Putting the 'Self' Back in 'Self-Care'
"Self Portrait" (CC BY-SA 2.0) by hellocatfood
Self Portrait” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by hellocatfood


By Rosann Mariappuram, chapter leader at If/When/How University of Texas School of Law

When I received the agenda for the Student of Color Working Group (SOCWG) I was excited for almost all of the activities. From the discussion of how to create authentic solidarity among people of color to a session on different levels of oppression, I knew it was going to be an incredible weekend. But the one agenda item that kept drawing my eyes back to it was the 15 minutes reserved for “Reflections on Self-Care.”

I first heard the term, “self-care” about four years ago. I was at a training on creating a long-term strategy for abortion rights and the facilitator brought it up as a question: How do you practice self-care? Most of the participants listed out exercise routines, cooking classes, or weekly pedicures. I racked my brain and came up with going to yoga a few times a month. The nods I got from the room affirmed that I had proven I took “care” of myself and the conversation moved on. But the question kept coming up in trainings, workshops, and orientations I attended over the next few years. Each time I used the same example, while a nagging voice in the back of my head whispered that something wasn’t right. Using self-care as a way to prevent burnout made sense, but the examples we all gave seemed more like bullet points in a fashion magazine than honest, individualized ways we cared for ourselves.

On the day of the SOCWG meeting, I had my ‘yoga’ answer ready to go as we started the self-care segment. But then our facilitator Priya opened the discussion with five very unexpected words, “I don’t like self-care.”

Priya went on to explain that being told to engage in self-care made her feel like she had to put aside her anger with systems of oppression, as if her anger was inappropriate or a hindrance to her reproductive justice work. I felt a pull in my chest and realized Priya was giving voice to the same feeling I’d been holding in for years. I don’t want to erase the anger, pain, and sadness that comes out when I fight racism, misogyny, transphobia, xenophobia, and other forms of hatred. I want space to acknowledge the exhaustion and the loneliness that I often feel as a person of color working in majority white spaces. But the exchanges I had been having about self-care didn’t allow for that. They sought one-word answers, not conversations.

I respect that self-care can involve buying an outfit you love or taking a weekly exercise class. But the SOCWG helped me learn that my self-care is being allowed to show what this work takes out of me. It is about not hiding that I am burned-out, tired, or sad. It is finding spaces like the SOCWG where I can be among other brilliant, beautiful people who are fighting for reproductive justice and acknowledge that even though this fight is ongoing, we are not alone.  In the months since the retreat, I’ve worked hard to integrate this kind of authentic self-care into my life. It’s taken on many forms. One is a group text with several amazing women of color I’m close to, where we can vent over micro-aggressions and lift up each other’s achievements. Sometimes it’s saying “no” to socializing in all-white spaces. Often it’s learning to admit that I’m burnt out and need help from friends, classmates, and colleagues. These forms of self-care still don’t fit into easy, sound-bite answers I can share at conferences or workshops when asked how I practice self-care. But they finally feel like me.


The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or position of If/When/How.