Articles, Confidence, Health, Mental Health

Self-care: Then and Now

girl receiving self care

Everyone is familiar with the refrain that accompanies any wellness-related social media post: #selfcare. While self-care is an exercise of autonomy and essential to our well-being, the commercialization of this notion has made it all too easy for the onus of health management to be placed on people alone – instead of healthcare professionals or policymakers. Self-care’s start and present state are quite different. Let’s take a look at how and why that is.

A Brief History of Self-Care:

The origin of self-care is medical; it put a name to the practice of allowing institutionalized individuals to perform simple tasks (i.e. adequate sleep, maintaining nutrition intake) that helped develop self-worth and maintain independence. It then gained notoriety approximately a decade after the term was coined in the academic sphere. This is when it was explored as a recommendation for people in careers that repeatedly exposed them to traumatic experiences. This recommendation addressed not only physical needs, but psychological, emotional, and spiritual needs involving the individual and the community.

It then was popularized in and by the free wellness programs and clinics run by the Black Panther Party. Who set healthcare reform as a key part of their platform. This did this as a means of nurturing resilience in the midst of relentless medical and systemic discrimination. Scientific evidence supports the need for this type of initiative – it has been proven by several studies that experiences of racism are linked to higher blood pressure and other adverse health outcomes.

Self-Care: A Metamorphosis

Activist Audre Lorde, who discussed self-care at length in much of her writing, once said, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” The aforementioned exercise and proliferation of self-care a few decades ago embodied the ideal of prioritizing yourself when society doesn’t, particularly contradicting the messaging of a society that invalidates and marginalizes certain groups of people. However, the co-opting of self-care by commercial, profit-focused entities has diluted this original goal.

Self-care has been commercialized to the degree that it is no longer treated as the independent salve for circumstance – be it personal or collective – it originated as. The forces of social media and classic capitalist co-opting have warped self-care into something commercialized. As well as performative, advertising a beauty product or a diet tea as a means of investing in oneself. As Liesl Goecker says, “Self-care, now conflated with self-improvement, has become yet another thing to strive for – and for most of us, to fail at.” What we often see labeled as “self-care” is a more privileged duplicate of the practice that began as a means of self-preservation.

The Limits of Self-Care

Additionally, we must keep in mind that self-care can only take us so far. We as individuals and as a part of communities can do wonders for each other’s mental and physical health. However, there are some health matters that shouldn’t be handled without a medical professional. In cases such as this, like ones concerning severe mental health issues, one should seek immediate medical attention. To conclude, don’t allow whatever your #selfcare is to be exploited.


For more posts relating to mental health, check out Hilary Batista’s Ideas For a Mental Health Day and abenson1’s Why Is Self Care Important? Knowing How and When to Take a Break.  

Amrita Arora

Junior at Jefferson County Int'l Baccalaureate.

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