How Genuine Is “Self Care”?

“Self-Care is kinda BS”- Anna Hardie

The other day I watched a youtube video titled “Self-Care is Kinda BS” by one of my favorite Youtubers Arpi Park. To introduce, Arpi Park has a generous following of 265k followers on Youtube and is most well-known for his videos on documenting his experience as a student at Stanford University. I was expecting the title to be clickbait and was a bit surprised to hear about how Arpi actually dismisses the concept of self-care. The video starts off by Arpi explaining how many people in today’s society believe in the concept of “limited willpower”. This concept became popular during the early 2000s and is basically the theory explaining how everytime you do something, you are cutting back on this objective reservoir of willpower inside you. Under this theory, if you are being very productive all day and consistently resist the multiple temptations that take you away from getting important stuff done (ex. social media, watching Netflix, chatting with friends, etc.), you will eventually cave-in because we are all limited in how much self-control you have. 

In short, the theory suggests that in order to have moments of productivity, people need moments of unproductivity to refuel or recharge. This theory might make sense or familiar to you because it’s deeply ingrained in our conception of work-life balance. For example, if you believe in the practice of self-care you also likely believe in the idea of limited willpower. Self-care comes from the idea that we need to give ourselves time to rejuvenate in order to continue functioning in the future. This is connected to the idea of limited willpower and how humans need downtime at some point. Arpi rejects the concept of limited willpower and concludes that students “don’t need self-care as much as we think”. He believes that only those who believe that self-care is necessary will need self-care to function better. In essence, you are only limited in willpower if you think you are. 

My first response after watching the video was similar to the likely response of when you first read this article title: People aren’t working robots that have endless energy and self-control, how can you NOT value self-care!? But then I realized I was missing Arpi’s point. What he’s suggesting is not that humans abandon self-care but humans are only limited in willpower if one thinks they are. The real question is how much of my choices are due to my belief in the concept of limited willpower? For instance, when I choose to take a break, how much of this decision is because of a belief in limited willpower or actual fatigue? How much of my fatigue or mental exhaustion from school is built up in my brain? Although I don’t completely agree with Arpi’s argument, his video has definitely made me reflect on how I use the term self-care and re-evaluate how important it is in my life. 

On a personal level, to some extent I can see how not all my self-care habits are as 100% necessary as I thought. That’s not to say that if you’re exhausted or burnt out, you shouldn’t take time off to rest. It’s inhuman to assume that your emotional state is invalid, even if a portion of it is due to some placebo effect or your belief in limited-willpower. But I do agree with Arpi that self-care is not the magical cure for unhappiness as it is made up on instagram. It’s definitely healthy to reflect on what it means to rejuvenate and what our own individual conception of self-care is. Like many, my version of self-care was a term that is deeply rooted in consumerism. Self-care products are often single-use items and come with excessive packaging, contributing to Canada’s total waste. There are definitely a lot of different definitions of self-care out there but it’s important to remember that our mainstream understanding of it is product based and comes from ads. 

On instagram, you can definitely see this idea of how self-care is something highly feminine, cute, individualistic, and self-oriented. You get this feeling that you can’t do self-care without a bathbomb, jade roller, scented candle, and face mask. This commercial idea of self-care is something that is misconstructed by our consumerist and capitalist society.

Recently, I’ve been trying to redefine what self-care means to me. Rather than accepting the definition that has been taught to me on social media, self-care has become something that is less “me”-centered and more community centered. I see that I am taking care of myself when I am carrying a meaningful conversation with someone or catching up with my friends over Zoom. I am also beginning to see community related activities as “self-care”, because if I ask myself what really matters to me, it is these social activities.

I do of course still enjoy making myself a good hot-chocolate and having a Hygge moment but I’ve learned to include more sociable aspects as a way to rejuvenate. I’ve learned that cutting back on a few hours of sleep to connect with an old friend can actually give me more energy than giving myself an early night every day of the week. Self-care was once a term that encouraged me to buy a lot of unnecessary projects and excuse me from social connections but now it is one that actually helps me take care of my mental health. How do you define self-care?

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