The Great, Silent Revolution
By Maggie Kurnyta
Self-care is a hot topic used by feminist activists to account for ourselves. We are people who struggle with emotions and unsettling thoughts on a daily basis, and we deserve to take care of our minds, bodies, and souls. More often than not, we are bombarded with information about who we should be and how we should act. Self-care, particularly self-love, is the biggest revolution we have seen in a time where multi-billion dollar companies thrive on the notion of insecurity and self-loathing.
These companies succeed because of the lingering doubts in our mind caused by performativity. Internalized beliefs about gender and sexuality dominate our decision-making, and the white, Eurocentric version of beauty is used to demonize and silence those who are viewed as Other. Lighter skin is preferred, and darker skinned individuals consume the very real racist belief that they are not beautiful. Bodies are fetishized and ostracized, and no one can stop to ask: Does empathy exist, and if so, where is it?
Self-care can be a long, bubble bath after an increasingly difficult work day, and it can be a new haircut. It can be the decision to shave (or not shave), to masturbate (or not), or to hide under the covers (or go out with friends). Self-care is NOT policing other’s decisions and perspectives, and it is certainly not compartmentalizing what is worthy or not worthy of the definition “care.”
Empathy is the ability to understand and share another’s feelings, even if you do not have a firsthand account of their lived experiences. In an almost post-apocalyptic Trump era, empathy may seem impossible to find with latent racist, homophobic, xenophobic (please continue this list in your head) remarks and beliefs no longer being hidden. While self-care might seem like priority of the self, it can also be a nourishment of the soul, mind, and body. Listening to the stories of those we may never have heard and learning from those around us is just as critical to our self-care.
In our discussion of self-care, we cannot simply erase mental health and disability as forms of self-love. Our minds and bodies are unique and difficult, beautiful and burdensome. There are hundreds of facets to our identities, and the balancing act of prioritizing each layer is downright impossible. Activism expends energy and emotion, and it can lead to the inevitable burn-out that follows any type of physical regimen or emotional experience.
It is much easier said than done, I know. Many would argue that humanity’s ability to feel empathy has been swallowed by the introduction of mass technological advances. If that’s true, I surely would not want to return to the pre-industrial mindset of colonial America. Exclusivity predates empathy, and as long as people feel divided by class, race, gender, and any other layer of identity, empathy will remain dormant.
It can be difficult to care for others when so often, we hardly care for ourselves. There is power in self-love, so much so that it would threaten every hegemonic pillar of our society. There is strength in loving others and in removing the barriers that keep us segregated in our communities, schools, and workplaces. Your anger is valid, as is your sadness and your passion.
Immigrants, please stand strong. This tide is powerful, but it is not enough to silence our empathy. We have much to learn from you and your experiences. Communities of color, please remain vigilant and share your voice. Erasure of stories and experiences is all too common in a nation founded to be a melting pot. Persons with disabilities, we remain ignorant of your experiences. Remain courageous in your pursuit of political, social, and economic visibility. To those who have been erased, silenced, and marginalized in our society, your activism advises our education. You do much of the heavy-lifting work on a daily basis, and your self-care is critical.
Let us learn from each other and love each other.* Let us protect each other and listen to everyone. Let us stop dehumanizing and start empathizing. Activism takes a toll on our minds, souls, and bodies, and we cannot allow ourselves to erase our existences, not when the hegemonic structures are already striving to do so. Our identities hold our power, and our power binds us together.
*note: while this is a firm principle of mine, please exclude white supremacist, homophobic, classist, xenophobic, transphobic, etc. individuals from this love letter