We need to understand real meaning of self-care for benefits

Opinions Column: Pride, Not Prejudice

My piece this week is inspired by Brianna Wiest’s article “This Is What ‘Self-Care’ REALLY Means, Because It’s Not All Salt Baths And Chocolate Cake.” This article will be based off the ideas discussed in Wiest’s piece, as they have caused me to re-examine and research what self-care entails, socially, politically and economically in present-day American society. 

For the longest time, self-care was taking an extra-long hot shower, eating vanilla ice cream and watching Netflix. It was procrastinating on my responsibilities and waiting for the weekend to do the things that I really enjoy doing. Others shop or wear face masks or play video games, but most of us are either trying to escape something or avoid something. Weist’s article pointed out that true self-care is not just about salt baths and chocolate cake. 

There is a difference between self-care and excessive self-indulgence. Making conscious daily decisions to take care of yourself is far more difficult than satiating your immediate desires. Real self-care is making the choice to build a life you do not need to constantly escape from. This means parenting yourself sometimes and doing the hard things. The activities that you indulge in should be methods to enjoy your life, not run from it. 

Unfortunately, self-care has been subsumed by modern corporate culture. It was used, and is still used, as a buzzword to market products to the American people. Advertisements that promote spa vacations or expensive clothes or bath bombs in the name of self-care are actually implementing and perpetuating the idea that peace necessitates consumer indulgence. Not only is this notion a false one, it causes society to (unjustly) believe that those without privilege do not deserve self-care. 

Audre Lorde, Black lesbian writer and activist, stated in 1988, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” The term "self-care" was popularized by people of color and people who identified with the LGBTQ community, in the 70s and 80s, as a gesture of defiance. 

Self-care was a way to insist to an oppressive culture that you were worthy of being cared for and that you mattered, no matter who tried to ignore your identity and deny your importance. We forget the importance of this notion when we promote consumer culture self-care over real self-care. When we attempt to ration self-indulgence to only those who can afford it, we cripple our own society. 

Back in December, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez announced on social media that she was taking a break for self-care in which she would be taking one week off before beginning her term. She states that before running for Congress, she did yoga and ate healthy meals but now, she eats fast food and falls asleep in her day clothes. Of course, she received (unfair) ridicule and criticism for taking this break. 

In a tweet, Ocasio-Cortez responded to this judgement by stating that for working people, immigrants and the poor, self-care is political not because these groups want it to be, but because these marginalized groups are often shamed for caring about themselves and their well-being while stressing financially. 

Burnout is a very real consequence of forgetting to practice self-care. Breaks and vacations are effective in increasing productivity and reducing stress. According to the "Stress in America" survey done by the American Psychology Association, women are more likely than men to state that their already-high stress levels are on the rise. People of color are more likely than their white peers to be stressed, as systemic racism continues to take a toll on their livelihoods. The people who are socially disadvantaged are the people who should be encouraged to focus on real self-care. 

Self-care is not a luxury, and it is not selfish — it is a necessity. Activism, race and self-care all are connected. When you consider yourself both worthy and vulnerable, you apply that same deep self-comprehension needed to understand the complexity of the people around you. This perspective allows other individuals to have the same level of subjectivity that you grant yourself, even when their opinions and experiences are different from your own. 

Even though self-care is essential, we must be careful of promoting it as the solution to oppression. Nothing short of fundamentally altering unjust societal structures through a variety of solutions can begin to fix the problem, but self-care is a start. It is only by choosing to care for ourselves first that we can begin to rebuild a community and a world worth living in.

Neha Saju is a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student planning on majoring in political science and history and minoring in English. Her column, "Pride, Not Prejudice," runs on alternate Mondays.


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