Self-Care is radical
Updated: Jul 3
Self-care and wellness have become buzzwords over the past few years and I'm not here to knock it. Those that know me know I love nothing more than creating my own hair products or face masks, diffusing essential oils, meditating or looking for my next free weekend to book a retreat.
I come from a household where these conversations were normal. Trips to health food stores, Chinese herbal specialists and flicking through books on Ayurveda marked by childhood. That 'earthy' smell you get when walking into health shops still brings me waves of nostalgia to this day. I have distinct memories of my Caribbean mother showing me how to use plants like Aloe Vera to get glowing skin whilst my Anglo-Indian father used beautiful spices in cooking that had a host of benefits.
I would be entirely hypocritical if I were to bash the 'self-care' vernacular because it is so common to me. However,
I can't seem to shake the uncomfortable feeling that comes in wellness spaces where the methods are familiar but the faces preaching it are not. Representation of where these practices originate from can seem invisible.
I've been to talks in the past where entire rooms ooh and ahh at the indigenous practices of South American women without seeming to ask how South American voices could be centralised in the discussion. How their practices could be told in their own voices, how diaspora communities feel, or how their audiences could be more diverse. The entire vibe could have been filmed for a Goop documentary awash with privilege, tales of "gap yahs", and seeking for ways to monetize indigenous traditions for the sakes of yummy mummy morning rituals. It reminded me of some of the Anthropologists I've Iearnt about that were torn between exoticising difference yet being unable to take their gaze away from tantalisingly 'other' worlds.
The lack of representation and diversity within the wellness industry feels palpable. It creates an assumption that you need to have the right image, time and money to engage in it.
I must make myself very clear in saying there is nothing wrong in all people enjoying and sharing methods of self-care to promote wellbeing.
All voices and experiences should be equal. In theory, wellness is a democratic movement. I myself (a black working-class woman) have benefitted from self-care practices from Chinese traditions and many other cultural practices. I just think it becomes an uncomfortable arena once economic power and unequal access to health care exist alongside brands pushing normal ingredients you could have grown and made yourself (or got the recipe for from your Grandmother) as something luxury or elite.
I have been appreciating the conversations that run parallel to this though. Many are mindful to reclaim the definition of self-care as a response to taking action. Something that is needed as rest from challenges as opposed to a luxury lifestyle choice.
It’s about acknowledging that self-care is balancing. An act of inhaling and exhaling, call and response, working and resting, acting and retracting.
Since becoming a mental health professional, I have seen how the notion of 'self-care' really is a matter of survival for our minds. It's not just for the people suffering with mental 'illness'. It's for my colleagues, for the people in other industries, for me, for everyone.
I've been encouraged to see how people are responding to the difficulties of recent times. COVID19, Black Lives Matter, Yemen, job losses and increased poverty gaps can all contribute to us feeling drained. I see people taking the time to listen, learn and act on these things then consciously taking social media breaks, giving trigger warnings, resting when returning from protests or thinking about new ways of innovating. I love to see it. For me, this, is the ebb and flow of self-care.
We are often labelled as a 'snowflake generation'. Too cautious or politically correct about our words, but I love how writer Jason Reynolds puts it in a recent conversation with Krista Tippett:
"their generation is teased and ridiculed and criticized for being too empathetic as if that’s a bad thing. (We) ridicule them because they have somehow made our lives a bit more complicated and uncomfortable because now we have to watch what we say ...
We have to be careful about making other people feel small, and we’re upset about it.
We will have egg on our faces 20 years from now, because what they’re saying is:
we are trying to make an equitable world.
We want to make a world where everyone feels safe and free. And we ridicule them for it."
I'm sure I have said things that are unknowingly offensive and have eggs on my face to come, but part of trying to make a more compassionate society is the humility to hear and learn why it was hurtful.
I take pride in aspects of our generation reclaiming the notion of self-care as a necessary form of resistance and am reminded by these words:
"Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare."- Audre Lorde
I want to take this chance to highlight some of the ways I've enjoyed conversations and activities on wellness during the lockdown in recent weeks. There are diverse voices in the UK redefining the face, ideas and conversations on wellness:
Mindfulness Mondays have started at my work. This is something someone set up over Microsoft Teams in my organisation and I have loved that this has had a ripple effect for everyone to stop on the busiest day of the week. Our Race Equality Network across the organisation have started weekly check-ins for all staff members. A quarantine art group has also been a great relief from the demands of working in the mental health system. These offers should be woven into fabrics of 'business-as-usual' models as we physically return to work.
I discovered Black Minds Matter, an online community that has recognised a need for black communities to speak about mental health, access therapy, and offer free therapy with black therapists. Check out their Instagram for more information.
The Black Wellbeing Collective ran a Zoom self-care workshop. They hosted a session to 'check-in' with ourselves about BLM, create wonderful DIY face masks using a care package of goodies posted to us whilst learning about wellbeing from professional contributors. I've made a visual story of the session on my Instagram worth seeing.
I attended a 'BIPOC healing and restorative Zoom event' on the theme 'What am I meant to do with this?' exploring how to engage with emotions. The session drew upon African proverbs and traditional means of finding healing. I invited a friend from the US to join me and it was a wonderful moment of unity from across the pond.
I realise this is not a conclusive list and just some that I have recently participated/made donations to.
I will be doing a dedicated series on my Instagram page called #SelfCareSundays to amplify other organisations in working in this space. If you would like to contribute to this, please get in touch (visit 'contact' tab on the website menu).
This continues to be important as lockdown lifts and we need to continue encouraging each other.
What ways have you been taking time for self-care?
What wellness organisations have you enjoyed following?