Self-care sells

explores the role of the media and social platforms in shaping how we care for ourselves

Image: Max Pixel

When moving away from home, you have to learn how to take care of yourself pretty sharpish. To ensure you can function as a human being you’ve got to feed yourself, rest, stay hydrated – the necessities. Looking after yourself goes further than these basic elements though. As adults, we have to learn how to maintain our well- being from all angles, mental and physical, in order to thrive in day-to-day life. We have to learn to self-care.

Caring for yourself is more than just having an evening of pampering, or relaxing a little with a meditation app and a facemask, although popular media would suggest otherwise. Self-care comes in many forms, and it’s a beneficial venture to explore how each different type can benefit you. There are physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual forms of self-care. Physical self-care can be anything from a Netflix binge to a walk in the park; it should enhance your physical health and aid your overall mental wellbeing. Emotional self-care can be as simple as allowing yourself to feel emotions without judging yourself, and considering why these emotions crop up. Psychological self-care explores ways in which you can engage your intellect in everyday life, maybe through experimenting with art or visiting an exhibition. As for spiritual self-care, although it may not be for everyone, it’s an interesting way to reconnect with yourself through activities such as medi- tation and mindfulness.

Third year student Paige Henderson, who has experienced the University’s wellbeing services, commented on what the term ‘self-care’ meant to her: “For me it means self- pervasion. It means considering yourself and your reactions to others, to friendships, rela- tionships, work… everyday things really. It’s about being active in thinking about how you look after yourself, and it’s about the long- term effects of everyday activities on us.”

It seems to have become a popular trend to #selfcare, with platforms such as Insta- gram and Twitter being littered with these kinds of hash tags. People enjoy sharing with the world how they are looking after them- selves on a daily basis, through selfies, text posts and videos. In a single search on Insta- gram, the hash tags ‘self-love’ and ‘self-care’ rack up between eight and 20 million posts. However, mainstream media has seemingly forgotten about forms of self-care that don’t include a purchase or enhance our aesthetics. So why has it become so popular to show our followers that we’re caring for ourselves with herbal tea, bubble baths and an occasional yoga session? Is it to convince ourselves that we’re coping, or just because we want to keep up with the trends?

This purely materialistic idea of self-care sells, and it’s a growing issue in wider society. And with businesses honing in on this ‘treat yourself’ and quick-fix mentality, other men- tal health issues are pushed to the forefront. Brands such as ‘Flat Tummy Co.’ use celebrity endorsements to push products such as appetite suppressant lollipops and detox teas that supposedly ‘help you kick that bloated, slug- gish and blaaaah feeling,’ and they promote them as self-care. Yet in reality, they either do nothing, or are merely damaging for the consumer. They sell the idea that modi- fying and treating yourself aesthetically will solve a more deeply rooted complex problem, a problem they brand that ‘blaaaah feeling’. Not to mention, these weight loss products are often promoted by celebrities such as Kim Kardashian, who are widely considered to have some of the most desirable bodies in popular culture.

Paige Henderson felt that, “self-care has definitely been made into a marketing tech- nique. It’s presented as something that we need, and the pressure to consume things to make us feel better inside creates a negative pattern because we become reliant on exter- nal things rather than focusing on the root causes of an issue.”

Paige went on to comment, “The media focus on this form of self-care shows how they prey on insecurities. It makes us think less about our mental selves and focus too much on the tangible and material. The tendency for self-care to be sold as something that should be aesthetically pleasing shifts your perspective and makes you think that you can help yourself purely by changing your looks. It has the power to completely change how we value ourselves. We forget that there is so much more to an individual, and so much more we can do to look after ourselves.”

These products are often promoted as ‘healthy’ lifestyle choices, with marketers claiming that the products aid fitness and therefore wellbeing. A member of York’s women’s rugby team, for whom fitness is key to success, commented on these types of products: “These forms of self-care are all based on outward physical appearance, and all of them are a short-term fix. None of them will have a positive long-term impact. If anything, they have the potential to make your mental health worse if you’re yo-yoing between cycles of these sorts of products, feeling good about yourself one minute and then awful the next.”

Although the idea of self-care seems to be in vogue at the moment, there is also an equal and opposite pattern of indulging in self-destructive behaviours, making light of them and ignoring responsibility over our own wellbeing. You don’t have to look far on Twitter and Facebook to find memes making light of unhealthy coping mechanisms. For example, some memes show how many individuals view self-destructive behaviour patterns as relatable and funny (one such meme secured a significant 6950 retweets and 16.4K likes) and bury issues under humour. Paige commented: “It’s become a personality trait in itself, this self-destructive and self-negligent behaviour. It normalises an ignorance of our basic necessities. And although you have to acknowledge that these are funny and not be too serious about it, they proliferate the idea that it’s part of pop culture to ignore your needs.”

Similarly, the tendency to see self-destructive behaviour as endearing or quirky may proliferate this trend. Recent series such as The End of the F*cking World and 13 Rea- sons Why almost fetishise mental illness and self-abusive behaviours. In the first season of 13 Reasons Why, the main character, Hannah Baker, suffers a range of psychological issues which result in her suicide. The characteristic element of this series is the use of tapes, which each character must listen to in order to uncover why Hannah took her own life. The tapes endow the series with a popular retro element and a certain nostalgia, almost romanticising her death. The tapes leave those who knew Hannah each responsible for her death, with Hannah taking very little responsibility herself. The obsession the character Clay has over Hannah even presents her self-destructiveness as almost desirable.

While discussing self-destruction and its portrayal in the media, Paige commented: “For me the film Submarine springs to mind. You can imagine the dialogue and visuals being on something like Tumblr; it’s an attractive film. The state of Jordana’s mind becomes the thing that makes the film so beautiful and cutesy, and imagery of her pyromaniac and destructive tendencies make her desirable for the protagonist, Oliver. Global media cashing in on this unhealthy interest in such a self-negligent trait highlights an issue our generation may have with being kind to ourselves. Also, giving these attitudes attention through platforms built from likes and shares, presents them as desirable. I’m not saying these attitudes should not be given attention. They should. We need to be educated on the impact of them to create a more understanding society. But it’s the way social media displays certain damaging behaviours as popular that causes an issue.”

Using self-care as a product, and having a fascination for self-destruction, are two strange, battling phenomena that seem to be linked. The media’s normalisation of these detrimental behaviours allows individuals to feel like they don’t have an issue at all, so that they don’t seek proper help, and rather ‘top up’ their self-care through the quick-fix products that their favourite reality TV stars use, only to be right back where they started. The opposing concepts of self-care and self-destruction seem to go hand in hand when it comes to creating a toxic and damaging cycle, negatively impacting individuals’ wellbeing.

A 2017 NUS-USI survey highlighted that 51 per cent of students experiencing mental health issues don’t seek help. While it would be wrong to suggest that the increasing trend of materialistic forms of self-care is the main reason for this, it may well contribute. However, there are effective forms of self-care, outlined at the beginning of this article, and it’s important to explore which ones work for you. We can look after ourselves by taking responsibility for our own wellbeing, by recognising our own negative behaviours and seeking help.

York Nightline: 01904 323735

Open Door: 01904 32214 or email [email protected]

Samaritans: 116 123

Mind Info-line: 0300 123 3393 or text 86463

For more information: https://www.york. ac.uk/students/health/help/

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