The Revolutionary Roots of Self Care

Bubble Baths. Mindfulness and Meditation. Korean Sheet Masks. CBD oils. Red Wine. Yoga. Staycations. Skincare. Gratitude Lists. 

These are a few of our favorite things! These are also just a few items and practices that are most likely to spring to mind when you hear the phrase “SELF-CARE”. As this is being written, the hashtag #selflove has 5.8 million posts on Instagram, and #selfcare has 41.1 million. 

These concepts are everywhere – magazines and personal growth books, social media, and – of course – commercials (“Because You’re Worth It!” is just one easy example). In fact, the idea of self-care and wellness is so mainstream that it is now a multi-billion dollar business. For most women, you’d have to be hiding under a rock (or perhaps an overpriced bit of rose quartz from Urban Outfitters) to not run across the many mantras and products that are cornerstones of this industry. 

So it may be surprising to learn that the real roots of self-care and wellness are deeply revolutionary, and that its ideals were initially made popular not by Gweneth Paltrow and Goop, but by the Black Panthers. 

The idea of self-care as a practice was initially developed by medical professionals in the 1950s as a way to foster quality of life for institutionalized patients, but over time its message was embraced fully by the Black Panthers, who recognized that adopting practices that promote wellness and positive health was a way for Black people to protect themselves against oppression and maintain their strength while they fought for equality. 

Healthcare reform was (and remains) a central demand of the Civil Rights Movement. As BIPoC people continue to be affected disproportionately by the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, easy access to decent healthcare and dismantling or correcting systems that contribute to poor mental, emotional, and/or physical health is key.   

Yet, as the idea became more and more mainstream, it is not hard to see that these concepts became less and less about supporting marginalized folks in their fight against oppressive systems, but instead about selling goods and services to the thin, white, and able-bodied. 

With everything going on in the world, it does make you think: is “self-care” and “self-love” worth much if all it accomplishes is keeping us in a perpetual cycle of stress-spend money-do the hashtag-repeat? What if insteading of “blissing out” we follow our bliss towards a better life for ourselves and others and let self-care become the foundation on which community care rests?

There is absolutely nothing wrong with taking care of yourself and enjoying both the big and simple pleasures in life. We all deserve good things! But knowing the history of the self-care movement began with activists and revolutionaries does provide a richer and more thoughtful invitation to think beyond the hashtag or commercial slogan. 

So pour a glass of wine or steep some cozy tea, throw on a face mask and check out these quotes and resources from some truly amazing people on the subjects of Self-Care, Self-Love, and the Revolution.

Looking for outstanding Black wellness influencers? Check these women out!



Hilary Bryant is a writer and filmmaker based in Los Angeles. She uses her perspective as a storyteller to explore what is beautiful, weird, and hard about being a human. Past and current projects include comedies about dating a war veteran with PTSD (Love and War) and a modern “Mary Poppins-esque” series about a young divorcee processing the end of her marriage (Aftering). She is the co-host and producer of Cereal Bowl, a popular variety show in LA that highlights and brings together some very cool, very talented people! She loves loves coffee and wine and kombucha (basically all beverages) and is the proud dog mom to the cutest girl in the whole world, Maizy – she will fight you about that. 

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A writer and storyteller by trade, throughout the course of my career, I have led with curiosity. Much like Alice, I love the opportunity to ask questions and look at situations through different lenses. It’s a great way to find unexpected solutions or new ideas.

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