Claire Rothstein’s ‘Be A Lady They Said’ fashion film and poem with Cynthia Nixon has gone viral this week. It is popular because of how relatable it is.
Be a lady they said. Don’t be too fat. Don’t be too thin. Don’t be too large. Don’t be too small. Eat up. Slim down. Stop eating so much. Don’t eat too fast. Order a salad. Don’t eat carbs. Skip dessert. You need to lose weight. Fit into that dress. Go on a diet. Watch what you eat. Eat celery. Chew gum. Drink lots of water. You have to fit into those jeans. God, you look like a skeleton. Why don’t you just eat? You look emaciated. You look sick. Eat a burger. Men like women with some meat on their bones. Be small. Be light. Be little. Be petite. Be feminine. Be a size zero. Be a double zero. Be nothing. Be less than nothing…
Being a woman is exhausting. Society is filled with so many pressures and conflicting expectations, that meeting them is actually impossible. This leads to anxiety and a decline in our mental health. One of the cures prescribed for this is ‘self-care’.
Self-care is giving yourself time and being kind to yourself. This can take many forms such as taking lunch breaks, eating healthily, having a good sleep routine and using your sick leave. Taking these steps have a proven impact on our well-being.
However, these seemingly simple steps are just not possible for many women in our society. Women who are trying to juggle being a mother, having a career, working more than one minimum wage job, being a single parent. Who has the time?
A good friend of mine told me that she doesn’t have time to even take her coat off until 9pm. Another friend has cut down her working week to spend time with her young child, but works overtime and through her lunch-breaks to compensate for this.
Another friend would love to go the gym and finds that ‘me-time’ cathartic for her mental health, but by the time she has finished work and fed, bathed and put her young son to bed, she is exhausted.
The trouble with prescribing self-care is that this can become another pressure…you could easily write another verse for the poem:
Don’t work so hard. Have time for yourself. Go to the gym. Have a coffee. Walk the dog. Take your lunch breaks. Have a long shower. Use your sick leave. Have eight hours sleep a night. Why don’t you just love yourself?
Self-care is important and a key part of maintaining good mental health. But this is not just our responsibility as women. There need to be big changes in society.
Everyone needs to consider mental health and self-care. This is the responsibility of employers and public health officials, but also us as family, friends and partners. We need to make sure people are given time to themselves before they burn out.