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If you do a search for the hashtag “selfcare” on Instagram, you’ll find an amalgamation of “you are enough” written in calligraphy, heavily filtered pictures of skinny bikini-clad women on beaches, and…products.
Marketing campaigns promote self-care as a product for consumers who have enough time, money, and energy to spend on it. It’s important that we recognize the marketization of self-care so that we can challenge the concept that self-care is inaccessible to those without disposable income and energy.
Keeping critiques and support for self-care in mind, this week’s post re-imagines self-care outside of the hashtag. I cover the history of self-care as a concept, how we can take care of ourselves when we feel like shit (particularly in terms of depression), and I provide takeaways to help you develop your own self-care practice.
A Brief History of Praise for & Critique of Self-Care
Aisha Harris traces the cycles of self care in “The History of Self-Care.” She details its origins in political resistance for women and people of color, to its connection with a less politicized connection to “wellness,” to its return to “radical” practices by activists and marginalized communities. Harris notes the resurgent interest in Audre Lorde’s famous quote, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
Jordan Kisner’s “The Politics of Conspicuous Displays of Self-Care” offers a fascinating analysis of the sponsorship of contemporary self-care and the history of why the concept is radical for marginalized folks. Kisner writes that “The irony of the grand online #selfcare-as-politics movement of 2016 is that it was powered by straight, affluent white women, who, although apparently feeling a new vulnerability in the wake of the election, are not traditionally the segment of American society in the greatest need of affirmation.” Both Kisner and Harris note the rise in the amount of internet searches for “self-care” after the 2016 election.
And, finally, Arwa Mahdawi’s “Generation Treat Yo’Self: The Problem with Self-Care” offers a salient critique of the privileged impetus to retreat into self-care under the Trump regime. She points to human rights activist Jamie Kalvern’s concern “that people will … become demoralized and retreat into denial, that they will seek refuge amid the pleasures and fulfillment of private life. That would give carte blanche to power. There was a term used in central Europe to describe those who opted to retreat into private life under totalitarianism. They were called ‘internal emigres’.”
Recommended readings about Black women reclaiming self-care based in Lorde’s famous quote include Evette Dionne’s “For Black Women, Self-Care is a Radical Act” (Ravishly) and Sarah Mirk’s interview with Dionne for Bitch Media.
A More Accessible Self-Care Guide for Depression
I mentioned in my post on Enjoying the Process that I lived with depression for about a year while I was finishing up my MFA degree. When I was in the deepest parts of my depression, self-care did not look like eating a quinoa and avocado bowl; it was literally eating anything, usually a nutty bar and potato chips. Would yoga, natural healing, limiting my alcohol intake, journaling, and eating whole foods have helped me? Probably. Was it a celebration just to take a shower once a week, supervised by my best friend who would sit on the toilet lid and tell me jokes? Absolutely.
I wish I had had Jace Harr’s guide “Everything is Awful and I’m Not Okay: questions to ask before giving up” when I was depressed. While we might call the things on this list “the basics,” if you or someone close to you has experienced depression then you know how much energy it takes to do actions that others take for granted. You can access the document as an interactive guide here, which is nice because it is broken down step by step, which may feel less overwhelming.
Something else I wish I had access to when I was depressed is A.A. Newton’s “How to Feed Yourself when You’re Really Depressed.” The author is a chef who herself has struggled with depression, and she rates the difficulty of each meal option compared to the difficulty of showering. She writes, “Depression is different for everyone, but losing the will to shower is about as universal a symptom as it gets. I’ve therefore categorized these suggestions by relative ease, as compared to taking off all my clothes, standing upright for ten minutes, washing my hair and my face and my body, wrangling my wet hair into a towel, drying off, wrangling my only-slightly-less-wet hair into something approaching a “style,” and putting on clean clothes.” While not all readers will be able to do all options (i.e., ordering takeout), I found this guide to be considerate of the real difficulties that depressed people experience when trying to get nourishment.
If you take one thing away from this week’s post, please let it be this: self-care is not a competition. The goal is not to drink $12 green juices; the goal is to recharge and nourish yourself in whatever ways are accessible and feel good to you. Here are a few practices you can try to bring self care into your week.
Pick Just ONE Self-Care Act to Work On
My self-care practices include the following things: pull mantras and write them in my little pink book, drink lemon water, meditate, do PT stretches, move my body, take my supplements, journal, spiritual practice (prayer, ritual, or reading), hang with friends, take baths, say nice things to myself, and read YA novels. Some days I can do four or five things, but some days I can only do three, or two, or one, and I have to choose which I want to do. The ones that most often fall by the wayside are meditating, journaling, and moving my body, probably because they take the most focus and energy. Right now, I’m focusing on one thing—trying to do my PT stretches every day—and I’m determined not to give myself a hard time if that’s the only self care task I do that day.
Try a Little Silence
After my experience with Overworkapalooza 2018, I took Dawn Nickel’s suggestion and intentionally sat in silence while I was driving. I love researching for and writing The Tending Year, so I don’t usually think of all of the podcasts and audiobooks I listen to as “work,” but all of those hours I clock learning about productivity and mindfulness—not to mention the hours I spend absorbing stories and analyses of trauma and addiction—mean that my brain rarely gets to just chill. This last week of sitting in silence was a delicious treat.
*Please note that the original version of this blog post was published here.