The Politics of Self-Care

Categories: Activism

Self-care. The act of caring for yourself, for many through indulgence, relaxation, or simply by unwinding from a long day. Self-care looks different for everyone. For many, the act of self-care is a relief the daily stressors like work and politics, and everyday there seems to be something new in the news that is stressful.

Taking care of ourselves these days is seen as so necessary to social movements, to find a relief from the pressures we face, to escape our pain for a little while, and try to remain healthy. No person can constantly subject themselves to pain without paying dearly for it. But I see self-care more than I see a reason for self-care. We have been putting too much emphasis on the aesthetics of self-care, and for many their form of ‘self-care’ comes from a place of privilege and activism for them is only so they can get likes on instagram. I have been there. We have all been there. This is as much of a call-out to myself as it is a call-out to others.

Growing up, I didn’t engage in activism in any context. Actually, I was raised in the very opposite of an activist environment. My ‘political and social awakening’, as I like to call it, was a long process of me relearning so much of what I thought I knew about the world, particularly regarding oppression, racism, misogyny, homophobia, and realizing how blinded by ignorance and hatred of others I actually was. Becoming engaged in progressive politics and finding others with whom I agreed and could learn from was empowering and energizing, but I quickly learned that much of the work of an activist is repetitive, surface level, and often fruitless.

“I find that for me, self-care is an escape I am allowed to have while others cannot.”

Activism is incredibly draining work, especially as of late. We are seeing a rise in white supremacy and hatred against immigrants, people of color, LGBTQ+ individuals, and women, especially against those who are at cross sections of these identities. I am a cis white woman with a ton of privilege, and I hope that I am able to use my privilege to uplift other and do good in my life, but I find that for me, self-care is an escape I am allowed to have while others cannot. Reading stressful news doesn’t make me want to act, it makes me want to take a nap. And I often do.

I remember when I first found activism, I was so energized. I was so hopeful and ready to take on the world. I was willing to engage in conversations, to learn from others enthusiastically, and to make change. What long-time activists don’t tell you is how after conversations with people who aren’t willing to listen is that you will physically feel exhausted, because arguing for human rights isn’t just a hobby, it is a means of survival for activists from targeted communities.

I don’t want to diminish the importance of self-care. It is incredibly important to know your limits. But don’t claim “self-care” as an excuse to not show up when it counts.

Loving myself includes pushing myself to do better, be better, to be uncomfortable, to be tired, to push myself as much as I can. I often can’t practice “self-care” without feeling guilty. I can take a movement off my shoulders. I can walk into a space and have it not be politicized. I can exist without having to prove I deserve to exist. The weight of activism is incredibly heavy, but I can take that weight off my shoulders at any time. This privilege weighs on my mind when I ‘practice’ self-care. Black & brown, visibly LGBTQ+, Native & indigenous, Asian American and Pacific Islander, Latinx, and Muslim folks can never take off their identities. There aren’t many spaces that they can go without having to be political. Just existing in spaces like school, work, restaurants, parks, or walking down the street, while Black or Brown, while LGBTQ+, while Muslim is enough for them to be a target of hate, a target of violence, or a target of emotional labor.

The concept of self-care is great. We all have limits and definitely need to take care of ourselves. But within activist spaces we shouldn’t force others to always bear the weight of the movement by themselves. Using our privileges means recognizing when we have to show up for real, not just when it’s convenient for us.

Anna Peichel is a Political Science major with a focus in gender and public policy and Communication minor at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University. She is the Feminist Social Justice Coordinator at the Institute for Women’s Leadership (IWL) at CSB, where she coordinates campus programs and events dedicated to advocating social justice through a feminist lens. Through her work with the IWL, she brought body-positive activist Jessamyn Stanley to campus. Anna is also the president of the gender and sexuality education club PRiSM. She is a fierce advocate for intersectional feminism, a crazy cat lady, and a lover of traveling.