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Self-care is often stereotyped as a one-size-fits-all solution for when you’re feeling burned out. But for women of color, Lestraundra Alfred believes, self-care is a matter of survival. The 30-year-old creative from Seattle, Washington, runs @balancedles, an Instagram account dedicated to championing wellness for women of color. Alfred also offers support through her Balanced Black Girl (BBG) podcast and Instagram account.
Alfred began her Balanced Black Girl podcast in 2018 so she could discuss the importance of mental health for people of color. “So many people in our community weren't raised having those conversations. But now that we are adults, we are seeking those resources out and having those important conversations,” Alfred explains. She has a combined 28,000 followers on her two supporting Instagram accounts, where she shares mental health tips and reminders to “savor stillness” and practice mindfulness.
When our ability to feel safe while living our everyday lives is constantly in question, self-care becomes even more important.
As of May 2020, BBG has 66 episodes, on which Alfred has spoken to women who tackle all kinds of pertinent issues: body positivity, natural hair journeys, ways to prevent burnout, clean beauty, and inclusive sex education. From Day 1, she wanted the podcast to be “about creating a broader definition of wellness beyond the images we see ... for women of all backgrounds.” From Alfred’s perspective, mental health stigma has been pervasive in the black community because of a lack of generational access. Alfred says, “Things like therapy weren't a part of [the] equation.”
Whether it’s going on a long walk or consulting a therapist, self-care is crucial for everyone. But, as Alfred points out, it’s even more imperative for people from marginalized backgrounds. “I think because of the issues we as people of color face, we need wellness and self-care. I would almost argue more” than others, she says.
She points out specific stressors unique to communities of color, like “the collective grief and trauma of seeing members of our community being wrongfully killed while doing everyday activities,” she says. “When we are faced with these images and when our ability to feel safe while living our everyday lives is constantly in question, self-care becomes even more important.”
Additionally, Alfred says the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted how the health of black and brown communities is under particular strain. “Chronic stress due to social issues in our country [is] exacerbating our health conditions and [is] making them worse,” Alfred says. A May 2020 study by research organization amfAR found that black people make up 52% of coronavirus diagnoses and 58% of coronavirus deaths in the U.S., yet according to 2019 data from the U.S. Census Bureau, black people make up just 13.4% of the national population. “Now that a lot of numbers have come out, we’re seeing that our community has been more negatively impacted by the pandemic,” Alfred explains.
Bringing awareness to these types of issues didn’t happen all at once — rather, it happened in stages. Alfred started her personal Instagram account, @balancedles, in 2012, and her food and fitness blog, The Balanced Berry, followed in 2014. But after four years of focusing on food and fitness, Alfred felt burned out and wanted to pivot to talking about wellness.
It’s been a tricky balance between being open and personal, and also still keeping some things private.
After Alfred began seeing a therapist in 2018, she wanted to share her evolution with her audience, and podcasting felt like the right medium for her to do that. Alfred created the Balanced Black Girl Instagram account in October 2018, to complement her new BBG podcast, but she approaches it differently than her personal account. Alfred explains, “The podcast Instagram is a lot more regimented because [it's] not about me. It is more practical wellness content that I hope a broad audience of people can use.” The BBG Instagram is filled with Instagram takeovers by black and brown health professionals, book recommendations, and images of women of all complexions and all sizes. “I want to feature a wide variety of women, so those who come across the page can be like, ‘Hey, that’s me! I can see myself in this,’” she says.
The switch from sharing fitness tips and healthy recipes to mental health deep-dives resulted in more Instagram followers to her @balancedles account. “I definitely experienced a lot of [account] growth because a lot of people got to know me on a more personal level, and they were able to relate to the content better,” Alfred says. Getting personal on Instagram has contributed to her success, but Alfred still finds some aspects of it challenging. “It’s been a tricky balance between being open and personal, and also still keeping some things private.”
In March 2019, Alfred was able to share the ultimate empowering figure with her followers during an intimate discussion with former first lady Michelle Obama. Alfred had organized a Seattle-based book club to read Obama’s memoir Becoming in 2018, and had the opportunity to coordinate a book club meeting with Obama, whom Alfred calls “the ultimate Balanced Black Girl.”
Meeting [Michelle Obama] felt like speaking to a really wise friend.
“It was the most surreal feeling,” Alfred says. “She was so kind and down-to-earth. Meeting [Michelle Obama] felt like speaking to a really wise friend.” The best piece of advice from the former first lady? Alfred shares, “[Obama] really emphasized the importance of owning your own story and empowered us to share our stories if we felt called to do so.”
The first time Alfred realized the significance of her digital presence was when she read one of the first podcast reviews she received from a stranger. “It was somebody that I didn’t know — wasn’t my mom or friends — reaching out, saying, ‘Hey, this is how this impacted me.’ That was when it started becoming real. ‘Oh wow, there’s a real community out here,’” she says. “People are truly listening.”
In addition to facilitating dialogue around heavy topics such as nonlinear healing and confronting unhealthy coping mechanisms, Alfred works full time in the tech field. Her secret to being a balanced black woman with two jobs? Time management and mindfulness. “I am very into starting my day by taking care of myself,” Alfred says. “Really getting my mind right, getting focused — spending the first hour or so that I’m awake not looking at technology. That’s when I’m reading, I’m journaling, I’m stretching.”
Delegating tasks also helps Alfred stay on schedule. “Now I have a podcast editor on board who, when I record things, takes care of it and makes sure it gets uploaded — which is really wonderful,” she says. These days, she doesn’t have to do everything herself. “I’m able to just do the things I’m really good at.”
Along with finding the balance in her own life, her key to running two successful wellness Instagram accounts is knowing when to post. That doesn’t necessarily mean posting on particular weekdays or during certain hours, but posting when you have something meaningful to offer your followers. Alfred says, “Whether it’s to make people laugh or make people think, having intention with messages is what gets engagement.”
Alfred thinks the word “authenticity” is overused when it comes to social media, but she still knows its value. “I think when it comes to content, the audience can tell if it’s coming from a place of authenticity versus if it’s forced. And I don’t force anything,” she says. “I post and share when I feel like I have something to say.”