Selling self-care: a "health" practice that goes beyond social media
January 19, 2018
Have you ever been pressured to do something for your own good? You know, that "No, no, really just try it! It’s worked wonders in my life" speech? For me it’s always bath bombs.
People just really want me to hop in the tub with one of those fizzy things and drink some wine. Well I don’t have a tub anymore but I actually did try this once while living in my old apartment with it's big clawfoot tub...
And I hated every second of it.
Every time I take a bath I’m reminded once again of how much I dislike them (unless they have a Jacuzzi attachment). Even as a kid, bubble baths frustrated me because the bubbles would dissipate way too fast unless you used almost the entire bottle. Mom would not allow that. My attempt at bath bombs felt similar, with the added frustration of staining my tub green. I tried running the warm water a few times to keep the bath hot long enough to sip some wine but that grew tiresome. I just wanted to get clean - and warm - with a shower to then enjoy my wine on the couch while watching Chopped. Ahhhh, that's good.
Self-care, as we all know, is kind of “hot” right now. The popularity of caring for oneself is mostly fantastic. It’s a sign that our activism and pushback is working and that the "grind ‘til we die" mentality is making its exit. But at the end every successful opposition-rainbow sits a pot of gold capitalism is more than willing to cash in on.
While this blog is one of pure passion at the moment, I realize I benefit from some of that manipulation as my future goals include (maybe) becoming an intuitive eating and energy coach. If it weren’t for a widespread growth and commodification of things like self-care, I’d have a lot more work ahead of me.
On a larger scale, beauty brands, clothing manufacturers, and food companies revel in the advertising and sales opportunities that the trending #selfcare provides. As a social media manager for small businesses, I've been guilty of sharing light-hearted posts about beer or French fries as a form of self-care. There's some irony in that apology, though, because beer actually is a form of self-care in my life.
Self-care doesn’t always look like bubble baths and pricey dark chocolate. Sometimes it comes in the form of a bowling alley, beer, and a cheap Jell-O shots (as it did for me the other night). While Jell-O shots might sound like the antithesis of health, it’s about what accompanied the Jell-O shots. I work remotely and often become more introverted in times of inner-crisis or struggle, so being social can serve as a vital form of self-care in my life. I spend a lot of time alone during the week, can easily avoid things by plugging in to work, and exercise frequently as a cycle-instructor, so some of what I need most at the end of the day is to get away from all of that. I ache for gentle, person-to-person human connection, for noise, for laughter. I need to put away the screens, get out of my house, and look around me. I need to sign out from from my well-curated social media feeds and hear new opinions and perceptions.
Craft beer is a vehicle for all of those things. It doesn't always make for as many likes on Instagram as a Matcha tea or Hygge-styled, Pulitzer prize-winning book, but it makes me feel human. "But it’s so unhealthy!," some of you are thinking. Is it? Go beyond the carbohydrates and the calories for a moment and consider the bigger picture of health. Beer is an avenue for new experiences. It brings flavor and taste but also new memories and friendships, connection, and relaxation. I’d argue that those things are just as central to good overall health as a “balanced diet.”
And at the end of the day, you, me, and Instragram don’t get to define self-care.
Everyone and every body deserves to prioritize their well-being, regardless of socio-economic status, physical ability, race, sexual orientation, age, or anything else. Video games might be a form of self-care from some. Window shopping? Sure. Sipping cheap whiskey at a live music concert? Yep. There’s no single definition of self-care, but rather a root. We can joke to excuse a lot of less-than-stellar behavior as self-care (spending money irresponsibly, getting overly intoxicated, hiding from our responsibilities) but deep down we know we’re not practicing it in true. Just as I think we know exactly what it feels like when we are practicing it, even if it doesn’t look the same. It just clicks. It feels ...gooey good.
All to often, our society commodifies these things right out of the hands of the folks who would be best served by that commodity. Let’s examine the western practice of yoga, for example. According to Satista, the number of folks who reported practicing yoga grew from 17-18 million participants in 2008 to over 26 million in 2016. During that time, brands and stores made out big. In the article “Yoga, Inc.” by Russell Wild in the November 2002 issue of Yoga Journal, it is stated that “the average yoga practitioner’s yearly expenditure on all things yoga— instruction, mats, props, clothing, weekend workshops, books, CDs, videos—could be conservatively estimated at a ballpark $1,500.” This number makes sense when you take into account that over 30% of those yoga practitioners have an annual household income of $75,000 or more, with a full 15% earning over $100,000. Almost half have received a college degree, with an additional 40% having some college education or an Associate degree – myself being one of them.* While my income might be lower than the average yogi, I grew up in a household and run in social circles that largely reflect that status.
There’s nothing wrong with those people practicing yoga, in my opinion. The same survey sited above lists that many of those people practicing yoga do so for stress-reduction. Stress is often a huge factor in high-paying jobs, so we could speculate this to mean folks have been investing more in their mental health and well being in the last 5-10 years. That's a speculation I'll gladly make. The problem arises when yoga's popularity on social media and presence in boutique stores makes it feel unwelcoming or unattainable to other groups. Yoga, in reality, can come in as cheap a form as the dirt you stand on and a source of instruction. All it takes is for someone to keep reminding folks of that. Self-care should be no different.
The amount of opportunities we all get to practice self-care varies greatly, but the act of practicing is no less important on any level. If the images you see on the Internet labeled as “self-care” are keeping you from caring for yourself, put them away. It shouldn’t be overwhelming. If the idea of going to buy new nail polish, beard oil, or chocolate for a stay-at-home spa night exhausts you, then don’t do it. If, like me, you’re slightly exhausted by your own thoughts and company after a week of working alone, get out. Call a friend and go walking, ride a roller coaster, splurge on expensive sushi... care for yourself in whatever photogenic or unphotogenic manner you please.
That’s why we call it self-care.
* Lamb, Trisha. “Yoga Statistics and Demographics.” International Association of Yoga Therapists, 2004, pp. 2–31., c.ymcdn.com/sites/iayt.site-ym.com/resource/resmgr/bibliographies-members/stats.pdf.