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If self-care were a queer relationship status, it would be “it’s complicated”

by

Ben Sharp

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The “It's complicated” column is Ben Sharp’s uninhibited (and English-language) approach to subjects that deserve attention but perhaps shouldn’t always require academic research or too much intellect. Discourse over doctrine or coded commentaries. Ben – a British-born, Berlin-based, gay 20-something with passions for fashion, fried chicken and overthinking – looks to pose questions that are answered differently, in intrinsic relation to our individual experiences and identities.

Self-care is sold to us by means of products and services. This is unsurprising, and I’m not here to throw shade on buying physical and mental wellness. Be that via collagen, colonics, yoga or ylang ylang oil. You do you, hun. Everybody is in charge of what they put in, on and around their own bodies; everybody is in charge of determining how to spend their money, and whether the results are those they’d hoped for.

That said, self-care – in its purest sense – reaches to more profound depths. And those, whose stars have so fabulously aligned under the rainbow of queer identity, are exposed to an opportunity for a particularly poignant kind of self-care moment. Yet the bigger picture makes it somewhat more complicated.

I’ll elaborate. When you come out – whether publicly or privately, loudly or quietly; as a butterfly emerging gloriously from its chrysalis or fraught with fear and turmoil – it is in response to society requiring you to acknowledge your identity. It’s distinctly disappointing that it’s still an obligation. But the moment, as it were, is indeed also an opportunity: to take ownership of who you are. Theoretically that does sound like some extreme self-care.

The writer and activist Audre Lorde once explained, “If I didn't define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.” Hashtag mood, perpetually. And this goes for the whole human experience. Queer or not, and especially for those marginalised by society’s so-called norms. Know yourself. Love yourself. It’s self-care and it’s bloody important, one might proclaim. Nay. Necessary. If that sounds obvious, statistics alone will vouch for the argument that it’s not.

In a 2018 report, over 70% of American LGBTQ youth expressed feelings of “worthlessness and hopelessness”. A British newspaper reported recently that 45% of trans young people had at some point contemplated taking their own lives. More than three in four queer people have experienced anxiety, and it is well documented that LGBTQ individuals across the globe are more likely to be depressed and battle compromised mental health. And all the while, queer people as a rule face a lack of understanding from medical professionals, should they seek support and help.

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The self-love approach to self-care is much more complex and harder to work into regimes and routines than night creams, gym sessions and supplements. And the world, largely, does a lot to make it that way. Even in the most privileged of societies, allies and understanding are often hard to come by for queer communities. It’s all so much easier said than done. Things are set up to make it so that we are always having to fight for the right to this self-love-self-care deal.

Really, we have just as much right to love ourselves in an effort to truly take care of ourselves, as we do to buy a face mask that is equipped to sort out an oily T-zone. From the moment one acknowledges one’s identity, there’s empowerment, a healthy dose of pride and extreme ‘self-care’ for the taking. It’s just that this isn’t really what most people have in mind when they hear or speak the words. “It’s self-care, Susan – look it up.” Susan isn’t necessarily being asked to better inform herself on empowerment and pride in one’s identity. The world certainly doesn’t seem to be telling a queer-identifying Susan that empowerment and pride in his, her or their identity is well worth focusing on.

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Maybe that’s why so many of the LGBTQ community are, typically speaking, so damn good with sarcasm. We’re privy to an unspoken irony in the contrast between outward-facing fabulousness and inner struggles.

As I love you presents its cross-section of the varying notions of self-care, it feels appropriate to highlight this possible paradox. Is the same privilege-led hierarchy that all too often defies us a right to self-love, now pushing self-care on us? I think it just might be. And, as I step back to look at the bigger picture, I can’t help but notice a certain irony there. Somebody who struggles to self-love, specifically because of society’s marginalisation of queer people, is expected to self-care?

Maybe that’s why so many of the LGBTQ community are, typically speaking, so damn good with sarcasm. We’re privy to an unspoken irony in the contrast between outward-facing fabulousness and inner struggles. What we’re also really good at is getting the f*ck on with being on the outskirts of normal. While the vast majority of trends and terms that float into the zeitgeist are made most palatable for those in normal’s cosy centre.

As I try my best to not get carried away, I feel it’s important to point out once more that I have no issue with “self-care” in the way the phrase is generally perceived. Nor do I have a problem with the ever-increasing range of products and services that enable me a slice of the self-care pie. I suppose, I’m merely wistfully mulling over the gap between self-care and self-love. Especially for LGBTQ people. People who, while not explicitly excluded from the ever-hyped notion of self-care, are as a rule still very much discouraged from self-love.

Imagery from I LOVE YOU magazine, issue no. 08
Photography: Petrovsky & Ramone
Styling: Love Bailey
Hair: Anthony Nguyen
Make-Up: Bobby Eliot
Model: Love Bailey, Edward Vigiletti
Assistance: Todd Pierce

Love Bailey is a queer artist and cultural visionary.