The Most Nurtured: A Conversation With Taina M.

“Self care” is one of those terms that seems to be thrown around today. It’s a way to market spa days, justify Netflix binges, and ignore your incoming phone calls for a weekend.

In essence, self care is the deliberate act of making your own mental, physical, and spiritual health a priority. But for many women, especially women of color, self care is a radical act.

That’s part of what motivated Taïna, founder of the holistic wellness organization, The Most Nurtured. The black owned organization was born out of her desire to create a safe space where black women could feel “free, heard, and nurtured.”

Read more for our conversation about the challenges of starting an organization, the need for black only spaces, and Taïna’s excitement about the shift towards the celebration of melanin.

The Most Nurtured is a community based holistic wellness  whose mission statement is to help Black women become the most nurtured versions of themselves. What does that mean? And why is that important to you?  

To be the most nurtured version of yourself means supporting your health  in a holistic manner which means that you are caring for the mental, physical, ancestral, spiritual, sexual, environmental and social aspects of your positive well-being. Health is not just the absence of illness, it is about feelings of safety, harmony, empowerment, self-determination and strength.

As Black women, we experience the legacy of racism, colorism and gender-based discrimination, oppression and exclusion in our bodies, social interactions and environment. Some of us with further intersectional identities face additional systemic oppression including, but not limited to, ableism, transphobia, homophobia and classism.

At the same time, we face ‘service deserts’ which is a lack of safe, inexpensive, culturally responsive and effective services that allow for healing, connection and validation of our experiences. Subsequently, our experience of things like isolation, anxiety, depression, burnout, intergenerational pain, trauma and  sexual violence is manifested, perpetuated and/or compounded by our environment.

It is an absolute honour to be the founding owner of The Most Nurtured as a LGBTQ + and trans-inclusive, anti-oppressive and anti-colonial space for Black women to access low-cost services for their well being like yoga and mental health workshops facilitated by and exclusively for Black women in Toronto to feel free, heard and nurtured.

Taïna M., founder of The Most Nurtured.

As the founder of a new community program, what challenges have you faced? What have you learned from your first year?

My goal for The Most Nurtured is that we reach everyone who truly needs us; that doesn’t necessarily mean everyone but it does mean I want women to walk into the space and say “this is exactly what I needed!” So my challenge is less that ‘it’s not reaching everybody’ and more that ‘it’s not reaching everyone who needs it’.

I use Instagram @themostnurtured and Facebook primarily to get the word out and I have a primary website themostnurtured.com I’m thankful that in this technology-driven era, it’s pretty easy to start social media accounts for an organization and at least have some amount of publicity through it.

I have a full-time job and volunteer every other week as a mental health counsellor for a homeless shelter in the evenings, on top of running The Most Nurtured myself so I honestly don’t have the capacity to run this organization if it suddenly got insanely popular. I love that we have about 15-ish people attend yoga classes because it’s a nice intimate group. I want it to grow organically as I grow so its capacity to help people heal matches my capacity.

What I learned in the first year was that there is a small but mighty and growing number of organizations in Toronto run by younger Black women like me who are trying to create a space in this city for people like ourselves to heal, feel safe and connect. I am so encouraged to see my sisters in this city. I want Black women to feel like they have options when they are seeking services because there’s power in having choice.

At the same time, I know I’m living in a bubble, Toronto has the highest population of Black people in Canada (10% of the overall population of Toronto approximately) so even though I see a growing number of health and self-care related services for Black women, I know it’s not necessarily a reflection of other parts of the province or even the country. Would I see this level of Black-led community development in another city or region? Not necessarily, and this simply means that the work has just begun for us but we stand on the shoulders of our ancestors, and we build on the accomplishments and space that they created before us. Not easy but always worth it.

What do you say to those who push back at the idea of having black or POC only spaces?

Let us breath. Go away. We do this for survival. I honestly don’t have the emotional capacity to have a conversation with people who insist that Black-only spaces are ‘unfair’ or ‘reverse-racism’ nor do I have an obligation to engage in discussion. If I had the patience, I would point them towards articles, such as the following: Why People of Color Need Spaces Without White People.

Self-care is a phrase that seems to be thrown around. For some it’s five minute masks, taking social media breaks, or meditation. What does your self-care look like?

Self-care looks different to different people because we all have different ways of caring for ourselves. In general, I would start with asking “what is your ‘love language’? Which really means, how do you show yourself that you love yourself?”

Words of Affirmation (e.g., journaling, positive self-talk)

Acts of Service (e.g., preparing healthy meals, dyeing your hair)

Receiving Gifts (e.g., buying yourself chocolate)

Quality Time (e.g., spending time alone, taking an art class by yourself)

Physical Touch (e.g., taking a hot bath, getting a pedicure)

If you don’t know your love language, take an online quiz or just practice and see what feels the best. I also try to remember my favourite phrase which is “if it’s not accessible to the poor it’s not radical nor revolutionary.” So when I see something advertised as self-care, like an $60 face mask, I reflect on whether it is reinforcing ‘service deserts’ i.e., expensive, hard to access and/or culturally inappropriate.

Keep in mind that many of us already practice ‘self-care’ but we just don’t call it that! Typically we just call it ‘that thing that makes me happy’ like a luxurious bubble bath every Wednesday or painting your toenails while watching Oprah. Now think about what would happen if it was taken away. How would you feel? If it impacts your ability to connect with yourself and show yourself some tender love and care, it’s probably self-care!

The issue is that within our capitalist consumerist culture, we are often told that unless we buy specific products then we are not practicing self-care which often leaves us feeling disempowered, frustrated and alienated.

What self-care looks like is especially important to the Black community. We live in a world where people devalue, degrade and eliminate our Black bodies. In the words of Audre Lorde, “caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” In other words, self-care looks like a radical, powerful message about the fundamental importance and validity of my life, humanity and Blackness. Now that’s a message I’m willing to shout from the rooftop!

Today, there seems to be a shift towards the acceptance and celebration of melanin. What do you think of this shift? Have we come far enough? What do you want to see in the future?

This is a beautiful shift, I love my melanin and I think that’ a radical statement because Eurocentric beauty standards (blue eyes, straight blonde hair, pale skin, thin nose) does not prioritize our bodies. I think one thing that has helped increase this acceptance and celebration is the internet, you can go on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter and find groups dedicated to self-love and Blackness. I want to see more of this in the future, and an increased awareness and commitment that these spaces are inclusive of all intersections of Black identity (e.g., light skin, dark skin, LGBTQ +, trans, non-binary, disabled/differently abled). If you are picking and choosing which ‘types’ of melanated bodies to embrace, you are not truly embracing us, in my opinion.  

Finally, who do you look up to? Why?

This is actually a really hard question! I grew up in an incredibly white environment and I didn’t see reflections of me anywhere. There were no Black women in my personal life and I essentially didn’t see myself or a version of what I looked like in the future since I was not connected to any biological family nor given opportunities to be connected to older Black women. For example, I never had a Black teacher in my entire life and this includes public school, and my undergrad and graduate degree! I had no Black female neighbors or family friends either, it truly was a white environment with no alternatives.

The only representation of Black women I had growing up was my Destiny’s Child CD in my bedroom! So I kind of subconsciously/consciously learned to not really look up to anyone and detach myself from the importance of it all. Truly there is no one I’ve ever consistently thought of as a role model, mentor or someone to aspire to long-term. As a child I didn’t even hang pictures on my wall of singers or celebrities, I truly looked up to no one. Is that a sad answer?! I know that part of the reason why I started the Most Nurtured was to connect to Black women in a way that I never could do for the first 27 years of my life. I want to create a community that I know I lacked growing up. I know how important Black community is because I grew up without it and I truly felt the consequences of such intense isolation, dislocation and unfounded belonging.

If you’re in the Toronto area, be sure to check out The Most Nurtured Community Speaks Workshops and Community Breathes Yoga Sessions. To find out more information, visit. themostnurtured.com

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