This term is thrown in our face almost every time we open our phones. From photos of people at the gym to snapshots of someone’s legs while they lay in a bubble bath, this term has saturated millennial culture. But where does this term come from and what in God’s name does it mean? Is it really as easy as smothering on a face mask and soaking in the tub? These questions recently became really important to me. In the perpetually chaotic time that is 2020, discovering how to self-care has become something essential to survival.
This term actually has medical roots beginning in the 1950s, used to describe things that a patient could do to improve their quality of life. Pretty straightforward. Where things get interesting is in the 1980s when a Black activist named Audre Lorde started using the term in a different way. Being a Black, gay, woman in the 80s meant that Lorde was confronted with barrier after barrier, challenge after challenge, with every obstacle trying to break her down. Lorde shifted the meaning of the term to mean something stronger, stating that “caring for myself is not self-indulgence. It is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare”. Afterall, in a world that is always trying to tear you down, caring for yourself and bringing yourself higher is the most radical act of all.
So this term has shifted meaning over the years and might mean something a little different to everyone depending on who you are and where you find yourself. I do not proport to understand the struggles of a gay Black woman in the 80s, but I think there is something to be said about standing in the face of adversity and refusing to back down. There is always that one thing in life that seems to be chipping away at the very integrity of your being- the job you hate, the partner who mistreats you, the thing that you wish you could do but can’t seem to find the courage to. These things slowly break down the fibres of our existence, leaving us feeling weak and subverted. But it really doesn’t have to be this way.
Self-care is typically branded as something easy to do- smoke a joint and have a bath and everything will be better, the Instagramers would say! For me at least, it really hasn’t been that simple. Although those things are important, they do not solve the root of the problems that cause me grief and pain in my day to day life. I guess the first step is figuring out what is really bothering you. What are the things that you would make you feel lighter if you addressed? Take inventory. Take an honesty inventory.
Once you’ve got your whole mess laid out on the table you are finally in the position to figure out what you need to do. This act of evaluating your problems will feel uncomfortable, but that’s where the growth happens. The bad news is that doing the things you need to do to make these problems go away will be hard. The good news is that you will be able to breathe easier, to live more in the moment, and to grab life by the horns and let your potential run free. So don’t let them fool you, taking a bubble bath is not going to fix your problems. Self-care involves doing a lot of hard things that you really don’t want to do. It’s forcing yourself to set boundaries. It’s telling yourself not to sleep with that guy again and actually following through. It’s committing your time and energy to something that will make your future brighter. Standing face to face with the things that scare you will feel terrifying at first, but once you’ve learned how to tell your fears and insecurities to fuck off, you will be the most empowered-ass human, strutting down the street ready to take on the world.