“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” ~ Audre Lorde.
Sitting in a beauty salon in Manila, receiving a deep hair conditioning treatment from a radiant Filipina trans woman with silver streaks in her hair—it was this moment, in a rusty chair, reading a book about Cleopatra, that I realized the full potential power of self-care.
There is no denying the power of demanding the space and time to take care of ourselves. This care may entail different things for different bodies, but moments of dedicated care for oneself, of slower space and deeper breaths, this is a necessary and yet often undervalued part of our lives.
We should not be ashamed to say that we find empowerment and joy in taking time to love, care for and celebrate ourselves.
For women who strive to be aware and carve new paths, there is an overwhelming amount of work to be done. As soon as we leave the house, we face a white-washed, sexist, patriarchal and oppressive society. Billboards of women looking submissively seductive, passive, weak, and diminished into sexualized objects and dismembered limbs.
We live in societies that privilege people depending on appearance, waist size, colour and on our constructed perception of beauty. A world where women are celebrated for being small and silent, where people are told that white is better and that (physically, spiritually, and emotionally) starved people are beautiful. Where girls feel like our most important value is how desirable we are, how sexually appealing we are, and how many likes we have on photos.
We live in a society that condemns women for both showing too much and covering too much skin.
Activist/educator Kim Milan once said, “My make-up is my war paint.” Sometimes, when we adorn, paint and dress ourselves, there is a deep and stirring sensation of preparing for war. There is a somewhat secret power in painting our thick lips in varying shades, in the feeling of different fabrics brushing against our thighs, of a sturdy pair of heels pushing down on the gas pedal, of rubbing oil all over our bodies and adorning ourselves with jewelry.
And yet, femininity and acts of celebrating femininity is often considered weak. We call someone “girly,” as if it’s a bad thing, we devalue emotional intelligence and shame people in “male bodies” who embody “female traits,” we roll our eyes and condemn women for taking too long to get ready, for wearing ‘too much’ makeup, and for investing too much money into looking the damn way they want to look. There should be no shame in caring for ourselves, whatever that may mean. But often even these protected acts of self adoration can be directed more for the pleasure of another.
Self-care is for the self. There is no shame in trying to impress another, looking sexy for your partners and lovers, or in wanting to be desirable. But I beg us not to forget the power of taking care of ourselves, for ourselves. Women have a lot of work to do in the world, across continents. We do not face the same battles, live the same experiences, speak the same languages, share the same liberation goals and movements; however, we all share the task of caring for our earth, each other and ourselves.
Self-care can take on various forms, depending on the land, the body, the needs, the resources, the reality. Every person deserves the time and space to rest, to heal, to be cared for and to reciprocate this act of revolutionary love.
What is sexier than an intelligent, awakened, driven woman? We have goals that are separate from our love lives, relationships and profile photos. Some women don’t give one flying f*ck about the way they look, and this is incredibly powerful. This desire to get up and put in effort, to care for oneself, to look the way one wants to is as fluid as our sexuality, as fluid as water.
The point is that we need to stop shaming one another.
We need to stop having expectations for the way a woman “should” look, act, be.
Don’t ever let anyone make you feel less for embodying something feminine. Remind each other of the state of the world and what values got us there: power, competition, racism, classism, violence. What the world needs, if we are ever going to find more balance, peace and restoration among nations is caring, healing, emotional awareness and the strong representation of women of all shapes and colours. We need more space to slow down, to take care and to ready ourselves for the daily meditative work that is fundamental to the future of our planet.
How can we care for each other and for the earth, if we do not first care for ourselves?
So the next time you find yourself feeling ashamed for taking a selfie because you look good on a rainy Sunday afternoon, you wear lipstick to the gym, or a dress that hugs you in all the right places—remember there is no time to feel ashamed.
Remember, we’re getting ready for war.
The next time you feel less than great for embodying the sacred feminine, for showing up with your emotional intelligence, for bursting into tears because the world is too hard sometimes—remember, we are at war.
We are fighting battles we never consented to and to address this, we are forced to respond like generations of women before us: we are forced to respond creatively.
So, paint that lipstick on thick, if it allows truth to spill from your lips.
Tie your hair back, or shave it right off, if you might hold your head high enough to show the world that you are not a sexualized being who exists strictly for the viewing pleasure of men.
Step into those heels so that you may step all over patriarchy throughout your work. Take a long bath at the end of the day because just by existing, you deserve it.
Rub coconut oil all over your precious skin, because the world can be cold.
Take time, for yourself. Take care, of yourself and brush that shame right the hell off your shoulders.
Taking time to take care is a political action and all the ways we creatively manifest this potential have only just begun.
Author: Emilee Gilpin
Editor: Renée Picard
Photo: Author’s Own