Have you gotten sick of all the self-care talk? I have. It’s so in-your-face and well, useless.
How many times have you seen a product being marketed and snorted to yourself, thinking “Hah. Like THAT’s going to fix what I’ve got going on in my life”? The kids are bickering at each other again, and you’re about to lose your shit for the fifth time that day? Here, treat yourself to a decadent yogurt cup. Didn’t work? Clearly, you’re not eating it right, then.
The Commercialization of Self-Care
There’s a lot of talk about self-care these days. It’s everywhere, and on everything. So much so, that it has become a commercial selling point, a way to market a product. Treat yourself, they say. You’re worth it.
Never mind that to buy into the popular version of self care–massages and scented candles and pedicures and weekend retreats–you need a certain amount of privilege. You need money to buy those things, first of all. You need time off from your means of earning said cash to do them. Pretty hard to do if you’re working a double. If you have a family or other obligations, you need someone to pick up the ball for you while you drop it.
That’s not to say we don’t need a break. We do.
I belong to a fabulous online parenting group (yes, there’s a few out there), and one mom shared a meme venting about this very self-care contradiction. Cue a long thread of teeth gnashing and general venting of frustration about how overworked we as moms often feel, and how hard it is sometimes to find space for ourselves. All legit feelings, for sure. Then one mom who is Black spoke up and shifted the conversation. She said:
“I feel like we sometimes fall into the trap that we as the mothers can’t prioritize ourselves and have our families adjust (not suffer) to accommodate…. I really view self-care as a feminist act. We are taught as women to sacrifice everything for our families, even ourselves. Ain’t nobody asking our husbands to do that. Add the additional devaluation of women of color to that mix, we are supposed to be happy with whatever slop society deems to give us, making my health and sanity a priority is a political act.”
(You guys, I really really love that group!)
I sat back and chewed on that thoughtful, radical reply for a while. Here’s what I found:
As a mother I fail often at traditional, commercial self-care. I don’t buy smelly lotions or soaps or candles. I haven’t had an actual professional haircut, massage, or pedicure in lord knows how long, or had a girls’ night out for drinks in forever. I often give my family the roundest cookies, eating the slightly burnt ones myself (gotta hide the evidence of fallibility, y’all). On a day-to-day basis, I’m pretty crap at making time for self-care. I grumble too much about how I don’t get time to do these things for myself, instead of just doing it. I’m working on that.
But if you ask me about self-love? I am an ardent practitioner. My husband and daughter would be delighted if I put only pasta in front of them every night. Sometimes I tell myself that I make sure there are 1-2 vegetables in every meal because I’m worried about their health. But the truth is: I feel better when I do. I’m doing it for me, and they can stuff a sock in it if they don’t like it. I put a DVD cartoon in for my daughter–screen time standards be damned–so that I can do my home yoga practice, or so that I can savor my morning coffee and journal in peace. I leave my husband with our daughter, march out to the garden and stick my hands into the dirt for hours at a time, and only come back in when I’m good and ready. I find ways to follow politics, drink up TED talks and podcasts, and I take time to journal and write this blog and this one.
I do all these things because I love myself, and they are what makes me, ME. Not doing them would be cutting off my air supply, suffocating myself. In fact, that’s exactly what it feels like if I stop. I bet you can think of a few things in your life that feel the same way. You need to do them to breathe freely. Those are your points of self-love.
Trading in Self-Care for Self-Love
See, I think if we talked about self-love instead of self-care, we’d be having a whole new conversation.
In fact, I want you to try an experiment with me:
- Imagine the person you love most in this world. Your very favorite person. Hold them in your mind’s eye.
- Think on your love for them and let it grow. Let it balloon out, filling up your heart until it’s just about to burst;
- Quick now–take that love and point it at yourself! Imagine your own self filled to overflowing with all that love;
- And if you loved yourself with all the love that you love your favorite person what would you wish for yourself? If all that love had to have a release-valve in your life, if it had to go flowing out of you and into your life, if you had to send it somewhere to do one thing that would most positively impact your quality of life, where would it go? What would it be? What would you wish for yourself if you were your favorite person? Betcha it wouldn’t be a new scented candle.
It’s easy to overlook care. Sure, we won’t always brush our hair (that’s why they invented what ball caps and elastic bands!) or shave. We’ll overbook ourselves and call it a busy life. We’ll put off going to the gym, eat microwave burritos all week, and say that we’re too busy to book a massage.
But try giving yourself a pass on loving yourself. Try saying, sorry, I can’t do that important thing because I don’t love myself enough. That’s a harder truth to face.
Moreover if you talk about treating yourself like one of your loved ones, your goals for yourself change. Calling it self-love forces us to have the real discussion about what nourishes us, our aspirations, and if we are treating ourselves with the same consideration as we would anyone else important in our lives.
Taking it Home for Keeps
Now what if we really did this? What if we really did blow that huge breath of love into our lives? What if we found that one thing and moved heaven and earth to make it happen, demanded of the world that it make space for us to love ourselves as we deserve?
I have a really strong suspicion that some radical change would happen. At home, and slowly by extension in our general society at large. We would start demanding fundamental changes because we deserve them, goddamnit. And we do. Don’t let anyone (even yourself) convince you otherwise.
What about you? Where does that breath of self-love take you? Where would you be? What would you be doing? Tell us in the comments.
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