About a year ago, I wrote a quick reflection about self-care. I’m going to share it again but want to share what prompted it. A dear friend sent me the screenshot of author/professor Roxane Gay’s tweet and a response by her author/professor peer, Melissa Harris-Perry about self-care.
Gay writes: “Today I was told ‘you excel at everything but taking care of yourself’ so now I am mad about being seen”
MHP responds: “This is one of the many reasons I strongly object to the self-care imperative. It is another thing for women ‘to do.’ Another thing we are supposed to be good at. Another class in which to earn an A. Guess who doesn’t take [care] of themselves?”
Here’s the thing: This doesn’t make sense (I’ll add to me to be gentle). My interpretation of Gay’s tweet is that by being seen, she feels exposed, vulnerable in a “how-are-you-reading-my-life-to-me” kind of way? Harris-Perry’s response, though, seemed to completely miss Gay’s point but also that of self-care.
If many of us don’t get better at caring for ourselves, creating and maintaining boundaries, and filling our cups before we pour from them, we will continue to work ourselves to unfulfilled deaths. People say often, “You can’t pour from an empty cup,” but I don’t agree. We, particularly black womenfolk, flip empty cups over all the time. We go when we have no go left in us, loan money when we have to borrow first to loan it, and encourage others without cheerleaders of our own. There’s no nobility in that, yet we continue.
You don’t have to earn an “A” in caring for yourself. The truth is, if large numbers of us could earn a “D,” we’d be doing a lot more than our foremothers and modeling healthier behaviors for our daughters.
This is where my old pontifications come in. Don’t let people–the beauty industry or whoever else–convince you self-care is simply cosmetic (figurative and literal) attempts at restoration. This is sinful.
If your self-care doesn’t involve self-reflection and self-analysis at some point, you’re doing it all wrong. It’s superficial. You’re just saying “no” because you want to, and that’s fine. I honor your right to autonomy, but just say that’s what’s going on. You’re not getting that massage because it will help you when you’re at a protest or to help you relax to be more creative in your strategizing, you’re just getting it because that’s what’s all the middle class people you know do, and you want to be like them. That’s cool too. You’re self-indulging, not shoring up for the fight. I dig it, just don’t act like you’re doing the movement any favors if you aren’t.
If you’re part of any movement work, the movement is for you too. (If it’s not, we have some other things to talk about.) Either you see yourself as part of the community, an extension of it, or you don’t. The movement isn’t interested in favors or trinkets; she wants authenticity, wholeness (which is why we take time for self-care), creativity and the strength of vulnerability. If that’s not what you’re bringing, take your offering to some other altar. If it is what you’re doing, by all means, try your hardest to excel. And if you ever earn an “A,” would you teach me how?
After all, the goddess, Audre Lorde, said caring for one’s self is an act of political warfare. I need bullets. This here white supremacist, patriarchal, misogynoiristic war y’all got me fighting ain’t nothing nice.