Over the past few years, self-care has become a household term in North America and beyond. It’s become synonymous with bubble baths, wine, alone-time, coloring books and more. It’s often seen as a movement that was both discovered and invented in the recent past. However, just as it was conceived, it has also been catered towards a specific audience: white people.
While anyone can enjoy the the activities mentioned above, the idea of self-care being an invention is something that plays into the idea of Western superiority– that it needed to be invented in the West for it to be a valid tool for healing. It also fails to recognize the multiple methods of self-care that have been a part of marginalized groups’ identities in the West.
We need to decolonize self-care so that it’s accessible to all people – particularly Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC), because marginalized people are told repeatedly not to center their own self-care. In a world where white supremacy, anti-Blackness and Islamophobia is rampant, BIPOC need to be able to reclaim their space and agency by taking care of themselves.
Artreach Toronto, a community organization defines self-care as “creating and maintaining practices that help you sustain your energy and spirit.” Our understanding of self-care needs to be widened as what it’s come to represent isn’t what the practice initially sought out to create.
This can be done through various practices that may work for different people, ranging from bubble baths to learnings from ancestral traditions like food or art. Self-care can often be weaved into many traditional and cultural practices for BIPOC peoples as these are often tools of healing, remembering, or even resistance.
For refugees or those from diaspora, food can be a means of connecting to their homes even when they cannot go or be there themselves. It acts as a means of preservation of not only recipes, but tradition and the ethos around the food itself. This can be seen with the preservation of Palestinian cuisines to Syrian refugees sharing their foods as an act of remembrance to resurgence with some Indigenous cuisines. Tradition is intrinsically tied to food and in this there is an avenue for self-care that can be explored for BIPOC. Traditions around food are also important to note as they can be generally made during certain events, festivals or times of year. Food is an important part of culture that has a role to play in self-care because it can connect people to fond memories and their own traditions.
As self-care can be meant to be grounding and rooting, it could include engaging in activities that you grew up with. When looking at the movement from this perspective, it allows those looking to access self-care as something that isn’t confined to particular practices. It doesn’t have to include expensive practices, such as buying bath bombs. It can be as simple as working with what you already have.
Exploring self-care from a low-income perspective is important because it should be accessible for everyone. Simple things such as going for walks, spending time with family or friends, and reading are free methods of practicing self-care. There are accessible, affordable activities like cooking, cleaning or just binge-watching your new favorite show. Self-care can be what you want it to be and whatever makes you calm – and these can be things that bring you joy and that are easily accessible, such as going for a run.
For Black, Indigenous and people of color, the popular culture references of self-care may not feel relatable for them. While these popular care methods may work for some BIPOC, it may not work for all of them. Traditional knowledge isn’t always accounted for or acknowledged as a valid form of self-care, which means our views on the practice are often limited.
Generally speaking, when asking someone what traditions, foods, or art they find comforting that comes from their cultural background, the topics they speak of are integral to their conception of self. Without recognizing that traditional knowledge can form a huge part of self-care, the movement is limited and not truly accessible to everyone.
Self-care should be accessible for everyone, but the notion that there are only a few valid forms of the practice is a disservice to how it’s been weaved into many different cultures, traditions and beliefs. By expanding and decolonizing self-care, it can become a more useful tool for BIPOC particularly given the political climate today with Muslim bans, rampant anti-Blackness, anti-indigeneity and more.
We need to decolonize self-care to make the movement both accessible and equitable for everyone, and it starts with having frank conversations about what self-care is and who it’s for.