Fellow feminists, you have been hard at work to bring equality to those who are marginalized. While you dedicate much of your efforts to enforce justice, please don't forget to take the time to care for yourself. Here are a few things you need to do for yourself:
Yay, you made it! If you’re a feminist reading this article, I’m calling this a victory already.
Whatever led you here – whether it was taking a break from work, getting a nudge from a friend, or finally getting back to those bookmarked self-care resources you’ve been meaning to look over – reading tips on how to take care of yourself is a great start to self-care.
Next comes the part that’s a little harder – actually putting the self-care tips you find here in action.
You might not be used to prioritizing your own self-care. Does any of the following sound familiar?
Being socially conditioned to put other people’s needs before your own. Committing to social justice work that requires emotional labor and a lot of your energy. Having days when you check off everything on your to do list except taking care of your own needs.
I know all of these things have gotten in the way of my own self-care. And then dealing with everyday annoyances and setbacks like online trolls, street harassment, and society’s all-around anti-feminist status quo saps my energy even more.
Sometimes I wonder: Who even has time for self-care? I read suggestions for ways to take care of myself, but at some point, they just start to feeling like they’re adding even more to my never-ending list of things I have to do.
But these suggestions have all emphasized the importance of self-care – and I get why it matters. Even when I don’t feel like putting myself first, I go back to the fact that I won’t be able to show up for others if I don’t take care of myself.
And then eventually, it becomes about more than that. Once I get in the habit of intentional self-care, I reconnect with why I really deserve to take care of me – even if it’s for the sake of nothing else but taking care of me.
It’s okay if you’re not there yet. It’s okay if the idea of self-care makes you groan because it means you have one more thing to add to your plate.
Give yourself some time to go through these ideas and see what feels right to you. Some might be more helpful than others – and unsurprisingly, the most important part of self-care is finding what works for you.
Self-care doesn’t necessarily have to be a whole new task to keep up with – it can be an inseparable part of your identity as a feminist.
Why would you include looking out for yourself in your approach to changing the world? Because you’re one valuable reason that feminist work matters.
No matter who you are or what you’ve been through, you deserve a world that recognizes your value.
Here are some ways you can affirm your own value by taking care of yourself.
1. Define Success on Your Own Terms
Your values probably align pretty closely with the goals of several feminist organizations and publications. But what does being an effective feminist mean to you?
No single organization is tailor-made to support your individual identity and needs. So think about the specific kind of role in the world that’s meaningful to you.
You can make this fun, like creating an art project with it or a fun Pinterest board that’s all about the world you want to build. Then, on those days when you don’t feel like you’re doing enough, you can revisit your vision of success for some encouragement.
Use your personal definition of success to remind yourself that, regardless of what anyone else in the movement is doing, you’re doing what’s best for you.
You can make progress with an act as simple as taking your meds for the day – or as big as registering for an exciting event.
Big or small, keep in mind that every action you take to nourish yourself is a step toward success worth celebrating.
2. Give Yourself Permission to Be a ‘Bad’ Feminist
As much as we’re all striving to be “good” feminists, the truth is that we’ve all got “bad” feminist skeletons in our closets.
My suggestion? Either throw out the whole idea that it’s possible to be a “bad” feminist, or reclaim your badness like a badge of pride.
There are people who would consider you a bad feminist for things like making mistakes in your activism, or not reading the movement’s most popular books, or not having the “right” education.
You’re allowed to learn at your own pace. Nobody is a perfect feminist, so do whatever you can to relieve the pressure to be one.
3. Embrace Your Mistakes as Learning Experiences
It’s one thing to dismiss people’s criticisms when you know they’re based on unrealistic ideals about being a perfect feminist – but it’s a different story when you’ve actually done something “wrong.”
Allowing yourself to make mistakes as an activist is easier said than done. It’s no fun to realize that in the process of doing what you can to stop oppression, you’ve done something oppressive yourself.
But there’s simply no way around it – you’re going to mess up. We all do. And it’s going to be uncomfortable, so the only thing to do now is learn to sit with that discomfort so it doesn’t shut you down.
Here’s something you can do when you realize you’ve made a mistake: Take a moment to breathe. Then ask yourself, “What can I learn from this?”
Thinking of your mistake as a learning experience can help you keep in motion. You can’t go back and erase what you’ve done, but you can apologize, embrace what this moment has taught you, and trust that you’ll be better for it from now on.
4. Schedule Time for Breaks
All this talk of moving forward, and you’d think self-care requires you to be in action all the time.
But actually, you can sometimes find the best growth and nourishment by taking a pause.
It’s easy to deprioritize taking breaks when you constantly feel like you have important things to do. But since constantly exerting your energy will inevitably lead to burnout, breaks are just as important as anything else.
So if you find yourself neglecting this vital piece of self-care, try scheduling it into your days.
I know Netflix will technically be there for you at any time – like when you finally stop working at midnight – but imagine for a moment that your favorite show only comes on at 1 pm.
Sounds like you need to schedule a lunch break. Set aside some time for an episode or a midday walk and you can come back recharged.
5. Keep Some of Your Problematic Faves
Speaking of Netflix, you don’t have to hide your watch history from me. I’ve got plenty of shows in mine that would fail miserably at a feminist media test.
When you learn to recognize oppression, you realize just how problematic the media you love can be.
It is important to think critically about the media we consume – but unfortunately, if you hold yourself to the standard of having no problematic faves, then you’ll end up with no faves at all.
You deserve to have fun. One of the ways I like to have fun is dancing to hip-hop music – and I wouldn’t get to do that as often if I swore off dancing to misogynistic lyrics.
So I’ve accepted that I have guilty pleasures, but that doesn’t mean I have to turn in my feminist card.
You can be aware of what’s problematic about the media – and advocate for better – while also giving yourself permission to be human and indulge in what you like about it just like the rest of us.
6. Put the ‘Joy’ Back in ‘Killjoy’
If you’re going to keep indulging in problematic media, there will be times when you’re the one pointing out what’s wrong with it.
And don’t the people around you just love it when you ruin everyone’s fun by bringing up the oppression in everything?
Maybe not. You might get shut down by people saying things like, “It’s just a movie – don’t be oversensitive.”
You don’t have to give up critically thinking about the media just because other people aren’t willing to go there. But if your feminist point of view saps your own joy out of the things you do for fun, you deserve some comic relief.
There’s nothing funny about media that perpetuates oppressive and violent ideas. But to help you recover from the disappointment of oppression in the media, you can find fun ways to clap back.
Hashtags like #GetElsaAGirlfriend and #OscarsSoWhite are examples of having fun while pushing for more representation of queer characters and people of color in the media.
Ship your favorite characters as queer, create memes that call out the ridiculous sexism in movie posters, write a parody backstory of the characters of color relegated to the background. Have some much-deserved fun as you envision the media you want in your life.
7. Pay Attention to Your Physical Needs
Compared to things like “guilty pleasures,” I know tips like eating, drinking water, and getting enough sleep seem pretty boring.
But I wouldn’t be looking out for your self-care if I didn’t mention your basic physical needs.
If you think of it as tuning into what your body’s telling you, you’ll find that you have a lot of intuitive wisdom about how to sustain yourself.
For instance, if you’re feeling depleted after talking about something traumatic, that totally makes sense. Your body uses energy to support you as you face hard memories.
So set up some strategies, like drinking water or tea after a good cry, and keeping a nourishing snack on hand on busy days. These seem like simple things, but they can go a long way.
8. Acknowledge That the World Is a Challenging Place
Society is shitty, am I right?
I guess that’s a pessimistic way of looking at things. But when you’re aware of the daunting problem of everyday oppression, you have to recognize sometimes that conditions are pretty freakin’ awful.
On some days, it all feels like too much. On some days, it feels like you’ll never be able to do enough.
There’s nothing wrong with you for noticing that oppression is so horrible.
There’s something terribly wrong with oppression, but you? You’re doing just fine.
And it’s okay to be angry. And it’s okay to be sad. You shouldn’t have to feel this way, but if you do, your feelings are perfectly valid.
9. Recognize What Stresses You Out – And How to Limit It in Your Life
Once you accept that your hard feelings about the state of the world are valid, you need a way to deal with them.
Sadly, we can’t just take a break from things like patriarchy and white supremacy. But since you’re dealing with those things all the time, you can figure how to avoid anything adding extra stress to your plate.
For example, I come across plenty of upsetting examples of racism already without actively seeking them out.
I could easily find more by reading the comments on articles about race, or watching shows I’ve heard are racist just to find out for myself how bad they are.
But you’re not obligated to directly engage with all the oppression in the world. It’s okay to avoid things that will upset you – even if it means setting limits on your own curiosity about bigotry in the comments.
10. Identify Your Strengths and Cultivate Them
There was once a time when I thought being a community organizer was the only way to contribute to social change.
I was excited about the idea of bringing people together to make a difference – but nervous that, as a socially anxious introvert, I wouldn’t be any good at it.
Since then I’ve learned that there’s no one way to be an activist – and you don’t have to lead marches to make a difference.
Give yourself some credit for the things you’re good at. Can you take great notes? Bake a mean set of brownies for a meeting? Mediate tense conflicts between people?
While it’s good to practice and grow in the areas you’re not so comfortable with, it’s also more than okay to recognize the skills you already have and contribute those to the movement.
You don’t have to change who you are to fit some idea of what you think makes a good activist – that will leave you feeling a lot of discomfort and shame.
Remember that you’re already valuable, and take a role in the movement that allows your skills to shine.
11. Set Some Criteria for When to Leave a Debate
It’s important to pick your battles when it comes to discussing oppression with people who don’t have a feminist perspective. But even if you find yourself in a debate that’s not worth your time, it’s never too late to leave it.
I probably give people the benefit of the doubt far too often. I find myself wanting to show them that I’m “reasonable” and willing to hear them out – so it’s tempting to go toe-to-toe with them until they understand my point of view, no matter how long it takes.
You’re not going to change everyone’s mind, but it can be tempting to try. If you’re in a situation like this, you can save yourself from exerting too much energy by having your own criteria for when you need to leave a conversation.
For instance, you can decide that if someone insults you, or they’re just derailing the conversation without any interest in listening, then it’s time to end it.
You don’t have to subject yourself to harassment or teaching someone something they’re not willing to learn. Let go of that burden by recognizing the signs of an unproductive conversation.
12. Practice Setting Boundaries
Setting boundaries with other people can be tough. And as you grow as a feminist, you may come across situations when it feels downright impossible.
What do you do when you realize your long-time friend doesn’t respect your identity? Or learn that the way your parents have always treated you is abusive? Or recognize that your partner’s behavior is toxic?
As you learn more about how you deserve to be treated, you can realize that you need to set some limits with toxic people in your life.
Saying “no,” especially to people I love, is hard for me. But feminism gives me opportunities to practice all the time.
I say “no” to companies with business practices that hurt my community. I say “no” to expressing my femininity only in ways society deems “acceptable.” I say “no” to events I’m too busy for.
Make a conscious effort to embrace the ways feminism gives you permission to say “no” when it feels easier. Then you can apply those skills to more difficult situations.
It’ll get easier, I promise. And don’t forget to also set boundaries with yourself – asking for help when you need it is a great way to do that.
13. Remember Why You Do What You Do
It’s easy to remember why you’re a feminist when you’re feeling hope and witnessing progress. But when you’re feeling discouraged or defeated, it’s a little more difficult to be excited about your role in the movement.
So in those moments, you could probably use a break to remind you of why you’re committed to the hard work of making the world a better place.
I’m not talking about hitting the work even harder. I’m talking about taking a break for something – like art, nature, or time with friends – to remind you of what’s good in the world and why it matters to make a difference.
For instance, when I spend time with youth, I love the reminder that the people who come after me will benefit from the work I’m doing today.
One of the best pieces of encouragement I’ve ever heard was to be the person you needed when you were younger.
When I keep this in mind as a reason for why all my hard work is worth it, the work feels incredibly nourishing. What’s your reason for doing what you do?
14. Take Your Own Advice
Would you give any of these self-care tips to a friend?
The truth is that many of us treat our loved ones more kindly than we treat ourselves. We forgive one another for making mistakes. We don’t judge each other for getting tired. We want nothing but the best for each other.
So treat yourself as compassionately as you’d treat a good friend. When you would encourage a friend to take a break, or stop being so hard on themselves, or be honest about how they’re feeling, take your own advice.
Damn – now that I’ve said that, this probably means I should lead by example huh? Okay, let’s wrap this up so I can get to some of my own self-care.
If any of this feels too difficult, or like it’s not going to work for you, that’s okay. We all have different needs, and you can make a self-care plan that meets yours.
However, I invite you to challenge yourself. If you’re tossing these ideas aside because you feel like you don’t have time for them, or taking care of yourself doesn’t feel important, recognize that you’re missing an essential piece of being a feminist.
Which is okay, too – we all have areas where we need to grow. If self-care is one of yours, it makes perfect sense to take one step at a time, trying different strategies out until you get into the groove that works for you.
If nothing else, I hope you can use this one last piece of advice: Remember that you have inherent value as a human being. Your value doesn’t depend on how hard you work or what you do.
You deserve wellness simply because of who you are – so take care of your whole wonderful being.
Originally published on Everyday Feminism.
Maisha Z. Johnson is the Digital Content Associate and Staff Writer of Everyday Feminism. You can find her writing at the intersections and shamelessly indulging in her obsession with pop culture around the web. Maisha’s past work includes Community United Against Violence (CUAV), the nation’s oldest LGBTQ anti-violence organization, and Fired Up!, a program of California Coalition for Women Prisoners. Through her own project, Inkblot Arts, Maisha taps into the creative arts and digital media to amplify the voices of those often silenced. Like her on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @mzjwords.