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The Complex and Radical History of Self Care

Updated: Aug 28, 2020

Have you heard a term that is so inaccurately used that it raises hairs on the back of your neck. That term for me is Self Care (and note I spell it with the dignity I believe it deserves, that is a capital S and capital C).

The back story to the origins of Self Care somehow seems to have been hijacked by commercialism.

'Making Self Care a trend that comes with a big price tag dilutes its powerful message and shuts out the population who need it most: impoverished populations struggling to make ends meet, people of colour quite literally fighting for their lives and women battling to the death for the control of their bodies.'

Similarly there are allied health professionals we have come into contact with whose own Self Care recommendations to clients are questionable. The term desperately needs some form of clarification and uniformity adopted by State and ultimately an understanding by consumers.

This excellent story by Jordan Kisner who wrote in The New Yorker, practising Self Care historically actually became “a way to insist to a violent and oppressive culture that you mattered, that you were worthy of care.”

Or as civil rights activist Audre Lorde put it in her book, A Burst of Light: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

As Arianna Huffington wrote in her newsletter on Thrive Global:

'Now is the moment for activists to reclaim Self Care instead of allowing it to remain largely commodified and disconnected from our collective efforts to end a deep-rooted system of racial injustice or in any other way make the world better

While many of the 31 million Instagram posts tagged with #selfcare are now bubble baths or sponsored posts about beauty products, Self Care actually has deep spiritual roots. Indeed, the spiritual connection goes back to the Greeks, who connected caring for ourselves to knowing ourselves, both of which require the time and reflection that have been hard to find in our breathless and frenetic lives. Michel Foucault wrote that Socrates was “a master of the care of the self reminding men that they need to concern themselves not with their riches but with themselves and with their souls.”

And Martin Luther King’s sermons are full of similar messages. As he said in 1954, “Only through an inner spiritual transformation do we gain the strength to fight vigorously the evils of the world in a humble and loving spirit.” Twelve years later at Ebenezer Baptist Church, he once again urged this transformation: “Take your burden, take your grief and look at it, don’t run from it... Look at it hard enough and say, ‘How can I transform this liability into an asset?’”

In fact after 8 months researching Self Care for WOW's Self Care School which we developed because we saw a need to help people have a buffer for difficult times in life we came to the conclusion that there wasn't a one stop education program for people about how to practise Self Care.

As workplace first responders we see WOW Self Care School as providing practical skills of how to fall back upon Self Care in tough times for our community. It's also incredibly important as a day to day practice.

Here's a taster of one of our modules.

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