How I Take Care: Model, Activist, and Creator Kendra Austin
Kendra Austin is a name you need to know.
If you haven't come across her whip-smart musings on Instagram or Twitter, you might not know that the model, activist, and content creator has been preaching and practicing what it means to actively care for yourself and your loved ones on a daily basis for a long time.
Kendra's work is thoughtful and candid—and will leave you inspired to use your voice to advocate for your needs, spark genuine discussions with loved ones, and show up with love for the fullness of your humanity.
In this How I Take Care interview: Kendra discusses balance, navigating self-talk, and how her self-care has shifted since the global pandemic and racial justice-fueled reckonings have consumed our worlds.
On discovering many forms of self-care:
For me, self-care doesn't have one specific form. I think that self-care means showing up for the person I am right now, in whatever way is necessary. I understand that there is synergy and I certainly don't subscribe to the belief that you can't have everything—because I believe in this world, Black women and Black people were born to have absolutely everything.
I am somebody who is incredibly mercurial and hyper-intellectual and I want to philosophize about where humanity is going, the world that I want to live in, the future that I'm trying to create—and how I need to be an embodiment of that. But often, that means that I get my head so caught up in the wind and so caught up in the stars that I almost forget that I'm a living, breathing person who needs to be connected to my mind, body, and spirit.
So self-care for me really means showing up for myself in fullness and in a wholeness in any way that I need—and it means fulfilling those needs and allowing what I give to the world and in service to my community to be overflowed.
I try to make sure that every day I have a return-to-body ritual: That I engage myself sexually, that I engage myself with good food and things that smell great and things that feel great.
I want to be in touch with nature. I want to be intellectually stimulated. I want to try something new. I want to surround myself with beautiful things, beautiful people, beautiful everything.
Being fully engaged in my senses every day is something that I have had to do intentionally, but that has beget so much fruit as far as just being so incredibly present with the people, things, and spaces that I love.
And that's really like what self-care means to me.
On how she creates space for herself through journaling:
I enter a space of greatest despair when I feel unheard and unseen. And right now, it is so easy to feel unheard and unseen as a Black woman. It always has been, but even more, I feel like I'm constantly even hearing from my allies and even from my community that we are unheard and unseen.
So that often manifests for me in needing to find space for that. I'm a huge, huge proponent of journaling. I think that journaling is such a valuable tool, and it's actually a habit for me that I created in replacement of other disordered behaviors.
I would get in these cycles of obsessively being on the Internet. I'd obsessive over Instagram and look at people who I felt like had privileges and lives that I wish I were provided. For a while, I really suffered from eating disorders or binge eating disorder as a result of trying to gain control over my life and the things I felt like I didn't have control over.
I have not had those obsessive patterns for over two years because I inserted journaling in my life. I started carrying three or four journals at any time. I have one in each of my bags and I carry them literally wherever I go so that if there is a moment where I feel like I didn't get to say something or I didn't get to be heard exactly how I needed to, I can grant myself that space.
In those moments, I can remind myself that I didn't need it from that person. I didn't need it from that space. I needed it for myself and I can do that now just to relieve that stress and not carry it throughout my day. Because otherwise, especially right now, if I don't feel seen or heard all day long, I will just have an anxiety attack and shut down.
Self-care for me, really means showing up for myself in fullness and in a wholeness in any way that I need—and it means fulfilling those needs and allowing what I give to the world and in service to my community to be overflowed.
On how embracing balance is key to her daily schedule:
Quarantine and this enforced stillness have provided me with this silver lining gift of having to find balance. For me, it means really setting a schedule in the morning. First thing: I don't look at my phone. I look at myself, I do my journaling, I do my skincare routine, I have my breakfast, I have my coffee.
I like having a schedule where I can say this is work time, this is play time, this is restoration time, this is me time. Those are my facets, and those all have to be different things.
Restoration for me so often looks like spiritual work, so sometimes that could be yoga, it could be a long walk. Sometimes it could be journaling, but at times that also engages a different kind of work. Whereas I think that me time could be watching the Kardashians or me time could be doing my nails.
For me, intentional play would be diving into something new entirely: Learning how to cook a new recipe or scanning YouTube and seeing like what new things the kids are doing and kind of finding out if I can do it or maybe doing coloring.
Something that really embodies what I would have done when I was a child, especially as a creative and as a writer, is trying to create space and trying to expand my mind as far as what the world could look like. We have to tap into childlike play, and that is not always a part of me time, and it's not always a part of restoration time.
On how she uses voice memos to understand her self-talk better:
I have a stream of voice memos on my phone that's just literally me going off and speaking my thoughts. Allowing space for them is where that growth and healing happens.
I was recently in an abusive relationship with a person, but I was also in an abusive relationship with society and I was in an abusive relationship with the industry that I was in.
In some ways, I was even in abusive relationships with the white friends in my life who didn't really see me in all of my hurt and all of my suffering before all this happened. So I feel like having those voice messages and having those like written thoughts of what I had to say helped me be able to express that anger.
When the world told me that my anger was intolerable and threatening, (reflecting via voice memo) allows me to exist somewhere in fullness, even if I can't exist in fullness in so many other spaces safely.
I think hearing my voice is a kind of an extension of writing.
On finding joy from other Black women and leaning into trust:
I will say, and it's crazy to say this, but every day since George Floyd died, I have been happy. I have had moments of extreme joy and that has come from the collective come up of every single Black woman.
There has not been a single Black woman I know who has not been absolutely challenged every day. And I hate that for her. And I see that in her and I mourn for her, but I feel like we have also really been granted for the first time in life a space to speak and a space to be offered something right now.
Black girls are getting paid. They are getting loved. They are getting seen. They are getting opportunities—that I have not seen before. And I think that the collective come up of the Black women in my life, in the community that is created between us, has been my life's greatest joy so far. It's bringing me such liberation that I never thought I would be able to see in my lifetime.
I know who loves me now. You know what I'm saying? I know who's loving me and who's protecting me whereas I think that the life of a Black woman has been existing in perpetual betrayal and a lack of trust because you know that not everybody is protecting you, but you also don't even know who that is and what that looks like half the time.
You're consistently disappointed about the people who you've invested in, who did not show up for you. And I think that now knowing exactly the names and faces of the people who love me and who are protecting me has brought me such joy because I can now just trust.
On winding down her days with deep breaths:
You have to put your phone down not five minutes before you want to go to bed but like an hour or two before you want to go to the bedroom.
And I know that none of us are doing it, but that truly is the only time that I can go to bed peacefully and not feel tense or not feel like I'm not breathing. I have to put my phone away.
And then before I go to bed, I need to remove myself from my mind for a bit. So usually I will watch a cartoon. For me, Bob's Burgers is always the one. I watch usually an episode or two.
Then for about 30 minutes, when I go to bed, I put my hand at my heart center and my other hand on my belly and I do breathing exercises for like 30 minutes. That's pretty much how I go to bed every night is doing breathing exercises because I found that alternatively, when I go to bed from a place of despair or something, I'm literally not breathing and I am so tense in my sleep. I'd wake up with huge knots in my chest, in my back—and it's because I went to bed like a corpse.
Doing my breathing exercises and putting my hand on my heart center, putting my hand on my belly and literally sealing that breath is so important. Just releasing my shoulders, releasing that tension.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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