Lavinya Stennett: I want all women to feel entitled to prioritise themselves

Lavinya Stennett
·5-min read
Photo credit: Hearst Owned
Photo credit: Hearst Owned

From Harper's BAZAAR

In celebration of International Women's Day this week, we asked a diverse range of inspiring high-profile figures, from actresses and poets to activists and politicians, to tell us what one thing they'd like to change for women the world over. Although feminist issues have never taken more precedence, this series has proved that there is still work to be done.

Lavinya Stennett is the 24-year-old founder and CEO of The Black Curriculum, an acclaimed initiative which aims to ensure that all children are taught about Black history at school. Her social enterprise provides school and teacher training, school assemblies and curriculum consultation, all online due to Covid. Stennett hopes that these leanings will eradicate racism in the UK. As it stands, Black achievements and stories are routinely omitted by British education system.

Back in June 2020, just after the Black Lives Matter gained momentum, The Black Curriculum started to receive a lot of attention. I was energised to see the initiative appreciated by so many people. I felt galvanised and inspired by how earnestly the team responded to such change, and invigorated by the newfound connections I’d made with some really special people. As glad as I felt of the progress, the reality was – a few months into heightened campaigning and awareness-raising – I was left feeling drained. Later that summer, I remember feeling mentally exhausted by it all.

Rest is an essential, special space for women, one that offers restoration and peace. I think women in particular don’t feel entitled to it. What ‘having it all’ really means is juggling more – a successful career with a social life, family and hopefully a few hobbies. In relationship set-ups, women tend to be the ones who remember birthdays, who formulate shopping lists and plan what to have for dinner. This comes on top of jobs and professional lives that require focus and energy. As a young business founder and CEO, the pressure is huge and the work feels ever urgent. So much is demanded of us as women that it becomes very difficult to just stop and take care of your own needs.

Photo credit: Courtesy
Photo credit: Courtesy

The reality is that we are at our best when we are rested. Our happiness exudes better, our thoughts are more structured and our cup, as it is said, ‘overflows’. For centuries, cultures of resting have existed, reflected in indigenous cosmology, Christian creation stories, and even ancient Greek mythology. Glorious events happen to our minds and bodies when we rest; we begin to notice our breath, and our minds, thoughts and heart rate winds down. Some people also dream, visiting alternative realities and subconscious desires.

Recent advocates of rest remind many of us steeped in grind culture of the positive effects that taking time for ourselves has on others around us. We have all heard the familiar and important saying of how we can’t pour from an empty cup. When we find ourselves in a tornado of self-neglect, no one wins. How can we offer compassion to others if we don’t offer it to ourselves? This overextension of ourselves, fuelled by gender roles, permeates our lives. As a result, we often find ourselves on either end of the spectrum of rest and self-care - all in or all out, either running round the hamster wheel or exhausted laying in the sun on holiday. There needs to be more of a middle ground. We need to get over the idea that slowing down is a sign of weakness; instead, it is a sign of self-respect.

Rest for different people can look like many things. When I first begin to understand the potential advantages of taking time out for myself, I crazily indulged in beauty products in quite a superficial and compartmentalised way. My rest wasn't a full space I appreciated and knew I could access whenever I could, but a practice that I saved for those ‘hard times’. Since then, my idea of rest has changed, and this has come with time and trial. Now, for me, it means sleep, journaling and reading.

Women and particularly the work of Black women are always in demand - all the time - from fixing voter turnouts, to using our brain and labour to improve gender equality, down to attending to the needs of men. Our work and ideas are reflected in the beauty of the world and most clearly in the futures we are defining through our work.

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For me, this is the core of why we should choose to rest, intentionally. There is never the ‘right time’ to walk into a mental or physical space of rest. The rest we deserve only comes with our choice to take it, which is often unsexy and untimely. The world can wait for us to rest. Some may find it strange and take it personally, especially when the gendered and imposed responsibilities that we are expected to take on are abandoned. I’d like to think that, one day, we will be appreciated for doing so. Our rest should not be only done in private, but also something we talk about publicly so as to challenge the notion that we as women must be available all the time.

We all deserve to be able to take ourselves out of the game every now and again while we experience life in this busy world. As we begin to ease out the pandemic, I hope our nos will be firmer, our self-compassion awakened and our intention to rest, stronger.

For more information on The Black Curriculum visit theblackcurriculum.com or follow @theblackcurriculum on Instagram.

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