Image by Ellie Butcher
Words by Alex Howlett
‘SHOPPING IS MY CARDIO’ (Carrie Bradshaw)
‘Self-care’ has become a hot topic in the 21st century. Recently, this has been exacerbated by social media – at the time of writing this article, there exists over 1 million posts on Instagram which include a ‘#selfcare’. It’s a hot topic, which seems to be championed by hot, young people.
It is only recently that I have realised how strange my lifelong perceptions of self-care have been. Not just strange, but in some cases, completely ironic. Firstly, I have often thought of it as an absurd thing to worry about. To me, there is something faintly ridiculous about prioritising looking after yourself when there are so many other things to be doing. If you’re looking after yourself, it means that hedonism, aka short-term pleasure things, of any sort, are off of the list. There are the more obvious ones, like drinking, smoking and drugs, but it is the endless more subtle no-no’s which make me feel despondent about it. No chocolate and cake and cheese, or bread and chips and crisps… even shopping! That’s right – if you indulge in too much shopping, and run out of money, that’ll increase your stress levels, and then damage your mental health in some way. In my mind, literally every fun thing you can think of goes against the rules of self-care. Right now I’m picturing Bernard from Black Books sat at his desk looking quizzical and pissed off with a cigarette in his hand.
On top of this, I’ve thought of it as a particularly indulgent and middle-class occupation. What kind of person has the time to ensure they are looking after their physical and mental health on a consistent basis when LIFE is shoving you through a shit storm every week? A person with lots of money, surely. If we return to the orderly and coherent arena of my imagination, we’ll be presented with a girl who woke up at 5am this morning to go to the gym, was downing her oatmeal smoothie by 7am and was ready to head to her overpriced yoga retreat by the time the rest of the world had managed to press the snooze buttons on their iPhones for the first time. As I type this, I’m experiencing surges of resentment towards this fictional character.
Clearly, I need to make some mental – and consequently physical – readjustments. Whilst there are probably elements of the self-care and well-being sector in the 21st century which are ridiculous, essentially, I have come to realise it is the complete opposite of my preconceived notions: not making the effort to look after yourself is pretty selfish.
And how did I come to this conclusion? After centuries of humanity having to go to through nauseating things like the bubonic plague and being lepers, we have finally entered into the 21st century. Not only do we have the privilege of the internet, cheap Easyjet flights and Netflix, but also (for the most part) the removal of the threat of infectious diseases in first world countries. Taking their places are other health problems, many of which can be prevented through the sustained act of self-care. Not only is this kinder to yourself, but also would make life easier for the struggling NHS.
However, this is easier said than done, as apparently is the case with pretty much everything. I’m quite a selfish person. I like being comfortable, and lazy. I like to sleep excessive amounts, smoke and drink on a regular basis. I eat chocolate and pick my spots. This isn’t the description of a person associated with the concept of ‘self-care’. I feel the majority of the population who turn to that reassuring list of no-no’s in times of hardship (every day after work) would also stick a middle finger up at the healthy lifestyle fanatics.
On a personal level, I know a good first step would be to stop associating looking after yourself with bourgeois, blonde megababes. They are in no way related. In fact, I had a major lightning bolt realisation just this morning. A real game-changer. This occurred whilst telling my mum that I thought I needed a back massage. ‘I have this strange thing that when I try to straighten up, my arms go numb and feel all fizzy.’ She looked mildly concerned and told me to go to the physiotherapist, mentioning that it was important to sort these things out whilst you’re young. That was when it hit me. Self-care isn’t being super-hot and into yoga. It’s about the little things, like respecting the people who had to go through much harder things like the plague by looking after your posture, avoiding obesity and cutting down on the cigarettes. Here is my small piece of wisdom. Two decades of hard thinking has boiled down to this revelation: remembering that my body is not invincible will help me feel a little more invincible and less like a zombie. For something which sounds so simple, it also seems to be something which the majority of us struggle to do.