Reclaiming and Naming my Self-Care as a Feminist

Janicanne Shane

January 30, 2018

Self-care was a once-nebulous-now-necessary relationship I established and have continued to nurture over the last several years. As a feminist, I consider my feminist identity and my self-care ethos to be interwoven – there isn’t one without the other. When pondering how to write about feminism and self-care, I thought of how I could share how my perspectives and observations on self-care are informed by my feminist identity. I approached writing this piece from a place of understanding not everyone identifies as a feminist – some because they are still exploring what it means to them, some because the term ‘feminist’ doesn’t speak to the issues that are important to them and/or the communities they hold close.

No matter what your relationship is with feminism, self-care and self-preservation are for you and about you. However, for the purposes of my authoring of this article, I want to be clear about my intersectionally-aware feminist identity – how I name it, feel it, understand it, am frustrated by it, safely reside within it – and how it has helped me grow and sustain my understanding of self-care.

With that said …

I believe self-care is an important, imperative practice. The world presents (see: totally is) as a perilous place, a physical, emotional, and mental gauntlet that compels us to examine and explain our contributions – our ‘worth’ – to the environments in which we reside. 

Of course, I immediately think of social media and, in a larger context, the Internet. The world-wide-web is a digital arena of second-by-second impressions and experiences that can influence us to engage with proverbial rabbit holes of links and posts and tweets and pictures until our eyes, our hearts, our minds may be screaming, “what more can I do to take this/change this/fix this/hide from this/fight this/get away from this?”

In more vulnerable moments, we might be pleading with ourselves to change who we are, to physically appear and present differently, to be something that matters to someone else but maybe not to us.

Bleak, yeah, okay. It is. Let’s call it what it is. All I’m saying is that is rough out there. BUT … there is hope, and light, and grace to be given. Self-care and how we model that care for others can be a powerful tool for change, anti-oppression, and compassion.

How are we defining self-care for ourselves? For others?

In full transparency, on more than one occasion, I have asked myself the following questions:

  1. What does self-care even mean to me – as a human, as an intersectionally-aware feminist, as a higher education professional?
  2. What do I mean when I tell other people to do it or practice it?
  3. What do I expect them to know about themselves in order to achieve some successful semblance of self-care?

I find these questions difficult to grapple with. How do I extend grace and kindness to myself in the moments I need it the most? What does that struggle look like and how loyal will I be to that ethic of care on a regular basis? How much energy am I allowed to keep for myself when I deeply love work in a field that constantly asks/encourages/demands me to give?

In the past, my relationship with self-care is one I have tended to only when I have felt distress or disconnect. Only recently have I started to see it as an anchor, grounding me in what is safe, as opposed to only-break-in-case-of-emergency practice. Naming the roots of your self-care is an important part of allowing it to manifest authentically.

Self-care shouldn’t be a privilege nor should it be portrayed like one.

In defining self-care for ourselves, when naming what it looks like to us, what does that mean in practical application or implementation? Some folks …

  • partake in wine and streaming television 
  • read sci-fi novels
  • phone specific friends, mentors, chosen family, biological family
  • contribute to organizations or causes
  • write for personal or professional reflection
  • buy (potentially) overpriced bath salts and get cozy in a tub
  • shop online
  • shop offline
  • do absolutely nothing on purpose

All of these options are safe and feel right for someone, but they don’t have to feel safe or right for you. When I am naming my self-care through the lens of feminism, I do my best to encourage a living document of options and opportunities that are bound to what helps me feel preserved and safe, but doesn’t involve me risking various levels of foundational stability, however I define that for myself in that moment. Centering my mental health does not mean I am required to overextend my financial resources. If I pursue inauthentic or incomplete avenues of self-care, what parts of me could I be putting in a state of self-care peril?

Awareness and access are important players in the self-care conversation I have with myself. I do not want to feel, nor should I have to feel, like purchasing something, experiencing something, or partaking in a particular activity defines my relationship between safety and humanity. 

When discussing self-care with others, do we imply the purchase of something or encourage the notion we need costly objects to heal ourselves? To make us worthy of attention? I strive to ask myself the hard questions when I’m with others so I can be understanding of how my words, my recommendations, my mentorship, and my leadership may impact others. As a higher education professional who works directly with students, I feel it’s important to express self-care as a mode of behavior I can model for them. 

Self-care can always be on your terms. 

Self-care only works when it works for you. 

Self-care should not be – cannot be – something I do only when operating in times of distress or sadness. Self-care is a safe harbor you can access at any time – a process, a feeling, a mental or physical space that elevates your feelings of security, safety, and connectedness with the things that matter to you. There are mental and physical spaces I used to inhabit that no longer serve my self-care journey and I’m good with that. It doesn’t mean they are no longer important, but more so that I’ve grown into a different part of me that requires something I can no longer achieve with that place or practice.

For example, I used to paint all of the time as part of my self-care regimen. I used to show my work in public, enter into art shows, and produce commissioned pieces for friends and family. Now, I hardly ever engage in that particular artistic medium and have since installed poetry writing as a self-care outlet. It’s not that I don’t appreciate or love painting – I very much do. But as part of a practice that keeps me safe and connected to my body and to my environment, it no longer inspires or exudes those feelings. There are days when I question why that is, but for the most part, I try to let what feels right to me guide me through the desire to know ‘why’. 

Expectations for yourself in conjunction with self-care can be dangerous – not only in what should work, but how it should work. In other words, I don’t expect to feel 100% better/whole/together after a self-care bonanza. Self-care is not a short-term (but it can be), one-dimensional endeavor, but more so an accumulating custom resulting in a more resolute and resilient me over time. Self-care customs may require evolution and responding to that pull can be a really important part of individual and community connectedness.

I promised myself I wouldn’t fret about this piece, having ‘all the answers’ when it comes to being a feminist and practicing self-care. In reality, that’s exactly what I don’t want for anyone who takes time to read this. Self-care is about you and centering your needs and I hope this post can assist you in unpacking (not defining) self-care in meaningful ways.

Janicanne Shane is the Director of New Student and Family Programs at Berklee. If interested in the poetry mentioned in this blog, please visit her website.

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