Self-care Beyond Bubble Baths
Self-care is a room lit by scented candles, the sound of raindrops on roses and a bathtub filled to the brim with bubbles.
So, how to take care of yourself when even a boring shower feels like a burden?
Because, even though self-care is not synonymous to bubble baths, we all know that when the S word is dropped we’re talking about the newest bath bomb range at Lush and not, say, a peanut butter jelly sandwich. Because, even though a peanut butter jelly sandwich might be the best solution in a situation, self-care doesn’t trade in mundanity; it’s the things you do besides the things you do normally. Although the online Cambridge Dictionary drearily defines it as “the act of caring for yourself when you’re ill or to stop yourself from becoming ill”, self-care denotes a whole lifestyle that’s not as much an act against ailment as it’s a performance against normality. That is to say, the atypicality of a bubble bath (opposed to the regularity of a peanut butter jelly sandwich) makes it self-care (opposed to lunch).
Self-care as extra care
Self-care isn’t Survival. Or, at least, it isn’t when we’re talking about self-care as an extra step instead of a daily practice. Which we do. I mean, who even got the time (or the money) to declare bathtub war every. single. day. However, there’s a problem to self-care as extra care. Firstly, it assumes the presence of a universal standard or all-inclusive ‘normal’ to which we can happily apply these extra habits (how disappointing for those of us without a bath). Secondly, it negates the necessity of ‘normal’ acts and substitutes it for spectacle; where extraordinary lotions and potions wash away any disease, distress or depression. Sure, a smoothed outside doesn’t guarantee a soothed inside – no matter how hard we scrub, rub or rinse – but it’s the overly extravagant ritual that counts. Or so they say.
Otherwise there’s always another something-something on the market that could end world hunger. Or, in other words: there are enough big promises with small, overpriced solutions that doesn’t actually treat the thing, but, at the very least, makes you smell like roses. And while smelling like roses doesn’t hurt, the same can be said about a peanut butter jelly sandwich (except for those allergic to peanut butter and/or jelly). However, when self-care is an act that breaks with ordinary life, an ordinary peanut butter jelly sandwich won’t cut it. Even if it isn’t ordinary for you. So, returning to my question at the beginning: how to take care of yourself when even a boring shower feels like a burden? When a peanut butter jelly sandwich equates to a lavish bubble bath?
Instagrammable bubble baths
The easy answer to my question is obvious: self-care is what you make of it. Although, arguably, the small things you do everyday are more important than the big things you do once in a while. So burden yourself with that boring shower! Bulk buy that peanut butter and slather it on! However, as I’ve written in a previous post, just do it won’t do it. And, as a (wannabe) practitioner, it’s easier to opt for a bubble bath once every leap year (smoothing the surface) instead of making that peanut butter jelly sandwich (soothing the thing that actually needs to be smoothed). If not for yourself, it’s one-thousand-percent easier to do it for the ‘gram.
The ‘gram in this instance not (just) being the social media app Instagram, but the overly extravagant ritual; creating a shareable snapshot of what ‘could be’ self-care. And we all know bubble baths attract more likes than an empty jar of peanut butter… So the problem of self-care isn’t per definition the problem of self-care, but the problem of showing our self-care routines to others; the image of Instagrammable bubble baths that overshadows the hard work that comes to taking care, the boring way. So when you’re taking care the boring way, it isn’t seen as self-care but as the standard of ‘normal’ living; a standard that of course is set to accommodate a very particular group. #feministrantoftheday
An important red thread through this is of course the (newly found) marketability of mental health that transformed self-care from stigma to business. As a Man Repeller article pointfully states: “Self-care 2.0: Capitalism take the wheel”. Making us once again return to the bubble bath: an innocent complicit in this mental health sell-out scheme, where wonder products with wonder promises make your life wonderful. Or so they say. Self-care has become an aesthetic face-lift that forces a smile on your face. It’s retail therapy in its finest form. Whether you’re buying a lifestyle from your favourite influencer or the actual products, self-care as extra care as marketing trope is a self-care that isn’t here for your sanity, but for your salary.
Although there are plenty of people (and products) that (want to) go against the grain, tagging themselves as ‘boring self-care’, it’s still difficult to define self-care without a ‘more than normal’ attitude attached to it, regardless of its net worth. Because, while self-care is not synonymous to bubble baths, it’s also not synonymous to life. Yes, the boring variant chooses the side of peanut butter jelly sandwiches, but it inadvertently promotes another ‘enviable’ lifestyle with ‘wonder’ products that are found in additional everyday acts that, apparently, aren’t found in simply living your life. Don’t get me wrong, nurturing self-care back to its boring self is important. However, I wonder how an aesthetically pleasing checklist with ‘boring’ self-care tasks defies the logic of an aesthetically pleasing checklist with ‘un-boring’ tasks. Especially when both lists are still aimed to be shared and, most of all, consumed.
To conclude: is it enough to say “hey, it’s okay to trade that bubble bath for a boring shower”? When do we actually break through the surface and sooth the inside? Although I vouch for the importance of a (metaphorical) peanut butter jelly sandwich as part of your daily (metaphorical) nutrition plan, it’s not (just) our ailments that needs to be taken care of. Although presented as a failing individual body, it’s a body that’s part of a bigger picture. Therefore, (boring) self-care won’t resolve (all of) our problems as it adds to life instead of inspects our living conditions. We’re living in a sick culture and our lives are a symptom and not the disease. This is not to belittle any personal problems, but how can we stop ourselves from becoming ill if our surroundings keeps infecting us?
The question shouldn’t (just) be: how to take care of yourself when even a boring shower feels like a burden? But: how to take care of a culture that’s aimed to make you sick?