Practising Self-Care: Should This Be a Shame or Norm?

Why do some women need valid reasons to have a good time? The society I was raised in subconsciously and sometimes verbally, criticizes what we know as practising self-care, especially for women. 

The world I speak of is not the Nigeria you see on Twitter where N70k seems like an abominable and unrealistic monthly income. The world I come from is littered with people, families that survive on a N10 – N15k monthly salary. Those with no sources of income except their farm produce either sold as harvested or processed. And those earning hundreds of thousands all the same. 

It is a cocktail of different purchasing powers and the tension of coexisting with these different worlds. It is a world where the actions of Lady M are closely monitored by her family (both nuclear and extended), her neighbors, and freely talked about. They won’t hide their displeasure in hushed whispers. No one caring, propelled by good intentions will sit her down and tell her just how her actions are ‘affecting’ the people in her vicinity. Without a care in the world for how this advice alters her either positively or negatively. 

Practising self-care

Like with the child-birth-at-home concept, it is not a stated law or a written moral code, it just is. A woman is groomed to endure hardship (daure). To persevere (jimre), and to be respectful and polite (have ladabi). To always give — her body to both her husband and children. To share her wisdom, her personality, and her dreams into fragments on the altar of family. Don’t get me wrong, family is one of my strongest values. A value I treasure, though I may or may not have imbibed it by societal conditioning. Regardless, I am not blind to the strings it pulls on women in my locality. 

Practising Self-care

There is no unbiased way to tell this story. But then that’s also the appeal and beauty of stories. They don’t exist to be objective points of view. That is why there’s always a danger in a single story. Stories are not an opinion well-balanced on a scale, but a recounting and retelling of the experiences of certain people in specific settings. Your job as a reader is to find the other half of the story or draw your conclusion from the singular recount you have. But be aware that there is always more. That said, here are a couple of stories that have informed this knowledge that there is a cultural shame associated with self-care where I am from. 

A woman is expected to be many things. Prudent, wise, kind-hearted, slow to speak, patient, beautiful, modest, even-tempered, among many other things. A woman is a human being, given the weakness of being flawed, yet required by most societies to be perfect nonetheless. 

The akwati rite (box gift giving) in northern Nigeria is one of the essential marital rites and obligations to fulfill.  Informed by a plethora of things, both positive and negative including the histories of many brides like my cousin. Who suddenly couldn’t afford new clothes for themselves. And are no longer recipients of the same from their once generous suitors now-turned-husbands. Or their parents, who before the wedding were their main providers. This insecurity may have been part of what fed the frenzied demand for a full set of boxes. Filled with clothes before any bride would venture out of her father’s house. 

The akwati practice requires the intended groom to bring a set of boxes filled with clothes, jewelry, shoes, cosmetics, and other good things. He gets a list of laces, atampa, shadda and other different materials, lingerie, makeup, and perfumes. Because they know that by the time the bride is a mom, which typically happens within nine to fifteen (9-15) months of her wedding, they will be focused on purchasing baby items. After this, every financial block will be pushed toward her children and her home economics. Her aunties, uwar ɗaki  and her mother will insist vehemently that he provides the items else the wedding will not hold.

When I was growing up, I used to wonder, why must he buy new clothes for her? Can she not use the ones she has already? Why won’t she just try and work for her own money? My childish thoughts were so quickly hushed by an auntie here, a grandma there. Now that I am older and still concerned about the origin of certain cultural practices, I see the logic and security in this rite. Especially in a society where women were simply extensions of their fathers or husbands. 

Having done all these for the bride before the wedding, it then became the norm for the groom to leave her be. As most grooms believed they had done a great deal in setting up her. Due diligence is done, unto “greater” things then. Past the honeymoon phase, where every amarya -bride is expected to be glowing with radiance, good health, vigor, and the joys of being a new bride. She unlocks a new phase of her life – Childbearing, rearing, and Home economics. 

This is the part where you are to justify your actions for the betterment of your home. A good homemaker will not spend 2k on a new wrapper when she can use it to top up feeding. Her crew of unwanted spectators will not let her live it down. If she goes shopping for a new blouse or a fancy bag, there are whispers about how she could have used it to buy a useful thing like a new uniform for her kids, her husband’s new tires, or to buy 10 more measures of sorghum for kunu.

All of these I have seen and heard all my life and consistently wondered why women had to justify their spending. It didn’t make sense especially if she was working for her money as an employee or entrepreneur. But what do I know? I didn’t make the rules. I am just a curious onlooker filled with wonder and questions. 

Notice that women from lower socio-economic backgrounds tend to have a harder time enjoying a lot of privileges but are so innovative in making sure they find pockets of happiness. It is incredible and admirable. I am tempted to say this might be one of the reasons why some are so concerned about wearing anko (asoebi) at weddings. Because this purchase is self-explanatory and they get to do nice stuff for themselves without anyone breathing down their neck in criticism. No disappointed mother-in-law shaking her head in disapproval, no husband accusing her of shrewd dealings with kuɗin  chefane – shopping money.

One may never have a mani-pedi in her life but will spend her money on exotic fragrances and perfume oils as her splurge outlet. It’s a win-win because she can say she’s doing it for her husband- to entice and please him. And he won’t ever find out that this is her happy habit. Her self-care ritual is shrouded in his faux need. 

I am still wondering about the origin of this cultural shame of self-care. Wondering why ‘doing it for me’ is such a distasteful and selfish statement. But I know so little.  I want to know what you think. 

Balpolam Idi

Balpolam is a creative writer with a burning desire for holistic teaching, learning, and inclusion. She is keen on helping others experience learning as enjoyable, lifelong, fun, and exciting, and creates content that does the same. I can and will convince you to make this world better in your niche and in your unique way.