AWAKENING THE SELF
In the last few years interest in ‘self-care’ has grown exponentially and has become a social media movement with the hash tag #selfcare surpassing 8 million posts. But what does self-care really stand for and how many of us that use the word regularly in our posts or wellbeing practices truly understand its radical history?
Given the current trend I have asked myself how do we practice self-care successfully without divorcing it from its radical ideals or reinforce capitalist paradigms that see us falling prey to the notion that we must spend money as an antidote to our unhappiness or discontent.
Self-care is not a new concept it dates back to ancient Greece where Socrates regularly advocated for attending to oneself as a form of reflective practice and self analysis.
What may come as a surprise to many is that self-care hasn’t always been used as the positive concept we understand it today. In fact in the 1800s the term ‘self-care’ was a notion that carried a discriminatory ideology.
Kisner (2017) articulates this beautifully in her article ‘The Politics of Conspicuous Displays of Self-Care’, explaining that self-care “rested on the idea of the capacity for self-care” and historically was used as a marker of citizenship. In 1800s America this marker was introduced to classify people of African decent as being ‘unfit or unable to take care of self’. Such lack in capacity resulted in the political justification of slavery. It spoke of migrants as unfit citizens because they had not the “ideas or attitudes that befit man to practice self-care and self-governance”. It disallowed women equality and the vote based on the same assumptions. Trombetta (2018) suggests “before self-care became a weapon for fighting oppression as we see it today, it was a tool used for maintaining it”.
Closer to home and I am reminded of our own government who from 1910-1970 linked concepts of capacity & self-care to their policies of assimilating Aboriginal peoples into white societies & missions. Here they used the construct of self-care as a way to justify the removal of children from the land; their spiritual home, from carers and community under the guise that parents or elders have not the capacity to care, self-manage or self-determine (Renes, 2011). It goes without saying how incorrect & traumatic this policy was and the effects of such are still present in Indigenous peoples and their communities today.
After some years of disuse the 1980’s bought with it a revival of the term self-care, this time delivered as a message of defiance. The civil rights, feminist & LGBT movements began to challenge the out-dated & prejudice notion of self-care and used it as a tool to dismantle many of the oppressive systems in place. What these groups were now arguing was at the forefront of their fight for equality. They believed each person had the right to self-determination; to care for their own body physically, mentally and emotionally as they see fit. Self-care suddenly became “a declaration of intent that said I deserve to not only live, but to live well” (Trombetta, 2018). In this regard self-care took on a new and powerful stance. It was a bold, collective statement to the oppressors that each person, each minority group was valid, worthy & deserving. It empowered individuals & groups providing them with the reinforcement & validation they needed to step away from the madness around them, to acknowledge the pain and trauma of their experiences and create a platform for healing to begin.
Our contemporary understanding of self-care stems from radical & powerful roots but I fear it has the potential to get lost in our modern day attempts to be well and take better care of ourselves.
We have become a society that spends more time looking outside of ourselves for the answers and are turning the concept of self-care into a ‘privilege’ reserved only for those who can afford to invest in themselves; treatments, beauty products; yoga classes; wellness shakes; self help programs, coaches, counsellors, retreats….the list goes on. Our pre-occupation with ‘self-care’ now drives a 10 billion dollar industry & it is growing each year. Whilst I believe in the freedom to express and practice self-care as each person sees fit ( and I certainly enjoy my fare share of massages & advocates for the caring & awakening of the self with all clients) we need to remain present to the influence and marketing of certain products, programs or treatments as vital to self-care, when in fact they are not.
Self-care can often be practiced for little or no expense. In fact the hardest part about this caring & awakening is that it is a practice! Yes a practice that requires regular, frequent and repeated actions in order to build results. Humans naturally move towards instant gratification, we have become accustomed to that instant hit thereby seeking out something that immediately makes us feel better, a block of chocolate, a new pair of expensive shoes or an indulgent massage might classify as a form of self-care and sustain you for the day but only serves as a means of treating one small part of ourselves, rather than the whole.
We must avoid getting too caught up in what self-care has become and embody what it stood for in the early 1980’s; a means to empower self, challenge oppression and build everyday resilience. We also need to be mindful that this practice does not need to include grand gestures or acts that defy gravity, engaging small and more mundane acts with wilfulness, flow and determination is just as important and more realistic to the every day world the majority of us live in.
Awakening and Caring for the Self is about creating a conscious space in your life that nourishes you from the inside out; mind, spirit, emotions, psyche, body & community. Create a practice that is removed from the Instagram hype & sponsored ads to one that is unique & authentic to you. In my experience this then becomes a much more sacred, private and intimate space within, a space without the distractions that you can return to with little cost, to recharge, recover & rebuild yourself over and over again.
Kisner, J. (2017) The Politics of Conspicuous Displays of Self-Care. New York Times
Renes, M. (2011). The Stolen Generations, a Narrative of Removal, Displacement and Recovery In: Lives in Migration: Rupture and Continuity
Trombetta, S. (2018). Understanding the radical history of self-care is essential to practicing it successfully.