Self-Care, Self-Delusion, Self-Awareness: How well-being became a global concept and what it means

With exams approaching and various deadlines creeping up on us, think back to how many times in the last week you thought of a day off from studying, a food item, or a purchase as ‘self-care’. Personally, I bought a delicious pastry from my local Italian bakery because I felt that I deserved a treat for having worked so hard and that the sugar intake would also boost my morale enough to do something genuinely productive that day, beyond watching travel documentaries. It worked. Like so many people, I was engaging with the viral trend called self-care, or alternatively ‘treating myself’ as the term has been popularised by that iconic snippet from Parks and Recreation. For a cultural phenomenon that is so widely prevalent in our society, it is still a largely under-researched area of human behaviour. Why do we feel the need to assign a label to things as mundane as buying dessert? More importantly, what does it show about the state of our mental and emotional health?

Whilst there have been articles published on the topic of why indulging yourself is vital to overall health – a sentiment that I do agree with – I do not think that these have gotten to the true heart of the matter, which is the fact that we live in a society that actively encourages depriving yourself of enjoyment, instead of promoting a healthy balance between necessity and pleasure. By this, I am primarily referring to the mentality which celebrates overworked and sleep-deprived people as heroes of the workplace. The more productive you are, the more social recognition you will receive, and the better you will feel about yourself and the value that you are creating. So, we have created an atmosphere in which we laud people for pushing themselves to their boundaries because it shows their determination to go and achieve. We don’t need to go far for examples. Beyoncé’s 2018 Homecoming Coachella performance, recently uploaded to Netflix, had people talking about how monumental the performance was and how much work Beyoncéput into this truly phenomenal performance. Even when she reveals in the documentary that she had a difficult birth, that she went back to rehearsals a mere two months after having her twins, or that she limited herself to a very strict raw vegan, no carb and no sugar diet, only a handful of the commenters were talking about the dangers of her effort. Instead, people were congratulating her on being a multi-tasking mother-wife-performer-all around Queen. On another personal note, and without intending to liken myself to Beyoncé, I often find myself in the same thought process. I push myself to study even when my mind is elsewhere, I limit my diet to what I consider to be healthy even if I really crave something and so forth, purely because I believe on a subconscious level that this way, I can achieve that level of idealistic perfection that I’ve set for myself.