During September 2020, in the midst of widespread global lockdowns, the term ‘self-care’ was Googled over twice as often as it had been the previous year. However, despite the explosion of a $10 billion industry that tries to sell this idea of self-care, the fancy pamper products, self-help books and social media advice might not be as valuable as they say.
I’m sure you have become familiar with the Friday night pamper session society has labelled as self-care: bubble baths, a tub of Ben and Jerry’s, foot masks, face masks, hair masks, eye masks, lip masks… the list goes on.
Self-care has gone from unknown, to fashionable, to a ubiquitous concept in our lives – a concept that’s transitioned from being about preserving our health, to ‘becoming’ something more.
Alongside this, a myriad of self-care definitions and activities have sprung up on social media – ranging from overpriced pamper nights and beauty products, to radical lifestyle shifts in the vein of cutting everyone off, reading an abundance of self-help books and coming out the other side re-born as a new, and better, individual.
Regardless of your own definition of self-care and what you do to ‘love yourself’, it’s important to ask the questions; are these practices actually contributing to my wellbeing? And rather, is learning self-acceptance a more valuable pathway?
What is self-care?
After nearly two years of pandemic-induced stress and plenty more free time, the popularity of the self-care movement skyrocketed while the world was in lockdown – with self-care evolving from a Friday night luxury to a necessary survival tactic and source of stability in an increasingly unstable time.
In simple terms, Oxford Dictionary defines self-care as “the practice of taking an active role in protecting one’s own well-being and happiness, in particular during periods of stress.” This sounds like a simple feat, but with the growth of self-care in society, came the growth of its commercialisation. People’s fixation on becoming their ‘best selves’, has driven the now $10 billion industry of self-care, to profit off ‘fixing’ individuals – who usually, don’t need fixing
The different brands of self-care
Expensive beauty products and pamper nights
With the zeitgeist of self-care comes the companies trying to profit off it. However, often the goal of self-care can be lost in its commodification. It becomes competitive, convoluted, and expensive.
Self-care and wellness products are often fuelled by tapping into people’s insecurities and making them think they have something to ‘fix’ or ‘improve’, to effectively engage in self-care. This is often exacerbated by influencer marketing and the pervasiveness of social media in defining what self-care should look like.
A key competitor in this market is Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop. Launched in 2008, Goop characterises itself as a “conversation-changing lifestyle brand” that represents the “optimization of the self” – as explained by Paltrow in their Netflix docu-series The Goop Lab. Goop’s internet presence is omnipresent, due to not only it’s founder being an A-list celebrity, but their use of influencer marketing to promote their products. Utilising individuals like actress Kerry Washington, and model Heidi Klum, Goop’s products have used comparison driven social media scrolling and influencer culture, to target consumers’ desire for self-improvement.
People see a successful and beautiful celebrity using a specific product to engage in self-care, and they want to replicate that for themselves – even if it means spending exorbitant amounts of money on a ‘self-care’ product (think, Goop’s $185 ‘Glow Kit’) that won’t do anything tangible to eliminate the stressors in their lives.
Wine, ice cream and Netflix.
Another version of self-care that became popular for many during lockdown, is the notion that you should prioritise self-indulgence to care for yourself. Especially in lockdown, or maybe during a rut or slump in your everyday schedule, people are reverting to habits like overeating, endless amounts of Netflix and more alcohol than usual, under the guise of “being kind to yourself”.
It’s not to say that these habits are inherently bad – in fact, they can be helpful in small doses to ‘take the edge off’. But in the midst of recurring lockdowns, ‘WFH’ and an increasingly ‘languishing’ society, when there often isn’t a reason to jolt you out of your slump – it’s important to know when ‘treating yourself’ just becomes the everyday norm.
Ultimately, when it comes to self-indulgence as self-care, this rule is a good measure of what’s actually beneficial for your wellbeing: “if the long-term cost is going to be greater than the positive feelings you get from immediate gratification, it’s not self-care”.
So, especially during a pandemic, having that wine, pizza and Netflix night can be an act of self-care if it helps you switch off from the stressors of your life. However, if that #treatyourself night no longer becomes a treat but a daily occurrence – then it might be time to re-evaluate if you’re really practicing self-care.
Cutting people off who don’t serve you.
A third strand of self-care, and one of the newest trends in the phenomenon, is the practice of cutting people out of your life, becoming recluse and leading a disciplined lifestyle – only to come out the other side “new and improved”.
This definition of self-care is warranted to an extent – if there is someone in your life that threatens your emotional or physical safety, then cutting them off immediately and without warning is encouraged. However, the expectation that your problems will end when you eliminate the people in your life that you think no longer serve you, is flawed.
Where in some extreme cases, cutting people off is more than necessary, other instances may simply be a presentation of your avoidance. It’s argued that if someone provokes negative or uncomfortable feelings in you, it’s probably more beneficial to your self-care journey, to address and heal these feelings – rather than evade them entirely. Challenging relationships are an important part of growth and connection, so by cutting someone off the moment you feel friction – it’s doing both you and them a disservice.
In addition, part of self-care is strengthening the ability to process and control emotions. If you believe you have genuinely outgrown someone in your life – it is in the interest of your self-care journey to tell the person what you are thinking – even if it might be awkward.
Cutting people off is a necessary aspect of self-care, and everyone should be able to live their life independent of people who weigh them down. But it’s important to both re-assess the negativity that you’re sensing, and if you truly want this person out of your life – it’s in the interest of your own self-care to provide them with the respect to let them know.
Sometimes the simple acts are what count the most.
As different trends of self-care rise and fall with the social media and pop culture cycle, many individuals find themselves yo-yoing between different practices of caring for themselves – spending lots of money on products, accidentally becoming dependent on that ‘relaxing’ bottle of wine or finding themselves suddenly alone because they’ve cut everyone out.
Sometimes, it seems, that the stress of getting self-care ‘right’ is counterproductive in achieving the end goal – which ultimately, is taking care of yourself. Subsequently, people have discovered that the simplest acts of self-compassion – that don’t require buying a ticket to a retreat, a new face mask or a stack of self-help books – are often the most effective.
If you’re feeling like you need a bit of self-care, here is a no pressure list of things you can try – without changing your whole lifestyle – to give yourself that extra bit of love:
- Get some sleep – Having enough sleep and “down time” is more important than you think – just one or two nights of bad sleep can lead to decreased emotional and mental health
- Carve out time to connect with your friends – Maintaining and nurturing the important relationships in your life are important acts of social self-care, that can make all the difference.
- Check-in with yourself – Once every few days, consciously ask yourself the questions: Are you feeling stressed? What are you doing to help alleviate that stress? Is it working?
- Practice self-acceptance – Self-care are the practices we take to achieve self-love, and a part of that is self-acceptance. If still believe you need to be “fixed” through self-care rituals, then you’re already a step behind.
- Ask for help – Everyone needs help from time to time. If you think you need support, reach out for support. Whether that be a psychologist, confiding in a friend, or utilising one of the many services available in Australia – prioritising your mental health is the ultimate act of self-care.
Self-care looks different for everyone, and it’s not necessary to allocate yourself to one definition or trend when it comes to taking care of yourself. Contrary to the marketing techniques of the self-care industry, being kind to yourself doesn’t have to be expensive – and taking care of your mental health can be done without the unsolicited advice of the self-care trend cycle.