The Un-Glamourous Side of Self-Care


“Treat yourself.” The famous mantra from Parks and Recreation has caught on big-time in pop culture. It’s become a go-to response to just about anything. You see a pair of shoes you like? Treat yourself. One of your favorite wines is on sale? Treat yourself. Indulgent brunches, new clothes, high-end makeup…why not treat yourself whenever you can? You “deserve” it, of course. You work hard.


Treat Yourself culture has fueled a growing self-care movement as well. When we think about self-care, we may often think of face masks, bubble baths, and other spa-related activities that promote a rosy and fragrant image. That’s what we’re primarily shown in the media and online, especially as women. Self-care tips and ideas for a young adult woman are promoted as soft, delicate, and often hyper-feminine.


What is “self-care”, anyway? Think about the phrase. When we talk about our “self”, are we talking solely about our body, or do we include our minds, thoughts and feelings in the mix? To simply get through our daily lives, we make many small choices that we likely don’t even realize. We decide how we’re going to care for ourselves constantly, and we decide based on what will yield the best result.


For example, when you wake up you need to make some essential self-care decisions right away. “Am I going to shower? What am I going to wear? What will I eat for breakfast? Or will I eat breakfast at all?” And you can break it down even farther, “Am I going to get out of bed at all? Am I going to get dressed? Am I going to leave the house today?” Whether it’s a conscious thought pattern or not, we ask ourselves these things every day, and they are all tied into self-care. And it matters, because sometimes those questions become difficult to answer.


Self-care requires physical and mental exertion. A task as simple as forcing yourself to get out of bed on-time to making it to work or school can become a colossal chore. If you’re sleep deprived, hungry, or uninspired by what the day holds, your motivation to make the choice to move, to engage with the world, is dulled. On some occasions, not getting out of bed may be the right self-care decision, if you’re sick or struggling mentally. But most of the time, you need to anyway, even when it isn’t fun.


But why?



In the example of getting out of bed, that action is the key to other decisions. In an immediate sense, you can then decide how to proceed and get ready for the day. In a broader sense, getting out of bed is how you keep a job or avoid failing a class, and beyond. An event that on its surface is a tiny part of day-to-day routine is, truly, a powerful self-care act. You are caring for your present and future self. You’re acknowledging your potential, accepting and facing what is difficult, and showing yourself love.


Doing your laundry, taking out the trash, folding your clothes, showering, going to bed on time. All of these things are self-care because they provide a solid base on which to plan your life. They’re mundane, ordinary, and boring, but no solid structure exists without a foundation. In fact, true self-care may often clash with the “treat yourself” mentality. Maybe you’d like to treat yourself by going out with your friends, but you know you’ll feel sick at work the next morning. Perhaps you really, really want to watch Frasier for seven hours straight but you still need to finish a paper.  The sugar scrubs and charcoal masks might be eating into your textbook budget.


Self-care is not always what we’d prefer to indulge in. Treating yourself absolutely has its place, as Parks and Rec showed us, but the most radical acts of self-care - and self-love - lie in the small and even uncomfortable parts of your day, and not in a new bottle of Lush body wash. For those who struggle with the basics, it helps to remember that your worth is not based on your merits and accomplishments, it’s based on the simple fact that you are human. All of us “deserve” a solid foundation. Putting yourself first doesn’t need to have a price tag.