As a speaker, special education administrator and workshop pro, Dr. Theresa Melito-Conners knows burnout from both sides. Dr. MC, as she’s known, founded her professional development organization Dr. MC’s Self-Care Cabaret to support helping professionals like herself. Her clients work in fields like education, social work and healthcare. When you help others all day, it’s easy to lose sight of your own needs. Dr. MC’s practical approach empowers helping professionals to excel at their jobs without sacrificing their well-being. Her passion for the theatre keeps things fun and fabulous. A dose of fat liberation pushes her clients to heal their relationships with their bodies and create more inclusive classrooms and hospitals.
Self-Care Cabaret helps the helpers, with flair
“Dr. MC’s Self-Care Cabaret is a place for people to recognize the importance of caring for themselves, put their health on center stage and find their spotlight,” Dr. MC said. She strives to instill the idea that caring for yourself is an important part of caring for others.
“While researching for my doctoral dissertation, I learned that the burnout rate among educators is the same as among E.R. nurses,” she said. It’s no surprise, given that teachers need to stay upbeat while managing the daily stress and chaos of the classroom and school administration.
The bedrock of Dr. MC’s academic background and business is self-care and renewal for leaders and teachers. Even her workshops on examining bias and creating trauma-sensitive classrooms draw on concepts of self-care since a helping professional can’t create a healthy environment for her students or patients if she’s burnt out.
“To me, self-care is foundational,” Dr. MC said. “It’s about getting in touch with your innermost needs and wants and finding practices to help you show up as your best self. And it’s not expensive or time-consuming. It’s things like making sure you eat, practicing mindfulness and creating an environment where you feel inspired and safe.”
Dr. MC offers a wide variety of self-care ideas and options to her clients. However, some topics come up repeatedly. Many of Dr. MC’s clients are exhausted from the amount of emotional labor they do at work. Since most of them are women, they need to find ways to care for themselves in a misogynistic society. And many of them struggle with poor body image.
Using fat liberation as self-care
Body shame comes up all the time at the Self-Care Cabaret. The topic is personal for Dr. MC, who is new to living in a larger body after eight years of eating disorder recovery.
“Fat liberation ties into self-care in many ways,” she said. “I spent decades dieting and using exercise as a purging method because I was so scared of fatness. It’s taken a long time to get comfortable taking up space and celebrate gaining weight as part of my recovery. Reclaiming the word ‘fat’ is new for me, and it feels wildly liberating. Even with a Ph.D. and all this lived experience, I’m still learning!”
Part of Dr. MC’s journey to fat liberation was through fashion. She mourned the loss of the clothes she outgrew, and it took a long time to rediscover her style. As she tried new styles, she started to reconnect to the fun, expressive part of her that drew her to theatre.
“It felt great to realize I can still be cute, stylish and sexy in a larger body,” she said.
For Dr. MC, fat liberation means everyone should get access to resources, healthcare, and services regardless of their weight or appearance. Fat liberation can look like finding a new style, asking for a comfortable chair, or saying, “How rude!” when a stranger comments on your body.
Dr. MC’s advice for female leaders
Dr. MC advocates for fat liberation through her business. In some workshops, she shares how exercise became an unhealthy compulsion for her and how she uses dance to move for fun instead of as self-punishment. Audience members often approach her after a workshop to say they’ve had similar experiences with exercise.
“These women have never heard someone talk about compulsive exercise before,” Dr. MC said. “It’s so stigmatized, which is why it’s so important to talk about it.”
Dr. MC encourages female founders of all sizes to get involved with fat liberation.
“If you have thin privilege, be a voice for those in marginalized bodies. Help us advocate for liberation,” she said. “If you happen to be in a larger body, don’t be afraid to own it and be yourself!”
Beyond fat liberation, her recommendation is to practice self-care and ignore people who don’t believe in you. That means treating yourself like you would a loved one. Make sure you meet both your physical and emotional needs and stand up for yourself even when it feels hard.
What’s next for the Cabaret
Exciting things are on the horizon for Dr. M-C’s Self-Care Cabaret. Dr. MC recently launched “Dance Break with Dr. MC: Joyful Movement for ALL Bodies”, a low-impact, high-fun virtual dance party for all bodies and abilities. She’ll be offering self-paced online courses for educators starting this fall.
She’s also working on a mental health and self-care program for high school students, with plans to expand to middle and elementary school students.
“I would love it if younger folks started recognizing the importance of self-care,” she said. “Self-care shouldn’t wait until you’re faced with a health consequence or burnout – it’s better to start early, before burnout forces you to.”
She’s right. Whether you’re a middle schooler or a mature business leader, self-care is always a good idea!
Read more about leading an inclusive organization here.