Self care: its history and importance


Self-care. It’s SO IMPORTANT. And I’m not talking about getting your nails done or having a fun night out (although those things are lovely!) I’m talking about the really important things. Why are we so bad at taking care of ourselves sometimes? Or is that only me?

A week ago I put my back out. It’s a recurring injury I’ve had since having my son (yaaaaay pregnancy and childbirth!) and every now and then it flares up.  Anyway, the good news is that I’m finally on the mend. Clearly a wake-up call to take better care of my injury. That’s self-care. Other forms of self-care for me include prioritizing sleep and taking my iron supplement.

So please, be kind to yourself. Take your medications, keep your appointments, eat nutritious food, make sleep a priority, reach out when you need help, and do whatever else you know makes you feel like the best version of yourself.

In the following paragraphs, I’m exploring the history of self-care, and some of the ways it has been used over the years.

Civil Rights

The concept of self-care was a key part of the Civil Rights movement, as Black people were urged to claim autonomy over their own bodies as a political act, in opposition to the racist institutionalized medical system. Taking care of one’s health was seen as a radical and political act; and indeed, it can be argued that it still is.


The term has also been used by feminist groups to champion women’s health and fight against the sexist medical system that saw women’s bodies as inherently sick and/or disease-carrying. However, I it’s important to note that that many of the early feminists were also often racist, and therefore leave a complex legacy, with parts good and bad.


It’s a shame that the term self-care has been co-opted by consumerism/capitalism. What was once a way to fight back against oppression is now often seen as an excuse for excessive spending. Self-care is not about indulging in reckless consumption; rather it’s setting yourself up to be the best you that you can be. 


Self-care has also been co-opted by the wellness industry. While striving for complete wellness (rather than simply the absence of disease) is certainly a worthy cause, “wellness” as it is often portrayed to us is unattainable for most: something for wealthy, typically white consumers with free time (think fancy spin classes and high-end spa treatments). 

Self-care is often also conflated with “clean eating”, essentially leaving fat people shamed if they eat so much as a piece of cake, activists explain. Again, this sort of “self-care” misses the mark and is harmful.

Contemporary Activism

Activists of all kinds, (including climate activists), are using self-care today as a powerful tactic against burnout. In this context, self-care involves nurturing your mental and emotional health in order to function effectively as activists.

My verdict?

At its worst, so called “self-care” can be thinly veiled consumerism, racism, and fat shaming. But at its best, self-care is a political tool of self-preservation and self-love that allows to thrive—and that’s a very powerful thing indeed.

I’d love to know your thoughts, as I’m sure there are other things that I’ve accidentally left out.


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