Holism, Feminism, and Tatoos as a Symbol of Radical Self-Care

I have a small black circle tattoo on my elbow that I got when I was 19. It’s supposed to symbolize holism. I had a basic understanding of the concept when I got it, and it really resonated at the time, but I never really came up with a solid “elevator explanation” to answer the question “what’s your tat mean?”

I always fumble through and my answer generally sucks, so I just started telling people it was a blank emotiji waiting for a face to be drawn in it. (Sometimes, this gets taken up with creative results.)

It’s a big concept, small tat, and people don’t really want to hear my life story. But it’s important to me. Increasingly so. And I should own the story of it. So … without further adieu it’s time for a definition check up. WTF is holism and what does this tattoo mean to me?

According to Wikipedia: Holism is the idea that systems (physical, biological, chemical, social, economic, mental, linguistic, etc.) and their properties should be viewed as wholes, not as collections of parts.

Holism is about unity, to me. It’s the idea that our human “systems” are more than sums of their parts, and they are effected by one another. (For example, a diet is more than the sum of it’s nutrient parts, a relationship is more than the sum of it’s interactions, a language is more than the sum of it’s words, etc.) It’s a simple enough philosophy that sums up how I think about myself, and myself in the world.

In recent years when I started writing more about feminism and talking more about feminism, I discovered it there, too. The personal is political was the slogan that rallied second-wave feminists – this was about our private issues often times reflecting the political status quo. (“Women’s discontent is not the neurotic lament of the maladjusted, but a response to a social structure in which women are systematically dominated, exploited, and oppressed.”)

In a holistic view of feminism, one person’s liberation benefits so much more than just one person or people. It’s about effecting a social structure. Anyway I had no real, fully formed idea about any of this when I inked it on my bod, though I do now.

I look back on that time, when I was 19, an I’m pretty sure the only reference for the term I had was the holistic doctor I went to about chronic migraines, and I can see a hint that a lot of my beliefs have been shaped by my individual experiences with health.

I don’t remember this holistic doctor relationship to be especially life-changing or anything, but she pointed me to the idea that my migraines, which I’ve had since I was a kid, were and are generally worsened by anxiety and depression. This was something I’d been struggling with but tried to hide. The cluster migraines it would manifest in over time made it hard to not notice.

Understanding that these things (my mental health and my physical health) were linked was big for me because it forced me to shift how I was living at the time – I saw that I’d have to recognize what I needed, and I’d have to let the people around me know what I needed, too, if I wanted to do what I wanted to do (things! Work and write! Hang!) Getting this tat was my tiny reminder in a sense that my self care matters.

Recently I came across a Bitch Media podcast, Self Care as a Radical Act, in which writer Evette Dionne mentions that taking care of oneself should be a priority and this should be a no-brainer, but it’s not. There’s this idea that women are not “supposed” to put themselves first, but when we put ourselves last nothing works. We suffer and the people we care for suffer.

Self-care is a radical act because it’s about saying my body, my intuition, is telling me to do something and I’m going to do it. Evette says, “Standing and saying that I matter, I come first, that what I need and I want matters, is a radical act because it goes against everything we’ve been conditioned to believe.”

THAT. Is an empowering philosophy to me. If I want to be part of a social structure that treats all women like what they do, need, and want matters, I have to recognize what I do, need and want, matters, in my own life.

Owning that belief, and wearing this tiny permanent symbol on my elbow that reminds me of the thing I need to know to take care of myself, and also showing that to the world is, in a way, radical. It’s about standing and say I matter. Tattoos are awesome for that. Self presentation can do that. Writing and blogging can do that. Our personal actions totally matter.

This post was originally published on veryimportantthings.tumblr.com

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