The term “self-care” gets thrown around often in our current culture, usually peddled as a capitalistic perversion of the concept, which pretends that we need to buy things in order to heal ourselves and somehow be better.
The notion that we need to constantly “get well” leads to some disconcerting revelations about how we operate in the modern world.
“The kind of self-care being peddled to the 21st-century American white-collar worker is a cure for a quintessentially 21st-century American problem: that jobs demand ever-increasing amounts of time, energy, and creativity,” writes Ester Bloom for the Atlantic. “Capitalism, faced with a problem it created, is itself trying to provide a solution.”
Self-care is the beacon of light that we look to to treat all of these ills. So, part of determining how to practice self-care in a better way is understanding the forces that contribute to our need for it in the first place.
There are many different beliefs surrounding self-care. One particularly pervasive belief is that we need to somehow pamper ourselves constantly with material goods in extravagant ways. This goes hand-in-hand with our culture of instant gratification and visibility on social media and various platforms. Because of this, a very palatable and photogenic idea of self-care has flourished, to the detriment of our understanding of what it really is and can be.
While sheet masks and expensive Pilates classes might dominate our cultural imagination about self-care, in reality, it is a mindset and a practice that doesn’t need to cost money. In fact, it can help us save money if it keeps us centered on what is really important to us and helps us to appreciate the small things in life.
For those opposed to consumerism, self-care as it is popularly culturally defined might seem repellent. But self-care can have a place in your life even if, or especially if, you don’t buy into the consumer culture aspects of self-care.
Here are some fun and enjoyable solutions for anti-consumers:
-The $0 facial: washcloth, hot water, and a bowl
Place a hot, damp washcloth over your face for an instant spa treatment. It’s environmentally friendly!
-Foot and neck massage without the fee
Take a few minutes to sit with feet together and knees out and use your thumbs to massage the soles of your feet. On the neck, use circular motions to release tension.
-Easy yoga poses, guaranteed virtually impossible to injure yourself
-Clearing out energy, not your bank account
Simply open the window and breathe in some fresh air. Notice something outside, however seemingly small and insignificant, and give your attention to what’s going on and what you can see.
-Fancy hair salon perks without the price tag
While showering, take an extra minute or two to massage your scalp after applying shampoo, focusing on the temples and base of the head.
-You don’t need a personal trainer for this
These are quick fixes and little gifts we can give ourselves that won’t deplete our bank accounts. But in order to truly practice self-care on a deeper level, we may need to make bigger changes in our lives.
One approach, writes Tara Parker-Hope for the New York Times, is to try “[giving] the best hours of the day to yourself.” By figuring out what your priorities are and focusing on them for a chunk of time, we can find ourselves amidst the noise of our hectic modern lives.
According to Parker-Hope, another approach consists of focusing on helping others, which can help us regain a sense of purpose in our lives, leading to profound health benefits.
By imagining the future self you want to become, you can become inspired and motivated to make changes now, however small they may be, which can lead to increased life satisfaction. “Is there a change you could commit to? Is there a part of yourself that you want to really learn and grow? Can you imagine being grateful to your future self for making that commitment?” Parker-Hope asks her reader.
By critically examining self-care, we can learn to reclaim this practice from the capitalistic clutches that have taken over our societal understanding of it. Once we do this, we will be better positioned to explore what we personally need and can benefit from. By exploring a buffet of self-care options that do not ask us to spend money, but rather cause us to have a greater appreciation and respect for ourselves, in both mind and body, we can experience greater personal satisfaction and fulfillment.