“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
– Audre Lorde, poet & activist
Alexis Dennis is efficiency and sweetness. She is a titan in her own right. And we are so proud she is ours. The Beautiful Project is elated to present The Self Care Exhibit: A Word & Image Act of Self-Preservation & Political Warfare. Showcased in our online gallery, this exhibit includes the work of many image makers in our collective including Khayla Deans, Cyrita Taylor, Elisabeth Michel, Precious Graham, Alexis Dennis and Jamaica Gilmer. Check out Alexis’ post about how the Self Care Exhibit came to be!
In my last year of college, I participated as a student intern/photographer with The Beautiful Project. I remember the end of my final semester – we were trying to pull together our final quotes and images of girls for our Black Girl Triptych Exhibit. The other student interns and I were also trying to make sense of our lives, given our impending transition – final exams, graduations, goodbyes, new jobs, new cities, new relationships, uncertainty. It was an incredibly stressful time – the first big drop on a roller coaster of emotion that I’d later realize would characterize my “20s.” Throughout the year, we’d served as role models for young girls and adolescents, helping them to learn how to recognize their inner and outer beauty, to have confidence in themselves, and to strengthen their self-esteem and self-worth.
Yet, as I took stock of my own feelings, and observed my peers, I noticed that despite our pride in our accomplishments – both in our work with The Beautiful Project and throughout our undergraduate careers – we were both worn down from our efforts and also anxious about our futures. Then came the moment of exasperation:
“It’s great that we work with and for girls, but can we add a component to Black Girl Triptych that focuses on women? Like, I need to know how they take care of themselves despite everything going on in their lives! I need to know how to take care of myself. HOW do I take care of myself!?”
The seed for the Self Care Exhibit was planted in that moment. In the years since that moment, I’ve experienced many more transitions in my own life, and observed transitions in the lives of my mother, my sister, my friends, and my colleagues. Throughout the moves, the new relationships, the breakups, the weddings, the babies, the deaths, the illnesses, the new jobs, I’ve notice a pattern in both myself and in other black women: there is a lot of giving, but not always a lot of replenishing.
Many women, and black women in particular, are socialized to be “pillars of strength,” the “caretakers” of our families, our friends, and our communities. However, the stress of bearing this weight for long periods of time can be emotionally and spiritually draining, and can take a toll on our physical and mental health. The increased visibility of racism and police violence occurring in communities of color, and mainstream media narratives surrounding these events, as well as the micro-aggressions that we experience in our day-to-day lives, add an additional sense of urgency, frustration, and at times, helplessness, that can manifest into additional physical and emotional stress.
Poet and activist Audre Lorde said, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” The need to make time to care for our emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being is crucial because if we’re not functioning as we should, nothing around us is functioning as it should.
Through the Self Care Exhibit we aim to showcase how black women of different ages and walks of life conceptualize, practice, and struggle with Self Care. We hope these words and images will inspire other black women to stop thinking about self-care as selfish or “self-indulgent” acts, but instead as acts of “self-preservation and political warfare” that help us to build and sustain our families and our communities.