The Capitalism of Self-Care

“If you’re selling self-care, doesn’t it benefit you to have a consumer who is living in a permanent state of anxiety and unwellness?” — Victoria Buchanan

As you may have read in my previous post on Self-Care for Cynics and Skeptics, I stated how I feel capitalism ties in to modern-day self-care techniques currently perpetrating mainstream media (and society overall). 

Self-care is critical for our wellbeing. However, despite what the media may lead you to believe, self-care doesn’t necessarily mean “treat yourself” to a luxurious day at the spa. Rather, self-care involves a long-term commitment to “develop, protect, maintain and improve … health, wellbeing or wellness.”

While self-care is frequently associated with millennials, the concept has been around for centuries, with ancient Greeks believing it to be integral to democracy. In the 1970s and 1980s, self-care gained political traction as a way for people of color and those in the LGBTQ community to push back at the oppressiveness of society. As Audre Lorde famously said, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” Simply put, minorities who were habitually overlooked and cast aside by society were taking a powerful stance by putting themselves first: making sure to not work themselves into an early grave, making sure to eat, making sure to be mindful of their personal triggers like hate speech and other attempts to devalue their existence.

Nowadays, if you search #selfcare on Twitter, you’ll find millions of Tweets featuring yoga, hot drinks, self-care kits, and even bath tea—hardly the political act of decades past. From at-home apps (of which the 10 most popular grossed 27 million USD alone in the first quarter of 2018 worldwide) to bath bombs and crystal healing, an increasing number of people are investing in the kind of self-care that tiptoes along the precipice of a certain type of self-indulgence that only the privileged can attain. With articles like Bustle’s “19 Items To Buy For Your Mental Health, Because Self-Care Isn't Always Free” and “Self-care gifts to help ring in a peaceful New Year” on Cool Mom Picks taking social media by storm, though, it’s hardly surprising that more people are financially investing in this type of “self-care.”

The ideas that underpin self-care are perhaps more subtle or subconscious in the marketing schemes of giants like McDonalds, which famously stated in 1971 “You deserve a break today.” Other examples, like “Because you’re worth it” by L'Oréal Paris and Kit Kat’s “Have a Break, Have a Kit Kat” only further illustrate this issue. After all, if you don’t indulge in that special shampoo or spend just $1 for a candy bar, are you even caring for yourself?

And perhaps buying that extra item does make you feel (at least temporarily) better. What’s important to remember though is that self-care is a long-term voyage, not short-term gratification nor the destination, so to speak. Self-care involves a continuous, conscious commitment to yourself that extends beyond the price tag of a green smoothie. So, next time you consider whether to buy yet another day at the spa, try to keep in mind that self-care that hits at the heart of mental (and physical) health and requires time and effort, not necessarily your credit card.

Don’t know where to begin on your self-care journey? I recommend heading over to Dr. Kristin Neff’s site to test your level of self-compassion. (Confused? Have a look at my previous post to learn about the connection between self-care and self-compassion.)