I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what self-care really means in this pervasive Instagram culture we live in. When news broke of the untimely passing of the young yet acclaimed rapper Mac Miller; dying of a drug overdose my heart stood still for a moment. I realized I’d lost count of all of the celebrities who’ve lost their lives to mental illness in 2018 alone. Even the wealthiest of us cannot buy our way to healing, including Mac Miller, who released his final project on August 3 with an aptly-named track, “Self-Care,” that reflects on his own attempts at being safe and healthy. His death comes after a long year of losses of people who had seemingly comfortable lives in which they were well cared for – including DJ Avicii, Anthony Bourdain, and Kate Spade.
A practice originally rooted in medical origins, self-care has been co-opted in recent years by an industry that preys on the mental and financial well-being of its consumers. We’ve been taught that it’s easy to buy our way to self-care with oils, crystals, Xanax, or trips to Bali. The question is: When you have access to everything you need to care for yourself — how can you possibly lack mental wellness? Society persists in trying to sell us on the notion that these lifestyles are the ultimate self-care — insistent that these celebrities who can afford anything their hearts desire will always be happy with their lives.
The New York Times’ podcast Still Processing, recently reflected on how Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop brand of self-care helped usher in a “seductive alternative” to the healthcare systems that often fail to take on the pain of women — “at a price,” and it’s a very steep one. Goop currently sells all kinds of wellness products at inflated prices from to $28 Coconut Butter to $3,500 dildos made of 24K gold (because, girl, Bruno was right, this 24 karat magic will save your soul). Are women in such deep need of wellness and mental healthcare that even the most expensive (and oft-ineffective) alternatives now seem like a realistic possible alternatives to adequate health care?
For women of color, I would argue the answer is “yes.” Women of color require self-care more than most. Not only are we leading some of the most critical social justice fights of our time — but we’re also being sold misguided dreams. Lately, self-care for women of color has meant achieving major capitalistic gains. In other words: if you can find a way to have it all and do it all, then you’ll be alright). Taking care of yourself means acquiring fame (or being connected to someone who is), money, independence, or physical perfection. We continue to be sold on a brand of self-care that looks like the girl on Instagram who has the dopest job(s), the coolest squad, the best vacations, her own brand, adoring fans, a fine ass partner, and time to take care of people in her family and community.
It is simply not enough to turn to an internal spiritual practice rooted in therapy, prayer, meditation, and quiet reflection because those things often don’t make space for the performative self-care that’s become so popular. They require us to be alone and do extensive work to heal our traumas. They force us to look at the ugliest parts of our lives for so long that we eventually become convinced of our own beauty. Self-care in its truest form – doing the constant, quiet internal work to heal and build-up yourself – is not sexy enough for today’s society, especially if you’re a Black or Brown woman. If you’re not saving the world with your talents, money, and fame, what are you even doing?
We need to find spaces that allow us to practice true self-care, separated from notions of money, fame, drugs, travel, perfectionism, and consumerism. That type of self-care is difficult but over time it is beautiful and freeing — and it costs you nothing.