Over the weekend, a few people shared an image of my Wheel of Self-Care that I posted on Instagram. This is a graphic that forms part of my PrioritiseYOU course, and a fairly standard activity in the first session working with me for one-on-one coaching.

In this graphic, you are asked to rank yourself on a scale of 1 – 10 for the 5 facets of self-care. These are: physical self-care, emotional self-care, mental self-care, spiritual self-care and personal care. If you’ve done the PrioritiseYOU mini-course or were one of the lucky few to do the whole course when I first ran it back in Sept 2014 (new version coming soon!), you’ll be familiar with these. On the Teacher Wellbeing FB page, somebody asked what personal care meant.

This surprised me, but I was also kind of pleased to read it. The whole idea of the 5 facets was my way of explaining that self-care is much more than personal care (massages, manicures, makeup) because I noticed that a lot of the information online at the time (4 years ago) about self-care was all about pampering, and not much else. I wanted to broaden and deepen the conversation because I found it was the proactive physical and emotional self-care that made the biggest improvements in my life.

Plus, at the time, my relationship with personal care was fairly conflicted.

The reward for conformity is that everybody likes you but yourself. ~ Rita Mae Brown

Despite the fact that #selfcare is literally my business, personal care has never been that big a part of my life.

It has always grated on me that self-care gets reduced to that, because it’s about so much more than that. Self-care is about deliberately and proactively meeting and standing up for ones own needs on every level: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Personal care is a part of that, but in comparison to the huge changes that can be made in a person’s health, happiness and wellbeing through the other 4 aspects of self-care, it was always just a blip on the radar to me.

This is not a #nomakeupselfie

Add to that my growing realisation as a young woman that the appearance standards applied to me were different than those applied to my male peers, and the fact that the time, money and energy women spend on their appearance is time, money and energy they often don’t then spend on other arguably more important things like learning to understand their money, participating in decision making in the community, or having healthy boundaries with toxic people, and I went riiiiiiight off makeup for a while there.

Sure, I still liked a warm bath and good slather with moisturiser of an evening, but the #nomakeupselfie movement was right up my alley. I didn’t even wear makeup to my own wedding (and wow, was I shocked at the reactions I got from other women!), which was fine because it was on the beach and I didn’t wear shoes either. I also was fortunate to work in a small, country, state school for many years, so sneakers, shorts, a t-shirt and a ponytail was perfectly acceptable. About the only time I did wear makeup was for music and musical performances, because #stagelighting. Fellow arts and drama peeps will understand.

Plus, I wasn’t very well for a lot of years there, so I had to work carefully with the number of spoons I had in a day (#spoontheory) and makeup was just never important enough to warrant a spoon.

I truly believe we have been brainwashed as a society to spend time, money and energy on superficial things in life over the real, true, important things.

That being said, I have been playing with make-up and my wardrobe again recently, and it’s been an interesting journey.

For a start, I work from home now. I can easily stay in my pyjamas most of the day if I want to, because people don’t see me. But I learned pretty quickly that I am much more productive, and I simply feel better about life and myself and work, if I get up and get dressed every morning before heading to my home office. Coupled with this, I’ve been reading a lot about creativity, habits, and PR. I also read an account (can’t remember where, sadly) of a person with depression, who shared that they could track when their depression was worsening by the decrease in their levels of personal care. Of course, in the extreme, this included poor hygiene habits. Although that’s not where I’m at, the idea resonated with me. In hindsight, I can actually track how well I was feeling over time by how much, or how little, effort I put into seemingly extraneous personal care. If I didn’t have enough spoons to do the basics of physical and emotional self-care, then personal care was never going to happen.

So I’m exploring personal care, including makeup and my wardrobe, in a new way. It’s been curious to explore the feelings and responses that come up in me. I don’t want to be a vain or shallow person, and if I still believe makeup is an unnecessary (compared with, you know, food or water) part of life that can be used as a tool to manipulate women (usually), then by wearing it, am I participating in that manipulation?

Or am I simply playing with my creativity, prioritising my personal care as an act of self-care, and helping myself be more energised and productive while working from home?

I’m not really sure, to be honest. There’s more thinking and exploring and experimenting to do, yet. I also want to recognise that for many people, personal care is the gateway into a deeper, more deliberate practice of self-care. Who am I to tell you that makeup is superficial and you should love yourself without it, if makeup is the way you are exploring loving yourself? I didn’t get that before. But I’m starting to…

I think that the process I went through is not uncommon. In my late teens and early 20s, I was questioning lots of things and realising that some of the things I’d accepted as a ‘given’, like the beauty standards the magazines had been teaching me, were made up social constructs. I was also learning that I had the personal power to do what I liked, and that meant I didn’t have to conform to said beauty standards if I didn’t want to. I wanted to like myself, and for me an important part of that was being proud of my un-made-up face.

But then, I went fairly far in the opposite direction, quite adamantly. Especially because of my experience of gender double standards around my wedding, I got pretty ranty and a bit fundamentalist about my comfort in my own skin.

Again, not uncommon: humans have a tendency to swing from one extreme to another in realm of behaviour and belief change. Most of us are not very good at keeping the proverbial baby while we throw out the bath water. In fact, most of us are not very good at holding gently to our beliefs at all. We either don’t really examine our own beliefs in the first place, in which case we conform to whatever we’re told (when you stand for nothing, you fall for everything, as the saying goes) or we get fired up easily, and when faced with opposition, we get hostile.

I’m really paying attention to this tendency in myself lately, and attempting to catch myself from going to extremes (in either direction). To be clear, I’m not sitting on the fence, but rather I’m examining deeply many of my beliefs, and learning how to hold them firmly but without being rigid. I am working at actively keeping in mind that people who believe differently from me are not bad or even necessarily wrong. And, if I change my beliefs over time, I don’t have to demonise a previous version of myself for that, either.

As I always say, there’s no one-size-fits-all. They key is to be checking in regularly with one’s own thoughts, beliefs, needs and desires, exploring the suggestions of others, and then choosing what is right for you. Nobody else knows that. Nobody else has as vested an interested in your health and wellbeing as you. If that means #nomakeupselfies, go for it. If it means getting those tattooed eyebrows I keep seeing on insta, you do you.

It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about beauty trends, political affiliations or the way we treat each other in the work place. I hope that this article might help you to hold some of your beliefs a little more gently, and examine those of others gently too.

Don’t conform for the sake of conforming, or rebel for the sake of rebelling. Do whatever helps you like yourself more.

Ultimately, that’s what self-care is about.