sinmi araoye

Tomato Eggplant Sauce in a black cast iron pan.

The Problem With Self-Care

Self-care is an affirmation that my needs are validI am a big proponent of self-care. For me,self-care is an affirmation that my needs are valid. However, self-care is now big business in the consumerist culture that as American as apple pie. The big business of self-care is one that I find both intriguing and appalling. The problem with self-care business is that everyone is not allowed to care for themselves.

This whole thought about self-care as a business came about because the New York Times Magazine published a profile called ” The Big Business of Being Gwyneth Paltrow.” As the title implies, the article explores the ascendant of Ms. Paltrow as a purveyor of self-care via her Goop brand. Reading this article made me think about my college days when she first started pushing her newsletter out to the masses. There is a recipe I got from her that is still one of my favorite recipes. It is a plain apple and broccoli soup that is finished with lots of lemon juice. It is very similar to this recipe I found on the Goop blog for broccoli and arugula soup.

Anyway, let get back to the point of I was trying to make. Following the writer’s story about the trajectory of Ms. Paltrow’s brand as well as the rise of the self-care industry was interesting to me. One of the things that I love about the growth of self-care as an acceptable form of self-love is that it has empowered women to demand time for themselves. Time to read. Time to sleep. Time to do yoga. However, the rise of self-care as an industry as also meant that many underprivileged people are left feeling like they are failing at life.

One of the things that Ms. Paltrow talks about in the profile is how crucial it is for her to create an aspirational brand. A brand that is based on utilizing her privileged access to wealth that allows her to be able to create the kind of self-care she wants. While I do not begrudge her her privilege, I find it a bit naive not to have a conversation about how many women are not allowed to care for themselves properly. Forget about money because money is a huge barrier that I can’t possibly talk about all the ways it harms the underprivileged. Even when we do have the funds to create opportunities for ourselves, many women, especially black women are not allowed to care for themselves.

As a black plus size woman, one of my problems with self-care is the feeling of being unheard and unwelcome when I want to care for myself. One of the radical acts of self-care that I have done in the past few months is seeking help with my body. I went to the doctor, and I felt unheard and misunderstood. It was like everything I said boiled down to one thing; weight loss. I feel tired begat a lose the weight response. I am gaining weight at an unprecedented rate begat a eat less comment. Knowing I have a past eating disorder begat a sign up for weight loss clinic from my doctor. Through all of the emotional trauma of feeling as if my doctor intentionally did not want to acknowledge my mental health as a legitimate part of my well-being, I kept caring for myself by demanding a proper diagnosis and appropriate help.

Then I sign up for the gym, and I feel like my plus size body is being judged. One of the most uncomfortable parts of going to the gym for is the judgment. I can’t complain about the quality of service. Since I am fat, I can’t possibly understand how gyms work. I remember one time I went to use a treadmill at the gym and realized that the speed off. I couldn’t complain because it would have turned into “you are out of shape” instead of looking at the machine. This was despite the fact that, at that point, I had consistently been running for years so I knew what my body could or could not do. So fatphobia is another way that I am being denied full access to self-care.

I have found that relaxing experiences can become traumatic experiences because of my status as a black plus size woman.

As a black woman, I am treated with suspicion when I go into self-care service providers like nail salon. One manicurist refused to paint my nails until I had paid her. No one else had to pre-pay before getting nail color applied. One of my favorite things to do is to grocery shop. I love looking at new foods on the shelves and thinking about ways to use them. Even that has gotten ruined because I noticed that I was being followed at grocery stores. Apparently, I am not the right demographics for this particular store chain. Interestingly, I walk into stores, and I am not acknowledged because again not the right demographic. So even when I choose to self-care, the trauma that is inflicted on me in the process compounds the burden I am trying to offload.

I have tried to negate some of the problems with self-care. I now choose to self-care in ways that are centered around my safe space. I still like to explore new foods by reading food blogs and shopping online. My choice to learn how to sew and make my clothes has turned making into a form of meditation for me. I have also started exploring ways that I can bring yoga into my house.  I am a big fan of Yoga With Adriene. This means I am constantly looking for ways to create a yoga space in my apartment for private practice.

While I sometimes wish that I could go into cool spaces and be at ease enough to enjoy the experience, I can’t take chances. Instead of giving up on caring for myself, I am centering my self-care practice in my safe space. I am also excited that more women of colors and plus-size women are creating experiences for my demographic because of the trauma that comes from the general population.

A flatlay of st.clements drink surrounded by oranges, lime and clementine

Why I Matter

I gave up writing.

If this makes no sense, then let me explain myself.

As a teenager, I wrote a lot. I was into poetry. Then I moved to the US and I started college. My rebellion of choice was to get a BA in Writing. Somewhere between writing the early short draft of an epic novel and graduating, I just stopped writing.

I have been thinking a lot about the craft. The discipline It takes. The dedication to the words. Sometimes I get upset when people use words carelessly. It is the writer within me.

My thoughts about writing have increased since I read an opinion piece in the NYTimes about why young people are bad writers. The author of the piece posits that when we tell young people not to use the word “I” in their work, we tell them that their experiences are not valid. So, young writers start to dissociate themselves from the words they write. Yet, we all know the writing that shakes us the most are the ones where the writer has a strong voice. The presence of the writer in their own work gives it meaning. Reading this post made me consider why I matter? Why does the freedom to use the word ‘I’ matter to the craft of writing?

This struck me because one of the reasons I stopped writing was because I did not feel my experience in life was valid. I guess I was always waiting for real life to begin. Graduating college at 20, I felt like a child. Most of the time, I felt displaced because I was just starting to grapple with what it means to not be at home. What an interesting story that would have been? (By the way, I just discovered this girl, on Twitter as Black Migrant Girl, who is talking about her move from Nigeria to Canada! She is doing something I wish I had done. Follow her here!!) I was told not to use the word “I” and that made me feel like my story did not matter. But, I never felt like I saw, or read or heard, other people talking about my particular experience.

Also, I assumed at the time that in order to be a serious writer, I had to write on serious matters. What value are the thoughts of a 20-year-old migrant who has lived a sheltered life? The parts of my life that were interesting were the parts of my life that filled me with shame. The eating disorder, the anxiety, the depression, the isolation, loss of sexuality and sensuality in my college years were things I dared not speak on. Why bring shame to my family by admitting I was faulty? I chose to be like the random hardware we all get at parties in Lagos. You use the thing, you realize it is faulty and you hide it in a closet. I hid my self, my body and my voice away to be forgotten.

I am almost 32 now and I find myself grappling with the same struggles of my 20-year-old self. What part of my life is valid enough to be shared? In the age of social media and oversharing, I sometimes feel like in order to speak I need to be extraordinary. And yet, I find nothing extraordinary about my life. Okay, I lie. I find the parts of my life that are extraordinary are the very parts of my life that I refuse to make public. I am still struggling with how much of myself to share at the moment.

Another part of this dynamic is that we now live in the age of ‘woke’-ness. Everybody seems to have something intelligent to say about everything. Language is now extremely policed. Thoughts are judged. The mass is judge and jury. You better get it right. The thing is I am not sure I am ‘woke’ enough for the current climate. My language is not always correct. I am not necessarily a smart person when it comes to discussing sociopolitical issues. Saying something wrong scares me enough to silence.

Beyond my privacy, I ask myself constantly, “am I not too old to be playing this blogging game?” Recently, I was looking through a bunch of blogs trying to study the way other bloggers do it. It seems people are hiding their ages. “I am a 30-something blogger” seems to be everybody preferred description. Is this so that they don’t have to edit their profile constantly or is hiding our ages is really a thing? I tell myself that the market is saturated. There are enough experts on the things I want to speak about. Why would anyone read what I write when there is a world filled with so many voices out there?

Then I read posts like the one Valerie Eguavoen of@onacurve wrote the other day about how it is important to harness our perspective. Reading this piece was interesting because I basically took a social media sabbatical. I banned myself from posting original content on Instagram and restricted my activity to commenting. I thought about the work women like are her are doing to create more space for People of Color to be heard by creating movements like You Belong Now.  Then asked myself why I would want to silent myself in a moment like this.

Instead of being afraid to speak, it was time to try again. It is time for me think of all the things I am passionate about and speak on them.