Self-care: Narcissistic or Necessary?
In the weeks following the 2016 election, Google experienced a dramatic spike in wellness-related searches. More specifically, searches for the term “self-care” reached a five-year high, initiating a conversation about what exactly the term means.
We know self-care is a trend (just open your Instagram feed and search #selfcare), but where did it come from? How will the proliferation of self-care practices affect society and future generations? Is self-care the same as #selfcare? Is a pumpkin spice latte equal to an hour of meditation? Answers to these questions are difficult to muster, due to the ambiguity of the term itself.
The notion of “self-care” isn’t exactly new; it has taken on multiple meanings over the course of history. Slate’s Aisha Harris points out that during the women’s movement and civil rights movement, self-care ran hand-in-hand with political action, becoming a way for marginalized populations to claim control over their own bodies. She also points out that 9/11 presented a similar opportunity, and self-care again became a political act. Because of instances like these, many view self-care as a legitimate coping mechanism during moments of political or cultural turmoil.
In the above situations, the term self-care is more tied to health (both physical and mental) than it is today. “It’s not that “self-care”—as the concept of consciously tending to one’s own well-being has become known—was invented during the election season,” Harris writes, “But in 2016, self-care officially crossed over into the mainstream. It was the new chicken soup for the progressive soul” (Slate). Today, the term lends itself more to “treat yourself” culture. Many believe that millennials’ new obsession with self-care sprouted out of our Internet dependence. If this is the case, it is possible that our reliance on the Internet has created the very problems that warrant self-care. Scrolling through Instagram, we may compare ourselves to the "perfect" bodies and lifestyles on our feeds, creating anxiety that necessitates self-care practice.
Regardless of its origins, self-care is culturally ubiquitous right now – from our Instagram feeds, to our fitness studios, to our choice of Starbucks beverages. We can all agree that it’s a trend, but there is debate about its impact on society. In my opinion, it can be either positive or negative, depending on the way it is manifested.
Self-care can be defined in a variety of ways. According to a post on Darling Magazine, “the term self-care describes the actions that an individual might take in order to reach optimal physical and mental health. Self-care can include anything from getting a haircut or a massage, to going to the beach or eating at your favorite restaurant. But even more than that, it means being mindful of and tending to your own daily needs.” Many proponents also see self-care as a precursor to meaningful action, believing that in order to help others, we must first help ourselves.
Others aren’t so sure. Many skeptics deem self-care an act of privilege, an excuse for millennial narcissism, and a reason to withdraw oneself, ignoring the “outside world” and the difficulties therein. Some believe the entire “treat yourself” type of self-care is a marketing tactic, designed to sell “self-care kits” and spa treatments. Furthermore, self-care could distract us from pursuing other forms of happiness. “A peppermint mocha might taste good for a few minutes, but consistently spending time helping others, especially in a deep commitment such as marriage or raising children, will bring you satisfaction for a lifetime despite its much higher price.” (Slate).
When all is said and done, self-care as a whole isn’t directly hurting anybody. So what if you want to buy a self-care kit or take a bubble bath? In our opinion, there is nothing wrong with treating yourself and being mindful of your mental health, as long as you don’t lose sight of the world around you.