–Kakali Das |
The right amount of self-care is always the way forward’, Madame Ovary.
Self-care is a buzzword that is all around us these days, from Instagram posts to billboards, from magazines to stores. The dictionary meaning of self-care writes, ‘It describes a conscious act one takes in order to promote one’s own physical, mental, and emotional health.’ But where did this idea of self-care come from? And how did it become a multi-billion-dollar industry? Self-care wasn’t always about spending money. The evolution of self-care and how the industry came to be what it is today is significant.The concept as we know it today has its roots in the civil rights women’s and LGBTQIA movements of the 1960s and 70s. Many prominent activists, from Angela Davis to Audre Lord have written about the importance of self-care. This concept of self-care was particularly powerful for women. Social conditioning teaches women to prioritise their physical and emotional labour into caring for others. This is why self-care was such a radical act. Because for the first time, women were being encouraged to look inwards and prioritise caring for themselves.
“The importance that is placed on beauty or lifestyle is informed by a long history of women being seen as decorative objects… and that is political. Everything we do exists within power structures that are worth analysing,”Jia Tolentino, the New Yorker staff said.
Self-care can blur into self-improvement which can blur into ‘you’re not good enough as you’re’. Bolstered by African-American lesbian activist, Audre Lorde in 1988 called self-care as ‘self-preservation’ and ‘an act of political warfare’. Lorde saw self-care as something politically useful for people who felt oppressed.
Sensing a new opportunity to reach female consumers, businesses, ads, influencers jumped on the self-care bandwagon. Led by lifestyle brands like Louis Vuitton, H&M, GOOP, the beauty and wellness industries haveseamlessly co-opted self-care to sell us everything from sheet masks to massages to gym memberships, even Botox, all in the name of being our best selves. But as self-care became more and more about making and spending money, its message changed. Instead of, ‘you’ll be okay if you care for yourself,’ it’s now more blame-y. It’s, ‘if you’d cared for yourself, you’d be okay,’
Self-care has become a coping mechanism; for women, the body has always been a locus of control, where so much else about women’s lives in uncontrollable. Upholding unrealistic standard of beauty has, nowadays, become an integral of one’s life. But, there’s something as soothing about the illusion of control one has when one is tending to a sheet mask, or while pilate-ing at the gym. As a result, people pay their entire pay-check on serums and solutions preparing their skin for the future. Some even argue that if they’re concerned about aging, shouldn’t they be spending their hard-earned money trying to be young forever! They are aware of their exploitation by the lifestyle industries, yet they couldn’t help being exploited by it.
To varying degrees and in different ways, a lot of people even reported ‘stress’ being the driving force in the inclusion of the concept of ‘self-care’ in their lives. They felt like they weren’t making enough time for self-care, they weren’t doing it right, they even felt bad about themselves. So how do we reclaim the spirit of self-care from companies trying to sell us things? Well, it’s clear that we’re in need to care now more than ever. But whether and how much that care can be self-supplied is something mental health professionals are actively looking into all over the world. Until they figure it out, it’s worth remembering that self-care was never about the value of a bottle, or an Instagrammable workout, it was always about the value of ourselves.