In our modern, hectic lives, the concept of self-care is plastered across social media feeds and self-help shelves. Yet, amidst the noise, it’s all too easy to lose sight of what genuine self-care truly entails. Pooja Lakshmin’s book Real Self Care fell off the shelf and into my lap, offering profound insights and practical guidance for truly nurturing ourselves.
In the 1950s, self-care emerged to promote autonomy among institutionalized individuals through changes in diet and exercise. By the 1960s, medical professionals began recognizing the importance of self-care in combating compassion fatigue and secondary trauma. However, it was in the 1970s that self-care took on a new dimension within activist circles, particularly among the Black Panthers, who advocated for self-preservation in the face of systemic racism. As self-care evolved over the decades, from promoting autonomy to combating compassion fatigue and addressing systemic oppression, its significance remains undeniable in fostering resilience and empowerment across various spheres of life. 

Lakshmin challenges the superficial notions of self-care that often revolve around fleeting indulgences like bath bombs and face masks. Instead, she invites us to embrace a more holistic approach, one that acknowledges the interconnectedness of our well-being. True self-care is about nourishing ourselves in sustainable ways, and tending to our mental, emotional, and physical health with intention and compassion. 

But what distinguishes authentic self-care from its superficial counterpart, faux self-care? Faux self-care often manifests as external activities or products, like yoga classes or essential oil blends, that merely make the status quo more palatable. In contrast, real self-care is an internal decision-making process that fosters genuine change within oneself and one’s surroundings. 

Faux self-care presents itself in various forms, such as escapism, achievement-driven pursuits, and the relentless quest for optimization. Whether through retreats modeled after rehab programs or the relentless pursuit of recognition in the realms of wellness and productivity, faux self-care ultimately falls short of addressing deeper needs. 

In response to burnout, many people turn to self-care practices as a means of restoring balance and resilience. Lakshmin believes recognizing the difference between burnout and betrayal changes how we think about personal responsibility. While burnout often blames the individual, betrayal sees the influence of factors like systemic inequalities and the devaluation of certain types of work. In capitalism, some people end up with more work and stress, especially those already marginalized. The burden of unpaid reproductive labor and the overwhelming mental strain of managing household responsibilities further compound this inequality. Essentially, you’re not burned out, you’ve been betrayed. 

In recognizing this distinction, it becomes evident that true self-care is not just about managing burnout; it’s about reclaiming agency and prioritizing your well-being in the face of betrayal. True self-care starts with clear boundaries, pausing to articulate your needs without apology, and treating yourself with compassion, even when others don’t. It’s about understanding your anger, allowing yourself to rest, and quieting the loudness of your inner critic. Don’t hesitate to accept help, even if you think you don’t need it. Real self-care isn’t just about superficial indulgences; it’s about deepening your self-connection by aligning your actions with your values and goals. It’s recognizing what truly nourishes you, whether it’s spending time with loved ones or pursuing your passions. This process asserts your existence and worth, declaring, “I matter.” Rewrite negative narratives into empowering ones, embracing life’s complexities with a “both, and” mindset. Acknowledge your privileges and find ways, big or small, to give back to your community. Through self-reflection and extending compassion, you strengthen your bond with yourself and contribute to the well-being of others. 

Ultimately, self-care transcends mere indulgence; it is a revolutionary act of self-preservation and collective empowerment. By reclaiming the true essence of self-care and integrating it into our daily lives, we can foster genuine well-being and contribute to the transformation of society at large. 

Here are the key takeaways from Pooja Lakshmin’s Real Self Care:
    • Set clear boundaries and articulate your needs without apology.
    • Treat yourself with compassion, even when others don’t.
    • Understand your anger and allow yourself to rest.
    • Quiet the loudness of your inner critic.
    • Don’t hesitate to accept help, even if you think you don’t need it.
    • Align your actions with your values and goals.
    • Recognize what truly nourishes you, whether it’s spending time with loved ones or pursuing passions.
    • Assert your existence and worth with empowering narratives.
    • Embrace life’s complexities with a “both, and” mindset rather than “either, or.”
    • Acknowledge your privileges and find ways, big or small, to give back to your community.
    • Strengthen your bond with yourself through self-reflection and extending compassion to others

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