How Self-Care has Emerged and Transformed Throughout the Decades
Self-care in the 21st century refers to any activity done for the purpose of taking care of one’s mental, emotional or physical health. Originally a term coined from the medical field, then as a social movement in the 60s, the concept of self-care has always been around, but has just recently grown into a $10 billion industry.
As a medical term, self-care was a way for an individual with certain ailments to treat oneself with healthy habits, under the guidance of a medical professional. In the 1960s era of the Civil Rights Movement, self-care became a term for a political act, especially by the Black Panthers and Women of Color. Self-care was a form of empowerment against systems like the mainstream medical field that catered to the majority white population, which proves to be relevant to this day.
Writer and civil rights activist Audre Lorde once wrote, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
In the present day, self-care has emerged into this generation’s trends as a social practice. Self-care can entail anything from taking a social media cleanse, getting a facial done, doing a week-long juice cleanse, or buying any material goods to “treat yourself.” Because of the rise of self-care in popular culture, the beauty, and wellness industries are flourishing.
Many companies are able to promote their products through partnerships and ads—targeting the average person scrolling through their feeds. Self-improvement advertisements for products and services use different appeals, especially through celebrity and influencer endorsements that reach potential consumers in hopes of bettering themselves.
While the emergence of the self-care industry has promoted the health of one’s mind, body and spirit, it is a highly capitalized industry. According to Market Watch, the average American spends $2,388 a year on “non-essential items” for the purposes of self-care. The industry has flourished with more and more people “treating” themselves. Does this mean they are genuinely feeling happier and healthier?
The wellness industry, which encompasses all activities that promote physical and mental well-being, is associated with the self-care industry. Like self-care, the wellness industry has brought products and services that are marketed as essential, “feel-good” products.
Although trends like fitness boutiques promote the input of exercise into one’s lifestyle, some of these trends can be detrimental to the body. One of the more well-known and controversial wellness and safe-care products are detox teas. These detox teas claimed to help with decreasing water retention, bloating and weight loss. Brands like Flat Tummy Tea or Fit Tea are often promoted by celebrities and social media influencers as being their “go-to” teas to cleanse themselves before a big red-carpet event, or after the holidays. While these teas are marketed as natural and healthy, many contain an herbal laxative called sennoside, which can be potentially dangerous when consumed in large quantities and has been linked to eating disorders. This issue has become so controversial that certain social media platforms have censored posts from users younger than 18 that endorse these diet products. This is just one example of the harmful effects of an industry that appeals to consumers, but disregards what they are supposed to stand for.
Self-care has evolved throughout the decades and there is no doubt it will continue to evolve in the future. In a country where stress levels are rising among the population, the self-care industry may progress into one that emphasizes more on catering towards one’s mental health needs. While the products and services commonly associated with self-care offer short-term relaxation and contentment, the industry itself is highly capitalized. Focusing more on mental health and wellness may shift the views of the public on what self-care should be as opposed to what it actually is.
Erin Terada is a second-year journalism major who will be burning her face masks in protests. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Art by Contributing Artist Julia Young.