Sagashus Levingston creates a ‘disrespectful’ wellness journal

She couldn't find the right journal for her and other Black moms, so she wrote her own: "Covet: The 'Disrespectful' Health and Wellness Journal."
A Black woman stands in a strong pose in front of an illustration that includes keywords from her wellness journal
Illustration by Tim Burton, Photos Courtesy of Little Creek Press and Infamous Mother LLC
Sagashus Levingston

I have heard writers say, “I didn’t choose this story; it chose me.” I never understood what that meant, until I was chosen.

In June 2021, I left my kids at home with a family member and locked myself in a hotel room for weeks. At the time, I was working with a cohort of Black women entrepreneurs through a health and wellness pilot program I’d developed as part of the Infamous Mothers brand, a business I created in 2016 for badass moms who do extraordinary things. I was trying to find a journal to help them track their progress — research has shown that journaling is an affordable and powerfully effective physical and mental health tool — but the products on the market weren’t a good fit for us.

And something bigger was going on. Here I was leading my community through the process of getting healthy, and for the previous few months I hadn’t had it in me to get out of bed.

It had been a rough time. Two months earlier, in April, my entire family and I had contracted COVID-19. By May, a good friend died unexpectedly, with no explanation offered by her family as to how or why. By June, six other people I knew had died without warning. My engagement — which I’d been very quiet about, with the exception of a Facebook announcement one year prior — was in jeopardy and I was in the middle of a full-blown existential crisis and depression. All of this was on top of my regular full life as a mother — raising four children who were still at home, as well as emotionally (and occasionally financially) supporting two children who had moved out — and a business owner juggling multiple projects. I had so many balls in the air, and I still couldn’t find that journal — and our women needed something fast. Hell, I needed something fast. I decided to create one for us.

But what did I know about producing a journal? Science fiction, memoirs, essays, screenplays — those are things I read and think and dream of writing, not creating a journal. But I knew our women. I knew where they had come from, what they experienced. I knew about the sexism, the racism, the fatphobia, the sexual trauma, the mommy shaming. I knew that we needed something tangible. This tangible thing would need visuals and scales for us to see and assess — with judgment — where we were with ourselves.

So I asked my son’s father to watch the kids for me while I checked into a hotel. Locked in for weeks, piece by piece, I started building out a journal that honored these needs.


Some backstory: In fall 2020, my team launched the IMfit program (now called Bad Girl Fit) for our Infamous Mothers IMpreneurs in response to staggering health disparities, based both on these mothers’ personal experiences and research coming out of Lisa Peyton-Caire’s Foundation for Black Women’s Wellness. We knew about the disparities. We also knew that existing health and wellness programs weren’t reaching women like us.

And so, with funding from the UW Health Foundation, we purchased wearable technology so that our participants could engage in challenges around sleep, exercise and water intake while social distancing and living in different cities and states. We were also able to hire a really dedicated and intense fitness instructor named Gretchen who played zero games with us, while also offering the best modifications and support that a group of overweight, 40-plus-year-old mothers could ask for.

With the start of each six-week series, we asked cohorts their whys: Why are you participating in these challenges? Why are you showing up several times a week for these movement classes? Why are you here? I remember one woman saying, “I’m here because I’ve been a borderline diabetic for most of my life, and I don’t want diabetes.” Another woman shared, “I’m here because I want to reclaim my body. When I was sexually assaulted, I blamed my shapeliness for the attack. I blamed my body for attracting the attention, and so I started eating and wearing big clothes to hide my body. But I’m tired of hiding.”

As for me, my answer was this: “I’m a workaholic. I do damn good work. And that’s how I have justified letting myself go. I avoid mirrors because I can’t bear to look at who I’ve become. This is the first step toward seeing me.” From cohort after cohort, we got very honest and raw stories, memorable stories. And we held on to those big whys.

But when it was time to break this big picture down into actionable weekly objectives that would lead us to where we ultimately wanted to be, we struggled. We’d set exercise, meal prep and sleep goals. We did the work, but we only had the scale to measure our success — and none of us could afford for that to be our only measure. I didn’t want our women to get discouraged, or miss the value in what they were doing. They were transforming themselves and their lives. They were building a community around health and wellness, one where it was clear to everyone that their success was deeply tied to the success of the woman next to her. Women who had reported in their intake surveys that they had a history of dropping out of any weight loss, fitness or wellness program after 12 weeks were well into six months, and going strong. And yet I was noticing a general sense of discouragement as they struggled to remember why they were there in the first place.

Gretchen created a group spreadsheet, but few of us used it. They said it was too sterile, boring, digital and inaccessible. They wanted something tangible, pen and paper — something that had an element of entertainment or beauty or something provocative. So I searched for something that fit this description. I Googled. I Amazoned. I Targeted. I Walmarted. I spent hours in both small and large bookstores. I found journals that were engaging but not provocative. I found journals that were great for logging but were sterile. I found gratitude journals — something I knew was important to our women — but they all had the same mundane prompts and responses. Nothing fit us. I was stumped. They wanted more. I wanted more.


In that hotel room, I began to remix the gratitude prompt based on something the Infamous Mothers brand had been creating and curating for a long time: “Dirty Words.” Inspirational quotes with edge, sass and attitude, or nuggets of inspiration that probably weren’t written with us in mind — but we were making the choice to put our dirty little hands on them anyway. I also remembered our virtual workouts with Gretchen, how when she would ask us to do something crazy like burpees, I would stop and look at her and say, “Now Gretchen, you know this is some bullshit.” And she would respond with, “Yeah, it is some bullshit, but you can do it.” There was something about that freedom to just call it what it was without it seeming disrespectful or offensive that created space for us to get the job done. And so I carved out a section in the journal called “Daily Shit” that invites women to brag on themselves or to vent.

As I began making progress on the journal, I noticed that something in me was responding. My life started to feel more meaningful. That was my inspiration to keep going.

And yet I also found myself getting angry. My despair turned into rage. Why did these people die? Why was my relationship failing — again? Why were we in this damn pandemic away from everyone we loved? Did other women need a place to just scream? Was there a place in this journal for me to vent?

And I realized that it wasn’t enough to just vent. Some of us needed to explain to ourselves, to make sense for ourselves, why we were calling bullshit. And then we’d need to create a solution as a way of regaining our power.

Our health depended on it.


We are mothers. And motherhood is not known for being an affirming experience, not for many of us. The women in this particular program are also entrepreneurs in spaces that were not created with them in mind. They are dealing with rejections, insults and condescending conversations. They have dealt with trauma and shaming of all sorts. We needed a space to talk back to those voices, one that would allow us to unapologetically celebrate ourselves and our wins. In those hotel room days and in the weeks after, “Covet: The ‘Disrespectful’ Health and Wellness Journal” — an interactive book I never intended to write — became that space. Not only for them, but for me.

The first time I turned the journal on myself and completed one of the exercises, I broke down crying. Initially, it was from embarrassment and disappointment. And then it was empowerment. I was uncovering things about me that I hadn’t known before. With this data, I could create strategies, get help, show up in ways that I couldn’t in the past. This awareness played a major role in my mental health transition.

Do you know this quote from Toni Morrison? “If there’s a book that you want to read but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” “Covet” ended up being that book for me. In June, I announced a 45-city tour for “Covet.”

I think “Covet” chose me to write it because it knew that I needed something fresh and bold and brave and beautiful to pull me off the edge. And it did. It has so much to offer. I don’t say this as its creator, because the truth is, now that I have the finished product in my hand, I don’t feel like the creator. I feel like a woman who is journaling inside of a book that was created with me in mind. Every day that I choose to pick it up and write in it, I am reminded that “I am the shit,” and it gives me what I need to keep going on days I feel like giving up.

Sagashus Levingston is a guest essayist to Madison Magazine. Would you like us to publish your essay? Submit your Wisconsin-centric piece for consideration here:

Subscribe Ad Block For Web Articles