Is Self-Care an Act of Political Warfare?

Hell yes, we can get on board with that.
self care as self preservation
Illustration: Fawaz Dalvi.

Inspired by our sister site Broadly, we’re creating the digital version of a bed—This is Fine—a weekly column on mental health that’s a space of comfort, joy, refuge and pleasure.

A shower.
Putting on lipstick.
Attempting a perfect cat-eye flick three times.
Boiling water in a kettle for a 6 AM cup of instant coffee.
Eating crispy bacon like chips.
Holding a plank for 2 minutes.
Disassembling and assembling my LEGO Star Wars sets.
Reading xxxHolic for the 50th time.
Playing the piano haltingly.
Clicking on ‘Add to Cart’. Not necessarily swiping a card after that.


These are my attempts at ‘self-care’. It’s a term I’ve had a contentious relationship with. Until now. Self-care felt too indulgent. Too selfish. Of course I was taking care of myself. I was alive, wasn’t I? Why did I need to sanctimoniously label everyday activities and be mindful and conscious of them? Surely, I had better and worthier things to do.

Turns out, no. I didn’t have better things to do, than taking care of myself. However indulgent that sounded. And yes, of course it was a realisation that I came to after a painful period of confronting anxiety, displaced unhappiness, and being textbook mildly depressed. Sure there were causes and triggers galore—but hey, everyone has a reason to be depressed or even anxious. Part of the trick to surviving enjoying life, as it turns out, lies in you. Your sense of self. Self-worth. Something that I thought I had nurtured and nailed in my 30s. Lesson learnt: It’s not something to close the book on. It’s an ongoing process. And more importantly, today, it’s also an act of rebellion.

To many, this might seem obvious. However, I’m not quite so perceptive. This took me a few decades to figure out. About that act of rebellion— that I get. As Jordan Kisner pointed out in this piece in the New Yorker about the rise of ‘self-care Instagram posts’: It evolved partly from the rallying cries of African-American lesbian writer Audre Lorde. “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” When you’re presenting your individual ‘self’ to a society that creates and supports homogeneity, then yes, self-care is a way to say that YOU matter. YOU are worthy. As an act of rebellion—that seems on point.


From the Kisner piece: “Many of us are poor, many of us are working ourselves into early graves,” the writer Evette Dionne, referring to black women, said in an interview with Bitch magazine last year. “And so saying that I matter, that I come first, that what I need and what I want matters I think is a radical act because it goes against everything that we’ve been conditioned to believe.”

So maybe we have moved on from the 2015-2016 years of aggressively posting selfies of face masks. Self-care is evolving from proving you matter to the world, to proving you matter to yourself. It might not sound like much, but when battling anxiety and depression, both wonderful catalysts at decimating your sense of self-worth, it’s a mighty weapon. You move from self-doubt, to acceptance. And from that point on, everything you do, becomes worthwhile. Even Netflix bingeing.

Self-care evolved out of self-preservation. But today, they might be finally interchangeable. It’s not selfish. It’s self-endorsement. When you understand and accept that complexity about yourself, you can extend that generosity and understanding towards others.

Sure, there are the expected dangers of self-care—“completely unconcerned with what’s not mine”—accompanies many social media posts. But hey, be smart about it. No one’s asking you to categorise tearing into bags of potato chips as ‘self-care’. Or slamming into walkers while jogging as ‘self-care’. Or double parking as ‘self-care’. I’ve examined self-care here as a mental exercise. But self-care goes into every aspect—physiological and psychological. Eating nutritious meals, getting regular health check-ups—all qualify. Helping yourself in any conscious way is self-care. It’s about living life using the best of yourself—peak optimisation of yourself.

As this piece in Wired predicts: “If 2017 was a dumpster fire and 2018 was about healing through self-care, 2019 memes are emphasising tweaking your behaviour as a form of self-love. It’s a move toward mindful inwardness that feels like a culture battening down the hatches against a broader world that often defies logic and decency.”

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Check out other stories in this series here.