Cleo Wade Wants You to Know the Difference Between Self-Care and Self-Maintenance

Cleo Wade Wants You to Know the Difference Between Self-Care and Self-Maintenance
Photo: Shutterstock. Design: Alyssa Crane/STYLECASTER.

To be honest, I couldn’t have predicted Cleo Wade’s self-care advice would emerge from a brand partnership with Aerie. A personal hero of mine–and the “Millennial Oprah” to many others–her aura always gave me the kind of vibe that curtails corporate deals. However, all assumptions were thrown out the window when I got the opportunity to sit with the poet and author just before she and National Black Theatre CEO Sade Lythcott hosted a #REALTalk panel discussion inside a New York City Aerie store.

As it turns out, brand partnerships are just fine as long as they pass a very specific test that Wade created for herself. “We spend so much time getting to know brands before we would ever partner with them. There’s a lot of people who have a term sheet where you’re like, ‘Fill out these things’ and then we decide,” she told me while explaining the decision process. “We meet with them, we talk with them. I had friends who worked for this brand already and I kind of have this one test I do, which is if I couldn’t explain a business decision to a room full of 10-year-old girls, then I don’t make the decision. It’s a no, or if I had to over-explain it to a room full of teenage girls, then it’s a no.”

cleo wade aerie model Cleo Wade Wants You to Know the Difference Between Self Care and Self Maintenance

Courtesy of Aerie.

In other words, she doesn’t believe in a “maybe” or an “I guess.” It’s either a hell yes or a hell no. And ultimately, Aerie’s mission toward providing young women with role models they can relate to made perfect sense for the Heart Talk: Poetic Wisdom for a Better Life author. A predictable topic of discussion throughout her Aerie experience has been self-care, something that almost feels like a trend in 2019. In an era where face masks and bubble baths have become the “pamper yourself” norm, I couldn’t help but wonder (in my best Carrie Bradshaw voice): have we forget what authentic self-care actually is?

“I think a lot of the time because self-care is something that’s pretty heavily marketed to us and is defined in so many ways nowadays, we could end up spending an entire self-care Sunday doing all things that feel like chores or make us feel miserable,” Wade told me. “If I was going to explain self-care, I would say it’s doing the things that make you feel good.”

Ahead, and in her words, the Aerie spokesmodel delves even deeper into why taking care of others is just as important and knowing the difference between self-care and self-maintenance. Plus, her go-to classic for when she’s working at home and why green juice without fruit is better than it sounds.


I interviewed Alice Walker last year and one of the things she said was so interesting. I asked her how has she taught self-care and she said, ‘I practice self-care by taking care of others because when I see the people around me feeling cared for, I feel so loved. I feel my own ability to love and care so powerfully inside…I know I’m in my power that way because I’m able to share it.’

I think that, of course, we have to do the things that allow for us to harness that power, and gather that power, and get those gentle reminders that kind of bring it in and then I think from there, the whole point of taking care of yourself is so that you are better caring for other people. We’re not just supposed to take care of ourselves just so that we can just be flawless throughout the world. Yes, that feels good, but we want to be at the top of our game or the top of our spirit or feeling amazing because it makes us so much more of a powerful agent of change when we are in that state.

We want to be at the top of our game…because it makes us so much more of a powerful agent of change when we are in that state.

Play Time

Well, I think for me, creating time to play. Where you can be, or I can be, creative without it being attached to a goal is something that just really helps me to get in touch with my imagination. I think that when I feel the most thoroughly connected to my imagination, I’m really able to make the things that excite you the most.

Self-Care Versus Self-Maintenance

I think it’s important to differentiate between self-care and self-maintenance. So a lot of the time I think the maintenance can be a form of care, but I’m just very cautious of what I’m doing when, so that I don’t call something maintenance I equally need, so I don’t categorize that as care if I don’t find that to be care and I find it to be maintenance.

For me, I’m doing a lot of grounding exercises where I can think about what goes in my body, think about what my body’s doing, think about how it’s in touch with my emotions and in the same light I’m doubling down on therapy. I’m doing it four times a week just while I’m in this space of constantly creating and making sure that I pour a lot back into myself.

For example, right now I’m finishing a book, so I’m in a very deep writing hole and my self-maintenance is a huge focus for me. I’m having a ton of green juice because it alkalizes my body and it helps you to not have those crashes of energy and eat a big greasy delicious lunch. At 4:30 you’re like, ‘can’t stay awake.’ And I’m doing a lot of yoga, mostly because it helps you to feel really in touch with your body, other than other exercises, which get you in a zone outside of your body.


I think that there’s so much more you do for the inside out for your skin.

Brain Food

 I have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich every day when I’m writing. And I have the tofu-y version where the bread is vegan and gluten-free. It’s almond butter and whatever, but it’s like a PB&J and then I have a green juice. I’m the green juice person who doesn’t like fruit in it. I’m hardcore and I have to say I am on the celery juice trend. I do celery juice in the morning and then I have matcha and then I start [writing]. I put like cucumber, mint, spinach, kale and basically anything that’s around and in season. I just don’t have fruit. Nobody wants to drink my green juices but me.

A couple of years ago I went to this nutritionist. I was having some issues with my skin so he’s like, ‘Don’t have any sugar, including fruit, for like three months.’ So I didn’t, and ever since that it just changed my taste for sugar.

Minimalist Style

I have a pretty minimal skincare routine. Honestly, one of the best things I’ve ever done for my skin is just not wear a ton of makeup or not wear makeup every day. Even when I’m having trouble with my skin–I was really struggling with my skin on my book tour because I was just so not used to the grueling schedule–wanting so desperately to cover up, I just didn’t. I think that there’s so much more you do for the inside out for your skin.

I’m also really obsessed with Mother Dirt AO+ Mist ($49) which is a probiotic spray for your skin. It basically puts bad germs back on your skin which can be really helpful. And oh, I am always in a big sweater. I’m always in a button up and I’m someone who isn’t afraid to wear pajamas the whole day. The perks of writing from home all day.

I think our entire world has moved outside of our comfort zone and I think that it’s going to take a long term adjustment.

Coping in Turbulent Times

I would probably say not to look for one way to cope. I think that a lot of the times we keep trying to find one magic solution, or like one thing to prioritize, or one row to go down, or one line to cross or not cross and I think that’s what makes it very overwhelming. I think that for us to be able to recognize and acknowledge that we’re living in a new normal and it’s going to take some adjustment. I think our entire world has moved outside of our comfort zone and I think that it’s going to take a long term adjustment.

I think it’s also important to remember the words of Coretta Scott King who said that freedom has never really won, we have to earn it and win it every generation. So our rights don’t stay our rights unless we continuously push for them to evolve, grow and become more inclusive.

In our series “Operation Recharge,” we task celebrities and influencers with sharing what self-care means to them, as well as the activities, products and treatments they indulge in for downtime done right.