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I think about self-care more than the average person. I’ve been a wellness writer and editor for more than half a decade, and in that time I’ve published probably hundreds of stories on managing burnout, stress, self-esteem and anxiety. I can recite data on mental health more easily than I can recall my mom’s cellphone number. I’ve tried my best to help people live better, happier lives. However, I’ve also noticed ― as a journalist in this space and as a consumer in general ― how oversimplified self-care guidance really is.
Self-care isn’t some new concept (although Americans have Googled the term more in the last three years than ever before). Hell, it was discussed long before I was even born ― first medically, and then, during the civil rights movement, more politically. But the concept of self-care has shifted toward the notion that improving our well-being is only a product away. Take one look at Goop, with its suggestion that adding moon dust to your morning smoothie can help boost “your spirit.”
That’s not nearly adequate to help us survive in the world today.
A bubble bath may help my muscles relax but isn’t going to wash away the dirtiness I feel after a man brazenly gazes at my breasts on the subway. A face mask may remove my blackheads but it isn’t going to extract the shame I carry over my student loan debt. Going for a jog may take my mind off my to-do list for a little while but it isn’t going to help me outrun the emotional labor I have waiting for me at home.
Self-care shouldn’t be reduced to a fleeting activity or dispensable product. It shouldn’t even just be considered a wellness phenomenon. For women, it’s a difficult but necessary act that helps us survive in a world with work demands, family pressures, duties at home, rampant incidents of sexual harassment, a relentless news cycle, financial worries and more. Inner reflection takes time and energy ― resources we’re already lacking. Self-care is hard work.
This is rarely acknowledged. There’s something missing when we talk about self-care, both in the media and on our own. So I asked several women what they find problematic with our collective discussion about the concept ― and what taking care of yourself actually means to them. Below is their advice. Consider it a real guide to real self-care (no purchases necessary).