“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” - Audre Lorde
For many communities, self-care is revolutionary. To take care of the self can prove to be an act of rebellion in a dysfunctional world. It has been a powerful tool for collective care and sustainable nurturing for various communities. With a rise in its popularity, there have been noticeable changes in the discourse around self-care. Hence, necessitating the understanding of the distinction between self-care and self-indulgence.
Self-care is a considerably flexible idea, and could include a myriad of practices that we intentionally do for ourselves which promotes our physical, mental and emotional well-being. Being conscious of our well-being is a primary act of self-care, and it requires us to make choices in our favour over and over again. According to the World Health Organization, self-care includes behaviours we do to take care of our own health, and it can include hygiene, nutrition, leisure activities, sports, exercise, seeking professional healthcare services whenever required, and much more.
There is an evident shift in the roots of self-care, from self-empowerment to overindulgence in materialistic gratification, which raises concerns about its deviation from its radical roots. Somewhere in exercise routines and face masks, the idea of taking time apart for ourselves to relax our minds and put things into perspective, has been lost in translation. Self-care has been commodified and reduced to scented candles, massagers, going on date nights with oneself, and self-care routine guides. The trendy wellness and self-care products and services are capitalistically driven. Various companies and industries have been using this as a marketing tool to sell their products while simultaneously capitalizing on the insecurities of people .
There is no doubt about the fact that some products are affordable and come with various benefits. Studies show that they have a positive impact on our physical and emotional health and help people to recharge and rejuvenate. What individuals feel is potentially a placebo effect - they feel like they prioritize themselves by investing in such products and indulging in ‘me-time’, even though acts of self-care exist outside of purchasing overpriced commodities.
The commodification of self-care has a number of downfalls, the most prominent one being that it gives us a false pretense of self-care. It requires constant care and attention and the work is much deeper than how it is portrayed to us. It is a vicious cycle that gives us the perception that self-fulfillment can be achieved largely through external means and products. Self-care products have also been termed as unaffordable luxury. It insinuates that if we buy a particular product, then we will be happier, more confident and even more socially desirable. This isn’t always the case, and this type of self-care is unattainable and unnecessary. This implies that groups of people who need care the most, like individuals from low socioeconomic backgrounds and those from minority groups, feel that they can’t adequately participate. They may then avoid self-care as a whole.
Commodified self-care does not give way for varied varieties and possibilities of self-care which could exist in our lives. Self-care has been individualized, and the onus of carrying it out has been put on the individual. For many communities self-care looks difficult without community care activities, which gives way for collective survival. In times of crisis, they hold on to one another to survive and thrive. They stand with each other in solidarity and care for their community survival by implementing various strategies like: resilience, support, grounding, accountability and transformation. Hence when we restrict self-care to buying products or services, the communities that need the most care, do not have the resources to invest in it. Self-care could also be seen as a low-cost replacement for social care. This is acceptable, insofar as it behaves in a manner that is complementary to professional care. It is worrisome when it becomes a complete substitute, as sometimes we find ourselves in situations where we need other people with the right skills and experience to care for us.
The commodification of self-care rests upon the belief that when we put in a certain amount of money, we will surely gain a certain output. This is not always the case. This approach overlooks the context-sensitive intricacies of mental well-being, in favor of a quick and easy fix for something that isn’t necessarily always easily fixable.
In the midst of it all, it becomes important to raise questions regarding who has the resources to have access to such a limited outlook on self-care and who is benefiting from it. It is also crucial to understand how we are digressing from the roots of self-care. Care is a dynamic process and comprises various subjective aspects, and carries the possibility of generating both individual and collective transformation. Self-care in all its forms is valid and people who reduce and trivialize it as just a lucrative fad don’t do it justice. Although the self-care industry experiences a boom as a result of capitalizing on our insecurities, choosing to love ourselves and embrace our flaws is an act of defiance.