Over the past few years, more and more people across the world are recognizing the importance and need of self-care in our daily lives. It is because of the Internet that the term “self-care”, previously rarely heard outside the therapist’s office, is suddenly such common parlance. From Instagram beauty vlogs to skincare brands and fitness experts, everyone is talking about the therapeutic effects of this magical thing called “self-care”. Some believe that it started off as Millennial culture but burnout, stress and mental health issues are real hindrances that affect and determine how we live our lives. For this reason, it is important to recognize that every individual has the right to take time off for themselves to do things that help them heal and unwind.
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Self care can be any practice, activity or habit that an individual performs for their well being and relaxation. This activity or ritual doesn’t even have to be something that’s generally perceived as fun or entertaining. Every individual has their own way of dealing with stress and unwinding. But increasingly, we see a global trend which equates material pleasure and excess with self-care. It is projected as a ritual that is embedded in the philosophy of treating oneself, perhaps a day out shopping or visiting the spa. Brands have co-opted the concept self-care to serve their capitalist interests, wherein various products and services are marketed under this garb of treating oneself. We are made to believe that a face mask will make all our problems go away and help our brains relax. Of course, that is hardly the case.
Self-care is especially necessary for women who have to regularly juggle multiple responsibilities and barely have any time for themselves. Our society teaches women to always put everyone else before themselves; it sets unrealistic expectations from women which is bound to cause more than just stress as they grow older. Women are expected to perform the emotional labor, sometimes even on the behalf of their male counterparts. Alongside this, they also have to manage the home, be successful in their professions and stay on top of literally every responsibility thrust to them. Prioritizing one’s own mental and physical health is something that every woman must do, at least once in a while, for her own wellbeing and peace. And every woman has different ways of doing this.
Self-care is more than some superficial, consumerist, materialistic ritual that temporarily fills the void in your heart. It is not always glamorous enough for you to post on Instagram. It definitely is nothing like what you see on Instagram being passed off for actual self-care. It is more than a Sunday afternoon spent eating a healthy salad. The culture of perfectly curated online identities makes us believe that self-care too, like everything else we display online, is a performative activity that has to appear pleasing and in concurrence with the personas we have crafted. We view self-care as an end and not the means to an end itself. It is not something that we can check off our to-do lists and forget until the next weekend. Self-care requires effort, a certain amount of discipline, and an abundance of self awareness. Sometimes it is boring and hard and not pretty enough for a picture on Instagram.
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Retail therapy and good skincare can bring temporary relief on days that you’re feeling low and exhausted. However, they are not very effective when it comes to addressing the deep seated issues that make you unhappy or prevent you from being the best version of yourself. Real self-care for women should be about undoing the damage that society along with its expectations and stereotypes does to us. Every woman has been subjected to some kind of sexual harassment or misconduct at some point in her life. The outrage and backlash she faces when she tries to seek justice or tell her story is traumatic, to say the least. A spa day may not end this trauma but support groups and community healing might just. The self-care for women who have faced this, is all about sharing their narratives in trusted environments, empowering each other through collective solidarity and empathy.
For a woman with body-image issues, self-care may simply be about living in that body even on the days she hates it the most, when all she wants is to trade her body for anything else, just not the one she currently has. On those days, just standing in front of the mirror and listing five things she likes about her body may be her greatest exercise in self-care. For a woman tackling an illness, self-care may just be about taking her medication on time and giving adequate rest to her body. It may not count as a big step forward or a revolutionary change in lifestyle, but sometimes the baby steps are harder and matter more than the big leap.
Sometimes, self-care for women who are too busy working and taking care of their families is all about finding some time for themselves to do things they enjoy. It doesn’t even have to be much- picking up an old hobby can also be healing and relaxing. I don’t work nearly as hard as some of the women I know, but for a variety of reasons I had completely stopped making time for reading- something I have enjoyed doing all my life. It made me unhappy and yet I couldn’t bring myself to read a single book till the very last page. My act of self-care at that point was to force myself to stop scrolling through social media whenever I felt anxious or bored, and read a book instead. It took awhile to get back into the habit of reading, there were days when I had to coax myself to reach my reading targets. The greatest truth about self-care is that it is as much about actively making yourself do the things which are right and important for you, as it is about mere recreation and enjoyment.
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Self-care ought to be about recognizing the things that are holding you back, and then doing what you must to create positive spaces, habits and connections. Cutting off people who bring you down is also an act of self-care, of putting your own needs over someone else’s ability to cause you pain. Self-care is about being honest about how you feel, not just with yourself but also those around you. It is about being able to express how you feel, and being okay with that; not being hard on yourself for feeling a certain way; not forcing yourself to repress unwanted emotions; and allowing yourself the time to process your emotions, to feel them in their entirety before moving on. It is a silent exercise, one that doesn’t really have tangible results of improvement or a definitive beginning and end. But you know it in your heart that you have weathered a storm no one even knew was approaching.
Before we can master the art of self-care, we must change our perceptions and rectify our definition of it. The kind of self-care marketed nowadays caters mainly to the needs of the heteronormative, upper class cis white individuals; and completely ignores the intersectional nature of people’s identities and their struggles. The poor and the marginalized can barely afford to make ends meet, let alone treat themselves. The internet’s idea of self-care has failed to include the needs of people of colour, the LGBTQIA+ people, people with disabilities and mental illnesses, the poor, indigenous peoples, and the list continues further. Not only have we failed in accommodating them in this conversation, we have also been completely blind to what might count as self-care for them. Once again, the powerful and wealthy have hijacked a cause for their own benefits and use, while the voiceless have no outlet for themselves.
It is heartening to see, however, that people are slowly coming to realize the flaws in society’s approach to self-care. People like Hannah Daisy, who runs the Instagram account @makedaisychains, are increasingly rejecting what is being fed to us by capitalistic brands and corporations in the name of self-care. Hannah has a running series on her account called “Boring Self-Care” where she illustrates mundane, everyday activities that we engage in to take care of ourselves- from brushing our teeth in the morning, to going out for a walk. Even things that seem so ordinary can be difficult to perform on certain days, and can contribute to a healthier lifestyle when we do achieve to finish them. We don’t usually consider these things as self-care because of their sheer banality and repetitive nature. But that’s exactly what true self-care is all about- doing those things that we know is good for us, even when every fiber in our being wants to give up.
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