From the Editor: What self-care really means


By Audrey Kim, Co-Editor-in-Chief

Between the self-care kits and the self-help books, the Instagram-filtered photos of slim detox smoothies and salt baths, it’s hard not to hear the term self-care these days. Search up the words on Google and you’ll get everything from countless articles that advise to “visit the farmer’s market” and “meditate with zen music” to self-care Twitter bots. 

I’ll admit that I also buy into the self-care mantra more frequently than I’d like to, and more easily than I should. It’s not exactly hard to convince yourself to buy special scented candles and make chocolate cakes in the name of “treating yourself,” the slogan that frequently pops up on social media posts and BuzzFeed articles. 

As time passes, though, I’ve started to wonder what the term self-care really meant to me personally. How much of this supposed self-care was me actually trying to give myself a break, and how much of it was just me trying to escape from the exhausting cycle of sleep-school-work that I had gotten into?

I deeply suspect that self-care has emerged as a kind of response against the daily work and grind of our regular lives, where we’ve consistently associated our productivity with self-worth, and glamorized being overworked, busy and stressed. For example, the Journal of Consumer Research has published research showing that Americans associate busyness and stress with prestige and status. And there’s a lot of profit to be made in terms of self-care: the self-improvement industry is now worth over $10 billion. The problem is the difference between actual self-care and consumer self-care: are you using self-care as short-term solutions to escape from the hectic pace of life? Or are you making the choices to build a life you don’t need to regularly escape from?

I don’t think self-care needs to be something constantly recorded, marketed and filtered through the lens of an Instagram filter. Self-care is often a very ugly thing. It means going to sleep on time, even if you have work to do, and cooking yourself healthy meals and sweating through another workout. It’s letting yourself be normal and unexceptional as you accept that deciding your ultimate goal in life isn’t to have abs to post about on social media in your perfect room. It’s finally doing that assignment or having that conversation with a friend that you’ve been putting off for forever, even though it might be a difficult one. It means being honest with others, even if it doesn’t mean you’ll be universally liked. It means making the right choices for you, even if they aren’t the easy ones. 

This isn’t to say that I’m dismissing all forms of marketed self-care. At the end of the day, if taking a bubble bath and baking vegan chocolate cakes are what make someone happy, they should do it. But instead of “fixing ourselves,” maybe we can learn to love ourselves a little more in the process. There’s no point in self-care if it leads to more stress about leading a perfect life, both off and on-screen. Actual self-care has a lot less to do with “treating yourself” and more to do with making choices for your personal long-term wellness, even if they aren’t easy ones. 

A world in which self-care is such a trendy topic is inherently unhealthy. Self-care should not be needed because we are so exhausted by outside life. And, subsequently, if we’re choosing a life that looks good over a life that feels good, we’re doing something wrong.