Denise Hunt, Life Coach Says Caribbean Women must Break the Cycle of Shame to achieve Goals
Many Caribbean women of colour are locked in a 'cycle of shame' that must be broken for them to reach their full potential. So says Denise Hunt, CEO of fitness firm SizzleFit Faith and Fitness and former stage and screen actress turned Life Coach and Fitness Trainer.
According to Jamaican-born Hunt, whose screen credits include the hit film How Stella Got Her Groove Back and hosts the popular Instagram podcast show Random Thoughts Live. Darker-skinned women of colour from the Caribbean face a unique set of circumstances that often paralyze them with feelings of shame and inadequacy, as well as the inability to act on their dreams.
This paralysis also stops individuals from seeking necessary assistance, resulting in the transmission of these disorders to following generations, who then continue the cycle.
'From my own personal experiences growing up in Jamaica, I can attest to the fact that for many women of colour, the cycle of shame starts early and once it takes hold, it's so hard to let it go,' she says. 'Women of colour everywhere suffer from the cycle as well, but women in the Caribbean have the additional burden of inhabiting societies where we are the majority in number, and yet are still often treated as second class citizens. In most Caribbean countries, the poorest in the population are almost invariably black, and that triple strike of being black, female and poor can be potentially devastating.'
Hunt, now located in Austin, Texas, was born into impoverished circumstances in Kingston's inner-city suburb of Allman Town. She recalls consciously experiencing guilt for the first time when she received a scholarship to one of Jamaica's most prominent all-girls secondary schools, The Queen's School.
'That was when I first began to experience feelings of inadequacy in the presence of the demographic that was prominent at my high school - mostly wealthy, mostly light skinned girls who lived in homes with both parents, and where both parents shared the same last name. None of that was my reality. And then I made an emotional connection to all of that when one day a schoolmate of Asian descent said to me 'You know Denise, you are cute- for a dark skinned girl.' And I realized that while I was getting a compliment for my facial features, it was really a backhanded slap… I couldn't celebrate it because it was being made clear that being dark skinned was somehow a bad thing. I was 'the other.' I was less than.
After graduating from Queen's, Hunt received an invitation to study acting at Jamaica's Edna Manley College for the Visual and Performing Arts. However, further studies were out of the question due to economic constraints and the necessity to contribute to the household. She began working in the business world but took the initiative to contact some of Jamaica's most well-known theatrical producers, asking for the opportunity to audition for their performances. She quickly established herself as a sought-after actor, performing in award-winning plays such as David Heron's Against His Will, Jambiz International's Dirty Diana, and Ed Wallace's Boeing Boeing, among many others, in Jamaica and subsequently globally. She later made her feature film debut in How Stella Got Her Groove Back, starring Oscar candidate Angela Bassett and Taye Diggs, and was soon anchoring not one but two television programmes on Jamaica's TVJ network- The Entertainment Report and Rising Stars.
Despite her achievement, Hunt understood that something was still gravely wrong—she felt 'like an impostor,' in her words. Looking back, she understands that, like many other women of colour she has known, she could not celebrate her professional accomplishments because of her shame cycle. 'Women of colour are frequently addressed professionally in one of two ways: they are either completely ignored or subjected to the politics of pity.' So they offer you an opportunity and want you to be thankful while making it plain that the opportunity is being provided to you not because you are skilled or deserving but out of pity. The attitude is 'You poor little underprivileged thing... Here's your shot. Now be quiet and be happy about it.' And so the feeling of shame and inadequacy remains.'
The traditional indifference of Caribbean society does not help. 'In the Caribbean, young women, especially those who are black and in poverty, are often taught to be quiet about horrible things that happen to them. They are somehow made to feel that it was their fault and that speaking about it will bring greater shame onto the family and the community, making it all worse. They are told to be tough and strong and to bear it. So they suffer in silence, greatly to their detriment, many only seeking help if they eventually emigrate here to the USA or another country where openness is encouraged and there is infrastructure to help them.'
In Hunt's instance, the tipping moment occurred when she realized she would not survive if she didn't get care. When she did, everything changed radically.
In 2010, she became a Certified Fitness Coach; in 2012, she became a Christian, and in 2019 she became a Certified Life Coach. She quit performing to focus on her own and others' physical and emotional health. She stresses the synergistic link between mind, body, and spirit in her coaching. She is enthusiastic about leveraging her narrative to assist other women of colour in overcoming the cycle of shame, characterizing it as 'Vital to the survival of our dreams and, consequently, our black families.'
Denise Hunt hosts Random Thoughts Live every Thursday at 8 pm EST on her Instagram site @denisesizzlefithunt.