Putting a price on self-care

Posted: 20th July 2017 by Elizabeth

If you’re an internet junkie like me, you’ll have noticed that self-care is bigger than ever (just check out the number of #selfcare tags on Instagram). A quick Google search will yield dozens of articles and listicles on how to implement self-care in your life (hey, even I’ve done that!). Some of the tips seem glaringly obvious or simple – get some fresh air, take a deep breath – but I can’t help feeling warm and fuzzy as I read them.

Self-care has a very important place in many people’s lives, particularly those who suffer from illness or struggle with mental health issues, or who are going through a tough time. In addition, self-care can become a lifeline in an uncertain world with rising rates of depression and anxiety. Life can be overwhelming and we’re starting to talk about it. The growing community of self-care advocates is a haven of comforting messages and ideas, offering support to those who might need it. I think this is wonderful.

Self-care incorporated

Unfortunately, beyond the soothing nook of self-care lies a realm of commercial opportunity. Many brands and marketers have been quick to capitalise on the self-care movement, turning it into yet another commodity and lifestyle aspiration. Just look at the proliferation of luxury yoga retreats, designer diets and smug lifestyle gurus espousing “clean living” (whatever that is). If you’re feeling run-down or need some nurturing, there’s an app and product for that!

This take on self-care is as much about crafting the right aesthetic as it is about making money. It’s the manicured world of Gwyneth Paltrow Goop and privilege that’s limited to an elite group who have enough time and money to invest in it. There’s a very distasteful undertone that if you’re not rich or thin enough, you can’t be part of the self-care club.

Now, I know that I could just give this trend a disdainful glance and be on my merry way, The thing is, self-care is already a luxury for many, many people. It’s not even an option when you’re just trying to make ends meet and survive. Turning self-care into a product makes it even less accessible, and that pisses me off.

A recent article by Kiri Rupiah on the Mail & Guardian perfectly captures how the value of self-care is diminished when it has a capitalist agenda. As Rupiah puts it, “whenever value, especially monetary value, is placed on an act, we find there is pressure to perform this act for the sake of others, keeping up appearances. So much of what we do is about maintaining the image that we’re successful, autonomous beings, regardless of the reality.”

…if practicing self-care is inextricably linked to spending money, or shaping your image into something you’re not, then it isn’t self-care at all.

Look, it’s cool if a R500 candle or eating chia seeds makes you feel good about yourself. Heck, sign up to that Kayla Itsines programme if it motivates you. But if practicing self-care is inextricably linked to spending money, or shaping your image into something you’re not, then it isn’t self-care at all. It’s just another set of expectations that can leave you feeling inadequate and a bit empty, and that is not self-care.

Claim self-care for yourself

Yip, I’m annoyed by the degree to which self-care has been hijacked by commercialism. It irritates me that it gives cynics the ammunition to snidely dismiss self-care as an egocentric exercise, or as just another symptom of millennial angst. It also pains me that it might alienate those who might truly benefit from self-care.

Buying into the artificial version of self-care is not a sustainable or convincing path to improving your quality of life. The prescriptive, one-size-fits-all approach of self-care marketing glosses self-care into a slick lie of instant gratification. It forgets that for some people, self-care might entail meeting their fundamental needs to function: getting enough sleep or remembering to eat breakfast. It suggests that your self-care regimen will not be complete without expensive turmeric tea. It does not have your best interests at heart.

I believe that for self-care to mean anything, it has to be on one’s own terms. No pressure. No expectations. No artifice.

Do what works for you x

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