Self-care is hydrating your life, inside and out. The outdoors hydrates my mind, giving it the nutrients it needs to create art and find balance in my everyday. With balance comes mindfulness to take action towards yourself.
As a black woman who faces daily racial traumas, who unpacks those and explains cultural appropriation for non-POC, my days are stressful. I look to nature for self-therapy. I truly believe that we are mini-earths. We have our own ecosystems within us, trying to adapt to the stresses of our own unpredictability. To ensure that my physical body can endure a lot of storms, I spend my days outdoors either for work or leisure, whether I am climbing at Stony Point outside of Los Angeles or shooting landscape photography. I am always on the run.
My grade school to college years consisted of many hours running around a track and neglecting myself. I was hard on myself because my coaches wanted me to be tough, hard, to present this one type of confidence. But I struggled to have confidence in myself. My self-evaluation was based on what winning athletes looked like to me: I raced against many white females and I compared my kinky strands to their swinging hair. I didn’t have the typical 8-pack abs walking up to the starting line. It became very unhealthy. Once I graduated from college, that particular type of thinking carried over into my career, friendships, and relationships. I had to take responsibility to break this habit and move into a more peaceful mindset. It took a decade of trial and error to break the tough mold I had placed myself into, to truly fall in love with myself.
I woke up one morning in 2017, left my apartment with my partner still in bed, and hiked alone. I watched the trees sway, listened to the creek move, and felt the sun dance across my skin. It was like a symphony of releasing and healing. The solid ground made me feel confident, like I was back on the track, but in a more peaceful way. I discovered something new that became the catalyst of my own personal self-care movement.
I took a shower after this short hike and felt my mind shift into a place of empathy for my past self. I cared about myself more than I ever had. Growth and age can really do wonders. It just happens one day and you just…..do it. After years of rainwater, habitual thoughts finally flipped like a switch. It takes work to become balanced.
Hiking alone is like dating yourself, in a healthy, non-toxic way. You really get deep into your own thoughts and discover so much about who you are as a person in this world. It’s an extension of "treat yo self," but without buying things we don’t need. Finding a local trail and giving myself the gift of nature is all that I ever need. It gives me peace, and space away from social media scrolling, away from the bustle of city streets. It's movement and a movement.
Over time, I extended my love of photography into my self-care practice. Photographing nature became work and a practice to soothe my mind. My goal was to make self-care my career. Climbing and hiking outdoors taught me how to take care of my skin more than I ever have, like using SPF. Nature is giving us free lessons daily on how we need to treat ourselves mentally and physically. The grass turns green when it rains and that is a lesson about keeping your face and yourself watered and hydrated. The outcome of this is that I have learned to truly love myself. Going to the spa or getting my nails done is no longer self-care to me—that is surface-level love, and I want something deeper.
The outdoors is my support system, my holistic world to discover and recover. I grew up in an urban area and even then I would go to my local city park to find nature. I didn’t realize that I was treating myself to therapy all along.
Now I have the privilege to travel as an outdoor photographer and explore many different native lands and eco-systems on this planet. I am grateful and encourage other people of color to seek out nature. Whatever you are going through in your life, know that there is something just outside waiting to give you a reason to love yourself more. Her name is Mother Nature.
Photographs courtesy of Gina Danza
Written for Youth To The People by Gina Danza