Posted on: 25 February 2018
Self-care is the buzzword of the moment, and it is a wonderful thing that the discourse around mental health and wellbeing is opening up. But as with many Internet trends, the true meaning of self-care has got lost under the tide of endless hashtagging and retweets.
In essence, self-care is a practice where you listen to your own needs and prioritise practicing compassion towards yourself; it is the attitude that you cannot give the best of yourself to the world and to those around you without giving the best to yourself first. This is not a movement that you can purchase into, you do not need to look a certain way or be living in a certain area- this is the radical act of reclaiming your own actions and your own happiness, and for so many reasons, this is a revolutionary action.
As a society, we are uncomfortable with the sensation of being uncomfortable- and this is something that is negatively impacting the connection that we as human beings crave (this is the topic of Brene Brown’s TED talk, ‘The Power of Vulnerability’, which I would recommend watching if you haven’t already). In this talk, Brown outlines that her research in social work revealed that the biggest barrier to feeling connected was shame and an excruciating fear of being vulnerable. It is this fear of owning the messy, imperfect, beautiful experience of being human that is stopping us from living our lives as we want to, and having authentic connections with those around us. The result? A society made up of people who feel lonely, unworthy, and who therefore are not realising their potentials.
Image source: TED.com
These feelings of shame and fear are ones that are unfortunately prevalent when it comes to the topic of menstruation. The period care industry is the worst culprit when it comes to promoting this shame; a non-identifiable blue liquid is used to demonstrate the absorbency of their products in adverts, as if it was some hideous secret that women bleed actual blood! Many pads are scented with a sickly-sweet floral scent, as if again, menstruation was some disgusting inconvenience to hide away, be ashamed of, and do everything in your power to pretend wasn’t happening. This is all despite the fact that periods are natural things that happen on a monthly basis to all those with a uterus for an average of forty years!
As Brown notes in her talk, which has at the time of writing been viewed 7.2 million times, an integral part of personal growth is the ability to be vulnerable, but this may also be applicable to societies as a whole, too. It seems to me that the narrative around menstruation fits into a wider story around femininity in our society. Women are told to look pretty, are called bossy when they are assertive, to take up less space by always being on a constant diet, and god forbid, for not manspreading on public transport (although this narrative is harmful for both genders, where men are told that masculinity must be loud, strong and that they must not, under any circumstance, cry).
Something that we should be aware of when using the words (or hashtag) ‘self-care’ is to not allow this to become yet another way of selling stuff to women’s insecurities, or adding just another fad to the to-do list. Self-care is something that should be available to everyone- not just those who look a certain way and thus are deemed ‘acceptable’ by society, and not just to those who have the free time and the disposable income to ‘treat yo self!’ and buy an overpriced manicure.
Self-care can be done in private or during your morning commute: it is the process of checking in with yourself, ensuring that you are putting your needs first and looking after your health and happiness. Some may call this selfish, but ultimately, you are no good to anyone else if you have not first been good to yourself.
By being brave, by reclaiming you- in all your beautiful, messy humanness- you are going to begin to change the world around you. By being gentle with yourself during your period, giving your body what it wants and needs, you are going to begin to break down the walls of silence that surround the monthly activities of your uterus. By taking ownership of your body, you are liberated to break down the silence around where your period care products come from- ensure that what you are putting in your body is not only the best for your health, but for the health of the planet, and for those around you.
Allowing vulnerability sheds a light on the interconnectedness of us all- by consciously choosing the products that we buy, we do have the power to change the supply chain. Furthermore, the more we empower each other to open up the dialogue around menstruation, the more we can accept it for what it is- a natural process that happens to everyone with a uterus, and a pretty bloody powerful thing (excuse the pun)- without this process, human life would not be able to procreate!
This revolution of self-care is not a dramatic, photogenic one- it is not for likes and follows on social media. It cannot be bought into; it is not an exclusive club. You certainly do not have to look a certain way. You do not have to apologise for being imperfect; or for bleeding on a monthly cycle. You do not have to tell anyone about this revolution- this, like your monthly cycle, is something that belongs exclusively to you, and you can make of it what you want to. Go forth and self-care.