OPINION: “Self-care” has turned into a money-grabbing industry


Leta Lohrmeyer

As companies invest in popular trends we lose the real definition of self-care. Graphic by Leta Lohrmeyer/the Gateway

This year is a rollercoaster right when you think we traveled through the final loop-de-loop somehow we are upside down again. Unlike a regular rollercoaster, we can’t get off this ride. The best way to make sure we don’t throw up from the whiplash is through self-care.

Through time, self-care became almost synonymous with pampering, which loses its true meaning. In actuality, we need self-care in order to survive. As Audre Lorde wrote in her book, A Burst of Light, “caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare.”

Self-care is any activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional and physical health. It is necessary in order for us to stay healthy and prevent the epidemic of lifestyle diseases.

We seem to try and make self-care acts seem glamorous with our custom face masks and scented bath bombs. In reality, activities of self-care aren’t really that cute. The International Self-Care Foundation’s website outlines seven pillars of self-care: health literacy, mental wellbeing, physical activity, healthy eating, risk avoidance, good hygiene and rational use of products/services like visiting the doctor or taking medication.

Self-care is basically parenting yourself, it’s the safety bars on the rollercoaster that keeps you from flying off. For me, I parent myself by putting timers on my apps so I don’t get sucked into the void that is my phone.

A search on Google Trends showed that self-care increased in search interest popularity during March and April this year, mirroring the increase of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. It illustrates that we need substantial self-care now more than ever.

The act of self-care seems to stray from the original seven pillars, where you make sure you get enough sleep and eat your vegetables. Social media instead focuses on trends and how to make money. In 2020, self-care has become a multi-billion dollar industry.

IRi, a market research company, reported in 2018 that they estimate the self-care industry has an opportunity of growth to $450 billion. The report stated that 47% of millennials avoid going to the doctor. The demographic is less likely to afford health care, therefore millennials are focusing on taking health and wellness into their own hands. IRi provided a case study of how a product’s packaging promotes this idea of wellness making the targeted demographic want to buy it. Thus, selling the idea that self-care can be used as a marketing tool.

Social media can only help in this marketing. On Instagram alone, #selfcare has 34 million posts. If you search self-care on YouTube you’ll be scrolling down dozens of videos with titles like “self-care pamper day,” “self-care haul” and “self-care checklist.” After watching a couple of videos, you might start feeling warm and fuzzy inside with good vibes and helpful advice. Until you start thinking about all the products being low-key advertised.

The practices of self-care promoted by social media reveal an idealized depiction of what life is like. Consumer-driven self-care tells people that the only way to care for yourself is through buying expensive items. This makes self-care a privilege that only the wealthy can afford.

Perpetuating this is companies like Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop, which sells a variety of wellness products at a hefty cost. For example, a Hyaluronic Serum  that is 30 ml (2 tablespoons)for $300.

The “self-care” industry cranks out items like bath bombs, face masks, lotions, kits, candles, special journals or spa days. All are things that get branded as necessary self-care items.

All these things can be considered as enjoyable treats for yourself. Who doesn’t love a nice day of relaxation and pampering? It just shouldn’t be equivalent to actual self-care. Don’t fall for the money-grabbing industry that masquerades as self-care, just stick to the seven pillars.

Please remain seated and keep your hands and feet inside the ride at all times. It’s bumpy, but find ways to take care for your mental, emotional and physical health. This is self-preservation.