Our feeds and influences are constantly touting a need for self-care – but what happens when socio-economic status makes “self care” as we know it, unattainable?
By Maria Ordoñez
It was a Tuesday. Or, maybe it was a Wednesday – one of those middle-of-the-week days where the work is piled high and the only thing keeping you going is the promise of a lunch break. And speaking of lunch breaks, it was just about time for mine. So, I headed out to enjoy the usual, a mediocre sandwich and a phone call with my mom.
Below is a loosely translated transcript of the conversation that followed:
Me: “Hey mom, are you busy?”
Mom: “No, I’m at home.”
I’d like to interrupt the transcript to let you know that at this point in the conversation, I was fully convinced that my mother was dying. You see, in my twenty years I had only ever seen my mom take a day off for one of two reasons: (1) me, and (2) the doctor. Seeing as Iwas at work, I concluded that there must have been some kind of medical emergency and that she was therefore at home… dying.
Me: “Why? Are you ok?”
Mom: “Yeah, I’m just taking a ‘Me Day'”.
I took a moment to process that.
Me: “That’s cool… What have you been doing?”
Mom: “I went to get my hair cut, I got lunch, and then I got my eyebrows threaded. Now I’m just watching TV.”
This is where the transcript ends, because I can’t remember a single thing beyond that point. And that’s mostly because I spent the rest of our conversation trying to remember if anything like this had ever happened before. The answer was definitively no.
Now, this would probably be a good time to address what some of you may be thinking: Maria, you are being so dramatic right now. This is totally normal. It’s called self-care, duh!
Ah yes, “self-care”.
I know what you’re talking about.
I’ve seen the hashtags: #selfcare, #selfcaresunday, #selfcareselfieonasunday.
It’s always the same – a series of overpriced bath bombs and face masks and kombucha brews. A series of products strategically marketed to make you think you’ll feel less sad or tired or [insert other human emotion here]. A series of “products that younever knew you needed”, and that most peoplecan’t even afford.
In fact, as #self-care continues to become a trending topic, income inequality continues to grow. In the U.S. alone more than 40 million peoplecan’t afford basic healthcare, let alone “self-care”. At least not self-care as we’ve come to know it.
If you look it up online, the Oxford Dictionary will tell you that self-carerefers to “the practice of taking an active role in protecting [your] own well-being and happiness, in particular during periods of stress.” However, if you look anywhere else, you’ll see that self-care is actually an industry – a $10-billionindustry. Businesses everywhere are capitalizing on our inherent need for well-being by commodifying it. In other words, by turning it into something external that can only be achieved at a retailer near you.
But, what happens when you’re in the market for some self-care and realize that everything is outside of your price range?
“You start to forget that you are important.”
That’s what my mom said to me when she told me what self-care looked like for her ten, fifteen years ago. I remember what that time was like for her, for our whole family. As an immigrant family, starting a new life from scratch, we were those people. To us, self-care didn’t mean thriving, it just meant surviving.
It meant having food on the table. It meant having a steady income. It meant having a car that didn’t break down. It meant having our own house. It meant night school and day care and English classes. It meant hoping that things were going to get better, like we came here for them to be. But most of all, it meant that we didn’t have the time or the money to think about things like taking vacations or going to spas.
So, is self-care simply inaccessible to those who don’t have enough socio-economic privilege to buy it?
That question in and of itself is the reason why the commercialization of self-care is so problematic.
The answer is no, even if everyone is saying otherwise. You just may not know that,becauseeveryone is saying otherwise. But, self-care isn’t about listening to what everyone else is saying, it’s about listening to your own needs. And the thing about your needs is that they don’t look like anybody else’s – they are completely specific to your background, your experiences, your surroundings, your conditions. They grow and they change, just like you do, and there is no generic product to make them go away.
Today, for my mom, self-care looks like taking a day off from work to treat herself. It didn’t always look like that, though. Fifteen years ago, all she really needed was a few minutes to breathe. And thatis just as valid…
But the media can’t sell you that.