Breaking the Barrier Between Self-Care and Men

The concept of “self-care”, or things we do to take care of ourselves emotionally, physically, and mentally, has skyrocketed in recent years, and for good reason. In a world that increasingly demands more of us each day from work, to school, to socialization, to keeping up politically, self-care is a vital part of maintaining one's sanity and well-being when we otherwise wouldn’t be able to. Self-care includes things like taking a shower, getting a massage, cleaning up your room, eating a full meal, lighting a candle, drinking a glass of water, reading a book, or whatever else helps someone care for themselves. The recent conversation around self-care has even expanded into how can we effectively balance soothing with getting things done with doing self-care, and this conversation now also includes many celebrities who outwardly advocate for routines of self-care, such as Lizzo, Beyoncé, Emilia Clarke, Hayley Kiyoko, and even Former First Lady Michelle Obama. However, you may have noticed one thing that all of these celebrities have in common — they are all women. As we evolve in talking about how to care for ourselves in a world full of stress, we also must ask — what constitutes self-care for men?

To answer that question, we must first look at why self-care is associated with women, rather than being seen as something all people must do in order to take care of themselves. The answer to that question is multi-pronged and involves misogyny, homophobia, mental health stigma, and toxic masculinity. The concept of men’s self-care has been evolving for generations, although not always used with the same term. Historically, it was more often seen as “grooming”, in which men taking a shower, getting their haircut (and styling it with gel), and shaving/trimming their facial hair was the absolute maximum allowed. Not caring or being nonchalant about appearance was the norm for men. Actions outside of this have often been coded as “feminine” despite not being gendered in nature. Two historical examples of self-care that have been erroneously coded as feminine are cooking a meal or shopping for new clothing. Cooking was a task that was seen as being best left to women, as everyone knows the “get back in the kitchen” stereotypes and shopping for new, stylish clothing that fit and flattered was as well. Because these tasks were seen as “women’s work”, men who did them were often then coded as gay for doing them, which could be a death sentence before the modern LGBT+ rights movement. Toxic masculinity not only coded regular self-care activities as feminine in order to put women down but also then put men down using homophobia to assign them as gay for those who participated in them. 

The type of strict gender roles and homophobia that we have worked to eradicate during the last twenty years still holds a burden on both sexes in many ways, but often, men especially can feel constrained. The toxic masculinity that holds these practices in place survives even as our times and thoughts change. A part of this is the fact that homophobia and misogyny are both still alive and well, despite the good fight against them. “Not caring” is still in style for men, even as it can destroy practices that keep them healthy. One self-care activity that is a must for many is therapy. Unfortunately, men on average seek help less than women, often leading to their emotional and mental decay. I have personally witnessed men in my life refuse to get help and then continue to spiral downwards. It is not “gay” to take care of yourself. Until we as a society can grapple with the toxic masculinity that assigns things as “gay” if men do them, and the homophobia that makes it look bad, we will continue to have men who dismiss things that would make them feel better. Going to therapy and talking to a licensed mental health professional and/or getting medication is necessary self-care and a part of healing. As society talks more about mental health in general, we will be able to help more men who need it. I am not a man myself, but one man who eloquently talked about this topic was PhilosophyTube aka Oliver Thorn, in his video “Men. Abuse. Trauma.” which I recommend highly for those looking to learn more deeply about the societal discussion here.

So, what can men who are just starting off in self-care and are cautious do? A variety of things! One of the most common, and non-gendered, is exercising regularly. Even a daily walk of 15 minutes a day can help you clear your mind, get fresh air and work the muscles in your body. Similarly, eating better can help as well. Add fruits and vegetables to your meal, choosing a turkey burger over a regular one, or having water instead of soda all are simple things you can do to help yourself feel better. Although a Big Mac & fries can be very comforting and easy to pick up, the type of damage that the salts, sugar, and fat in McDonald’s food does to the brain and body only serves to prevent any sort of long-term comfort. For those on campus, all the dining halls offer salad options, and Price Chopper in Oswego has pre-made salads for relatively cheap that can be grabbed in even quicker time than McDonald’s drive-thru. For those looking for something more authentic, a new restaurant, 3.21 Salads, in Oswego just opened and boasts a variety of options.

Other self-care rituals for men starting out can be doing laundry, reading a book, taking a hot shower, listening to music, or watching a funny YouTube video. Feminine-coded activities, such as a skincare routine, taking a bath, learning to cook, threading your eyebrows, shopping for nicer clothing, having tea, painting, organizing your room, journaling, etc. are all simply that — feminine-coded. None of them are actually inherently female activities and can be done by any gender. Even if they were, there is nothing wrong with women, femininity, or being gay, either. Experimenting with what soothes or helps you is the whole point! And I promise it won’t hurt. Most importantly, we must all come together to try and help each other when it comes to caring for ourselves. As long as we keep having this conversation, we can always influence someone to try and change their life for the better.