Picture this: a woman in a warm bath, a bag of Epsom salts open on the counter next to her, a vial of lavender oil on the rim of the tub. Music is playing, and a bedside table lamp is perched on the toilet to provide warm yellow light instead of white LED from the ceiling.
This seems like self-care, right? And for most intents and purposes, it is. But if we change the specificity of the woman, it’s easy to see how the act becomes more or less radical. Is she middle class or blue-collar? Is she white? Is she exhausted? Is she able-bodied?
In every iteration of this picture, self-care is good.
But what if this woman is black and disabled and autistic and working overtime with chronic pain? There is a suspicious heart-swelling that happens when I imagine this picture. My society-driven impulse is to claim that this is the most radical version of all.
Who does that benefit? – Anyone, any system, that benefits from marginalized people quietly suffering and independently caring for themselves, alone, in the vacuum of time/money capital and patriarchal power. That’s not to say this woman isn’t radical or that the act isn’t good. Two truths can co-exist, She is radical and good, and the contemporary model of self-care that peaks when marginalized self- “fixes” – self is broken.
Radical self-care involves more than the self. Instead of stopping at the grocery store after a long day at work, she asks a friend to leave a bag of Epsom salt on her doorstep and Venmos them. She asks her partner to help her with the lamp because it’s a flare-up day and her motor control is shot. After the bath, she makes an appointment at the neighborhood clinic to try and get a prescription for shoes with more support.
Radical self-care does not preserve rugged American individualism. It negates it, and insists that it is no longer useful or good.