So many of us women seem to believe, because we have been taught, that to take care of oneself in the way we would take care of others without even thinking, is 'selfish' or 'self-indulgent'.
How I hate that last expression in particular.
What's wrong with indulging oneself? What does 'indulge' even mean, anyway? According to marketers, aka 24 year old men in skinny jeans and thick-rimmed glasses who have absolutely no idea what it is to be 1. female 2. a mother or 3. anybody but a fucking 24 year old bloke in thick-rimmed glasses, it means having a bubble bath or eating a low-fat yoghurt.
The sheer lack of imagination is breathtaking, as is the concept that soaking in tepid soapy water or eating reduced-fat sour milk with a chocolate-substitute-covered bit of cereal pulp as an accompaniment is in some way extraordinary, a way to 'thank ourselves', a bit of 'me-time', to 'get away from the daily grind'.
With a yoghurt? Seriously, is that the best you can do? Shouldn't we be able to just have baths and eat, or in my case choose not to eat, those infernal fucking yoghurts without feeling that this is it - this and only this is our prize, our reward for being good girls?
On the flip side the positive language around self-care is equally trite. Magazines and newspapers urge us to 'treat ourselves' to a top we don't want and won't suit us, or 'pamper ourselves' with a 'spa day with the girls', like such a 'treat' is within financial and practical reach and all that stands between us and giggling over Babycham with mud-masks on our faces and cucumber discs over our eyes is the simple fact that we haven't thought of it ourselves.
Whether negative or positive all the language around self-care unites to imply that to look after yourself is a 'treat', 'indulgent', and in some way sinful or 'naughty' because to put one's needs first, even as a 'pampering experience', is taboo. An unnecessary and frivolous extra.
This, of course, only applies to women. For men, self-care, pampering oneself, treating oneself and self-indulgence simply does not exist, or rather, it is known by its proper name of 'doing things I like doing and don't have to justify because the fact that I like it is enough'.
You may also know it as football, cricket, beer, music, films, video games, computers, books, crochet, cooking, cycling, driving, gardening, beekeeping, golf, watching television, painting, writing, meditating, potholing, collecting, or whatever it is that men like to do, which curiously absolutely never features skimmed milk products.
Our boundaries of self-care are narrow and demeaning. Beauty treatments, food that 'tastes just like the real thing!' but won't blow the inevitable diet we're all supposed to be on, shopping. Even genuine healing arts like massage are shoehorned into the catch-all of 'beauty' which is stamped with frivolity.
Looking good is self-care, this we know, as even self-care must have an end-goal of self-improvement and a greater conformity to socially accepted yet utterly impossible standards. But we should feel ashamed of wanting to look and feel good, at the same time, and categorise it as a 'treat' or a 'guilty pleasure' rather than just something we do because we want to and that is enough.
I've spent 33 years thinking my wants and needs are frivolous and unimportant. I find it sad that it's taken two young children to make me realise that as the epicentre of their world, I am the epicentre of my world and it's important that I take care of myself. Full stop.
For a while I have been almost ashamed of the recognition that I have to take care of myself 'for my children' and 'to make me a better mother,' which is entirely true.
But actually I have to take care of myself for myself.
I don't need a reason, or a justification.
I am enough.
All summer long I've had this little fantasy of getting on my bike and cycling to the lido, spending the morning having a nice swim, drinking coffee, reading, writing in my journal, then upping sticks and heading to a Lebanese restaurant Cherry and I used to frequent for lunch, all by myself.
All summer long I've found reason after excuse as to why I can't do it. Every glorious Saturday or Sunday morning while the sun beat down over that lovely hot summer, I've managed to put obstacles in my own way, driven by a compulsion that to do something just because I want to do it, with no goal or end or purpose in mind, is wrong.
I'm not training for a bike ride or a triathlon. I don't need to ride my bike or swim. I don't have an end goal.
I just want to.
It's been a huge realisation, a wake-up call of epic proportions, to realise just how much I entirely voluntarily deprive myself of, just because I cannot give a reason other than 'because I want to'.
So, I think I'm going to the lido on my bike, and for lunch. Today.
Because I want to.