Self-Care as an Expression of Privilege

On some axis of consideration or other, I had a more productive weekend than last. Less TV time, a bit more in-the-house puttering (laundry!) and out-of-the-house errand-running (haircut!).

There was even a bit of time carved for self-care. Not through using Mr. Mezzo’s birthday present — the time for that will come soon enough (at least, one hopes it will) — but through a appointment Mr. and I already had on the books to try out one of the local massage studios. From our comparing of notes, it seems as if both practitioners had a good energy and level of expertise, and we like the ambience of the place. In the spirit of being a little bit more regular in the practice of self-care, I’m wondering if I can budget my time and dollars so that I can go back every 3 or 4 weeks for regular sessions.

As I turn that notion over in my head, I’m also thinking about the flip side of the “self-care” coin that I wanted to write about last night:* the ways that “self-care,” as it is often invoked in feminist or womanist spaces, carries just the slightest perfume of class privilege.

Oh, let’s just call a Thing a Thing. I’m not well-read enough to know for sure that this is how the topic plays out more broadly in feminist spaces. But I do hold awareness of the ways that middle-class privilege has been interwoven into my own discussion of self-care, and even in the limits of my imagining of what self-care might look like, for me.

After all, this nascent idea of making a regular appointment for massage therapy presumes I have an employment calendar that allows such scheduling, as well as a level of income to afford this service. Even the notion of soaking in the bath-tub assumes a lot of privileges. Leisure time that could be allocated to a bath. Enough living space so that I have the option to commandeer one of the (assumedly multiple) bathrooms for however-long I plan to be soaking. Sufficient water (quantity and quality) for a bath to be a positive option for me. A bathtub I can fit into.

These are all privileges my life affords me right now. Although I wrestle with how to juggle and allocate it across everything I want to do (writing, singing, TV, self-care, etc.), the fact remains I am fortunate to have leisure time to play with — as opposed to someone who need to hold multiple jobs, or has child-care responsibilities, or needs more education to open up better employment opportunities.

And lest you think I’m being facetious with that last privilege I listed — a bathtub that fits — let me tell you about our temporary apartment during the move north. The Boston move was precipitated by a job opportunity for me, so I came north early in 2013 into an apartment that would give us a part-of-a-year lease (just long enough to 1) sell the Philly house; 2) get Mr. Mezzo a job; and 3) find a new house in Massachusetts.**) Since we were going to be carrying two sets of household expenses at a time, and since we knew there were no guarantees in how quickly Mr. would get Boston-area employment, we chose quite deliberately to get a perfectly nice but not-at-all-luxe sort of apartment — so if we needed to carry forward for a few months solely on my income, we’d be readily able to do so.

This apartment was absolutely nice. Clean, well-maintained — both by the management company and in the care individual residents showed for their balconies, cars and the community-at-large. It’s absolutely what I would think of as a lower-middle-class or blue-collar kind of complex. People working hard, to be sure, but not stretched to crisis point. And yet, as a function of the basic-niceness-but-not-luxeness of the place, the bathtub was on the small size. And I, a size 18-20 woman, did NOT fit in that tub. Having seen the larger bathrooms and bathtubs in the lux-er places we budgeted against, I’m willing to bet that I would have fit in the tub of a higher-rent apartment.

[Was this all a rather lengthy SIDEBAR? I don’t think so, but I can’t tell for sure.]

Anyhow. Sidebar or no sidebar, here’s what it boils down to. My notions of self-care and how to express it in my life are incredibly marked by class privilege. Which brings my thinking (at least somewhat) in line with an essay by B. Loewe on Organizing Upgrade:

As I most often hear it, self-care stands as an importation of middle-class values of leisure that’s blind to the dynamics of working class (or even family) life, inherently rejects collective responsibility for each other’s well-being, misses power dynamics in our lives, and attempts to serve as a replacement for a politics and practice of desire that could actually ignite our hearts with a fuel to work endlessly. [. . .]

Self-care is often referred to as a task to add to a to-do list that is already overflowing. After several years running an immigrant worker organization together, my co-worker and I went on a yoga retreat to decompress and reflect (readers pause to clap.)  The retreat granted us space to re-find ourselves in the grueling work and commit to continuing a practice that would keep us centered upon our return.  When we returned, we’d ask each other, “So, you meditate today? You stretch?” I, with professional parents in a city far from mine and an apartment mainly to myself, usually would say yes (and the readers clap). But he returned to a bustling home with the noise of TV and the family responsibilities of caring for his brother and completing family chores. He’d usually say no (and the readers frown disapprovingly).

As long as self-care is discussed as an individual responsibility and additional task, it will be something that middle-class people with leisure time will most easily relate to and will include barriers to the lives of people without time to spare.  It becomes one more unchecked box on a to-do list to feel bad about, an unreal expectation, or a far-off dream.

Now, I find the definition of community care and perpetually-self-fueling social justice work that Loewe offers as an alternative to the self-care delusion — well, those notions appear to me as their own sort of “far-off dream,” to borrow Loewe’s own phraseology.

sisyphus_by_wilomaAt some point, maybe the work of cultural transformation*** will feel inherently renewing rather than draining. But looking merely at how the process of studying the patriarchy/kyriarchy and speaking towards cultural transformation feels in my body nowadays?

It’s undeniably draining. The Sisyphean nature of it all, the feeling of trying to empty out an ocean’s worth of cultural delusions using a couple chopsticks, or of trying to behead a miasmic hydra of mysigyny using a plastic spork. The “enemy”  is indeterminate and everywhere (including within my own neurology and psychology), the tools at hand feel tremendously inadequate for the task, and every victory feels to met with another set-back.

Its like playing an endless game of “joy whack-a-mole”:

In such an environment, I still absolutely believe in the value of self-care as a personal practice. But, even as I look to grow that practice, I want to remain awake to and deep in gratitude for the many privileges and good things in my life that make this an option for me.

* Well, that I wanted to write about it last night — till I realized I was already past 1,200 words and needed to save my thoughts for another day.

** And if you ever want to know why I have faith in Spirit, remind me to tell you about the miraculous way that whole sequence of events unfolded…

*** Progressive politics, social justice — whatever you choose to call it.


Image credit: “sisyphus” by wiloma. Unaltered. Used under a Creative Commons license. (Retrieved from: )

3 thoughts on “Self-Care as an Expression of Privilege

  1. Pingback: Raising a RUHCUS – Self-Love: It's Just Another Lifestyle Change

  2. Pingback: Wasting time wisely – Self-Love: It's Just Another Lifestyle Change

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