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An Introduction to Self-care and Capitalism


Recently, life has been overwhelming as many of us navigate one of the most unpredictable times of our lives. This has caused many of us to learn more about self-care in an effort to address overwhelming feelings through hard times. I love self-care and encourage everyone to participate in some form of it daily. However, like most things in life, self-care has quickly become captured by capitalism. 

Self-care is a concept that originated during the 1980s within Black activist circles. First used by Audre Lorde in ‘88, self-care was consumed by late-stage capitalism and “appropriated by, white corporate feminism and the industrial wellness complex”. Lorde coined the term while fighting against cancer and the political status quo writing, “caring for myself is not an act of self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare”. However, what was once an act of not just rebellion but an act necessary for survival, turned into an act largely connected with relaxing in a sheet mask

While “self-care” has long been co-opted by the market and gained popularity throughout the 2010s, it has been completely revolutionized within the current context of living through a pandemic. With The New York Times writing articles like, “Why Self-Care Isn’t Selfish,” self-care has become a priority in a world where it seemed impossible for many to find any sense of peace. The same reigned true, to a lesser degree, during the 2010s when self-care began being more widely recognized as a necessary practice. According to The Guardian, ”Self-care was very appealing for women who were overwhelmed... [and] crushed under the weight of the emotional and physical labour of running a household and working and maintaining a family and friendship, women who were burning out.”

Self-care began being used both as an incantation and declaration of rights since it allowed many to gain agency over their time and emotional capacity. What was once openly accessible, publicly now became sacred and closely monitored by individuals. People were now questioning how much emotional energy they gave to the things and people around them, but this term became so broad, lost in translation, and altered by capitalism, that it covered recovering cancer patients needing rest to individuals just craving a spa day. 

Both of these are forms of self-care as self-care is unique for every individual. However, as it becomes a more modern and standard practice, more and more “self-care” is associated with materialism and capitalism—such as buying facemasks— than actual mental and physical care. Additionally, when implementing Audre Lorde’s radical form of self-care, it coincides not only with the individual self but with community care. This is also lost on many individuals when practicing self-care in its current monetized form. As it currently stands, capitalism incorrectly defines self-care in society. However, community and collective care can’t be captured by capitalism and turned into a product to be bought back as it includes things like being a better neighbor, supporting and being an active member of your community, and structural changes in society like a four-day workweek. 

While self-care has largely turned into something that has to be bought, such as Lush bath bombs reserved for those with the privilege of turning out the $10 for the pretty galaxy balls, there are many ways to participate in anti-capitalist forms of self-care. Self-care has been commodified into a ten-million-dollar industry, however, here are some ways to combat that by performing anti-capitalist acts of self-care for yourself. Still, self-care includes community and I would encourage you to donate time to your community and support initiatives and causes that support a better quality of all. This includes advocating for members of your community even when it does not affect you as an individual. So, while capitalism would like us to forget, self-care is collective care. If you only participate in facemasks after work to unwind, you are indulging in self-care that is a product of white feminism and capitalism. Real self-care requires effort and extends beyond the “self”. 

Featured Image via Raphael Lovaski


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