Through Her Lens: Reflections on #TBPSelfCare

Get to know some of the women behind the cameras at The Beautiful Project! We asked our contributing photographers for the Self Care exhibit to reflect on their experiences with the women they interviewed and photographed. Today’s reflection is from Precious Graham.

Also, today is the final deadline to submit to our exhibit. If you are a Black woman that would like to contribute, check out our guidelines here. Submissions are due by 11:59 pm EST.

LaShon and I met at my former place of employment and it was my first experience forging a friendship with a Black woman outside of my age range, outside of my social circle, and in an environment that isn’t typically conducive to friendship. LaShon is professionalism personified and is skilled at keeping her personal life out of the office. That said, her welcoming me into her home was very special to me. My favorite part of the photo shoot was learning that we had many self-care practices in common, namely writing. Seeing her beautifully written book of affirmations was beyond inspiring. After learning about how she cares for herself, I have a better understanding of how she has been able to successfully juggle so many endeavors.

17 Lashon_photo by Precious Graham

The experience has taught me that self-care is a habit to be cultivated and maintained throughout the course of one’s life, not only at a certain age or during difficult times. I had never given much thought to it before, but now I’m completely committed to doing so and encourage all of the women in my life to do the same. In hindsight, I can easily pick out the moments when I was consistently practicing self-care, or neglecting to do so, as it was usually evident in some or all other areas of my life. In this moment, I practice self-care by taking time for myself, penning my thoughts, feelings, and opinions regularly, seeking knowledge and spaces that encourage critical thinking, and nurturing loving and healthy relationships in my life.

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.

“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.

The Beautiful Project is an organization that uses photography and reflective workshops to give Black girls an opportunity to confront positive and negative portrayals of Black girls and Black women in the media and in their communities. Our three departments–Photography, Saturday Studios and Health & Wellness– partner with families and organizations to boldly and unapologetically create images of Black girls just as they are, daring girls and the world that engages them to see the many, varied ways every black girl is indeed, beautiful.  We have been engaged in this work for nearly ten years and are excited about this

phase as we extend our reach to impact more minds and lives.  Please click the tabs to the left to learn more about our organization.

For the first time ever our website most fully expresses who we are, what we do and allows us to engage our community as we invite y

ou to gather here with us and each other.  So, this is our place, our blog, The Lens:  our safe space nestled right here on our website.  It is our hope that our posts give voice to who we are and that our readers and subscribers are able to see themselves on our pages.  Our goal: to create a safe space where we can thoughtfully engage and enjoy each other, unabashedly rep each other and offer to the world an opportunity to see us as we see ourselves.  The Lens.   Hope you love it as much as we do!

Meet the directors, Jamaica Gilmer (Founder and Co-Director) and Pamela Thompson (Co-Director).  The pics above are from the director’s retreat, our way of gathering, re-energizing, galvanizing, and dreaming together around the work of the Beautiful Project.



Photo Credit: Jamaica Gilmer and pamela t. for The Beautiful Project