I’ve seen this article circulating social media in the last few days, and I don’t like it.
I do agree with some points. I agree that self-care has become an overused buzzword (guilty), and that self-care can mean doing something hard that you don’t want to do. In fact, just the other day I posted an article about cutting toxic people out of your life. No one WANTS to do that. That’s not a fun thing to face, but it is likely to improve your life.
I agree that self-care means stepping into an active role in your life, instead of being a victim. I agree that self-care is about meeting your own needs and not obsessing over a life that simply “looks good.”
What I don’t understand, however, is the need to judge others based on their version of self-care. If a salt bath is a way you care for yourself and unwind, then GOOD FOR YOU. Do it! Don’t let an article by a stranger make you feel guilty and ashamed that you enjoy baths (or yoga, or walks, or fill-in-the-blank with whatever works for you). Self-care is such a personal, intimate thing. There’s no right way to practice it, no one-size-fits-all protocol that can be applied to every individual.
There’s already enough competition and judgment in the world, so let’s not let self-care be just another place to feel the weight of that. Instead, let’s encourage one another, lift each other up, affirm each other. Let’s not be demeaning, condescending, or judgmental about how someone else chooses to practice self-care. Every act of filling oneself up should be celebrated.
The writer of this article (even in the title) also seems to make the assumption that stuffing our faces with an entire chocolate cake, drinking wine, reading a girly magazine, procrastinating our “adult responsibilities,” all while taking a long bubble bath is how most women currently practice self-care, and we’re doing it because we need an escape from our horrible lives.
I find this problematic for a few reasons. And look–I know the cake thing is probably supposed to be cheeky/attention-grabbing, but still. Even with that in mind, it’s sexist and stereotypical. Women are “supposed to” be the ones who love chocolate… and it portrays women as being out of control around desserts, when men indulge in food just as often and don’t receive the same judgment and flack from it. If you’re dismantling self-care as a whole, then please do it in a way that doesn’t single out a gender.
Two, it’s stating that the only reason women need to practice self-care at all is because we’ve let our lives get so out of control, so irresponsible, so overwhelming that we need to run away from it all and forget about it. Not that our lives have perhaps become those things, and self-care is a way to stare it straight in the face, fill ourselves up, and handle it, which is what I believe self-care to be. The writer made the point that self-care is all reactive, not that self-care can be preventative, and it can be a way to stop ourselves and slow down before we even get to that “out-of-control-need-an-escape” point.
It also makes the assumption that we all need to indulge in consumerism for self-care.
I don’t know about you, but my deepest self-care practices have to do with inner work of loving myself, facing my emotions and insecurities, setting goals for the future, processing trauma. It’s taking proactive action to maintain my health, like sitting in the kitchen for hours prepping trays of veggies for the week or doing a castor oil pack for my liver or diffusing some essential oils because it just makes me feel good.
To assume that I’m sitting in the bathtub eating a pint of ice cream every night as my self-care is both a hasty generalization and a straw man argument. It’s grossly over-exaggerated… and I’m not sure what argument or stance is even being refuted here. That desserts are the best form of self-care? I don’t know anyone who would argue that.
To assume that I’m practicing self-care as an escape from my awful life, because I’m not smart enough or together enough to make a spreadsheet to manage my finances like a proper adult is offensive (and still, pretty sexist).
The article was full of unexplained stances and almost clichés, like “a world in which self-care has to be such a trendy topic is a world that is sick.” Why is that? I think it’s a sign that the world is waking up, and realizing that stress and societal pressures and having an overpacked schedule isn’t all there is in life. And what does “living in a way that other people won’t, so maybe you can live in a way that other people can’t” even mean? (And yes, our world is sick. Just watch the news for five minutes).
I’d love this writer to list some acceptable self-care practices. I see that she stated that self-care, to her, is letting yourself not have abs and letting your kitchen be dirty. (As an aside, “sweat[ing] through another workout” was an example used as acceptable self-care early in the piece, but then it was retracted later through this statement. I’m assuming, in this case, that it’s only okay to workout for self-care, as long as your goal is not a six-pack). While I agree that it’s fine, even cathartic, to let go of certain goals and idealized perfections, I don’t see these as stand-alone self-care practices, unless you’re sharing what you’re replacing those things with that’s better. What did you learn from letting go of these things? Did you gain a mindset shift? Let go of your need for perfectionism to make space for improved relationships or creative hobbies? I can dig that.
And how can I “[rewire] what [I] have until [my] everyday life isn’t something [I] need therapy to recover from?” Truly, I’m all ears, if this writer would please explain to me how exactly to do that… and how her form of self-care plays a role. The article is so vague that I’m not even sure what steps I’m supposed to take next, in regards to self-care. What does being the hero of my life mean? All I know from the article is that it’s NOT taking baths with salts or making dessert.
To earnestly say self-care is something women are expected to be good at, and then to follow it with the example of needing to use the right filter on your Instagram acai bowl, even if this is meant to be sarcastic or funny… isn’t. It’s degrading. It just makes me want to stop reading. I see the point was perhaps meant to be about documenting our indulgent self-care for appearances’ sake, but the point wasn’t fully fleshed out and was a bit lost on me.
I don’t think this author would have written the same article in the same way, addressed to men. Perhaps, stereotypically, how they spend hours playing video games or drowning in beer or mindlessly watching sports as a form of “self-care” just to get away from their busy work lives and unpaid, disorganized bills (which of course, would never happen because men are supposed to be the ones managing finances)? (By the way, I don’t believe this, but it’s paralleled with assuming all women stereotypically practice self-care by taking photos of their food, eating chocolate, and shopping at Lush. If some do, that’s fine. But what other examples could we share here without creating an exaggerated, sexist trope?)
In an article addressed to men, the writer wouldn’t mention an example like “letting the kitchen be dirty” (because here, we’re perpetuating that it’s the woman’s job to keep it clean), nor would she ever talk about soy candles and Marie Claire and social media filters, which all seem like such trivial and unimportant decisions that are “burdening” women today. Are we to assume that these are the only things women care about? I’d love to see some examples with some more depth. We, as women, do have the capacity to do hard things and make tough decisions that aren’t in the realm of beauty or food, after all. I make thirty decisions a day regarding my self-care and mental health, which don’t have anything to do with what scent of candle I should burn or what color lipstick I should wear.
(And what about all the other ways people “escape” their lives, like reading books, watching movies, playing games, traveling? Are those just as offensive as someone who might need a day disconnected from social media–a practice that was belittled in the writing? I see no issue with disconnecting from the constant notifications that we’re burdened with via social media. In fact, I think this is a great self-care practice.)
Along with being sexist, this article is written from a very privileged perspective, assuming that we all have expendable income for buying fancy reading material and bath bombs, and that’s the way we choose to pamper ourselves. Self-care looks much different for someone who grew up in poverty, a single parent trying to make ends meet, or someone on food stamps working three jobs just to pay the rent. Many people don’t have the luxury of a bathtub, don’t own a smartphone to even Instagram their brunch. They’re surely not reading this article and relating to it, thinking, ‘Oh yes, that’s me! My biggest worries in life are building biceps and choosing the perfect Snapchat filter.’
To tackle the most-quoted section of the article: “…it means rewiring what you have until your everyday life isn’t something you need therapy to recover from.” Maybe, if you’ve been lucky enough to have a privileged life, if you’ve been given all the resources and legs up and opportunities to design your life exactly the way you want it to be, this could apply to you. But maybe you’ve experienced abuse, lost a loved one, gone bankrupt, battled depression or anxiety, dealt with chronic illness, been marginalized just for being who you are…if you’ve ever struggled… I would never make you feel that therapy is just something else to be ashamed of. Therapy does not make you weak. If therapy helps you process the trauma and pain you’ve experienced, there’s absolutely NOTHING wrong with using it as a tool in your healing journey.
We’re not doing anyone a service by portraying self-care in the way it was portrayed by this article. This message should be accessible to everyone. You don’t need to spend any money to practice self-care. Your self-care doesn’t need to qualify on someone else’s specific list of pre-approved practices. You shouldn’t be made to feel ashamed of the way you choose to do something for your mental, physical, or emotional health. Instead of giving the consumerism examples and belittling certain self-care practices, it would have benefitted readers more for the writer to list five or ten resources FREE for mental health, self-love, processing trauma, goal-setting and organization.
What happens to self-care when you’re chronically ill, disabled, or have cancer? We surely cannot assume these people are indulging in the same silly cake-in-the-bathtub practices as outlined in the article. For some people, self-care is a non-negotiable way to manage some serious health issues, which is another reason why the way this writer portrayed self-care is offensive to me. It’s not something to be taken lightly and made fun of, for many people, myself included.
And what about the men? This message is important for them to hear, too. We’re just perpetuating cultural stereotypes and privilege by focusing this article on (middle-class or wealthy) women. Let’s be a little more inclusive. Let’s share resources that can help anyone, without offending them or belittling them (regardless of where they do or don’t fall on the gender binarism scale). Let’s share about self-care without further perpetuating stereotypes or assumptions about people.
The truth about self-care is that a stranger cannot tell you how to practice it (me included!). It’s a very personal and intimate journey, one that requires reflection, time, space, forgiveness, growth, rerouting, improvisation, and relentless pursuit of what fills you up SO THAT you can work a full-time job, pay your bills, take care of your kids, take care of yourself.
Sometimes that means letting go of unrealistic expectations, of our goals, of our homes, of our bodies. But sometimes that means hunkering down and working nights and weekends to make a dream happen. It could mean making a homemade meal, making a new friend, making something creative with your hands. It could mean taking a mental health day, taking a walk, and yes, even taking a bath. And it could also mean practicing self-care as a precaution, as an investment, as a proactive way to maintain your health… not just an indulgent, escapist, reactive one. Whatever self-care looks like for you is fine, is correct… and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
I found the whole article to be thin, vague, demeaning, and assumptive, glossing over the true inner work of deep self-care–the kind that is neither an escape from life nor consumer-driven, but rather simply focused on your bettering relationship with yourself and your mental, emotional, and physical health.
Some of my very favorite, and free or inexpensive, self-care practices include the following:
- Loving-Kindness Meditation
- Goal-setting and accomplishing
- Creating vision boards
- Journaling and writing letters
- EFT: Emotional Freedom Tapping
- DNRS: Dynamic Neural Retraining
- Affirming myself and others
- Naps/getting enough sleep
- Practicing gratitude
- Listening to music
- Saying no
- Breathing exercises
- Meal prepping
- Herbal decoctions and infusions (like nettles tea)
- Learning something new
- Brain Tap
- Guided visualizations
- Reading something inspiring
- Being in nature
- Donating “stuff” to help others/focusing on minimalism (and I’m lucky that I’m able to do this)
I love sharing what I’m doing and what’s working for me in self-care, but I won’t recommend that’s exactly what you need. And no one should think they know your heart and your needs better than you. I know you’re smart and strong and intuitive enough to feel out what’s going to fill you up, nourish your soul, and prepare you to face the tough parts of life. Because the truth is, life is really painful and really hard. Keep trying. Keep going. You got this. You take care of yourself however you need to, and I’ll be here cheering you on, not judging you. <3
So for now, I’ll keep sharing my journey, learning what self-care looks like from strong, inspiring humans I’ve met along the way. And trust me… I’ll never assume you sit in bed with chocolate cookie crumbs and torn up student loan statements or unpaid electrical bills strewn across the room as your self-care. You deserve a lot more credit than that. (:
By the way, here are those resources I mentioned: