The Debate: What Does “Self-Care” Mean To You?

As we swiftly approach the penultimate month of the year, I think it is safe to say that 2017 has been tough on all of us in some way or another. For me it has primarily been the global events that have taken a toll. Between successive record breaking, once in a lifetime natural disaster events, the rise in white supremacy and police brutality, multiple mass shootings, frequent terror attacks, a legitimate threat of nuclear war and now the Harvey Weinstein scandal to name just a few of them, I just feel like the world is descending into actual and total madness.

At the start of the year I fully expected things to be difficult (partly thanks to the incoming US President), but I naively never expected them to be this bad and I also never anticipated how much it would affect my day-to-day life. It is not an easy thing to talk about, but it’s like I was feeling this pervasive sense of sadness and hopelessness underneath it all as my default emotions and to be honest, 2017 has depressed me. It has impacted my life in multiple ways and had a detrimental effect on my health and of course, my skin. Thankfully, once I eventually discovered the true meaning of “self-care” I was able to begin to take control again and that’s what I want to talk about today.

Over the past few years the marketing of beauty and skincare products as essential elements in the practice of self-care has become a huge business. The concept is thrown around a lot (especially in the green beauty industry) and is generally used by brands to persuade consumers that to truly care about yourself you need to buy their “luxurious” and usually very expensive creations, but there is a much more serious side to it all that the majority of these brands just don’t seem to understand or care to.

I never really managed to get on board with “self-care” in this way as a result and I simply saw it as an eye-rolling disingenuous gimmick being used to capitalize off consumers’ fears, insecurities and vulnerabilities. To me, more often than not, the way it was presented came across as frivolous, trivial and somewhat smug as well as deeply privileged and superficial. Not all of us can afford to spend excessive amounts of money on skincare just for the “feel good factor” and I still find it quite troubling how exclusionary, elitist and unattainable many brands have become in the name of wellness and self-care, but more on that another time.

Because of this I had a misguided idea about self-care and believed it was reserved for special occasions or #selfcaresunday and completely removed from my every day life, including my daily skincare routines. I thought it was supposed to be this indulgent, precious ritual, a magical “me time” masking session, but again, that was more marketing jargon than real life, which is why it never seemed relatable/helpful or appealed to me in any way.

What I did discover this year though is that while there is definitely a beauty product component to self-care, it is so much more than that. Self-care is everything. It is getting enough sleep, taking vitamins and going to the gym or getting a haircut, reading a book and yes, even taking a bath with your favourite sheet mask on. It is whatever you need to do to feel well – mentally, emotionally, spiritually and physically every day, not just on Sundays or when you’re already rundown, sick and exhausted. It is about not allowing yourself to get to that point in the first place and this is not a purchasable privilege, but a vital human right.

This is the serious side to self-care that I had been missing, so when the year started to wear me out and I began skipping my evening skincare routines, not sleeping enough or spending too much time reading the news, I had no idea of the harmful cycle I was getting myself in to or how it was all connected. The more stressed I became, the less I felt like taking care of myself and the less I took care of myself, the more deflated I felt and the more deflated I felt, the more stressful life became and so on and so on until I found myself very unwell and unable to cope.

I know many of you will be able to relate to this. As women, we are taught that our needs come last, our issues are less important than everyone else’s and when it comes to skincare, beauty and self-care that we are merely being vain and shallow, but that is not the case at all. There is a real and significant connection between self-care and mental health and that is a major lesson I have learned this year. I realized that when I took the time to mindfully go through my skincare routine at night, I felt more relaxed before bed or when I woke up and made the effort to take my vitamins and exercise before work I started the day feeling more positive, and while that can seem obvious, when you’re feeling stressed/depressed it’s all too easy to discount the obvious for the path of least resistance/effort, no matter how unconstructive it is.

Self-care for me has basically become about showing up for myself every day in as many ways as I can, even if I have to actively force myself to do it. It has been about saying yes to me and my needs, no longer neglecting my health or spreading myself too thin to keep up with the demands of society and saying no to putting other people’s happiness before my own. This has included taking a step back from my mountainous blogging inbox (because first of all blogging is not my job and I am not obliged to anyone), staying in and watching Netflix in bed on Friday night, unfollowing some accounts on Instagram so my timeline is more manageable (thanks algorithm and ads) and accepting that skincare is not just an indulgent hobby, but an integral part of my wellbeing that actually helps me feel better about myself.

It has also meant having the courage to ask for help, allowing myself to take time off to get well, not feeling like a failure because I’m not always as happy as everyone else appears to be and accepting that there is nothing wrong with struggling, especially in times like these. It has taken some work to get to this point, but there is a sense of freedom and relief that comes from being honest about vulnerability and it is empowering, not a sign of weakness. If this year has taught me anything it’s that we must use our voices to speak up and be true to ourselves. Self-care has become more like self-defence and has served as a much needed coping mechanism in a time when it feels like we are all in “the sunken place” (please watch the incredible movie ‘Get Out’ if you haven’t already).

The concept is of course going to be different for everyone and it should be. It is a uniquely and deeply personal practice and it can involve anything you want. It is about being kind to ourselves, giving importance to our own personal happiness and being honest about what we need to feel whole. Self-care has many layers and levels and maybe for you it’s about enjoying a spa night instead of doing housework or watching YouTube instead of the news, or doing absolutely nothing for once and not feeling guilty about it.  Or it’s finally seeing a doctor and getting medication or opening up to your loved ones about how you’ve been feeling. Whatever it is, it is completely up to you and all that matters is you take the time to treat yourself well as often as you can, in whatever way that means, unapologetically and with as much love as you can muster because that’s what we all deserve, now more than ever.

Arly

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2 thoughts on “The Debate: What Does “Self-Care” Mean To You?

  1. There is a wonderful book called “An Invitation to Self-Care,” by Jungian psychologist Tracey Cleantis, that I highly recommend. She started writing the book well before the distressing political events of last year and came out a few months ago. (Timing really is everything.) She redefines what self-care is, includes little quizzes to help you see where you fall short, and suggests ways and means of preserving your emotional and physical well-being.

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