Build In­ner Strength

The Woman-Power Ac­tivist

SHAPE (USA) - - Contents - writ­ten by PAM O’BRIEN pho­to­graphs by BEN WATTS styling by BROOKE ELY DANIEL­SON

Next level in­spo from women in charge


Aja Naomi King likes to push her­self. To­day, for in­stance, she spent three hours bik­ing up a moun­tain. “It was straight up­hill; there were bugs fly­ing in my eyes; it was in­tense,” says the ac­tor, 33, who stars on the show How to Get Away With Mur­der. “But I did it. Be­ing able to ac­com­plish some­thing that you thought you couldn’t do is the best feel­ing.” Aja chan­nels that same drive into the ad­vo­cacy work she does. “Ac­tivism has be­come so im­por­tant to me,” she says. “It’s about us­ing your voice and ac­tions to help ef­fect change.” For Aja, that means be­ing on the artis­tic ad­vi­sory board of Open­ing Act, a non­profit in Brook­lyn, New York, that helps un­der­served kids build con­fi­dence and cre­ativ­ity through per­for­mance and writ­ing, and work­ing with the Cen­ter for Re­pro­duc­tive Rights, an or­ga­ni­za­tion that ad­vo­cates for women around the world. Fe­male power is an is­sue Aja is pas­sion­ate about. As an am­bas­sador for L’Oréal Paris, she is proud to be part of the com­pany’s an­nual Women of Worth event, which honors women who are mak­ing change in their com­mu­ni­ties. “They are so in­spir­ing—they’re do­ing things like feed­ing the hun­gry,” she says. And she just fin­ished shoot­ing A Girl From Mo­gadishu, a film about a So­mali woman fight­ing to end fe­male gen­i­tal mu­ti­la­tion. “All the things I’m in­volved in now are about women stand­ing up for them­selves,” Aja ex­plains.

Tak­ing ac­tion is what makes Aja strong men­tally; liv­ing a healthy life­style is what keeps her pow­er­ful phys­i­cally. Here are the four things that tie it all to­gether.


“Work­ing out has be­come my time to re­flect on my life and the things that mat­ter to me. I think it’s so im­por­tant for us to quiet the noise around us. As women, we are con­stantly think­ing ahead and try­ing to solve ev­ery prob­lem. We are so wor­ried about to­mor­row that we barely have time to ex­pe­ri­ence and en­joy what is hap­pen­ing right now. Ex­er­cise lets me ap­pre­ci­ate where I am in this mo­ment.”


“I’ve been do­ing a lot of weight lift­ing, and I’m proud of my­self. It’s ex­hil­a­rat­ing be­cause I’m able to see the dif­fer­ence in my power so quickly. It makes me feel re­ally strong. When I’m in my 90s, God will­ing, I want my body to be ac­tive—I don’t want some­one else to have to take care of me. Ex­er­cise is a com­mit­ment to my in­de­pen­dence in the fu­ture.”


“I eat healthy, but I also love desserts. I have a pas­sion for crème brûlée, choco­late cake, and ice cream. I feed my body for en­ergy, but I also want to feed my spirit with things that make me happy. It’s im­por­tant to have a pos­i­tive re­la­tion­ship with food. For me, there’s no such thing as a cheat day be­cause eat­ing isn’t cheat­ing.”


“For two years, I’ve men­tored a young woman through Open­ing Act. The group works with schools that have a low grad­u­a­tion rate and gives kids a safe space in which they can play, cre­ate, and com­mu­ni­cate their feel­ings. Open­ing Act has given my mentee con­fi­dence, and I’m so happy to be a part of that. I’m also very ex­cited to be work­ing with the Cen­ter for Re­pro­duc­tive Rights. They deal with pol­icy mak­ers to cre­ate leg­is­la­tion. Now they’re work­ing on a bill called the Women’s Health Pro­tec­tion Act, which would pre­vent states from en­act­ing laws that could de­prive women of the re­pro­duc­tive health care they need. I hope to help am­plify that mes­sage and visit Congress with them to present the bill.”

“Be­ing strong gives me so much con­fi­dence in my­self and what I can do.”

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