self-care

Self-care culture. In 2019, you’re bound to see these three words everywhere.

Ad campaigns, social media, self-help books; our generation is obsessed with promoting this idea. Self-care is “the actions and attitudes which contribute to the maintenance of well-being and personal health and promote human development,” according to Wellbeing.com. People are encouraged to get massages, go on shopping sprees and take bubble baths while wearing face masks. In the words of Donna and Tom from Parks and Recreation, “Treat yourself!”

However, the notion of constantly treating yourself to promote personal well-being is unrealistic and harmful to the modern consumer. Self-care culture promotes an unhealthy ideal of constantly spending money or time in order to attain happiness. While it is obviously crucial to maintain physical and mental well-being, the standards to do so are becoming unattainable. For example, one author suggests doing a workout boot camp at 6 a.m. While this could improve one’s physical and mental health, the average American cannot afford to get up that early. People may work ridiculous hours or have a family that depends on them. Someone working three jobs while raising a family probably does not have time to read a book or go outside. The average person’s survival demands an utter lack of self-care.

In an article published in the New York Times in 2018, Jessica Silver-Greenberg and Natalie Kitroeff focused on the burden women carry in the workplace. They told the story of a Verizon warehouse in Tennessee that refuses to give their pregnant employees time off, despite the job’s physical rigor. Women who work in this warehouse told haunting tales of how their requests for light duty or time off due to pregnancy were denied, resulting in miscarriages. Pregnant women were forced to continue to lift heavy boxes in the sweltering heat for no less than eight hours. What this confirms is that in modern society, productivity is valued more than human life.

Modern, late-capitalist era society demands work weeks of over 40 hours with constant productivity. Many people do not feel as though they can “treat themselves” until they have reached a certain level of productivity, and if they feel as though they have not done enough, it is nearly impossible to relax. Taking a bubble bath when you have a looming deadline is actually quite stressful. Relaxing is viewed as a form of unproductivity, creating a vicious cycle in which it is difficult to enjoy free time. Our society measures success on our level of productivity rather than our happiness and fulfillment. In order to truly promote self-care, this must end. Our values need to radically change before we can begin to care for ourselves properly. 

Self-care culture, which is a product of the capitalist society that literally kills people, is flawed. How can we attain a level of relaxation and self-care when the corporations selling us this idea demand our constant productivity? Our careers demand inhumane work hours and constant success. In order to promote genuine self-care, we need to remodel our society entirely. You should be able to take time off for pregnancy, or mental health, without feeling guilty. Our happiness should not depend on how productive we are, but by measured by our own standards. 

Hannah Whitaker is a UF English junior.