friends, and my colleagues. Throughout the moves, the new relationships, the breakups, the weddings, the babies, the deaths, the illnesses, the new jobs, I’ve notice a pattern in both myself and in other black women: there is a lot of giving, but not always a lot of replenishing.

Many women, and black women in particular, are socialized to be “pillars of strength,” the “caretakers” of our families, our friends, and our communities. However, the stress of bearing this weight for long periods of time can be emotionally and spiritually draining, and can take a toll on our physical and mental health. The increased visibility of racism and police violence occurring in communities of color, and mainstream media narratives surrounding these events, as well as the micro-aggressions that we experience in our day-to-day lives, add an additional sense of urgency, frustration, and at times, helplessness, that can manifest into additional physical and emotional stress.

Poet and activist Audre Lorde said, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” The need to make time to care for our emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being is crucial because if we’re not functioning as we should, nothing around us is functioning as it should.

Through the Self Care Exhibit we aim to showcase how black women of different ages and walks of life conceptualize, practice, and struggle with Self Care. We hope these words and images will inspire other black women to stop thinking about self-care as selfish or “self-indulgent” acts, but instead as acts of “self-preservation and political warfare” that help us to build and sustain our families and our communities.

Today on the blog we have a post by a former intern, Precious Graham. I can’t say enough about this woman. Working alongside her for a couple of years was inspiring as I watched her express herself creatively through the lens and through thoughtful, reflective conversation. It was also encouraging because I would think to myself about all of the grand possibilities for the world because she was in it. She spares no part of her brilliance and thoughtfulness on this piece. Enlighten your Monday by taking some time to read her provocative piece below. 

 

Last week 14-year-old Willow Smith’s glamorous editorial spread and cover for Issue 6 of Carine Roitfeld’s CR Fashion Book was released.  Rocking everything from Tom Ford to Saint Laurent, Willow embodies a cool, seemingly effortless bohemian style that is captured in a high fashion lens. In the words of black twitter: “Mama is slaying!” Flipping through the photos for the second time, I came to the conclusion that what was awe-inspiring to me about this editorial was more than the clothes, the photography, or even Willow herself. I take a certain pleasure in seeing a black girl having the freedom to be completely and unapologetically herself, whatever that may look like. It almost feels luxurious. Willow is quoted in the magazine as saying “I just want to have dreads. I want to embrace my full self, as natural as I can be…I think my look changes all of the time, and right now it’s a bit more messy, kind of grungy.” In the last few years, particularly as the visibility of black women with natural hair has increased, these girls have been dubbed “carefree black girls” on social media. However, as much as I adore the concept, I also find it a bit depressing in that it suggests that black girls have so much to care about in the first place that to be oneself has become a revolutionary act.

As an undergraduate at Duke University, I was selected to be a part of a women’s leadership program on campus called the Baldwin Scholars program. Upon matriculation into the program, one of the first things we were taught was “effortless perfection.” Coined by a breakthrough study at Duke in 2003, the phrase describes the impossible pursuit among college women of academic excellence, physical beauty, and popularity, all without appearing to break a sweat. Because achieving this perfection is impossible, it often leads to insecurity, low self-esteem, and a host of other issues. Sounds bad, right? Well imagine a young woman battling that societal pressure everyday while simultaneously attempting to refute negative racial stereotypes that have existed for hundreds of years. Effortless perfection is ten times worse for a black girl because she has to constantly consider the negative societal views that may accompany her blackness as well as her womanhood. She is not afforded the luxury of being herself because she has to be a representative. She is supposed to be beautiful (in a way that appeases the white dominant culture), fit and curvy (even though that is grounds to be criticized as well), educated, heteronormative, domestic, gregarious, mild-tempered, and so on. Any slip up could land her in any of the various categories that describe a wrong type of black woman, namely Mammy, Jezebel, and Sapphire, or as they might be called today, Baby Mama, Hoe/Thot, or Bitch/Angry Black woman that will never get married. While conformity to these pressures are exemplified in a number of ways, it is very often performed through the mediums of hair and fashion.

So yes, when I come across a black girl who is unapologetically herself in that regard, it is indeed revolutionary. If I had to give any advice to young black girls, it would be to hold on to that thing that makes you who you are, but also to have fun in the process of figuring out what that looks like. Wear an afro to an interview. Get piercings or tattoos if you feel compelled to do so. Experiment with fashion. Declare an art history major if that is what you love. Wear dreads to a fancy event like the Oscars, even though someone might think you smell like “patchouli oil and weed.” Give yourself the grace to make mistakes. Someone once told me that as a black woman your presence should be so great, so awe-inspiring that anyone who encounters you should be forced to deconstruct any preconceived notions they ever held about black women. I am now offering that advice to you.

 

Precious Graham graduated from Duke University in 2012. She is pursuing an interdisciplinary career in Demography and Social Policy. Her research interests include family demography, race and gender politics, and stratification.  She currently lives in the Washington DC Metro Area. Follow her on twitter @precgraham.

Photo Credit: Jamaica Gilmer for The Beautiful Project

Just in case you need a sip of something that’ll put a little strut in your stuff this Tuesday morning, check out this post from Dr. Bianca Williams.

“Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It’s beyond me.”
Zora Neale Hurston, anthropologist and author

As Black girls and women, many of us have felt anger at a world that doesn’t seem to understand us. Feminist thinker Audre Lorde teaches us that anger shouldn’t be shunned, and can actually be a productive sentiment.

It can be the basis for revolution.

But there are some days when anger needs to be released and let go; because if not, it can paralyze, sadden, or leave one hopeless. And on those days Zora’s words can speak directly to you.

The truth is that all of those negative messages about who people think you are aren’t really about you; it’s about them.

Because YOU are fabulous. Smart. Beautiful.You are the only YOU in the world.

And it’s their fault if they want to deny themselves your wonderful company.

That just gives you the opportunity to give more of yourself to those of us who love you.

Written by Dr. Bianca Williams for The Beautiful Project

Photo Credit:  Jamaica Gilmer for The Beautiful Project

A few years ago I was able to sit in an informal setting and listen to a woman with a brilliant mind lay out her thoughts in a rhythm that moved me into higher thinking. It was an amazing time of being stretched, enlightened, and encouraged on Black feminist thought and its relevance and prevalence not only in my life and work and but in the world at large. Since that time she has remained one of my most favorite professors, a woman I highly regard and a true gift. Last month I was able to spend an evening chatting with her and it was such a sweet time. I listened to her communicate her thoughts and when the conversation was finished I felt understood, seen, hopeful, and just happy. Please, get a cup of chai, green, mint or whatever tea you like, make yourself comfortable and sit a spell with us to enjoy a day in the life with Dr. Williams.

Okay, Dr. B, let’s get into it! Tell us a little about yourself starting with your full name, profession, current location and your back story (where are you from, coming of age memories, etc…).

Ok, well, my name is Bianca C. Williams. I live in Denver, Colorado and I work in Boulder, Colorado which is about 45 minutes to an hour away from Denver. I am an Assistant Professor of Africana Studies, but I am a trained cultural anthropologist and this is very important to me as this is my first love.

I’m originally from the Bronx. I grew up in Orlando, Florida and I’ve spent quite a bit of time in North Carolina for undergrad and grad school. The more time I spend in Colorado the more I learn how much of an “east coast girl” I really am! My family is Caribbean, from Jamaica. I identify as both African American and Jamaican. If I had to tell you about a coming of age memory for me, it would be learning what it meant to be African American, while having a family that is Jamaican and having connections to Jamaica. My understanding of being American was complex; there were different standards of beauty, how to be a woman, how to be Black in Jamaica and the US, so learning all of what that meant in two different cultures really affected me and the work I currently do. My grandmother was the center of our Jamaicaness; she’s the one who kept us connected. I became more personally connected to Jamaica through my research. The year I started my research my grandma died and, in that, I feel that she kind of passed the torch on to me.

What does a typical day in your life look like (your routine for the day)?

LOL!

You know, everyone laughs when I ask that question!

I don’t know that there is a typical day! Well, ok, so I’m definitely a late morning person. Those who know me personally or who have had to work with me know that I am no good until after 10:30 am. Because I am a night owl I do my best writing and thinking at night. I’m typically not in bed until around two o’clock am.

Once I get up in the morning though I take some time for prayer, reading my bible, and meditation so that I can talk to and listen to God and then, hopefully, spend time doing some yoga moves. Then once I leave the house, it’s a full day of meetings with colleagues and students and in the midst of that I teach two courses. Right now, I’m teaching Black Women, Popular Culture and the Pursuit of Happiness and Ethnography of American Blacknesses. After I get home, I try to get in about thirty minutes to an hour of writing.

Okay now, I know that you’ve been very busy writing a book and are now close to finishing, so why is it that you only take thirty minutes to an hour to write each day? Why not more?

(She sighs the sigh that comes with a loaded grin and resolved chuckle.) Oh, Pamela. That’s the very thing my advisor wants to know, lol! I think that I haven’t made writing my first priority so that’s why it’s getting done at the end of the day not the beginning and I am trying to shake that. However, even more practically, my day is so busy because, contrary to popular belief, being a professor is not just one job. I have to build programs, which includes developing curriculum, raising funds, I have to brand myself as a researcher and give talks promoting my work. Then there’s the actual teaching which involves being in the classroom, yes, but also conducting and preparing research and publishing that research. And, despite advice not to spend so much time doing this as it will not necessarily work towards my ability to receive tenure, I contribute to my community because it is important to me that the work I do has real life application. So, I need for what I do to mean something to Black women in the world. Soooo, after all of this, there is really little time left to write but I try, everyday to write for at least thirty minutes to an hour.

Is there anything, anyone or any part of your day that dictates how you look, i.e. how you wear your hair, your style of dress, make-up or fresh face, etc?

Oh wow. Umm I definitely grew up as a jeans and t-shirt type of girl. Growing up I paid no attention to society’s definition of beauty. I was over thirty when I started wearing make up, much to my mom’s chagrin, and I didn’t start carrying a purse until college. I was a bookbag, jeans, sneakers type of girl. As I got older I became more aware of what society thought was beautiful and this impacts how I present myself to the world, particularly in the classroom. So when I go in the classroom I wanna feel strong and confident and sometimes that means wearing makeup–which I have noticed I do feel more courageous when I have on make up. So, sometimes my classes, or being at the university, will require that. I think growing up as a Black girl in the US made me aware that being beautiful was to have long blonde hair, not thick curly hair like mine. There weren’t many affirmative Black standards of beauty around. I just felt like it was too much work to modify myself to fit what everyone else thought was beautiful. Now as I dress I am aware of what people think beauty should look like and I try to find my own definition of beauty somewhere around that.

As it concerns my hair and how I wear it, I became natural two years ago and that has been quite the journey in learning what my hair wants to do– sometimes I fight it to do what I want it to, and sometimes I let it free to do what it wants to do! Depending on how my hair feels can affect how I express beauty that day.

How would you define beauty?

I would define beauty as confidence and courage. That is what comprises beauty.

Would you say that there is any relationship between beauty and power?

Yes. I think the way that I define beauty, as confidence and courage, both require deep awareness and love of self and that can make you feel empowered. So if one does not know who they are and does not love who they are, that can make you feel helpless and powerless. And I think part of the reason why the work that organizations like The Beautiful Project do is important, is because the things you see around you in the world such as music, film, advertisements, they help you figure out who you are and who you are not, what you are and what you are not. So it’s important for people to see some reflection of themselves in the world to help them build confidence.

Do you think you’re beautiful?

Most definitely. (She giggles.) I think like everyone else, particularly women, you have days you don’t feel your best, most confident, most courageous self. But now that I am in my thirties, something about entering my thirties made me feel more courageous about expressing who I am in the world. In my thirties, more days than not, I have come to feel more beautiful. I think, generally speaking, in the teens and twenties, as a woman in the US at least, you spend so much time trying to figure out who you are in relation to who everyone expects you to be and that can feel tough and confusing. It can make you feel anxious about defining who you are in opposition to who everyone else wants you to be and can be a barrier to you expressing that confidence. In your 30s you’ve been here long enough so that if your definitions of beauty don’t align with others, you’re ok and you know that everyone else will be ok. It takes some time to gain that small piece of wisdom.

What makes you beautiful?

Oh wow. I think the first thing that comes to mind when I think about my beauty is my smile. I know that my smile can light up a room and draw people in. I know that my eyes have a deep sense of knowing. I am very interested in people’s stories, where they come from, what’s important to them and my eyes can look like they are listening for that deeper sense of meaning. I think, for me, it’s easier to talk about when I feel beautiful. I feel beautiful when I sit under the sun and soak up the heat. When I am around my really close girlfriends and my sister, I feel so beautiful. There is something about love and acceptance of self and total support that can make you feel really beautiful. Some of my best moments and memories of my beauty are with my close friends and my sister.

Wow. That was just so good for me to hear you speak about yourself that way. Typically women find it really difficult to say what they like about themselves; we become very bashful and conservative when we have to speak well of ourselves. But it was really encouraging to hear you say what’s good about you and know it, own it, and love it, proudly.

That “beauty as boldness and courage” is something that women grow into. In my twenties I would not have said any of that, lol!

Do you think your beauty empowers you?

I think my sense of self, the way I am constantly trying to grow in being confident and courageous, it empowers me to share my story with others. So me and Tami Navarro, who I know that you have interviewed here, have been writing a lot lately about the strength and power of being radically honest. Beauty empowers me to be honest about my strengths but also my weaknesses and to share it with other people to let other people know, particularly Black girls and women, that we all struggle with our sense of self and not feeling beautiful. Sometimes the beauty is knowing that others are in the same struggle with you. So beauty empowers me to tell my story and my hope is that in sharing my story the world is being transformed for the better.

Mmmmmm…beauty as courage to be radically honest to be both strong and weak. Wow. That’s powerful. When you say, “share my story” what pieces of your life are you referring to?

My story in particular, the parts that are important to share, are the struggles I had in becoming a scholar. Going to undergrad and grad school as a Black woman. That narrative is important to share. Some people become discouraged when they encounter difficulty when trying to become a professor. There is a silence and a stigma there. I think it’s important to speak about the challenges of being emotionally well, to talk publicly about the struggle of anxiety. It is silenced throughout US culture but especially in Black communities. The silence many times is part of what traumatizes people.

Has your beauty ever been challenged? If so, how did you overcome those challenges?

Wow. Again I refer to the tomboy I was growing up. My sister and I have an AWESOME relationship but, as in many families and in school , growing up there is one sibling who is held up as the aesthetically pleasing or beautiful one and the other, the bookworm or intellectual one. My sister was the pretty one and I was the smart one. That’s how people set us up in relation to one another, but it’s not true. I have my own beauty and my sister is intelligent. But that binary messed with my self-esteem and my confidence and I know from my sister’s stories that it also messed with her confidence and self-esteem. So if I have to think back to a moment when my beauty was challenged it comes from that. In families or communities we have a habit of placing people in boxes instead of celebrating them in their diversity. Us sharing our stories with each other led my sister and I to have an awesome relationship. We overcame our insecurities through honesty. In the past, when people called her pretty and me smart we were silent. And though it made us feel “a way” we didn’t talk about it. So overcoming meant honesty and sharing those stories and together that helped us overcome challenges that resulted from that time.

What would say to your younger self to encourage her to embrace herself most fully and walk confidently in the world?

I would tell her (I even tell myself this still now) that every single person, no matter who they are, what race, no matter how much money they have, everyone has their struggles and those struggles are individual to each person. Most people are trying to find out who they are. Some find it at 12 years old others at 83. But finding self is the journey. It is the point of life. We shouldn’t focus so much on presenting a perfect self but instead on enjoying the journey of self-discovery. Everything will be fine. Everything will be as God intended. We just have to be okay with the good parts and the tough parts.

 

As the world defines us, Black girls and women are always too much:

Too loud, too curvaceous, too loose, too broke.

Put another way, and equally sadly, we’re seen as not enough:
Not smart enough,
not driven enough,
not beautiful enough.

 

For those of us fortunate enough to have hand-carved

a vital community of fellow Black women,

we know the injustice of those untruths.

We also, however, know their power in society—and sometimes, in the dark of night, their power in our own hearts and minds.

The power of this space

is its mission to shine a light on those lies,

and with that light to overpower their darkness.

It’s not Black women that are too much

or not enough,

it’s this world—

for we are,

and always have been,

absolutely beautiful.

Written by Dr. Tami Navarro for The Beautiful Project

Photo Credit:  Amey Victoria Adams for The Beautiful Project