In honor of the New Year, we are sharing some self-care strategies in hopes of combating the diet frenzy and body-shaming activities that seem to wash over everyone at the start of every year. The promise of a racist, hateful, homophobic, Islamophobic President getting sworn in in just a few short weeks can make this time especially triggering for folx. So, please take care of yourselves …
When I was in high school, a group of boys in our school marching band started to going around and shouting “White Power!” For them, this seemed to be a proclamation, a call to action. Their core group consisted of just five or six young, white men — but on more than one occasion many who were in the vicinity moved to raise their fists in the air in acknowledgement and endorsement.
Sometimes, these boys would team up to “jokingly” intimidate other students. They would zero in on their targets — always people of color — march in front of them, locking their blue eyes on them, refusing to release them from this strange dance for several long seconds. I was targeted in this way a handful of times myself, and each time was more surreal than the last. I had yet to go through years of study at a four-year college, where I was finally introduced to the names of the things I had been experiencing because of the color of my skin and my gender: an intersection of white and male supremacy – but I am confident that these experiences planted a seed in me to seek equity and to fight for justice in my career later in life.
It was a game for them. Something they might have picked up from a TV show. I am not sure where they got the idea to behave like this, but they seemed to think it was a hilarious and harmless game. And I didn’t believe they were actually white supremacists back then – I don’t think anyone did. The boys always laughed it off, and were never outwardly violent. Afterwards, they jovially patted their victims on the back, smiling and saying, “Hey! That was funny right!?”
This happened years ago. It happened before Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner made headline news. It happened before our nation elected Donald Trump as president. It happened before the Black Lives Matter movement began. Before the notion of a national registry for Muslim citizens was ever discussed. But it is something that continues to haunt me years later, especially now that our nation has elected Donald Trump as president.
I am coming to terms with the fact that that these memories are traumas, experiences that I likely repressed over the years. Something that remains clear and alarming through the fog, though, is that no one—specifically no adult—stood up and told those boys to stop what they were doing. My friends and I sort of swatted them away like flies. Our band teacher was a cis white male, and he would occasionally roll his eyes at them. But he never scolded them, and he certainly never suspended them. No one ever, ever told them how serious and deeply inappropriate their actions were. How serious their words were. The history behind those words.
After the election results were called and the reality of a Trump presidency sank in, memories of these incidents started flooding back. I was shocked, hurt, angry, and suddenly, overwhelmingly tired. I never imagined that so many Americans would buy into Trump’s racist, hateful, homophobic, Islamophobic rhetoric. When it became clear that they had, I immediately began to wonder if scenes like the ones I’d witnessed back in my marching band days would become commonplace.
Now, I have a new pair of eyes with which to observe all these “changes” in our world: I am a parent to a beautiful, little brown girl. I live in fear of the hateful things she might grow up hearing on the streets, at school, in the news…
I realized recently that I have a lot to unpack, a lot to heal from. A wise woman once told me that you cannot give from an empty vessel. Parents are relentless givers, despite the fact that we may have healing to do ourselves.
As such, I have decided to fill my vessel to the best of my ability. But I also want to open a dialogue for how each of us can continue to take care of ourselves, so that we are able to take care of those we love. Below you will find suggestions for self-care, and feel free to share yours with us, too.g
- Give yourself permission to feel: I grew up the eldest of four children. As such, I was given a lot of responsibility in my family’s home. Helping my mom clean the house, keeping the little kids happy and entertained, taking care of whatever needed doing. In retrospect, I feel like this “early adulthood” (along with lots of other experiences) trained me to stifle my own emotions. It was always about someone else. Other people came before me, and in many ways, still do. Thus, giving myself time and permission to process and heal has become instrumental.
- Practice gratitude: I read somewhere that if you fill your heart with gratitude, there will be no space for fear or anger. The minute you open your eyes, think about three things you are grateful for – from the simplest (the air in your lungs, for example) to the most intricate (your impending week-long family vacation, your steady income, etc). Being grateful for all that you have will gradually, if not immediately, turn it all into enough.
- Give yourself permission to take up space: For a couple of days after the election, I refused to go outside. I did not want to interact with others, I shrank away from my community, from my family, and friends. For some of us doing the exact opposite of this is easier said than done because we live in a world where mansplaining and manspreading are the norm. Nevertheless, give yourself permission to own and breathe and live in your skin. Own the space that you occupy. Systems of oppression exist – misogyny, diet culture, white supremacy – to ensure that we remain small and silent. Be intentional, be unapologetic, and don’t be afraid to speak your mind, to hold your ground, and to do what you need to do.
- Move your body mindfully and compassionately: Exercise, whatever that looks like for you—be it kissing or sex, gentle yoga, a walk around the block, or extreme Crossfit—builds endorphins. Those are feel-good chemicals in the brain that combat depression. A few weeks after the election, I signed up for a Crossfit class because that feeling of complete surrender and exhaustion is exactly what my body needed to finally turn my brain off and get a good night’s rest. If you’ve been keeping still and feeling stagnant, try moving your body in ways that feel energizing and natural.
- Give yourself permission to love your body: Wear makeup, wear nothing, lovingly pat your belly rolls every once in awhile (they kept my daughter safe and warm for nearly 10 months for crying out loud!), shave, don’t shave, wear that skirt that is “too short” and not “age appropriate.” Your body is your own – make this year about learning to love it. Given the racism and fat shaming I experienced growing up, this is easier said than done. The time has come to put these things behind me – especially if I want to raise a daughter who loves herself no matter what – and love myself, jiggly belly and all.
- Hang out with people who want to make the world a better place: I am lucky that these are the kinds of people that also happen to be my friends. Healing with them consists of copious amounts of coffee, laughter, and plans of action. What can we each do from our small corners of the world to protect our kids, people of color, immigrants, our families? Finding like-minded individuals in your own community, or even online, can help you feel less isolated and hopeless.
- Be angry: This time of year can be particularly frustrating when the message that gets repeated over and over is “YOU can change this year! YOU have the power to make your body thinner, your house neater, your life better!” When really, those messages do not take systemic oppression into consideration. When they say rid your home of things that do not spark joy, they do not consider that someone may not have a home to call their own, or even have many things to give away. When they say to get moving, they do not consider that many people do not live in streets safe enough to walk in, or neighborhoods that do it have sidewalks or street lamps.