There are a lot of hackle-raising words in the title, so let's define a few things first:
Self-Care. According to the World Health Organization, "Self-care is what people do for themselves to establish and maintain health, prevent and deal with illness.
It is a broad concept encompassing:
- hygiene (general and personal)
- nutrition (type and quality of food eaten)
- lifestyle (sporting activities, leisure etc.)
- environmental factors (living conditions, social habits, etc.)
- socioeconomic factors (income level, cultural beliefs, etc.)
Feminist. According to Google, "the advocacy of women's rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men." Taking an intersectional feminist approach, acknowledging that race, class, ability, sexual orientation, gender identity, and various other factors intersect to affect a person's experience; that you cannot consider gender isolated from these factors.
Valentine. In this case, a love letter.
I know what you're thinking.
How does a brand that positions itself as feminist, as LGBTQIA+ inclusive, approach Valentine’s Day? To be perfectly frank, I have no fucking idea.
As a new retailer, this is the holiday I’ve been dreading: more than Black Friday, more than Christmas, more than the other high sales volume, make-or-break periods: February 14 has loomed like a goddamn albatross.
Those of you who read my recent essay on how lingerie helped me come out as queer can probably guess that lingerie is a significant part of self-care in my personal life. Not necessarily buying new stuff - I'm usually too broke to do that.
Rather, I mean the care and thought that goes into what underthings I’m wearing. Is it a fuck the world, I am dominating Marlies Dekkers day? Is it an, I really need a boost cause I’m feeling low so Wonder Woman undies! kind of day? Is it an, I am going to wear a matching set cause it’s clean and cause it’s pretty and oh, also my partner goes a little wild for matching sets and that’s definitely an effect I like having on someone I love at 8 in the morning?
There are many reasons I wear the different pieces I have, and those reasons can change by the day. The depression that always looms like a small shadow can factor in; so can excitement (seriously: I own multiple pairs of Wonder Woman undies and am always on the lookout for pairs I could stock here at Bluestockings without risking legal action from DC).
Bottom line: my underwear is important. It’s part of how I take care of myself.
But, as I'm sure anyone most of you who are reading this know, it's not uncommon in (frequently white) progressive, feminist circles to insist on absolute, wholesale rejection of something in the name of progressive politics and fighting the patriarchy.
Enter: the ever popular catchphrase, “Valentine’s Day is problematic”
So I really, really don’t like having a holiday that has become strongly associated with the lingerie industry that is, simultaneously, perceived as anti-feminist… partly because of its association with lingerie?
Lingerie advertising is a complete hotbed of heteronormativity most of the time, but to lump lingerie the clothing (and the people who wear it) in with the advertising is to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
(And leaves no room for individual agency, but let's keep going.)
Valentine’s Day can bring out the worst in advertisers. It’s like an amoeba breeding ground for cissexism and heteronromativity. The commercialization of Valentine’s Day isn’t new (unsurprisingly, the holiday’s commercialization coincides with the Industrial Revolution in the nineteenth century), but in our day and age, being constantly bombarded by advertisements on all manner of technology, we are at a level probably unimagined by early Victorian greeting card aficionados.
A few of the common complaints we’ve all heard about Valentine’s Day:
- It focuses on couples and excludes single people (hence: Singles Awareness Day!)
- It’s anti-feminist, because it focuses on how women can please men
- It’s commercialized. (The famous, “I don’t need one day a year to celebrate love!”)
- It’s heteronormative, as any queer person who has ever tried to buy a greeting card for their friend/family member/significant other/person knows.
- It’s cissexist, often assuming cis gender identification and also reinforcing cissexist gender binaries.
Do any of these sound familiar?
So… Why Do Valentine's Day?
Welp, as any of my close friends could tell you, beneath the cynicism, I’m a complete sap.
It’s been different to experience the holiday as an out queer person, now, in my later twenties. I have friends who say “fuck it” to the holiday, friends who outright ignore it, friends who embrace it and find ways to make it work for them.
Incidentally, one legend of the original Saint Valentine is that he was executed for secretly performing marriages that had been forbidden by the state -- kind of an ironic affinity with LGBTQIA+ communities today.
Here's the thing:
Some folks hate the holiday. (No pressure on them to celebrate it.)
Some folks love it. (So let's help them celebrate it!)
And at the end of the day, it's a holiday about love just when winter is dragging on and those of us who battle mental health issues could really use a pick-me-up.
Valentine's Day is a culturally sanctioned day on which to indulge in self-care - no strings, no guilt. It can be hard to remember to eat, but come mid-February, it's hard to forget that it's Valentine's Day. For those of us who fight for our mental health on a daily basis, this kind of reminder and this kind of care, particularly in the middle of winter, is vital.
Celebrating our selves, and taking care of ourselves, as women, as LGBTQIA+ people, is critical. This world demands a substantial amount of emotional energy just to go through each day: going into a bathroom, walking down the street with your partner, dealing with micro-aggressions and not-so-micro-aggressions at work.
Remembering that we are more important is key. So if you thoughtfully enjoy Valentine's Day, do it. If Valentine's Day has no part in your self care or personal life, don't do it. But wholesale rejection or judgment is too simple here.
The best I can do as a retailer is to thoughtfully engage and continue to value your personal experiences and truths. The best I can do as a person is to show myself love, forgiveness, and a bit of grace every day, and this holiday is a wonderful reminder of how to do that.
I want to know: how do you do self-care? Does clothing (like underwear) factor in, or do you focus your energies elsewhere? Is time of year relevant?
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