Leaning into “The Self” for Women’s Health Month
Throughout history, the concept of womanhood has been coated with many virtuous adjectives. When we think of women, we think of words such as caring, warm, giving, and selfless. Young girls are taught to strive toward these adjectives as appropriate labels and markers of success. As time marches on, new adjectives are added into the schema of womanhood. Now women are encouraged to identify as strong, driven, and successful. While none of these descriptors are things to be ashamed of, they all point to how women are outwardly perceived. We are seldom congratulated for how well we know and care for ourselves. The focus on the self, while encouraged through the idea of self-care, is still largely seen as selfish. It can be hard to accept the importance of focusing on one’s self, but the neglect of the self has undeniable consequences. So for Women’s Health Month, we are going to explore some areas of the self that women should lean into.
Self-awareness, or the awareness of different aspects of self, including personality, behaviors, and feelings, is one of the most regulated areas of a woman’s existence. Women are encouraged to fit into certain boxes, and by not doing so, a woman’s identity is challenged as being insufficient. Women are tasked with being fit enough, attractive enough, successful enough, and giving enough. All of these expectations muddle the ability for women to explore their own self-awareness. Ask yourself this: who are you, outside of what you do or who you are for others (i.e. outside of being a partner, parent, employee, student, etc.)? What makes you proud when you think about yourself? What areas do you want to improve, and what is your internal drive to do so? Explore what elements of your identity as a woman stems from daily demands from others, and what stems from who you truly perceive yourself to be. When those things don’t align, explore what you want to change.
When hearing the words “compassion” or “compassionate”, many people may visualize a woman first. We think of our maternal caregivers, teachers, nurses, and therapists. This superpower is one that is easily used to uplift others, but not so easily used for the self. Self-compassion may feel like a waste of time or, for some, can even feel like selfishness. However, self-compassion is a necessary lifeline for all people. It doesn’t make you selfish to practice self-compassion. It makes you a healthy, balanced person with a greater capacity to interact with the world and respond to difficulties. Here are some ways you can practice self-compassion:
- Talk to yourself the way you would talk to a loved one.
- Write yourself affirmations, love letters, or anything else that makes you feel encouraged.
- Schedule self-care time regularly, not just every once in a while. Treat it like a mandatory part of your routine (because it is).
- Explore your relationship with self-acceptance. Is there anything holding you back from accepting yourself as you are?
There’s a long tradition of struggle as it pertains to women’s rights. Much of what women are free to do today came after a history of advocacy that required women to be vocal about inequality. Unfortunately, that struggle has persisted to this day. Self-advocacy is the practice of speaking up for oneself and one’s own needs. It can be easy to advocate and rally for the proper treatment of others, but difficult to advocate for yourself and identify your own needs. We are prone to recognizing the validity of the emotions of others, while challenging the validity of our own. Here are a few reminders to help you advocate for yourself more this month:
- Your needs are valid, and you deserve to be heard.
- You can’t pour from an empty cup. You have to care for yourself before you can care for others.
- When you speak up for yourself, you never know who you may inspire to speak up as well.
- Being direct about what you need is not the same as being “bossy” or “pushy”. Clear communication yields the best results.
Self-love is the foundation for all of the ways in which we care for and learn about ourselves. It is the driving force behind our healthy habits, and it exists outside of the validation or feedback from others. For some, self-love is difficult to practice due to the demands of supporting others whom we love. However, self-love is a critical tool for maintaining positive mental health. Self-love grows through the actions we take for ourselves and our well-being. In loving yourself, you begin to take care of yourself in the same way you would care for someone else that you love. If you are struggling with self-love, consider the ways in which you receive love from others. How can your family show you that they appreciate you? What helps you know that your best friend cares about you? Try to adopt these as your own self-love practices. For example, if you feel loved when someone buys you flowers, consider buying flowers for yourself regularly. The love we extend to ourselves is just as valuable as the love we receive from others.
Remember, it is not selfish to consider and care for your own wants and needs. Your identity is rooted in more than what you do for others. Take some time to get to know yourself and explore how you want to show up more for yourself.