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Are Black Women Killing Themselves to be Superheroes?

In an article for Ebony.com, Shaida Muhammad asks whether or not black women are killing themselves to be strong for everyone, all the time.   She starts off by referencing the Alicia Keys song, “Superwoman,” where Keys sings about being a strong black woman in the face of adversity.  Many black women juggle challenges from every aspect of life, including children, marriage, and career.  Some say that the struggle can be detrimental to their health.  This might be a confusing conjecture, since black men have the shortest lifespans among all demographics.

But Muhammad says more on the matter:

For Black women this notion is nothing new. It’s an idea and ideal that can be summed up in three words: the “strong Black woman.” Built Ford tough, this archetype has been tossed around and reverenced as the equivalent and standard of Black womanhood. Yet unlike those pesky stereotypes we often find ourselves trying to negate, our relationship to this subjective title is somewhat peculiar. Many wear the SBW title as a badge of honor; or seek to live up to it. While others denounce it as a myth, citing that it enforces an unrealistic ideal. Despite our various attitudes and opinion on what it means to be a “Strong Black Woman,” it has undoubtedly had a significant impact on us culturally.

Muhammad says that part of the danger of “Superwoman Syndrome” is that you can end up feeling that you are inadequate as a woman if you are not grinding it out, missing sleep and stressed out all the time.   She says that many black women make themselves ill by taking on everyone else’s problems,  counseling loved ones, working multiple jobs, and taking care of both children and sick relatives.   She says that the consequence is that some women end up catering to the needs of everyone but their own.

This may also translate to failed black relationships.  A stressed out mother doesn’t always have time or energy to tend to the needs of her mate, which can lead to the breakdown of relationship communication.

Muhammad also quotes Safiyya Shabazz, M.D. owner/Medical Director of Fountain Medical Associates, PC:

“At a minimum this mindset influences health behaviors that lead to lead to heart disease and other lifestyle related illnesses. Before even considering the effects of stress on the hormonal systems in the body, you can look at the obvious factors: women who are stretched to the limit, trying to do it all often neglect their own health while caring for others. We try to be good parents and wives, excel in our careers, and serve our community, all while looking like we just stepped off of the cover of [a magazine].”

Other prominent psychologists have spoken on the issue in the past, particularly those who happen to be black women themselves.  In a similar article on BlackLifeCoaches.net, Dr. Christina Edmondson, a wife, mother and scholar, discusses the superwoman complex:

 It’s a place where many Black and other shades of superwomen dwell. This “strong and independent” persona isn’t developed out of pride or ego, but rather a sense of timely necessity. Passed from generation to generation, this ethos is an unstated gift and “sho-nuff” burden.

Speaking with Dr. Towanna Freeman, Dr. Edmondson further explores the Superwoman complex and signs that you may be affected. Some of the signs might include engaging in self-harming behavior or medicating your problems away. Dr. Edmondson, an expert in psychology, says that the Superwoman complex should be re-examined among African American women to ensure that they can live happy, healthy lives without enduring the risk of causing long-term health problems by carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders.

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