When Self-Care Is a Mask for Conspicuous Consumption

It doesn’t have to cost money.

Self-care is a term that’s been bandied about as of late, trending in lifestyle publications and on your timeline as a fancy way of saying that taking care of yourself mentally and physically is important. Taking care of yourself is important. And, as Lux Alptraum over at Racked points out, it can often feel unnecessarily, prohibitively expensive.

There’s no one way to talk about self-care, but in the dominant cultural narrative, it’s portrayed as something quietly-expensive that you do to take care of yourself.

But in recent years it’s morphed into something along the lines of consumerism masked as wellness, an excuse to engage in selfish indulgence while claiming to be pursuing self improvement. $23 bath tea? That’s self-care. Adult coloring books? Sure, why not. A $30 journal claims to be chock full of self-care prompts and activities that’ll aid you on your journey to greater wellness, so long as you’re able to afford $30 for a journal. Even nail decals have gotten in on the self-care act — and let’s not forget virtually every overpriced bauble hawked by Gwyneth Paltrow, who’s never met a $40 body scrub she couldn’t position as an opportunity for relaxing self-care.

Alptraum is quick to note that self-care is less a set of prescribed methods and more “principles.”

Although there are guiding principles to self-care — staying mentally and physically healthy, taking time to recharge and relax, maintaining good boundaries — there’s no one set of tasks or behaviors that can concretely be considered self-care for everyone.

Were an official handbook for self-care to exist, I don’t think that body scrubs and $70 candles would be required. The commercialization of a concept that is something that everyone should be doing is nothing new. Much like how feminism has become a buzzword by which to sell crop tops and pussy hats and reusable lunch bags, the self-care market has gathered the usual trappings of “pampering” under its umbrella, legitimizing the purchase of a $56 anti-aging serum and a $90 eye cream as tools you use to “take care” of yourself.

It’s okay if you want to do that, by the way. Lots of people do. Spend your money however you want to! It’s yours, after all. But, be wary of the self-care snake oil. You probably don’t need a “self-care journal” when a regular notebook will do just fine. The $40 coffee scrub that you saw on Instagram and bought the next day isn’t essential. You can take care of yourself however you please. It doesn’t have to cost money.