Say "I Do" to Self-Love: The Womanist Implications of Black Women Who Self-Marry

by Altheria Gaston

Just this morning, I saw the story again, this time with the headline, “Woman turns 40, marries herself.” The story is accompanied by a photo of Yasmin Eleby wearing a vibrant purple dress walking down the aisle escorted by her mother. The opening line of the article, “Houston native Yasmin Eleby vowed that she'd marry herself if she hadn't found true love by 40. And for her 40th birthday, that's exactly what she did,” describes the phenomenon known as self-marriage.

Self-Marriage Ceremonies, a company that promotes a $200 ten-week initiation program entitled, “Self-Marriage Unveiled,” claims that self-marriage is a “rite of passage into wholeness, trust, self-responsibility, self-liberation, and love sourced from within.”

Obviously, self-marriage is not as uncommon as it may at first seem. Tarra Christoff, who claims to “lead Marry Yourself retreats around the globe” shared her own story of self-marriage.

“I married myself at the age of 37 in a quiet ceremony of one near a waterfall in Big Sur, California. I had prepared my ‘soul vows.’ These vows were my deepest commitment to love, cherish, and deeply care for all parts of myself in sickness and in health, until my time on the planet comes to an end. My soul vows became an ode to honoring self always, and remembering that seeking love outside of myself will never bring fulfillment unless I possess radical, unshakeable love for myself.”

Perhaps Yasmin’s reasons were similar.

The first time I saw Yasmin’s story posted on social media, there were quite a few negative comments. One person wrote, “Disturbing,” another, “She’s way too cute to marry herself,” and finally, “And why is it ALWAYS black women doing foolishness like this??? We feed into the stereotype that black women don't find husbands...I know a lotttt [sic] of black sisters that have gotten married or [are] getting married...”

But others were supportive. “I’m missing why she get’s [sic] all this shade. It wasn’t a real wedding it was done symbolically to show her worth to herself. I’m sure it pumped up her self-esteem and made her feel loved and beautiful.” Another person wrote, “But I like this it’s like a celebration of her. How many of us throw big birthday parties for ourselves it’s the Same concept. Celebrate you.”

Although I initially thought Yasmin’s self-marriage was a bit odd, this reaction was quickly followed by a healthy dose of respect for her right to do whatever she wants to do with her life! Time-out for everybody policing Black women’s lives! This is why I love the title of the Huffington Post’s article about Yasmin, “Badass Woman Marries Herself To Celebrate Her 40th Birthday”!

In a society in which Black women suffer the abuse of racism, sexism, and classism, among other –isms, it is imperative that we take time to care for, heal, restore, and, yes, celebrate ourselves. Yasmin’s self-marriage reminds me of several parts of Alice Walker’s definition of womanist, specifically the term “womanish,” referring to a woman who shows “outrageous, audacious, courageous, or willful behavior.” Clearly, Yasmin’s self-marriage can be characterized as womanist and womanish!

My favorite part of the four-part definition of womanist is that it describes a sister who “Loves herself. Regardless.” And to me, that’s what Yasmin’s story is really about—loving herself, regardless.

So whether or not you personally choose to self-marry, just know that you don’t need anyone’s permission to celebrate yourself in whatever manner you choose. And let’s pump the brakes on the accusations that sisters who self-marry are desperate, thirsty, crazy, or even sick. If her actions don’t harm others, and they uplift her spirit, let’s keep our judgments to ourselves.

Lastly, I leave you with this quote by bell hooks from her book, All About Love: New Visions, which perfectly describes what I perceive to be the motivation behind self-marriage—self-love.
One of the best guides to how to be self-loving is to give ourselves the love we are often dreaming about receiving from others. There was a time when I felt lousy about my over-forty body, saw myself as too fat, too this, or too that. Yet I fantasized about finding a lover who would give me the gift of being loved as I am. It is silly, isn't it, that I would dream of someone else offering to me the acceptance and affirmation I was withholding from myself. This was a moment when the maxim "You can never love anybody if you are unable to love yourself" made clear sense. And I add, "Do not expect to receive the love from someone else you do not give yourself."
Preach on, bell. And keep marrying yourselves, if that's what makes you feel loved and celebrated, my sisters!

Altheria Gaston is a doctoral candidate in the College of Education at Texas Christian University. She is a Black feminist who’s motivated to make education more equitable for children of color and children who are poor. At age 40, Altheria is preparing for her March wedding to Francisco.

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