On the first episode of the second season of HBO’s Insecure, Molly (Issa’s best friend) visits a therapist. There is awkardness to the interaction as Molly is highly reluctant to delve into the circumstances that drove her to the therapists chair in the first place. Molly is young, brilliant, a successful lawyer, and just all around #blackgirlmagic goals. Yet, she is struggling. She’s struggling in her personal life, and also struggling to admit to herself sitting in front of her therapist that she is indeed struggling.
Molly is a prime example of SWBS, or Strong Black Woman Syndrome.
In the scene, her therapist acknowledges this is less overt terms. She talks about how we as black women feel the pressure to have perfect jobs, perfect relationships, etc. All while maintaining the veneer of having it all together despite living at the intersections of racism and sexism, and all of the bullshit that entails. It is a result of centuries of white supremacist patriarchy that has never afforded us the fragility or femininity that was associated with white womanhood. It is something society hoists upon us, and that we in turn take upon ourselves at times. The idea of being “strong” is something that is ingrained into us from childhood. That you must have a spine of steel to navigate this world, and to some extent that is true. But, this leaves little room for acknowledging when our mental health is suffering.
For the first time in my life I started seeing a therapist earlier this year. As a result of my own SWBS, I have ended up spending a lot of time and energy hiding the cracks in my veneer, energy that would have been much better spent repairing the cracks in the first place. It’s been a battle for me to come to terms with my own being broken, to make room in myself for not being OK. To even take the time to examine the events and circumstances that have left the ceramic vase of my being imperfect has been wildly painful to be honest. I can’t help but think about Molly in a later episode and her reliance on the word “should” to discuss her life. When the bills are paid, you have your health, you have food in the fridge, people in your life who love you, and a job you love, you SHOULD be fine, right?
It has been a few years since I learned about the Japanese art form of Kintsugi, in which broken pottery is repaired with lacquer that has been mixed with powdered gold or silver. The results are these pieces that are quite literally held together with their highlighted flaws. The flaws, now embossed on the piece in these metallic hues are actually what take what was an otherwise fine piece of pottery, and turn it into something special and interesting to behold. The underlying principle is that there is beauty to be found even in being broken, as well as the process of healing and repair.
This idea intrigues me now more than ever. The fight now is to let go of the woman I’ve always imagined I should be. She is not real, and she is certainly not here. I, on the other hand am, and am steadily trying to grow something golden in all of these very broken places. It is an exercise in claiming the fullness of my humanity, to feel things that hurt, instead of brushing them off or burying them further down for them to wreak havoc later on and elsewhere in my life. It is a journey I cannot stand, and one I highly recommend, because I know at the end of it lies a whole and healed woman. She is far away from the broken and digestible idea of the woman I held onto for a very long time. She is within reach, and she is mine.
My undergraduate voice teacher used to say, on the other side of the crack lies the glory. I am just going to trust that she is right.