Today the self-care industry is valued at around $11 billion, stretching to the staggering heights of $450 billion when tech is included. That’s an awful lot of money. And whilst the value of the industry, estimated to grow to $13 billion by 2026, shows our (re)newed commitment to self-care. It’s also a sign that it is becoming commercialized. Whilst commercialization isn’t necessarily a bad thing outright. Re-packaging self-care as a bubble bath, glass of wine or spa holiday can have it’s downfalls. Not only alienating key groups of the population. But de-valuating and diluting the benefits of looking after ourselves. To the point that self-care may require increasing amounts of resource that we don’t have to give. And possibly becoming another drain on our mental health.
For Why Self Care is Everyone’s Responsibility read here.
Who Loses Out?
Self-care is so often equated with some form of pampering activity. And that’s not wrong. I have certainly felt the healing and relaxing qualities of a bubble bath. In fact, a warm bath at the end of the day can work wonders and is a key focus of my wind down routine. It is one of my favourite ways to boost my wellbeing. And thus, I would be a hypocrite to suggest that indulging yourself in this way isn’t a form of self-care.
One may even go so far as to argue that a warm bath shouldn’t be an indulgence. And if we feel like it is, why is that? Have we lost sight of prioritizing ourselves to the degree that minor acts of caring for our body are made to feel like a day at the spa? Likewise, one may point out that self-care is whatever we make of it. No-one has the right to tell you what is and isn’t self-care. It’s up to you. If it makes you feel good and helps you unwind, destress, process or whatever you need in that moment. Then that is your self-care.
For A Guide to Prioritizing Self-Care read here.
Money & Gender/Sex
But I digress. My issue is not with bubble baths or scented candles for that matter. Another staple of my unwind routine before bed and therefore a key element of looking after myself. My fear, however, is as follows. Who loses out when we focus self-care so much on pampering activities? Whether the bubble bath, scented candles, a manicure or pedicure etc? Unfortunately, and wrongly, these are particularly gendered activities. Even if you happen to like the idea of them, your sex and/or gender may make you feel like they are inaccessible to you. Regardless of whether they would help you.
Additionally, these activities can often come with a price tag. And if the worth of the self-care industry is to believed. This price tag is likely to increase. When looking after yourself is packaged as an expensive bath oil or fancy skincare or make up regime. Who loses out when they can’t afford to access this luxury self-care package? And how may they feel about themselves and their wellbeing? At best, alienated from a certain kind of self-care. At worst, a toll on their mental health?
Diluted, De-valued Self-Care
Yes, self-care can be some form of pampering. But we must widen our focus to what it really is and can include. Because the possibilities could be endless for us. And they should be, when the possibilities are far and wide. We always have another opportunity to engage in self-care if our first choice is unavailable or isn’t working. Thus, as many of us know it’s important to have numerous tools to care for ourselves at our disposable. These could include a relaxing bath, manicure or massage. It can also include time with friends, hobbies that you enjoy, creativity which help you think or stop you doing just that. Looking after your basic needs like getting enough air, exercising and drinking water. It can mean saying no, not right or maybe later. Perhaps most importantly, talking to someone you trust and getting further help when you need.
For 4 Self Care Tips read here.
So, what do all of these have in common? At root, yes, they make us feel better. But what happens when we do them often? When we commit to them and make them an inviolable part of our routine. Because, let’s be honest when life gets busy self-care can be the first thing to go and time is the biggest barrier. But when we truly commit to making self-care a priority. Our brains learn and our body feels it. Two things happen neurobiologically.
Firstly, when we engage in self-care we get a hit of dopamine; part of the brains reward system. Thus, when we look after ourselves we are rewarded. And it feels good. Secondly, our brains are neuroplastic. We re-mould like plasticine (well kind of) when we adopt a new habit. Making it easier to commit too. It’s why practise makes perfect. When we engage with self-care, gradually our brains realise that not only does looking after ourselves feel good. But as we do so we experience a boost to our self-confidence and self-esteem.
Thus, when we alienate people from self-care practises with luxury branding or gendered assumptions. Or we narrow the field for understanding self-care. We’re losing out on the profound benefits that self-care can have. After all, whilst a bubble bath routine to relax may help in many occasions. And the continued practise may help you learn to love yourself, feel better in your body and engage in self-compassion. It may not be effective in some occasions as creative pursuits which can help us express ourselves or process difficult emotions or thoughts.
The same applies to talking whether to a friend, a helpline or a healthcare professional. Often, when we feel that self-care isn’t working. It may be that that particular form of self-care is not what we need. Or, perhaps, that whilst a bubble bath may take the edge of. It’s capacity to soothe, relax or calm are limited. And something that works in a deeper way more have a more profound and valuable impact.
What are your thoughts on self-care? Do you have favourite practises? One you always try, or a variety to pick and choose from? Can self-care help us access higher forms of self-actualization and self-love? Let me know below!