Melissa Harris-Perry wrote an article for Elle.com about self-care that has a lot of people talking. When I first saw mention of it I was excited – finally, someone with clout was going to talk about self-care for black women! Then I read the pull quote at the top of the piece. I’m not sure what I was expecting but this was not it:
I REFUSE TO ACCEPT THAT SELF-CARE IS NECESSARY FOR HEALTH AND WELL-BEING.
Eating well isn’t necessary?
Showering isn’t necessary?
Valuing yourself isn’t necessary?
Going to the doctor.
Going to the therapist.
Acknowledging your dreams, hopes, and desires. Working towards them.
Surely she believes that those things are necessary for health and well-being, I thought. Surely she is not going to write an article in a magazine with a reach like Elle and be another voice telling us to look outside ourselves for validation.
And she isn’t, exactly.
For Harris-Perry it was the love, strength, and straight talk of her girlfriends that she credits with saving her life. I don’t argue that being true. As someone who has worked in peer-support for five years and been a woman for 38, I can testify to the power of a circle of girlfriends.
The trap I believe she fell into in this piece is the same trap that millions of women around the world have found themselves in – she let Instagram replace Merriam-Webster. “Distilled into bath bombs and marketed to the consumer class, self-care can come off as a collection of hipster luxury items—a visible manifestation of excess time and resources spent massaging trigger points and pushing back cuticles.”
The thing that she missed? NONE OF THOSE THINGS ARE SELF-CARE. It is, quite literally, taking care of yourself. That can mean physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually. It can mean nurturing a relationship like the beautiful friendship that saved her life. It can (and hopefully does) also mean nurturing that kind of relationship with ourselves. It means learning about ourselves and what we truly need, what makes us happy, what makes us strong. It means asking for those things from our community.
Self-care does not mean isolation. It does not mean disconnection. It does not mean that we only get what we can give ourselves. Harris-Perry writes, “Ultimately, self-care encourages women to rely solely on themselves rather than to make demands on anyone or anything else.” And that line made me unutterably sad. Because ultimately what self-care actually does is highlight our need for healthy connection.
The more I learn about myself, how my brain works, how my heart works, what my soul needs – the more I learn about the value of the friendships in my life. We care for each other, deeply. We have saved each other’s lives. We also remind each other regularly that we matter. That we are full human beings who are allowed to focus on our own wants, needs, and desires. We remind each other to ask for what we need. We remind each other of our intrinsic magic. Those reminders are self-care. We are literally reminding each other to think of ourselves. It is the foundation of self-care.
“Self-care validates as good and noble all of those women with sufficient resources to “take a break” from the hustle and bustle while it censures those who seek relief from the collective care of the state—through child care subsidies, food assistance, low-income or subsidized housing, or health care.”
No. Instagram #Self-Care does that. Actual self-care centers the person and insists that we recognize our needs as valid. Each of us. All of us. Applying for Medicaid was one of the biggest acts of self-care that I ever took. It allowed me to get medical care for myself and my son while I was pregnant. It allowed me to get psychiatric care when I suffered from postpartum depression and anxiety.
Applying for SNAP benefits is self-care. Creating a crowdfunding campaign is self-care. Dropping your PayPal link on Facebook is self-care. Asking for what you need. Knowing your needs matter and allowing your community to help meet them IS SELF CARE. It is you, taking care of yourself by reaching out.
I can’t tell you how many times I have heard a mother say, “I would never ask this for myself, but my child needs…”. Oh, mama, no. YOU are worthy. Always and in all ways. Practicing self-care is knowing that you can ask for yourself. That you are worthy of love, of care, of support, and of community. When Harris-Perry talks of #SquadCare vs Self-Care she misses something big.
For a Black woman to practice self-care we must first see ourselves as fully human and deserving of care in a world that sees us as neither and actively denies us the tools to care for ourselves.
To be a black woman engaged in self-care is a radical act.
To learn about ourselves, understand ourselves, care for ourselves, take up space, survive and fucking thrive is revolutionary.
When I say self-care, that is what I mean. Maybe we should define our terms.
I have an intimate squad of amazing women. I also have a Self-Care Squad of just over 700 women who are defining what self-care is to them. Harris-Perry proudly declared that she doesn’t have a self-care routine. I don’t either, but I do have a self-care practice that includes:
- Sticking to a bedtime.
- Creating my schedule weekly.
- Meal planning.
- Leaving the house without my children.
- Talking with my friends daily.
- Spending time focused only on myself each day.
- Setting boundaries.
- Taking up space.
- Flirting with my partner.
- Laughing loudly.
- My (not so) secret affair with Ben&Jerry’s Truffle Kerfuffle.
- Dancing in my car to the radio turned ALL THE WAY UP on my way to pick up my son from daycare.
- Making at least one black woman smile every day.
Those are all a part of my self-care routine. They are all things I do alone. They are all things that no one else can do for me. I’m a good friend to many women, I’m working on being a good friend to myself as well.