Fariha Róisín’s New Book Asks: What Does Self-Care Look Like Without the Shadow of Appropriation?

The concept of self-care has too often been co-opted by juice cleanse programs and celebrity “spaspitals” to hold much weight in today’s world, but the key concept—that all people are inherently worthy of attention, care, and even (gasp!) pleasure—is more powerful than mass marketing. “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare,” Audre Lorde once wrote, and that phrase functions as a kind of thesis for Fariha Róisín’s new book, aptly titled Who Is Wellness For?

In Who Is Wellness For?, Róisín—an Australian-Canadian poet, novelist, and essayist who has frequently written about the intersections of her identity as a queer South Asian Muslim woman—refuses to cede the “wellness movement” (such as it is) to the white, thin, cisgender, heterosexual, affluent women who tend to be associated with it, keenly noting the ways in which the foods, customs, and rituals of her upbringing have been co-opted by the European gaze. Vogue recently spoke to Róisín about her writerly inspiration, living with chronic illness, the limitations of cultural appropriation, and the importance of building a “real,” non-consumer-oriented relationship with the self.

Vogue: When was the first time you became aware of wellness culture, and aware that it wasn’t necessarily created with you in mind?

Fariha Róisín: I think it happened around the surge of “self-care” and all of that commercialization in 2014 or 2015. We really saw capitalism try to entrench itself in the act of caring for yourself, and I didn’t know how big and expansive it was going to become. Around that time, I was also starting to consider what self-care meant to me: How do I participate in this? I wanted to figure out how you care for yourself when you’ve never had the foundation to do so before, and alongside that, I started to see this cultural evolution that was exciting, but also scary. There was a part of me that was like, I don’t like this, and I don’t know where this is going to go.

Is there anything you look at and think, That’s peak capitalist wellness culture?

There’s so much now. I was in an ayahuasca ceremony over the weekend, and I witnessed a lot of things there that—when there’s a lot of white folks, there might be things that personally affect me or make me feel uncomfortable, because it almost feels like it’s a dissociation from what we’re doing. I don’t think it comes from ill intention—I think there is a sincerity in wanting to heal and be better—but that question comes up of,How do you do so while respecting the community you’re involving yourself with? That kind of conversation is still really not happening in these rooms.

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