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The Weathering Framework: What Black Women Need to Know

Is the chronic stress of everyday structural and systemic racism making us sick? According to the research of Arlene Geronimus, she hypothesized and coined the phrase weathering which refers to the everyday wear and tear of systemic and structural inequity and the adverse effects it has on our biophysiological systems. This state of chronic stress response results in making us more prone to adverse health outcomes as a result of living in what Geronimus names a rigid, degrading, and exploitative system. Many of us have grown up witnessing the women in our family wield the everyday stressors of life managing family, work, community responsibility, and operating as the matriarch of the family, all the while suffering the everyday injustices of gendered racism that result in lack of resources, pay inequality, and lack of wrap-around care, and ability to take a break and rest. 

These systemic structures cause undue stress and burden that have not only impacted mental health but also led to higher instances of comorbid chronic conditions such as heart diseases, cancer, and diabetes. While we relish in the popular cultural adage “Black don’t crack.” At the same time, that is undoubtedly true of external physical appearance, we may need to examine what is below skin deep and pay closer attention to the way our bodies are sending us messages alerting us about the harm of the constant demand and stress of attempting to stay sane and survive in a system and society that aims to threaten our biophysiological health at every turn. Presently, Black women are 3 to 4 times more likely to die from breast cancer and 3 to 4 times more likely to die in childbirth, and currently, Black women have the highest rate of cardiovascular disease in the US, which is the leading cause of death. These health disparities are significant, and yet we are still one of the most under-resourced groups to receive adequate culturally competent health care and culturally responsive mental health support.  

The weathering framework offers a paradigm thought shift that calls out the harm and impact that living in an unjust society creates for POC, especially Black women. Yes, we can continue to make individualized choices that align with the best health and wellness visions we have for ourselves. Still, it is time to call out the systems that are making us sick and not berating the individual who does not have access or ability to control every circumstance of health, especially when marginalized Black and Brown communities still bear the brunt of inequitable social determinants of health. This paradigm shift removes the shame and blame that we must have done something wrong if our health and wellness goes array. When in fact, we have been burdened with the unfair challenge of existing in a society that has never valued us and our contributions equally from the beginning. How does this information change the way we think about our superwoman complex, and how can we lean into more practices of restorative self-care that stave off burnout while understanding that much of what is impacting our health at times is seemingly out of the locus of our control? Here are 5 tips to help you navigate your health and wellness.

  1. Search for providers that listen to you. If you are unhappy with the care you receive in any healthcare setting, search until you do. Advocate for your voice to be heard and providers that do not discount your feelings or symptoms about your body. You are the scholar of your own body.

  2. Prioritize the four pillars of health when you are able: balanced nutrition, daily movement, sleep, and stress management.

  3. Create a support network: Surround yourself with positive, uplifting people who unconditionally support your vision.

  4. Be in community: fellowship with friends, family, and your cultural values.

  5. Celebrate all of your wins! Be your best advocate and cheerleader. Love on you!


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