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Women of Color on What “Self-Care” Looks Like in the Age of Isolation

Let’s get this out of the way—the coronavirus crisis has drastically altered the course of all of our lives. In one way or another, everyone has been impacted by the pandemic and no one will be the same once it has finally run its course, whenever that may be. For many of us quarantining, isolation has become synonymous with house arrest. (Cue: the meme of Arthur’s D.W. clinging to the fence with a pang of longing.) As someone who previously identified as a homebody, even I feel completely different about staying inside for long periods of time now. Adjusting in real time to a “new normal” can be difficult to navigate, especially when we’re still in the midst of processing and accepting what’s happening in the world.

Figuring out how to take care of ourselves during these times is a daily battle, with many people and brands now preaching the message of “self-care.” This mainstream version of self-care is often associated with a highly-commercialized version of wellness that involves a cart full of products and buying into the “Eat, Pray, Love” mentality—a privilege that’s not accessible to all. These days, you’ll find everything from books, like The Little Book of Self-Care and Sacred Self-Careto journals and planners, all telling you the “right” way to self-care. Many of the businesses that have capitalized on the idea will claim that self-care is their biggest priority not just for appealing to consumers, but as a strategy for shifting company culture. Last year, SXSW incorporated “self-care activations” into the festival through partnerships with brands like ChillhouseLove Wellness, and Shhhowercap to “elevate the experience” for attendees. While this modern, luxurious version of self-care can be comforting to some, it can also feels white-washed, privileged, and unattainable.

The term “self-care” is actually a medical concept that was later reintroduced by Audre Lorde in 1988 through her book, A Burst of Light. At the time, the iconic activist and author defined it as a radical and political act of self-preservation, stating: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare.” In the midst of a global pandemic, the concept of self-preservation feels more important than ever. As Amanda Hess recently stated in the New York Times, “As our health care system buckles under the strain of the virus, and citizens are isolated at home, self-care has never felt more urgent.”

With this increased attention on public health, self-care has taken on a new meaning—especially in the wake of a pandemic that disproportionately affects racial minorities. Ahead, we explore what self-care in the age of isolation looks like to 18 women of color—how they define the term for themselves in the wake of a pandemic, and the ways they self-soothe during this uncertain time. Sit back, settle in, and read their thought-provoking words ahead.

Zoey Xinyi Gong, Traditional Chinese Medicine nutritionist, Chef and Consultant

Food is Medicine" | Zoey Gong, Founder of Five Seasons TCM – Us Two Tea

What does the term “self-care” mean to you?

“It means to be aware of our physical and emotional self. It means to understand what we truly want, regardless of the expectations from others or social norms. It means to learn to be our own Buddha.”

 How do you feel about the way in which self-care has been commercialized within the modern wellness space? 

“I don’t think it is necessarily a bad thing. Commercial products that use self-care as their marketing strategies do put the idea into consumers’ head and encourage them to make some effort for themselves. ‘Commercialize’ seems to have a negative connotation, but I think a socially responsible company that produces great products can be a really wonderful tool for people. However, if ‘self-care’ is used carelessly by some brands to falsely market an expensive product that is not authentic or of poor quality, then I think it is a very sad thing. As far as I’ve seen, it is not uncommon in the nutrition world.”

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How are you practicing or applying “self-care” into your own life at this current time?

“First, I make a Traditional Chinese Medicine concoction that boosts immunity and prevents the flu. I drink that twice a day. Second, since I’m mostly sedentary right now (my bed is very soft and tempting), I try to stretch every morning and do some classical ballet exercises in the evening. Lastly, I started painting. This is something I’ve always wanted to do but didn’t have the time or courage to do it. Now it is the perfect time and I’m absolutely enjoying it!”


Trinity Mouzon Wofford, co-founder of Golde

Golde CEO Trinity Mouzon Swears By These Wash Day Essentials | Glamour

What does the term “self-care” mean to you?

“Self-care to me is all about discovering and implementing the routines that help you feel your best. It could be going for a walk or trying out a new face mask. I definitely believe in self-care. It’s a newer phrase, but the idea of creating healthy systems in your life so that you are physically and emotionally well has always been the tenet of humanity.”

How do you feel about the way in which “self-care” has been commercialized within the modern wellness space? 

“I think with everything in life, we need to seek balance. Not everything you’re seeking can come from buying stuff, but there’s also nothing wrong with investing your money into something that helps you feel like your best self.”

How are you practicing or applying self-care into your own life at this current time? 

“As a busy entrepreneur, one of the best forms of self-care for me is staying organized. So, I do my best to write a to-do list every morning that I work my way through so I don’t get overwhelmed. Bubble baths are nice too, though.”

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Lorely Rodriguez (Empress Of), musician

Empress Of - Wikipedia

What does the term “self-care” mean to you? Do you believe in it as a concept?

“Self-care sometimes gets an eye roll from me because it’s been so misused for marketing purposes. I think everyone needs to give themselves a little time to recharge the battery—to check back in. That’s what I do when I self-care. I believe that as a society, we put so much pressure on each other and ourselves to ‘do the job’ that we forget about the simple things. It’s a term we invented to remind ourselves to be kind to ourselves.

How are you practicing or applying “self-care” into your own life at this current time?

“The thing that makes me feel the best is making coffee in the morning and burning palo santo. Just doing that reminds me of being in control of my life. Obviously we love a full blown beauty moment, a mask, a wine, a movie, but it’s the simple things for me. If I forget to do that I really feel I haven’t taken care of myself.”

Fariha Róisín, author of How To Cure a Ghost and Being In Your Body

Fariha Róisín - Brooklyn Book Festival

What does the term “self-care” mean to you?

“Self-care means healing the things you previously didn’t want to (or didn’t think you could) heal. To me, it means doing the self-work to show up in this world. That might mean being gentle with yourself or working on how you perpetuate toxicity. I think everyone should practice it.”

How do you feel about the way in which self-care has been commercialized within the modern wellness space? 

“White women and capitalism can be a lethal combo, and that’s what we’ve seen in the commodification of self-care, but there’s still a chance to do the work to correct. It’s important that we lead by example, not just critique. If we want a society that is well, we must invest in our own wellness.”

How are you practicing or applying “self-care” into your own life at this current time?

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“I’m checking in with myself; I’m holding myself accountable for my own happiness; I’m making sure that I follow my heart and not my ego.”

Self-care means healing the things you previously didn’t want to (or didn’t think you could) heal.

Naj Austin, founder & CEO of Ethel’s Club

How Ethel's Club is creating a space for black people to grieve right now

What does the term “self-care” mean to you?

I define self-care by asking myself a simple question: ‘Will this bring me joy?’ I believe the concept needs to be reframed in a way that is accessible to all. Black women and women of color probably need a self-care practice more than anyone—however, this doesn’t (and can’t) always look like a spa day or vacation.”

How do you feel about the way in which “self-care” has been commercialized within the modern wellness space? 

“I think the commercialization of self-care and the creation of modern wellness spaces—they immediately became very white spaces. This is slowly starting to change as more people of color are speaking up and creating their own products and companies from not feeling seen or represented in today’s self-care economy. In building Ethel’s Club, it was always important that we made the wellness aspects of our space something that our communities could access and identify with. I think mental health and wellness should always be at the forefront of that process.”

How are you practicing or applying “self-care” into your own life at this current time?

Right now, self-care looks like a walk around my neighborhood, cooking a challenging new recipe, dancing in my room to a playlist that I love. I’ve been spending time going inward with myself and practicing kindness and gratitude in self-reflection. And just remembering to drop my shoulders, breathe, and tell myself that everything is going to work out.”

Kaya Wilkins (Okay Kaya), Musician & Model

Kaya Wilkins' New Wave | SSENSE

What does the term “self-care” mean to you?

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“My idea of self-care is wearing a sheet mask while smoking a cigarette. Self-care or self preservation through isolation has been of the essence for me, which now feels ironic. Now I talk to friends and my mother and try to drink really good coffee.”


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