Megan Rapinoe chooses happiness over “self-care,” and you should too

The gold medal-winning soccer wants a more realistic path to inner peace.

US soccer player Megan Rapinoe arrives for the 2021 Met Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Se...
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Megan Rapinoe is a feminist hero, if we’re still giving that phrase meaning. She has captained the Seattle-based soccer team OL Reign in the National Women’s Soccer League as well as the United States national team, and won Olympic gold and multiple FIFA World Cups. But it’s her captivating charisma, larger-than-life personality, and vocal commitment to equality that catapulted her from being a successful athlete to a poster woman for redefining femininity.

For women who don’t like being shoved into the boxes that cishet patriarchy insists on, Rapinoe is a bit of a blueprint. She’s an out queer person smashing standards for women. With her fun style and short, colorful hair, she’s also become a style icon. In a recent profile with Byrdie, Rapinoe redefines self-care in a way that applies to herself, instead of the trite, elitist phrase that it has become.

Rapinoe begins by discussing eschewing the toxic standard of insisting on being a “new you” every year. She says, “I was listening to something the other day that said the whole 'new year, new me' thing is just inherently self-hate because what was wrong with the old you that did a whole year, that has done a whole life, that's trying to just do their best, particularly in a pandemic? Also, you have to go from Monday 'old you' to Tuesday 'new you.' And you're just going to immediately not drink, not eat this, workout 12 times a day? It sets us up to feel bad about ourselves.”

It’s a fresh perspective that makes sense for Rapinoe to gravitate towards — when you’re already doing so much, the pressure to transform into a phoenix jacked up on green juice every January sounds exhausting. Too often, messaging about “bettering oneself” — an idea that’s pushed harder on women than men — makes us think that we’re inadequate in the first place. It leads to frustration and impatience for not being further along.

It seems Rapinoe’s superpower in staying sane emphasizes mindful resting. “I'm trying to build the muscle of purposeful rest and disconnection from our phones,” she explains. “Because so much of our life is online, it's hard — you can't just put your phone down and go sit on the couch, and think, 'Oh my god I'm relaxed, I lit a candle!' It just doesn't work like that. So, I've had to build that muscle, and I don't know exactly how to do it, but I think part of it is giving yourself permission to rest.”

She also has a more humanist and less materialistic perspective on what can constitute self-care. Toxic positivity is real, and amidst it is a lot of talk on social media about how much of a priority self-care should be. It’s easy to forget in the lavender-scented influencer videos and calm-colored infographics that the wellness industry is a billion-dollar institution that greatly benefits from pushing the self-care narrative. There’s a reason why you feel like a little gremlin if you don’t Gua Sha every night — because they want you to feel that way.

Rapinoe recognizes that whatever makes you feel happy and cared for is self-care, not what you read or hear in propagandized self-improvement books. “For me, self-expression in fashion, outfits, my hair (or whatever!) is also a way that I do self-care. I just have this energy in me that makes me need to express myself.” But she’s sure to disallow patriarchy from defining those expressions. “I certainly want to be cool, want to look beautiful, and want to have style, but I tried to set those definitions for myself. What makes something beautiful, what makes something stylish? It's when the person rocks up, shoulders back, and they have this glow.”

While Rapinoe does detail her skincare routine as a partner with Shiseido now, she also sagely reminds us that squad care is self-care, too — choosing who we spend our time with is powerful, even for something as simple as a group dinner with a nice glass of wine. As we round out the first month of 2022, maybe we can take some of this radical self-love advice from Rapinoe into the rest of the year.