For a lot of reasons, actually. However, my newest concern came to me when I was taking a bath (this is not that kind of story). I was thinking about how back in the day during office holiday parties it was a go-to gift to give women lotions or bubble baths or face masks, and how I was annoyed at the time but now I would very much like that type of gift! Then my thoughts drifted toward do men ever get a gift set of bath bombs and face masks? And if they did, would they actually use it? What does men’s self-care even look like?
Self-care marketed to women often includes:
· Bubble baths
These can be problematic as they all feed into our capitalistic system “you can only take care of yourself and feel good if you pay for it”. There is also a focus on appearance/upkeep in them (heaven forbid women get wrinkles on their face or have dry skin)! They also leave out so many other forms of self-care: boundary setting, drinking water, moving your body, being in nature, connecting with friends, leaving bad relationships/environments etc.
However, I enjoy every last one of these self care treats! It feels bougie to admit, but for me it’s true. I love a quiet, dark room, I love warm water, I love lotions that smell good and relax me. And I also love these for other reasons that get overlooked- that these activities promote REST, and connecting with your BODY, and being NURTURED, and DAYDREAMING.
It made me wonder what I could give a man that would give him the same message – rest, connect with your body, be nurtured, daydream. And the only answers I could come up with were whiskey glasses, grilling utensils, yardwork tools, or sporting equipment. Is this the message that men get, either check out of your life, be productive, or be competitive? (And calm down, I’m not knocking sports. There are a lot of cons but also a lot of pros with sports, but they are not a space for rest, connecting with your body, being nurtured and daydreaming).
Why don’t we tell men that it is okay to rest? That they don’t have to be busy all the time? To listen to their bodies? That letting someone else take care of you feels good? That letting your mind wander can lead you to unexpected and fascinating places? (Why don’t we teach them more emotional language and being vulnerable with other humans while we are at it?)
Men don’t get this type of self-care message. They also attend to other forms of self-care significantly less than women- doctor visits and therapy sessions. If men were able to slow down and feel their bodies, would they then realize when things don’t feel well and seek out medical or mental health support earlier?
Is this message literally why men die earlier than women?
I have seen a number of men in my personal and professional life who are just TAPPED OUT. They don’t know what happened, but suddenly they have nothing else to give. They don’t say they need a break, or they don’t even realize their emotional and physical cues that tell them they need a break. They are lost, and depressed, and lonely, and have no words to name the problem so therefore no direction to find their relief. They isolate more. They escape through drinking or video games or arguing on the internet with random strangers. They often are struggling in their most intimate relationships. They are exhausted. They are questioning their career, their role in their family, their identity.
While I see this happen most often with men in their mid-forties, I don’t think it is a mid-life crisis per say. I used to hate the term mid-life crisis, and prefer terms like mid-life awakening or reflection, but literally as I type this I think mid-life crisis is accurate. Not because reflecting on life and identity is a bad thing, but because we are not acknowledging the stress and burn out that are accumulating in men’s lives that are leading them to actual mental and physical and relational crisis.
As always, the culprit is our capitalistic, white supremacist, patriarchal system that we live in. (Whenever there is a hierarchy of who is valued and in control as long as they follow extremely rigid standards of what it looks like to be this person, and everyone else is suppressed, no one is free).
The SYSTEM is who benefits from you working 40-60 hours a week, taking care of a house, aging parents, your kids, your partner, all the while telling yourself that you don’t have time for that doctor or therapy appointment and all you really need is a beer/guys night/video game/sex/promotion/alone time/bike ride etc and then you will be right as rain again. The busier we are, the more we make, the more we spend, and the less time and energy we have for actually protecting and providing for the people who need it the most, and for rest and joy and pleasure and beauty.
So, what’s the solution, men should take bubble baths? (This is either the wisest or most inane sentence I have ever written!)
Bubble baths and spa days I think would be a great start, but should also be followed up with THERAPY! (When in crisis yes, but ideally before the crisis hits. Think of it as an oil change for your car, preventative maintenance).
Topics of discussion may include- how are you feeling? What do you need? Where do you feel loved and safe and supported? Where do you feel in control? How did you learn to be a man? What does being a man mean to you? What did your parents do well with you? What do you want to do differently with your own kids? How do you feel in your relationship? What are your friendships like? What does your body want you to know about how it is feeling? What does the word Rest mean to you? How do you release stress? What do you do that is creative? When was the last time you cried? What messages did you receive when you were young around crying? What messages did you receive about women? What were you taught about anger? What makes you feel happy? What do you do when you feel sad?
Are you still with me, or did I lose you?! No one said this is easy, this is actually really painful. But the thing is, I think you are in pain already, and are taught you can’t slow down and feel your body long enough to actually know that you are in pain.
In case no one has ever said this to you, I want YOU to know that you deserve rest, and to connect with your body, and to feel nurtured, and to daydream. You deserve love and safety and the flexibility to be your authentic self. You are more than how you provide for others. You can’t fix everything, and you don’t have to try. You are strong enough to feel all of your emotions. You are unique and valued on this planet, so take better care of yourself dammit!
This sounds simple and it’s not. Or it is, but the adversaries to men connecting with a gentler side to themselves are vast. Also, gender and gender identity are not simple. Family dynamics and roles within that family are not simple. Navigating a racist and sexist and homophobic society on a daily basis is not simple. So while this form of self-care is extremely difficult for the white, straight, cis dudes out there (cis means your reproductive parts that you were born with align with your gender identity i.e. you were born with a penis and identify as a man), it becomes exponentially harder for people of color, queer people, and our trans brothers and non-binary siblings to set down the hustle and hypervigilance needed to exist in our society to create any moments of rest, connection with their body, nurturance or emotional bandwidth to daydream.
As we have clearly decided, the solution may or may not include bubble baths. It is strongly recommended that it should include therapy and a trip to your doctor. If you are not yet ready for therapy, try tackling some of the questions I proposed earlier. Allow yourself to just write about yourself and your needs and your story, how you came to be you. I’m also going to encourage you to list some activities that help you rest, connect to your body, feel nurtured, and daydream. (Phones down). Simply just laying down and shutting your eyes is a great place to start. Stretch your body. Have some calm music in the background, comfy clothes on to create the nurturing feeling, and let your mind wander.
You may feel anxious starting this. You may be bored out of your mind. You may feel overcome with grief. You may fall asleep, it’s okay, you need it. You may begin to find some direction moving out of the place of confusion and stuckness that you are currently in and back toward yourself.
Check out the book Rest is Resistance : A Manifesto by Tricia Hersey, or her website www.thenapministry. She breaks down how our grind culture is directly tied to white supremacy and capitalism, and how taking back control of your time and energy by resting can create change.
This is your one life (probably). By opening yourself to rest, daydreaming, nurturance and connecting with your body you are giving yourself a fuller, richer, and perhaps even a longer life. By giving others a smidge less of yourself you will actually be giving them more of yourself as you function at your full capacity. You are worth it.
What's your self-care look like?