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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Treat Yo Self: Politicizing Self-Care

Is it possible to think of self-care as a method of taking care of both oneself and one’s community? Is it possible to think of self-love in a manner that allows one to undo the toxicity that is often understood as intrinsic to the practice?

Quite often, when we hear “self-love,” we hear selfishness. We hear narcissism. We think solely of the idea that we should look after ourselves, first and foremost. We understand that self-love and actions of self-care should only (and let me stress that only) involve taking care of the self. We think of drop-kicking toxic people from our lives and moving forward. We think of “positive thinking” and “perspective shifting.”  We think of Donna Meagle and Tom Haverford’s “treat yo self” episode from “Parks & Recreation.” We think of consumerism, fast and easy methods of reaching “happiness” that never seem to allow us growth. We think of an understanding of “self-care,”  which can act as a form of coping, as a form of dealing with the daily traumas and motions of everyday life. But we so often leave it only at that.

We fail to think of self-care as a loving practice, rather than simply as a practice. We fail to understand that self-care doesn’t only mean doing things that we like. Self-care isn’t only taking a moment of pause in your busy schedule to appreciate the warm spots of sun on the grass devoid of half-naked acro-yoga kids or that group of quad-tanners who don’t seem to ever go to class/have a midterm/have a paper to write. Self-care isn’t only filling yourself with Ben & Jerry’s and streaming Netflix instead of going to class. Self-care isn’t only journaling on your bed late at night after crying for hours about boys and girls and all genders in between and outside. It is all those things and so much more.

I’ve been sharing and re-reading this blog post on feministkilljoys.com lately about self-care as “political warfare” with my friends. It starts off with a quote by famed Caribbean-American lesbian feminist writer, Audre Lorde,

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

Taken from her piece A Burst of Light, which parallels her battle with cancer to her activism against anti-blackness and sexism, the feministkilljoys post deconstructs this quote and discusses the ways self-care can act as a form of community building.

Self-care is taken, here, as a practice that allows us to love ourselves and also generate a loving-living community in a socio-economic-political environment that suggests that some of us are not worth living. This means undoing internalized oppressions and everyday practices inline with ableism, sexism, racism, classism, and all those other -isms you’ve probably heard about in your classes, your Tumblr dashboard, during protests, or from your “angry” political friends. This means taking care of yourself in a manner that is long-lasting and not simply a short and sweet cure. This means loving yourself in a way that isn’t narcissistic. This means validating your existence, your narrative, your experiences and that of others. This means enacting a loving practice of understanding and compassion that attempts not to transcend boundaries but recognizes the boundaries of our knowledge and the ways that our multiple identities will allow us to experience the world. This means recognizing our privileges. This means holding others accountable for their privilege and their actions. This means holding ourselves accountable as well.

I know what you’re thinking, “This is too political, too feminist,” “Why care about others if I need to care for myself.” But if we are to take care of ourselves, we need to take care of others as well. Whether it be through providing love and care or through activism, in order to truly indulge in a loving practice of self-care we must learn to love ourselves and others. Our lives are not separate from those around us. Our problems are both our own and the result of the systems of power that shape our experiences.

So yes, it is good to take a moment of pause on the quad and appreciate the grass and the happy faces of our peers as they play soccer or throw frisbee, while we stress about midterms and papers and everything in general.  Yes, it is okay for you to skip class to take a day for yourself and walk around downtown, take a nap in the arboretum, and spend those $11 to see that movie you’ve been meaning to see. But at the same time, we must recognize that there are reasons we might feel “off,” though often times it might seem that there are none (in many cases there often aren’t). We must allow ourselves to at once take care of our own mental well-being and also those around us. In order to enact self-care, we must also take care of others. And in order to take care of others we must also understand the systems of power relations that generate our lived experiences and work to undo the structures that cause such inequality and devastation to so many.

So in these next nine weeks, I’m going to write about different ways that we can take care of ourselves and our various communities through a process of unlearning oppressive ideologies. And if you take issue with any of this, please feel free to e-mail me.

Want to call me out on something? Want to dish about white supremacy and capitalism? Want to queer on the quad?  Contact Gilbert Gammad at gdgammad@ucdavis.edu

Graphic by Jennifer Wu.


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