Self Care: Scam or Salvation?

Face masks, healing crystals, massages, work out classes, meditation, yoga, self-love mantras, wellness podcasts, candles, social media cleanses and bubble baths are some of the first things that come to mind when thinking of self-care. Self-care has become quickly associated with Millennials and Generation Z as a way to deal with mental health concerns, the stresses of everyday living, the all-consuming pressure of society to always be busy, and the overwhelming background noise of political and environmental crises. However, has this gone too far? 

As a social work major, self-care is frequently discussed in classrooms, workshops and conferences. For a career with a high burn-out rate this makes sense. Taking the time to step  back and take care of one’s self is essential for improving our wellness and our client’s lives. 

For the uninitiated, the official definition of self-care, at least according to PsychCentral.com, is “any activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health.” Sounds simple enough, however, this term has taken on a life of its own, emerging into a 10 billion dollar industry that often focuses on routine and luxury. Think expensive work out classes, luxurious, ten step skin care routines, dedicated meditation routines and self-care retreats with professional life coaches at beautiful resorts. It appears that corporations have taken over the idea of loving and caring for oneself and put a price tag on it. 

 JD Mason

Self-care’s roots are very different from where it has ended up. Self-care was originally about uplifting minorities, like women, specifically minority women, and the LGBTQ+ community.  Audre Lorde, famed civil rights activist and poet, once wrote that, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”  This is a far cry from Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop, the epitome of expensive, often unnecessary products, meant to “fix” a plethora of problems and improve one’s wellness. Companies like Goop have recommended $21 collagen powder to “sip glow-inducing refreshment” and a $110 facial oil for the “4pm lackluster slump.” 

On the other hand, this proliferation of products designed to improve our sleep, our skin, our health, our wellness, our peace, our spirituality, and our exercise regime (the list can continue ad nauseum) have made talking about mental health part of our daily culture. 

As Mulan Itoje, creator of Spring Melanin, a safe-space to discuss colorism with dark-skinned African American women, points out, “Not everything commodified is bad. Sometimes you need it to be commercialised for it to be normalised.” Self-care has certainly become normalized. 

 @creativeexchange

One large aspect of self care that has become normalized is therapy. Once taboo, going to therapy has become part of one’s everyday routine and something to be celebrated rather than whispered about behind closed doors. 

Clinical Psychologist Elizabeth Cohen has said, “The shame of needing help has been transformed to a pride in getting outside advice.” Being able to talk about one’s anxieties, worries and concerns as well as serious mental health issues is certainly important in making people feel less alone and reducing the stigma around anxiety and depression. 

According to the Wall Street Journal, “Many younger people pursue therapy as another form of self-improvement and personal growth, not unlike yoga, meditation or “preventive Botox.” 

Many people turn to cheaper self care methods to improve one’s wellness if they cannot afford therapy. As Shayla Love from Vice writes, “over 50% of American adults with mental illness do not receive treatment,” but “self-care has arisen to create a “trendy, Instagrammable solution.’” 

A balance certainly needs to be struck. Nobody needs a $150 face mask for self-care. A yoga class and a podcast cannot cure depression. Real changes need to be made so that mental health treatment is available and accessible for everyone–especially those who end up being left behind by instrumental changes, like minority women. But, meditation, jade rollers, and aromatherapy can make and should become part of a daily routine, if that works for you. Performing self care shouldn't break the bank, stress you out or become something to check off on the to-do list. 

Doing something small for yourself every day should become your routine. It doesn’t have to be expensive either! When going around my aforementioned social work class, we discussed simple ways we all do self-care. Some typical answers like face masks and yoga arose, but others like a napping, playing with your children, walking the dog, and eating chocolate came up too. 

Wellness is a wonderful term. Feeling genuinely good, like your life is together and complete (and Instagrammable!), is probably a nirvana we would all like to reach. Matcha tea will not get you there, but it certainly can’t hurt.