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“Should Culture:” The Commercialization of Self-Care and How to Break the Cycle

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Northwestern chapter.

It was any other day in my psychology class, and my professor was lecturing on how our motivations and values shape our personality. The sound of students typing filled the room as I too was trying to capture everything on the slides. But something my professor said made me stop in my tracks. 

“’Should’ is the thief of joy,” she stated plainly. 

She was explaining the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation — the latter being driven by external rewards and punishments and the former by an internal desire to do something because we actually enjoy it. My professor’s comment got me thinking about all of the things I said I “should” do but ultimately ended up dropping because I didn’t have the intrinsic motivation to follow through. 

I started to call this “should culture.” 

Every day on TikTok and Instagram reels, I saw influencers promoting “the next best thing you should try” or advising, “Here’s what you should be doing instead.” As a result, I thought to myself daily,“Oh, I should do this,” or “I should start doing that.” This mentality made me resent many aspects of my life because I felt they weren’t adequate enough.

A lot of the messaging around “should culture” is focused on self-care. From things like skin care, spa days, hair treatments and makeup, I felt like I needed to buy the next best thing just because I should and not because it would add any value to my life. And many people feel the same way.

According to Statista, the “personal care market” is projected to reach a $127.30 billion revenue in 2024, and this number is only expected to get bigger as time goes on. A report by OnePoll also finds that Americans spend an average of $199 per month on self care practices. 

But should we really be buying “the next best thing” just because other people told us to? Should we be spending so much money and energy on trying to improve our lives when we could be focusing on what’s right in front of us?

Yes, it is important to practice self-care, but there are other ways to do this that deemphasize the purchase of products and promote actions that bring you joy. Sometimes watching your favorite comfort show with a cheap Target face mask can recharge you more than the contraption you bought off TikTok shop. Prioritizing what is actually good for you and using what you already have can be a game changer.

By switching our focus to appreciating the things we currently have, our lives will feel fuller and more significant. We can feel better and not inadequate. And you don’t even have to buy anything.

Olivia Teeter

Northwestern '27

Olivia is a Freshman at Northwestern University. She is currently studying Journalism and Spanish. When she’s not writing, she’s binging Gilmore Girls, working out, or watching the university sports teams.