Whenever we discuss feminism, we usually focus on feminist activism. Whether its Take Back the Night Marches, protests for reproductive rights outside the Whitehouse, or equal pay legislation, our discussions on gender equality tend to center mainly on social justice protests. Which are, by far, an enormous part of the feminist movement. Feminism aims to achieve gender equality in political, social, and economic spheres, it’s important that we become active participants in this type of social protest. However, I think we sometimes ignore the importance of self care, and how critical it is in the feminist movement.
Self-care means just that. It means valuing and nurturing yourself. It means being in tune with yourself and how you want to express that. It means taking a shower after a tiring day, or wearing your favorite make-up (or none at all). It means becoming comfortable with the way you want to present your sexuality and your gender identity and everything in between. It is making sure you are safe and healthy in your own skin. It’s knowing that, while you aren’t always going to like what you see in the mirror, you know that there is a beauty and uniqueness to you that is all your own, and that every person on this planet has a right to feel this way.
Sadly, as important as this is, we usually don’t have a straightforward way to learn this. We’re left to muddle our way through life and learn for ourselves what self-care and self-expression means, and we usually learn it clumsily and painfully.
However, while I stumbled (a lot) in my quest to learn to both take care of myself and integrate this with my feminist identity, I was fortunate enough to have a very, very intelligent mentor by my side. That mentor was my younger sister, Alex.
To give a bit of background, my younger sister is currently a high school senior with a gift for artistic expression. She is a talented make-up artist, painter, photographer, videographer, and much, much more. She is my stylist and my personal beauty guru and a person who knows intimately well the power of creativity and self-expression.
It was through my sister that I understood that make-up wasn’t necessarily patriarchal oppression, but rather paint you could use to design the canvas that is the human body. She taught me that beauty regimens weren’t shallow, but rather ways to explore and understand your face, your hair, your hands, and every part of your beautifully weird body. She taught me that developing a sense of style was not vacuous or a waste of time, but rather a way to take time for yourself to explore and invent a way to express your identity through fabric.
As a photographer, she taught me the importance of viewing and exploring the identities and emotions of others in small fragments of time. She taught me how to see myself (and others) through different angles and perspectives, and learn how to capture a great expression in a single shot.
But most importantly, she taught me to love myself. Whenever I look disheveled, sleep deprived, and generally miserable, she reminds me that I am worth more than the essays, exams, and extracurricular activities I pour all my time and energy into. She reminds me that it is more than okay to stop writing, reading, or planning, and take a few minutes to nap or wash my hair or simply do something solely for myself. She taught me that my work as a feminist consisted of more than writing just rants on sexual objectification or arguing equal pay. It also consisted of discovering the power, beauty, and enthusiasm that each of us carries, and recognizing it in those around us.
I have many feminist idols. From Ruth Bader Ginsburg to Laci Green to Malala Yousafzai, I have found a wealth of powerful female figure to inspire me. Yet I will always maintain that my greatest feminist mentor is the one closest to home, my younger ( and much wiser) sibling, Alex.