The commodification of self-care: why ‘treating ourselves’ has become dangerous

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Self-care – the infamous term branded by bubble baths, ludicrous face masks, and a thousand different flavours of green tea claiming to de-stress the mind. This practice has injected itself into the routines of many, with people dedicating full days to give their bodies the attention it deserves.

Yet, beneath this innocent display of affection lies the destructive society it was created by. A society that glamourises productivity. A society programmed to prioritise income over well-being. A society that has normalised burn-out culture. 

A society that is desperate for renewal

With the net worth of the self-care industry being a staggering $11 billion, there can be no denying that it has become a global phenomenon. Every billboard is plastered with new-in self-care ranges, every social media influencer bombards their followers with discount codes for products – we have become a society that is desperate for renewal.

We would rather buy that glitter face mask than register why we are so eager. We live in an era where being busy is admirable – it is a sign of success and control over one’s life. And with our generation being programmed to please the system, we live up to this idea of success by filling every inch of our planners with working and socialising. 

Yet, this is a damaging lifestyle, one which encourages us to persevere until the physical and mental exhaustion kicks in and we no longer can continue. Overworking yourself is simply just the new norm. And large corporations have caught onto this normalisation. With capitalism striving for increased profits in every sector, they have cleverly transformed our exhaustion into a market tool.

Products are advertised as saviours – a bath bomb, a fresh set of nails, and a new hairstyle are guaranteed to provide revitalisation from the demands of the working world. Yet, this guarantee comes with not only a large price tag but plummets people into a harmful cycle of ‘treating yourself’ after every burnout session.

Exhaustion cannot be cured by purchases, but by practices

However, this necessity to dedicate days to relaxation has become a capitalist command. It is a trap. It gives us hope that by splashing the cash on self-care products, we will become a new and improved being, ready for another week of overworking. This is simply a myth. Mental and physical exhaustion cannot be cured by purchases, but by practices.

We should be healing our minds, not our exteriors – going on a walk, doing ten minutes of mindfulness, or simply setting twenty minutes aside to read will guarantee recovery rather than sitting in a crowded nail salon.

Not only are self-care regimes designed to revive oneself from the demands of capitalism, but their foundations have remained. With self-care originally being introduced in the 1950s as a form of therapy to treat the mentally ill, this dangerous supposition that a self-care regime can treat mental illnesses has carried into the modern day. Whilst it attempts to remove the stigma surrounding mental health by encouraging us to listen to our bodies rather than neglect them, practising wellness only stigmatises it further.

Take this analogy. You feel a blister forming on your heel – every step you take in your new leather boots, an agonising pain shoots up your leg. Whilst the smart option is to take the boots off and let the blister breathe, you continue to strutter along in ignorance – an attitude that inevitably led to a larger blister. This common experience reflects what the practice of self-care has become. The same way we ignore our blisters, we continue to buy into this global obsession in the hope our mental health problems will go away. But like blisters, they become more unbearable the more we ignore them.

Buying into this dangerous fallacy will not eradicate mental illness but will rather trivialise it

Mental illnesses have become commodified – something that can be easily fixed by a purchase. We are programmed to think that if we bury ourselves in bubble baths, ludicrous face masks and drink several green super smoothies, our problems will simply vanish into thin air.

This is where the stigma lies. Buying into this dangerous fallacy will not eradicate your mental illness but will rather trivialise it. Attempting to strive for good mental health through trivial purchases rather than seeking professional medical advice is a damaging practice, one that suppresses problems rather than removing them. Society has made the practice of self-care regimes such an easy alternative that we would rather spend money on wellness products than pay for a therapist. We practice trivial activities to fix serious issues – an attitude that will never solve anything.

But is there anything wrong with choosing to treat ourselves? Wouldn’t it be worse if we just let ourselves go? The only way self-care regimes become remotely beneficial is if we are self-aware. Rather than seeking wellness to disconnect from our problems, we must be aware of our condition and what we are doing to slightly improve it.

Self-care only becomes problematic when it is seen as self-improvement – when products are purchased with the unrealistic expectation of it transforming one into a new and improved being. Hence, when the unattainable is removed, society can enjoy the extensive array of products companies have to offer. In the end, it is our mentality that prevents us from improving.

Image: Kaylee Garrett via Unsplash

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