Self-care as a Feminist Act

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It's not selfish; it's necessary for sustaining ourselves and others

By Rizza Gonzaga

Self-care is defined in the Oxford Dictionary as the practice of taking action to preserve or improve one’s own health. In Audre Lorde's A Burst of Light, a series of journal excerpts that describe her life as a black, lesbian, feminist diagnosed with breast cancer, she wrote, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” She defined self-care as an act of political warfare. Americans and many others around the world live in a society where healthcare is considered as a privilege and not a basic human right, and taking action to enhance our well-being is a revolutionary act.

According to the World Health Organization, around 214 million women of reproductive age in developing countries who want to avoid pregnancy are not using a modern contraceptive method. Reasons for this include limited access to modern methods and religious opposition. Contraception use is still greatly debated across countries. Access to safe and legal abortions is not widely implemented. The lack of access to contraception use and access to safe abortion pushes some women to unsafe practices, which may lead to death.

Furthermore, instances of discrimination in providing healthcare are still prevalent. Instances of women seeking for health care being dismissed by some providers as merely over reacting to the situation and having it all in their head still occurs today. Just recently, Serena Williams, a professional American tennis player, talked about her experience of dealing with postpartum complications and how the healthcare team responded to her.

The day after giving birth, she experienced shortness of breath and having a history of pulmonary embolisms, she alerted the nearest nurse that she needs to have a CT scan and a intravenous heparin (blood thinner). The nurse immediately dismissed her request as a result of confusion due to the pain medications. After further insisting, a doctor did an ultrasound of her lungs. Williams was still insistent on getting a CT scan and yet the doctor did not listen. After getting negative results from the ultrasound, she was then sent to have a CT scan and sure enough, there were blood clots in her lungs.

Currently, racial and gender discrimination in healthcare is still prevalent. At times like this, doing acts of self-care can be considered as a feminist act. With self-care, we are opposing how the patriarchy is oppressing us.

Here are some points to remember about self-care:

Self-care does not only pertain to physical health

Self-care is an action that helps improve one’s health. The World Health Organization defines health as complete physical, mental and social well-being, not merely as the absence of disease or infirmity. Self-care does not stop at keeping yourself free from physical illness, it can also be applied to improving your overall mental well-being. Doing things that make you achieve better mental health is an act of self-care. Focusing on eating healthy food is as important as learning to draw boundaries when it comes to the things that you are willing to do and not willing to do.

Mental health issues are sometimes ignored by people, both those who have it and people who do not, primarily because of the connotation that it is not existent and can be easily solved by just thinking positively. The lack of awareness and resistance to being informed means that there will be people who will tend to be discriminating when it comes to mental health issues and this could take a toll on people who have mental illness.

Taking steps to perform self-care is a way to negate the oppression with regards both to physical and mental well-being. Self-care encompasses all types of activities that bring fulfillment or better health.

Self-care is not One Size, Fits All

Acts of self-care are not a defined set of actions that is applicable to everyone and instantly brings better well-being. Like the diversity of health cases, we must also consider that what one person does for self-care does not automatically improve another person’s well-being.

Self-care does not only mean doing things that are relaxing and not energy consuming. It is all about doing what makes you feel better about yourself. Self-care can be by taking a break from life’s stressors. For some people, it may be by having a massage, or going to the salon. It can also be by paying attention to your passions and dreams. For others, it may be by writing stories, painting still-life, and even performing.

We must learn to embrace the diversity in self-care. The key is to get to know yourself, try things, and see what is best for you.

Self-care can be a collective act

Self-care is not necessarily comprised of acts that are done alone. We could draw a lot of good things from other people and in turn we could offer good deeds to others. Self-care can be done collectively with other people. For some, they feel they are at their best when they are organizing charities, doing acts of kindness, or volunteering. Others may feel fulfilled by staging rallies or joining protests.

Self-care could be in the form of making a safer space for everyone else. Calling out instances of discrimination as we witness it is a form of self-care where we protect ourselves as well as others from further discrimination. Standing up for others is also a way of improving one’s well-being.

We can extend self-care to the people around us in a way that they could also benefit from.

At a time when discrimination is still highly prevalent, we must learn how to gain strength from each other in order to continue the fight. We should also know that caring for oneself is not selfish and that it is a way to combat sexism and inequality. We should mind our health so that we can continue to face the fight and keep moving forward.

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