I’m probably (definitely) overthinking it, but self care gives me the ‘ick’.
I’ve had the ick for some time, but it’s tough to articulate my gut reaction to something which I know, at it’s heart, has a couple of good values tucked away in there somewhere. But it’s become a run away train with no escape (I mean, if you’re not into ‘self care’ you hate yourself, right?) and it’s dragging us all at dramatic speed towards the stations of wellness and beauty-routine overload.
For me it all started with a certain beauty brand’s ad campaign – the ‘because you’re worth it’ one – which made us feel all stompy and bloody outraged about not having perfectly puffed hair like Ava Longoria. Obviously I believe we all deserve fantastic hair, but why has self care become so intertwined with our exterior image, that which costs money and something only women require?
I know what you’re going to say – men don’t need self care because they, weirdly, appear to just go ahead and do things that make them happy. I can’t help but think they’re on to something.
Most men appear to be joyously free of the rubbish that constantly gets targeted at a female audience. Incredibly they don’t seem to need elaborate skincare regimes, silk pillows or essential oils. In all honesty, and forgive me for being so judgy, but if I walked into our sitting room and found my husband wearing an anti-ageing face mask, with zero sense of irony, I would suspect him of having a nervous breakdown.
Self care has become a circus of materialism, distraction and coping strategies. It’s about clever product and service marketing rather than what truly caring for yourself should be and could be – simply doing more of what actually makes you feel good. True care of self can only come from a more holistic approach to how we live your lives, love ourselves and invest in the relationships closest to us, right?
Instead it has become a monster which appears to dictate that we have an entitlement to certain time and space allowances, and that if we don’t get the space and time that we need, the person who doesn’t give it to us is toxic. Not showing up for a friend is their problem – no excuse is required. But such behaviour doesn’t – and shouldn’t – feel right. Even the introverts among us would agree that humanity is all about connection and relationship – and if we are not being good friends or colleagues or partners, we cannot feel good about ourselves. Poor relationships which don’t allow us to flourish are better off ended anyway, or certainly kept at a distance. However, nurturing good relationships is an important part of life.
Of course, mothers have become an obvious target for self care. If you don’t take time away from your children you are not looking after yourself properly – for them, ironically. (We love mothers to feel bad about absolutely everything, so why not feel bad about not making time for self care?). If the kind of self care that we are being sold is at odds with spending time with our children, what about single parents who find it hard to get out, or parents who have limited free time to spend with their children or people who just like spending lots of time with their children? Self care becomes yet another burden. We need to usurp the idea that self care is mostly a solitary experience. Peace and happiness are possible in the company of others – even small children. Playing with your child or going for a family walk or just ‘being’ at home can sometimes be as restorative as any yoga session. And seeing self care in this light opens up the opportunity for self care in every minute of every day – not just at certain allotted times. Being in the moment is such a powerful tool because you can take it everywhere with you and use it any time you like.
It’s no coincidence that self care has come to the fore in a time of acute societal anxiety. On the outside, many of us live lives which embody the stereotypical dream life and yet any of us are frayed around the edges, feeling stressed, tired and disconnected. We are victims of constant comparison – we have everything we need and yet it is not nice enough or good enough – not pretty enough or perfect enough. And what are we, particularly women, being pointed towards in order to soothe our weary selves? Self care. But, while super to help support us through tough times, self care will not ultimately make us happy. Rather, the current construct of self care has become tangled up with ideas of self-improvement, beauty maintenance and doing something productive and performative – and it’s just not serving us properly.
I can’t help but think that my Granny having a sneaky cuppa out the back while her children climbed the walls inside and the spuds boiled over is closer to the essence of self care than many of us are being shown today. She carved a little time out of her day to indulge herself, to keep herself buoyed and to re-centre. She stepped outside of the chaos but could remain within the confines of her own home. Self care doesn’t have to be healthy, nor need it be productive. It’s need should come from your gut and be relatively simply satiated. The idea that you want it, you take it, you feel more balanced, you carry on.
Know what I mean?
What it comes down to is this; I don’t want either of my daughters reaching for some kind of packaged or prescribed idea of self care as a balm or a quick fix to numb a life they’re not happy with. I don’t want them to think that self care means painting their nails and they’ll be grand. I want their care of self to involve real and connected relationships, a day job that they quite like and their creating and living a contented, fulfilling life, however that looks and feels to them.
I want them to know, from deep inside their souls, what makes them happy and to do exactly that, in small ways, every day.
Surely, if we all worked towards living a life that we like, self care would become a habit – it would become intrinsic, automatic and reciprocal?
Oh how our souls would sing.