Real Talk: Kayla Greaves on Blackness, Health, + Body Image

Real Talk features exclusive interviews with editors on their most intimate experiences and journeys with health, wellness, body image, and more.

Kayla Greaves is an award-winning and senior beauty editor for InStyle. She was previously the fashion & beauty features editor at Bustle and a lifestyle editor at The Huffington Post. Her work has appeared in BuzzFeed, Teen Vogue, ELLE, FASHION magazine, and more. For our “Real Talk” series, we asked Kayla about her experience with women’s health as a Black woman and a journalist.

Kayla Greaves
Kayla Greaves

Over the past couple of months, we’ve witnessed horrific acts of racism and hate and also seen glimmers of hope that things actually seem to be changing. As a Black woman and also someone who writes about race and health, how are you feeling right now?

I’m feeling exhausted. I think over the past couple of months, racism has bubbled up to the surface in a way that non-Black people can no longer ignore, but for us, this has always been apparent. It’s frustrating that it took a literal act of God for people to pay attention, however I am (very) cautiously optimistic that real change is coming. 

You’ve written a lot about breast cancer and Blackness. What is something you wish everyone knew about this intersection?

Black women face major health disparities in general, but especially so when it comes to this disease. Out of every race, we are more likely to develop triple negative breast cancer, which is much more difficult to treat and therefore more fatal. 

You had your own breast cancer scare in 2013. How has that helped shape your ideas about health and body image?

I do not take my health for granted at all and I make a point to check my breasts pretty often. And just generally, if I ever feel like something is off, I go to see my doctor ASAP. In terms of body image, that’s something I’ve struggled with on and off throughout my life, but I think I’m finally in a place where I appreciate my body. Regardless of how it may fluctuate physically, I’m healthy and my body is keeping me alive. For that, I am grateful. 

You launched Bustle’s series “Standing By Our Sisters,” which explores young Black women’s journeys with breast cancer, body image, and beauty. I love that it’s a space dedicated to Black women specifically because Black women are disproportionately more likely than white women to die from breast cancer and it’s important to talk about why that is. I’m curious—can you talk more about the decision to include body image and beauty as focal points of the series?

I think oftentimes when anyone is dealing with breast cancer, the people around them tell them not to focus on losing their hair, the scars the surgery will leave behind, or the weight they lose because they should just be grateful to be alive. For Black women, this hits a million times harder because from the time we are little girls, we’re told that everything about our natural bodies and hair is wrong. Then when we get to a place where we may be feeling OK about ourselves, cancer changes how we look drastically. Whiteness is the benchmark for beauty in this world, and we are the exact opposite. That said, I think it’s vital that Black women feel confident in the fact that they can both be focused on staying alive while also doing things that make them feel good about their physical body. I wanted to create space for that in the series. Life shouldn’t just be about surviving, it should be about thriving. 

What’s one thing about women’s health—be it related to race, sexuality, body image, disease, etc.—you wish you had learned or been aware of earlier in your life?

That there is nothing “wrong” with Black features, and the fact that we’re taught that is an ugly result of white supremacy. Black is beautiful, period. 

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