When I first discovered the body positivity community the concept of self-care was alien to me. I was raised in a working class household, both my parents worked because they had to, not because they chose to, and I myself started working at the age of 13 with a couple of paper-rounds. Since then I haven’t had less than 2 jobs at once, my life has been a constant hustle and supply myself with the things that others sometimes take for granted. This doesn’t make me holier than thou, but it hasn’t been easy. I worked to pay for my dance classes, to afford the things my other classmates were bought by their parents, and now later in life to keep a roof over my head and my vacuous stomach full. Days spent relaxing and unwinding were days that could be spent making a bit of extra cash on the side so I could go out with my friends instead of sitting home alone. They weren’t celebrated or deemed necessary because sometimes those days were the difference between eating a proper meal or eating sweet chilli sauce sandwiches for dinner (and I wish I was joking but unfortunately that was the decision I had to make several times whilst trying to survive uni the first time).
So fast forward to last year when I really started to immerse myself in body positivity movement and I am seeing posts everywhere encouraging me to splash out and treat yo’self, buy an expensive bath bomb and face mask, have a day doing nothing, light some candles, you know the drill. It went against everything that had been installed on me as a teenager and I loved it. I did all of those things, and I also over the course of a year ended up spending a small fortune and taking myself back to the brink of sweet chilli sandwiches again. A year of treating myself and indulging in the self care I saw prescribed by the community at large (including myself) has passed, and now I’m able to look back at it more critically.
Let’s start with the positives shall we? Well first of all it’s great to be able to try and relieve the pressures of everyday life that build up and having a day of pure indulgence can help you forget the problems that await you in everyday life. We often overlook that stress is a silent killer, and can lead to multiple health complications, so taking that time to unwind is so necessary, especially if you don’t often give yourself that luxury. It also helped me to reconnect with a body that I had been feuding with so intensely for the last decade or so, by treating it kindly and caring for it I was able to show my body the respect it had been craving and desperately needed for so long. So the benefits to body and mind were wonderful and I truly felt the benefits after having a day, or even a few hours, of self care.
But I have a few big buts that I think need to be addressed. The first and biggest problem to me is that the self care that is being popularised is not accessible to everyone. Now it might be for a variety of reasons for different people, but for me it was specifically financial accessibility. When you have to scrimp and save every penny to be able to afford the basics in life spending £7 on a bath bomb and £20 on a candle is not achievable, but this is the idea of self care that’s currently trending at the moment. That meant that when I was doing my B&M basic self care I wasn’t concentrating on actually caring for myself, I was concentrating on how much better self care could be if only I could afford that £35 bubble bath that I’d seen some Instagram guru raving about. On the flipside, if I splashed out on that £35 bubble bath then I’d spend the entire time regretting that purchase knowing I could’ve used that money to buy something more tangible, and worrying about whether I had enough money to pay for petrol. Other things that make it unaccessible: not physically being able to get into a bath, living in a space too small for a bath, not having enough money to have a Netflix account to ‘binge watch’ a show, the list goes on.
My second qualm is that when I was focusing on achieving the perfect Instagram self care flatlay I neglected my basic needs. Instead of it being a way to relax, it became a way to either procrastinate or a way to ignore other problems in my life. So I may be downstairs having a bath filled with rose petals and ylang ylang scents, but upstairs my bedroom floor was rife with dirty washing and rubbish. My bedding hadn’t been changed for a week and the deadline to my uni assignment was quickly counting down, but don’t fear because I could just drown them out with the sounds of ‘Asian Meditation Music’. The very little precious free time I had I used to use for washing and cleaning, but now it was taken up with pampering myself. Sometimes by indulging in a particular brand of self care we neglect the basics needs which improve our quality of everyday life. I escaped the clutter of my everyday life for a few hours, but was then dropped right back into the middle of it when I had to finally get out of my carefully curated bath.
And finally, I think that possibly we’ve become disconnected with the purpose of self care. It’s become a contest of who can come up with cutest idea and who can be the most colour co-ordinated. We’ve lost touch of caring for our bodies and have fallen prey to the businesses who have picked up on the trend and turned it into a money maker, much like when companies use body positivity as an advertising strategy. When you design your self care are you actually thinking about what your body wants and needs, or are you thinking about what you saw someone else do on an Instagram page and will look super cute when you post a picture later. Because that definitely happened to me, I completely lost touch of why I needed self care and started focusing on how I could be the best at self-care.
So here’s my takeaway from this past year: I need to take time for myself, I need to listen to what my body needs, and it’s necessary and vital for me to practice self-care. There’s no denying that. But I need to be realistic with my self care and not try to keep up with the big dogs who can afford luxuries that I can’t. Also what’s more satisfying, a nice long bath, or getting into clean sheets after a nice long bath because I’ve actually bothered to do some washing? For me, it’s the latter.
I can’t tell you how to rock your self-care. For some people it is bath bombs and candles, for others it’s fulfilling basic needs. For some people it’s exercising, for some it’s lounging around. But the main point is that one size does not fit all, so maybe we need to stop pushing a certain regime of self care and instead push the need to treat our bodies and our minds kindly and lovingly.