The forced “time out” has become a “time in” for wellness-seekers across New York. As it became increasingly difficult to turn to the outside world for feel-good, wellness, and self care needs, some saw an opportunity to turn inside and decide intrinsically what types of self care really matter. This quiet turning-in, this revolution towards intrinsic self care, is as powerful as it is nearly invisible and, for many, is essential to personal well-being during times of crisis.
I know this because, as one of the founders/owners of Brooklyn Herborium, people have been seeking me out for over two decades to talk about their skin woes and this time in quarantine is no different. Of course, a holistic facial over zoom isn’t quite the same as having a compassionate and skilled practitioner’s hands-on service, but the lessons that can be gleaned from our skin care philosophy are truly enough to make an enormous difference in both the functioning of the skin and the overall wellness of the person who resides in that skin.
A Few Revolutionary Concepts
When you read the titles of the three concepts below, you may find yourself shaking your head in agreement because it “makes sense” or you may be fighting an internal battle because it goes against everything you’ve ever experienced in beauty/wellness/self care circles. I find it interesting that a large percentage of clients come to Brooklyn Herborium ambivalent—trying to think both sets of thoughts at the same time—and having a hard time making peace with that. Perhaps it is because as thoughtful humans, these holistic concepts truly make sense to us, but the world we live in is constantly giving us the message that the opposite is true.
Self Care is Not Entertainment
Yes, self care can be totally enjoyable and yes, it can help you pass the time while you are confined to your home. But self care is most effective when it isn’t overly-exciting. If you have been using it this way, it may take some time to learn to let it give you the gentle serotonin warm-loving feeling instead of having it lead you to the dopamine-fix rush of finding the next new exciting thing. Like so many things in life, you are better off taking care of the boring basics first and then using those more exciting spikes as outliers that keep the body on its toes, but doesn’t have it living in a constant cycle of ups and downs.
Self Judgement Has No Place in Self Care
The search for wellness can become a dangerous and painful course when it is steeped in judgement. Feelings of anger, frustration, and resentment come from a place of thinking that things should be different than they are. There is a permeating thought in the general wellness industry that any method, technique, food, etc should be judged and categorized as all-or-nothing falling under the category of good/bad, do/don’t, or yes/no. Add to that another thought that says anything less than perfection is bad and you may find yourself on a self-defeating emotional rollercoaster the moment you try to “improve” your self care!
Trust In Your Body
If you want the body to work optimally, give it what it needs, when it needs it, and then step back and let the body take care of it. (Note: you can use this concept in various places in life, from running a printing press to making fried rice, to teaching art to a bunch of toddlers—just substitute “the body” with the corresponding field and it gives you a useful new way to contemplate your actions.)
I usually get one of two responses when I introduce this concept. Either side-to-side head shaking while saying “I couldn’t possibly—my body won’t do it right” or “of course, that makes sense, that’s what I do.” But if things aren’t functioning well, it is possible that you have at least one part of the equation wrong and it’s time to show your work and check your math. (…this analogy was brought to you by 2+ months of virtual education for my grade school sons.) And you have the Greater Wellness Industrial Complex working against this idea—even if it makes sense when I say it, the concept can get completely turned around as soon as the next advertisement is presented and there we go again—doing “the work” for the skin again or trying to manipulate one’s own body into doing something because of the idea that we should.
Getting More Specific
If you are not already coming from that place of intrinsic self care, you may be looking for specifics in HOW to do this. I cannot, in this short article, tell you exactly what is right for you at any given moment, but I can give you three specific first steps towards overthrowing the powerless thinking that is keeping you from embracing your own intrinsic self-care and giving “Wellness” a bad name.
Meet The Body Where It Is At
Why does “should” feel so bad? Because it is at odds with what IS. The moment you accept what is, you will experience a sense of calm (even if it is accompanied by sadness or some other less-than “happy” emotion) and you can take the actions that will support your real needs. You may need to practice this regularly over a long period in order to help it become natural. When you find a sentence about your body/skin/self that makes you feel at peace, write it down on a small card and carry it around in your pocket—reminding yourself to check in on it multiple times a day.
Get Those Basic Needs Met
If you are reading this, I am going to assume you are a human. Whether you consider your human-ness a fine blend of Body, Mind, and Spirit or just associate it with the physical form, there are basic needs that the human body has—just as there are basic needs that a pet bunny has. Trying to “optimize” Mr. Fluff’s diet by giving him only goji berry and protein powder smoothies won’t make him Superbunny—especially if you are limiting his natural diet and he’s not getting his basic needs met. Same for humans, once the basic needs are being met, you can tweak it a little or get a boost with some power foods at the right times—but a full-time limited diet will eventually lead to depletion. (Show your work: breaking down > building up = deficiency)
As for skin care, remember your basic hygiene. Think about what your skin needs and when it needs it. Are you using a “special occasion” product as entertainment or to cheer you up? That’s not going to be a problem on occasion, but if you are doing it regularly you could be over-working your skin in some ways, setting yourself up for what we call the Control Cycle, forgetting some of the more nourishing care that your skin needs, and missing out on an opportunity to connect with your emotional needs or entertaining yourself with things that are more… entertaining. Not to say that you can’t take the time and enjoy your beauty rituals on a daily basis—by, all means, that’s what I want you to do, but not to the detriment of your skin’s health.
Play With Nuance Within Your Own Ideal Self Care
Instead of judging something as bad or good, it may be helpful to look at things in terms of appropriateness of timing. Is this meant for daily? More occasional? Or rarely? Once again, this can be applied to anything from chore rotation, to exercise routines, to the holiday feasts we are planning when we are given the go-ahead to gather again.
This can be helpful when you are caught in a cycle of beating yourself up over what you judge as a poor self-care, as you can reframe the event by giving it an alternate time-line. Be aware that it IS possible to fall into the control trap and start using this method as a way of judging yourself good or bad though, and give yourself the agency to decide for yourself how often something is just right for you and allow yourself the grace to nudge it as you need to.
The person who eats a cookie every day and cleans the toilet once a week is not any better or worse than the person who cleans the toilet every day and eats a cookie once a week. (Please don’t make me come up with an equation for this one, I’m still learning this “new math”)
The Ideal That Needs to be Torn Down Instead of Placed on a Pedestal
In an ideal world you wouldn’t need me, an American white woman, to tell you what your personal ideal can or cannot be, but as we are still living in a culture that was built on the idea of popular white culture as an ideal for everyone, it needs to be said as much as possible because for every one time I say it, there are 10,000 voices promoting this camouflaged white supremacy louder, with “research” to back it up, designers to make it look pretty and unlimited funds to keep perpetuating it. So here I go:
The White Cultural Ideal
- Pale skin, light colored eyes, etc
- No blemishes or scars or wrinkles
- Hair that does a popular thing (that usually isn’t what it naturally does)
- Hairless, slim body, few curves (or only specific, perky curves)
- “Young” & smooth
- Successful, hard working or smart, makes lots of money
- Tireless and can do it all (busy, busy, busy)
- “Controls” diet and compulsions and cravings and eats as little as possible/Doesn’t need to eat because she never feels hungry
- Fixes and saves other people
- Seeks Perfection (isn’t satisfied with nuance)
If you are saying to yourself, “yeah-duh”, please bear with me. I have found throughout the years that most of my clients, even the ones who didn’t think they were influenced by white cultural ideals (such as myself), are carrying some cultural baggage that led them to “should on” themselves. Trying to adhere to this ridiculous “white cultural ideal” or judging others (thinking that they should “at least be trying to adhere to it”) is harmful to everyone, but we have to acknowledge that we have been conditioned to do it and make the ongoing effort to tear it down again and again, every day.
Trying to keep up with these beauty/wellness/success ideals will keep anyone caught up in a self-perpetuating exhaustive race that just never, ever ends. It requires submission to the ideals and a “self-sacrificing obedience” and for what??? To keep the same wheels of capitalism and the patriarchy turning! You can just relax. You don’t have to micromanage every hair on your body before you go out in public (or ever) and you have better things to do with your time, energy, and money than to spend it on reaching for this potentially destructive and nearly impossible ideal.
For many years, I have spoken of this as I learned from my elders as the “either/or” mentality while we were teaching the “and, in addition to” idea. Recently, I learned that a similar list exists made around 2001 called Characteristics of White Supremacy (I will post a link at the end of this article) The connection was right there and I’m embarrassed to admit I hadn’t connected the two ideas (even though I wrote about it in my songs and poetry, until now).
Your Own Wellness Revolution
When you ask yourself the hard questions, you can access the answers that are inside of you. If you need guidance, find a practitioner who not only understands their field, but has experience in helping their clients shift from that place of “tell me what I need to do to make my skin/body/brain/life do what I want it to do” to “tell me what I need to do to make sure my basic needs are getting met so that everything works better.”
Turning your own thoughts around may well be the most powerful revolution you will experience in your life. It’s a quiet revolution, a personal journey, something that is hard to notate in the self care tracker section of your bullet journal or pinpoint exactly how and when it happened. You don’t need to tune out the world when you learn to tune in to yourself.
Writing by Emma Graves
Emma, a certified herbalist & highly skilled aesthetician who has been working in natural skin care since 1998, originally developed the Between You and the Moon product line to serve her clients in finding a method of natural, holistic skin care that provided tangible results. A 4+ generation holistic practitioner, her love of skin care and holistic methods was chronicled in her early blog “The Pimple Whisperer,” some of which is still available on this website.