Aaminah Shakur: “Every step you take to self-care, you are also setting an example for others and making it possible for them to do what they need for themselves.”
Self-care is a fluid concept. It is vital and it looks different from person to person. Essentially, self-care means doing something kind for yourself, for your mental well-being, for your physical well-being.
Self-care is revolutionary for women of color and, as Audre Lorde said, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
I hold that sentence so close to my heart. When black women, especially queer or trans black women, nurture and love themselves, it is most definitely revolutionary.
I write so much about self-care in regard to race because of my own experiences as a multiracial, queer woman. I have come to understand the importance of decolonizing vulnerability and self-care because of our own internalized martyrdom when it is specific to non-white cultures.
I still battle this idea in my mind that I should feel guilty about my “guilty pleasures” and that prioritizing myself is somehow selfish or damaging. In reality, those harmful ideas are a part of us because we have internalized systems of oppression. Patriarchy, white supremacy and capitalism rely on us valuing paid and unpaid labor over ourselves and our happiness.
Every week, Wear Your Voice will be featuring an interview with a woman of color on what self-care means to her. Our hope is to provide our readers with a better look at what self-care looks like for different people so that we can help decolonize self-care for better resistance. This week I had the pleasure of interviewing Aaminah Shakur (they/them/theirs), artist, poet and culture critic.
WYV: What does self-care mean to you?
Aaminah Shakur: Self-care has become a co-opted and difficult term that many people are now distancing themselves from, seeing it as a sign of privilege. This is really sad to me, and I am glad you refer to Lorde’s quote about self-care. Self-care can be a privilege, and it can be watered down or misused to refer to anything you do for yourself, but we can’t afford to throw it out just because there will always be people who misunderstand and gentrify it.
Self-care looks different for different people, and I’m afraid a lot of what those of us from marginalized communities think of as self-care is really basic care that we have been forced to forego for so long that we now think it’s a big revolutionary thing to do it for ourselves. I think of self breast exams, or seeing a doctor when we don’t feel well, or a meditation practice, or taking a day to stay home when we are in significant pain (physical or otherwise). These are things that we are calling self-care, and they are that too, but they are things everyone should have access to without any mental gymnastics to justify them. For many of us, even these very necessary acts are not available to us, for a number of reasons. For women and femmes, the expectation that we are caring for everyone else around us is just one of the reasons having our own most simple needs met is often overlooked.
Self-care is about honoring our own needs. It’s common for us to tell women and femmes from marginalized communities that taking care of themselves makes them better able to care for others. This hurts my heart, because it suggests our self-care is still for the sake of ensuring we remain productive and useful to others, rather than an inherent right for our own sake. Self-care is what we make of it, how we define it — but for many of us, it is difficult to think about this, much less name our real needs, so we often stay at a superficial level. Self-care becomes “indulgences” and we speak of them with equal parts chagrin and shame. Self-care should be things we feel able to do simply because it is what we know we need, the things that help us integrate our body, mind, and spirit. If we had access to the things we need, and less shame around admitting we need care, it wouldn’t require conversations and columns defending doing things that make us feel whole.
The truth is I can tell you all the reasons you need self-care and should never feel guilty to do it, but I’m not always the best at living up to that myself. I live with chronic pain and chronic illness, plus C-PTSD and bipolar disorder, so I find myself often struggling to balance knowing I need to do certain things to care for myself and not having the energy to do them.
WYV: What are some of the things that you do for self-care?
AS: While I struggle to maintain self-care rituals or efforts, I do have things I do or mean to do. It may sound silly to those who come from other traditions, but maintaining altars is part of how I provide self-care for my spirit. Long showers are a major form of self-care, soothing to my aching body and to my emotional turmoil. Listening to my body’s cravings — which means I don’t food-shame myself and I eat what I want. Naps — I am very fond of naps and I let myself have them. They are extra awesome because they come with pit bull cuddles, and that too is a form of self-care. My art is a form of self-care; it’s actually how I manage my bipolar without medication, and it is an important emotional outlet.
WYV: What advice would you give to women & femmes who are just learning to put themselves first?
AS: You are worthy of the attention and love you shower on everyone else. Think about the things you wish you had time, money, other resources to do for yourself or that you stay wishing someone else would do for you. Then find a realistic way to make it happen, by which I mean to say don’t hold out for “someday when I win the lottery” or “after the kids are in school” or whatever.
What small steps can you take right now? Maybe you can’t do a spa day, but you can put some herbs in the tub at very little cost. Find where you can carve five, 10, 15 minutes a day out for yourself. You don’t need big, fancy or costly dreams, find small ways you can sustain. Make them your normal. And know that every step you take to self-care, you are also setting an example for others and making it possible for them to do what they need for themselves. Part of what makes self-care genuinely revolutionary is that we are re-creating a culture where it is possible so that more of us are whole beings, in touch with our needs and desires, and letting them be met.