Let’s talk about…Commercialised self-care

Does self-care lose its value once commercialised?

Given just how unprecedented the last couple of years have been, it’s a fair assumption to say that people are exhausted. And for any of these people who go online looking for ways to improve their quality of life, they’re likely to be met with an endless supply of self-care guides, all preaching the value of taking the time to care of yourself.

  After all, the practice of self-care is a concept that has rather erupted in prominence in the past couple of years. There are countless self-care guides, threads, and infographics populating every corner of the internet; all promoting the same ethos of caring for oneself, and often giving the same few suggestions for how to go about doing so – exercising, having a night in, personal pampering, etc.

  This shift towards self-care is something that by all rights, should be welcomed with open arms – especially when considering how often people are feeling burnt out lately. Though at a glance, a fair amount of the self-care tips found online might seem quite generic, these tips can hold genuine value, and beyond this, it’s also worth noting that the brand of self-care most of us see online is very much a diluted version.

  The concept of self-care originated in the 1950s, first gaining real prominence in the 1960s thanks to civil rights activists (particularly black activists), who practiced self-care not just individually (so as to avoid burnout and for general health), but also through acts of community care. In the absence of adequate systemic supports, practising self-care through community efforts meant self-care carried a more significant impact; representing a form of self-preservation, and a means to challenging systemic barriers.

  However, this version of self-care is worlds away from the version we’ve become familiar with now. Perhaps a degree of this can be attributed to how most things get watered down over time on social media, but this is not the sole reason a lot of today’s self-care feels like it lacks sincerity. It lacks sincerity because it has been commercialised.

  When the concept of self-care first started to become popular online, it wasn’t long before the opportunity to make it profitable was seized. Over time, more and more companies hopped onto the hype around self-care and used it as a marketing technique. The beauty and wellness industries in particular make a killing from co-opting the self-care rhetoric into something brandable for their next product. From candles to massages, sheet masks to gym memberships, the list of items offered up to the customer under the self-care label is seemingly never-ending.

  This capitalistic version of self-care also all too often conflates itself with self-improvement. Practising self-care should present you with opportunities to spend time taking care of yourself, even if it’s technically unproductive and only serves you in terms of providing you with rest or relaxation. Through the lenses of these companies who’re piggybacking off the ‘craze’, self-care has been presented to us as something to strive for, not just something you do – and crucially, it is something you can buy into.

  It is almost ironic to note that self-care started off as a practice rooted in the values of taking time to care for yourself, which is an undeniably personal thing, but has now been co-opted and had its meaning warped by deeply unpersonal brands looking to make a quick buck. People are worn down and burnt out right now, and companies recognise that stressed and tired consumers will respond to whatever self-care thing that they’re being promised will do wonders for them.

  However, despite the bad taste left by companies’ commercialisation, self-care remains a positive practice. The value of self-care lies in the fact that it offers a way to keep on keeping on; a way to stop and take a break, and get back to it once you’re ready. Though self-care has been co-opted, misrepresented, and commercialised in the past couple of years, there is still value in that simple ethos, and in practicing self-care in whatever way works for you.