‘Caring for myself is not self-indulgence. It is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare’

-Audre Lorde

We’re inundated with daily ads, tweets, and instagram posts reminding us to ‘indulge’ in self-care. This very necessary action for survival, isn’t new, but has been co-opted by brands hoping to commodify an ideal image of our self-worth and mental health. 

Beauty, as a means of self-care can often be diluted by companies hoping to sell us something exorbitantly priced and whimsical as a form pre-packaged happiness. This sort of self-care sells us make-up with palettes that tell us to love ourselves, and 24K gold face masks sprinkled with goats milk to keep us looking alive. You have to purchase things that make you beautiful in order to care for yourself. In a world where physical beauty is social currency, I get it.

Aesthetics are important. People perceived as beautiful are deemed more trustworthy, paid higher, treated better, and receive greater social benefits overall. Because of this, we all, at some point, consciously or subconsciously honour these beauty standards that are often sexist, racist, colourist, fatphobic, ableist, classist and cis-heteronormative. 

Despite understanding all this, I still find myself coming back to beauty as my favourite form of self-care.

In the event of an emergency, please put on your oxygen mask before assisting others.

As a PhD student who wants to believe she has a life, I’m overextended and exhausted. Always a deadline looming and a part time job waiting to be picked up. Most weeks I’m thankful to have more than two meals a day because feeding myself is not a priority. I’m anxious, forgetful, gearing into overdrive and feeling like I’m going to crash. All of this is heightened when factoring in the trauma that sometimes comes with just being alive. 

In an era wired to technology and social media, we’re bombarded with, and are constantly processing awful news, there is so much pain and it doesn’t stop. At the very least, we must be gentle with ourselves. When it (life) gets to be too turbulent, beauty centres me. This very basic, politicized thing is my ‘oxygen mask’.

There are days I feel like my physical body is all I have control over. Previously, this led me to be overly critical of things I couldn’t change, but now I’m encouraged to celebrate the overwhelming awareness of the physical. I care about my skin, alot.

Not because colonial powers have synomimized it with ugly, or because I want to be a hotep’s dark chocolate honey queen. I care about my skin because it’s my body’s largest organ and is my home. I want to be more comfortable in this home and if that means partaking in a 12-step skincare routine, then it be like that. 

I’m so dedicated to my beauty regimen that my first sign of burnout is my neglect of it. If I can’t give myself 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes in the evening, then there’s nothing I can give to anyone.

I can’t always prioritise myself the way I want to (taking time off school and traveling), so I rely on the little things I can afford and have access to. 

For me, this can be dedicating a few hours a week to exercise which does wonders for my mental health(unfortunately, there’s the correlation that exercise means actively wanting to change your physical self through weight loss and a desire to be thinner, and this adds to beauty politics too). 

Self-care also looks like a groupon massage coupon and other beauty treatments like microblading and skin peels. I try affirmations and meditations and intention setting etc, but what mainly works is the tangible. So, no matter what is going on, the world stops for 30 minutes every Tuesday night. 

In those moments, my only care is a base coat, a colour and a top coat. Mani pedis are a grounding form of artistic expression that genuinely make me feel beautiful and worthy outside of school work and other expectations.

We all have little things that make us feel a lot better, and self-care is deeply personal. But as a black woman, this personal will always be political. In an ideal world I won’t have to do shit but stay Black and die, but I can’t. I’m a dark-skinned Black Muslim woman who knows that she is beautiful, because she is Black. 

By focusing parts of my joy and self-care on beauty, it may seem like I’m contributing to a capitalistic patriarchal structure that thrives off subverting women and catering to the male gaze. But why does beauty have to be centred around anyone’s gaze but mine?

White supremacy has done a swell job in lumping all Blackness as the less aesthetically-desired other even though we’re not. When Black women are accepted as beautiful in Hollywood-like spaces, they still have to look a certain way (light skinned, small waist, non-4c hair, small nose etc). 

In those same spaces, racism and blatant disrespect of Black girls is a right of passage. We don’t get to be us without the world telling us how to look and what to engage in. If we’re going to be subjected to nonstop scrutiny, then we might as well do what we want. Stay black and beautiful and die.

I’m grateful that my most crucial years of self-esteem development were spent watching women in my family, SeneGambian women, and Nollywood actresses like Genevieve Nnanji exist and be beautiful. I’m also grateful that I’m surrounded by movements celebrating Blackness and Black beauty. We should have the joy to experience and define beauty. As one of my favourite Hadiths states, God is beautiful and He loves beauty.

Wanting to be beautiful for myself adds to my wellbeing. Taking the time to be beautiful gives me the opportunity to be present with myself. Choosing to be beautiful means I’m one more Black woman who gets to stand at the edge of the world and make it the centre.

By Haddijatou Ceesay 

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