Photo | Grace King
The self-care industry highlights class divides and a need for more critical conversations
In 1988, Audre Lorde wrote, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” In spaces where one’s well-being is neglected, undermined, or seen as unimportant, self-care is a political movement, an act of rebellion. Self-care is not selfish; it is essential.
The popularization of the term ‘self-care’ through social media, news outlets, and advertising campaigns seems to indicate that society is recognizing its importance, and that we are incorporating it more into our daily lives. However, the commercialization of self-care has created a problematic industry that emphasizes class divides, and that disempowers rather than empowers. The business of self-care is an extension of the very systems of oppression that Lorde urged us to rebel against.
Corporations have commodified the act of self-care through material goods or practices that are luxuries for many. Searching for “#selfcare” on Instagram produces over four million results, most of which showcase a certain lifestyle: teas, healing crystals, yoga poses, brunch, and green smoothies. Though openly seeking self-care is important, it is easier to post trendy photos than to talk about going to therapy or taking medication—which is where stigma lies.
Curating the performative self-care aesthetic requires a certain level of wealth and privilege, as well as the means and technology to manage social media accounts. Even less ostentatious forms of self-care—taking time off work, seeing a therapist, or attending a yoga class—are inaccessible to many. Self-care, as represented in the market, has become a status symbol.
The self-care industry not only requires wealth for access to its resources and aesthetic, but it has also created a justification for the more privileged to ignore marginalized groups. Our newfound collective knowledge of the importance of self-care makes buying into these privileges feel like participating in a social movement of mental health awareness. In reality, self-care, as a socially-acceptable marketing trope, gives those with high socioeconomic status a means to perform their privilege without feeling guilty.
While everyone seems to be talking about the latest mindfulness application or diffuser scent that they got over the holidays, it’s important to remind ourselves that mental health does not require the prioritization or possession of material items. Self-care is not what you purchase. Ineffective and absurdly unrelated products cheapen the notion of self-care by trivializing mental wellness. Furthermore, raising awareness about consumer products that promise mental well-being does little to combat stigma.
Bell Let’s Talk Day is an opportunity to change the mental health conversation. It’s time we look at mental health through a more nuanced lens. Class divides are manifested not only in how self-care is marketed, but also how people are affected by stigma. When someone hashtags a photo on Instagram as “self-care,” we comment on how aesthetically pleasing it is, but we are less comfortable with what dealing with mental health issues may actually look like. We need to recognize that systemic oppressions on the basis of racial, gender, and class identities contribute to higher levels of stress and create additional barriers to obtaining necessary help. Buying into the self-care industry makes it easy to be complacent and to centre our conversations on forms of mental illness that we are comfortable with. We can do better. We’ve started the conversation; now, let’s improve it.
Last year, Zahavah Kay wrote a powerful piece for The Strand called “#LetsTalk Responsibly,” highlighting the tendency for #BellLetsTalk day to become a competition of social media confessionals, as well as the need to include nuanced discussions of the most stigmatized illnesses and underrepresented groups. You can find this article online here.