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6 Ways To Prioritise Self Care In A Society That Glorifies Self Sacrificing Women!

Self care is put last in a society that values the 'good woman', and a great Indian woman is one who must sacrifice and suffer silently.

Self care by women is often considered to be a revolutionary act in feminism because it is a basic human right often denied to them in most cultures.

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” –  Audrey Lorde

Women are expected to be selfless ‘givers’. Sacrifice and service from them in all societal roles is not just normalised, but often glorified as essential to their identity as ‘good women’. The notion of  ‘great mother’ and ‘motherhood as epitome of all things grand’ also stems from this perception that women are the only ones ‘capable’ of putting themselves last. That they seem to like it, it is what ‘nature’ demands from them.

Self care in women is considered selfish

Recently I spoke to a young woman who lives with a chronic condition and a mental health challenge.

She lives alone in a city, can afford medicines and nutritious food, but was probably never taught to look after herself as a priority. She feels guilty if she spends money on buying supplements or regular medical tests. She doesn’t feel motivated to cook for herself, however she thinks cooking for others gives her pleasure.

Caring for one’s own self is crucial to all adults as it has a direct impact on their quality of life.

Nowadays, a lot of privileged women do talk about this basic need and right and negotiate it in their homes, families and workplaces. But for most women this remains a far off ideal. In homes they are default housekeepers and caregivers and even at work their health is of least priority concern. India has a large number of women who are malnourished, anaemic, and suffer from lack of adequate sleep and personal hygiene facilities.

A woman is expected to be self sacrificing

An early pioneering study, Impact of Gender on Care of Type 2 Diabetes in Varkala, Kerala conducted about a decade ago by the Achutha Menon Centre for Health Science Studies found a rather unusual explanation. “In traditional Indian family settings, the women of the household, especially older women, were trapped in caregiver roles where they were essentially conditioned to look after the health interests of the entire family and privilege it over their own.”

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Self-neglect is often common and mistaken for women’s ‘sacrificing’ nature. This gets worse with unending household work, cold care and caregiving that are considered to be a woman’s jobs by default.

The ideals of a good woman, more so a great Indian woman is that she  must sacrifice and suffer silently. These ideals depicted in our popular culture, literature and cinema are so deeply entrenched in our mindset that women are often made to feel that spending time or money on herself is not a good thing, because her mother suffered all her life and never complained!

This is true whether the woman in ‘independent’ or a ‘family woman’

Modern women are then expected to be completely ‘independent’ by being fully self-reliant and be responsible for their own welfare.

““Expecting a woman in this landscape to demonstrate dissent by cutting ties with her family—the only institution that provides her material security in the absence of a supportive state or an inclusive market that values her labour—is, perhaps, asking for too much.” ― Shrayana Bhattacharya, Desperately Seeking Shah Rukh: India’s Lonely Young Women and the Search for Intimacy and Independence

Women living in conventional relationships and families are no better. Like women expected to labour all day for their family yet expected to eat last, put schedules of family members above their own, etc.

Society offers them no support system whatsoever and yet the least that women can do for themselves in terms of self care is denied to them. Those who do ‘indulge’ in it are then shamed and made to feel guilty, and labelled selfish and extravagant, families are the culprit in such cases because a woman’s needs are least prioritised there!

What women must do for self care

Care about sleep– Sleep is an important factor for overall wellness. Women, especially mothers/wives are the first to rise every day and the last ones to hit the bed. Most often sleep-deprived for most of the time.

Regular check-ups– Women keep overlooking, seeking home remedies or self-medicating for minor ailments, aches and pains. They have been tutored by the culture to not be a nuisance for the family.

Spend money & time for their health care without hesitation– Whether a woman is earning or not, it is her right to spend on her healthcare from the finances of the family, and also ask other members to share the load of household work so that she gets some leisure and rest.

Ask for ME time– Most women give up friendships, hobbies and their entire independent identity for their families. This is unhealthy.

Deny being the default parent & caregiver to allCaregiving is not a gender-related task, all must do it equally in the family.

Speak openly about challenges like PMS, menopause, caregiver’s fatigue– Women must not shy away from saying- I am human and I am exhausted. Their gender-specific issues need to be talked about without shame and fear.

Some women have started realising the importance of prioritising their health over their duties and commitments but more and more women need to learn the art of self care.

Image source: a still from the film Maja Ma

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About the Author

Pooja Priyamvada

Pooja Priyamvada is an author, columnist, translator, online content & Social Media consultant, and poet. An awarded bi-lingual blogger she is a trained psychological/mental health first aider, mindfulness & grief facilitator, emotional wellness trainer, reflective read more...

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