You’ve probably seen the phrase “self-care” before, maybe in magazine round-ups like “17 Self-Care Products Bazaar Editors Use to Unwind.” Or perhaps you’ve searched the term online, like many people have in the last six years (there were notable peaks in April 2020 and September 2021). Or maybe you were swayed by an influencer promoting a pair of sweats under the guise of self-care.
Self-care is an industry now, a nearly $10 billion one that has strayed so far from its humble origins, per the Oxford English Dictionary: “The activity of taking care of one’s own health, appearance, or well-being.” And then there is my favorite definition, the one Audre Lorde wrote in her 1988 essay collection, “A Burst of Light”: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
It was this last definition that I hoped Oludara Adeeyo’s “Self-Care for Black Women” would encompass: more political warfare, less wellness brand. Adeeyo’s book falls somewhere in between. As a Black woman, I was thrilled it was written expressly for Black women, but the language was so littered with “sis” and “hey girl!” that the tone seemed forced. It felt played up for the reader, not like the conversations I have with my friends.
If you’re the kind of person who approaches anything branded as self-care with a wary eye and a definition in your pocket, this book may not be of much use to you. If you have no familiarity with the concept, or if you have a hard time centering your own needs, I’d wager you will find this book much more helpful. It’s broken into three sections: Mind, Body, and Soul, with 150 suggestions, practices, and tips befitting each.
Rather than a book you sit and read cover to cover, “Self Care for Black Women” is something you might skim through when you’re feeling low and searching for a way to make yourself feel better. Thanks to Adeeyo’s background in mental health — she’s a psychiatric social worker — the tips in the “Mind” section are the most helpful. For example, the grounding exercise where she encourages readers to focus on their senses did help me the other day when I was feeling overwhelmed and stressed about a bunch of work I had to tackle. Therapy-based suggestions like “Practice Accepting Compliments” and “Identify Coping Skills” were similarly helpful: They were actual actions and adjustments I can try as I move through the world.
On the other hand, tips like “Follow Self-Help Instagram Accounts” and “Buy Cute Pajamas” rang a little hollow, like they were only there to fill up space. I can’t quite see the logic behind listing “Watch a 90s TV Show,” “Rewatch Your Favorite Movie or TV Show” and “Watch Something Funny’' as three separate entries. Adeeyo dedicates a lot of space in the introduction and throughout the book to making sure the reader knows the larger societal and structural reasons Black women often so sorely need self-care, so by the third time you are told to look out for something, it feels a little depressing. Some tips, like “Customize your supplement plan,” had me scanning for a brand name, as if it was sponsored content. (It was not.)
Here is where I ultimately land with this book: If you’re a young Black woman or have one in your life, someone in their teens, this is a great introduction to self-care and mental health practices. If you’re hoping to go a little deeper or are looking to channel Audre Lorde, skip it. Political warfare, it is not.
“Self-Care for Black Women” by Oludara Adeeyo, Adams Media Corporation, $15.99