The Plus Factor: Is Self-Care Becoming Too Selfish?

Photo: Stocksy/Nabi Tang

This week on The Plus Factor, we’re talking about the self-care revolution. Taking time to give yourself the nurturing (and rest) you need is often life-changing. But is the Snapchatting, Instagramming, Facebook Live-ing of it all creating changes that aren't quite so positive? 

Over the past couple years, there's been a collective (true!) recognition that you can't do anything very well—whether it's pursuing your dreams, running a company, or taking care of other people —if you don't take care of yourself first. It's something you hear all the time, right? It's the self-care mantra.

So, you buy a $9 smoothie and Instagram it with the hashtag #worthit. You get up early to sweat, and ride the endorphin high all day. You ignore the Saturday night party invite texts and reply to your friends that you need a "me" night, and take a long healing soak in the tub (and get your Netflix on). And the next morning, you Instagram your dreamy bedroom, with a magazine and matcha latte placed ever so thoughtfully on the nightstand.

How did the movement Audre Lorde partly inspired become known as some kind of next-gen ladies-who-lunch?

There's certainly nothing wrong with smoothies, SoulCycle, and cozy bedrooms. There's nothing wrong with Netflix. But after a certain point, does all this good-for-you self-care start to become a little...well, selfish? Where's the line?

"Social media has turned it into something very frivolous," says Nikisha Brunson, co-founder of Urban Bush Babes and creator of Folie Apothecary. It's something The New Yorker touched upon as well, saying wellness is "often dismissed as frivolity, another way for wealthy white women to spend money and obsess about their bodies."

In a line that launched a thousand memes, feminist writer Audre Lorde said, "Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare"—so how did the movement she partly inspired become known as some kind of next-gen ladies-who-lunch?

"I think what's been going on lately is that people are kind of stopping there [with social media]," says Nitika Chopra—‎talk show host, self-love guru, and beauty and lifestyle expert. "They'll do all this self-care and make sure they feel really good, but then they aren't taking any time to go put that energy out into the world. What are you doing with all this good energy and good vibes that you are making sure you have all the time?"

It's an interesting question. What exactly is the point of self-care, and what's the best way to approach it authentically—both on and off social media?

woman drinking smoothie
Photo: Stocksy/Guille Faingold

Self care isn't one-size-fits-all

Self-care is something Elizabeth Kott and Stephanie Simbari talk a lot about on their podcast, That's So Retrograde. "What we've learned through talking with all the people on the show is that every human body is different," Simbari says. "So while it's cool that taking care of yourself has become trendy, when it becomes one-size-fits-all, it's useless."

Kott agrees saying, "Wellness isn't meant to be rigid, and Instagram can put everything into a lens of rigidity." The lesson: Not everything you see hashtagged #selfcare is going to resonate with you—and that's fine. And even if you're on a healthy path with a regular mindful practice, there will be bad days and even ugly cries—and that's okay, too.

"Society has made it look like this luxurious thing you do every once in a while, like going to a spa or relaxing getaway. Not everyone has access to that type of self-care."

"I hate that self-care has become a 'trend,'" says Brunson, the Urban Bush Babes co-founder, of this Instagram-ification of wellness. "Society has made it look like this luxurious thing you do every once in a while, like going to a spa or relaxing getaway. Not everyone has access to that type of self-care." To her, it's more about everyday healthy rituals to keep her body and mind energized, like going to bed at the same time every night and eating wholesome foods.

"What about the people who can't afford [what's being Instagrammed as self-care] or who aren't even mobile enough to get out of bed?" Chopra asks. "Self-care is really about getting back to the basics. One of my favorite forms of it is literally watching funny 'Carpool Karaoke' videos on YouTube. That's self-care." 

friends having coffee
Photo: Stocksy/Brainslav Jovanovic

Feel the (self) love, then pass it on

Finding the type of self-care that resonates with you is key. But what comes next? "It's important that we not walk around depleted," Chopra says. "But once you're energized and feeling good, it's important to ask yourself, 'What am I going to do with all this good energy?'" The ways in which you can use that energy to make change in the world are endless. "Volunteer at a church that helps the homeless, foster an animal, call your congressman," she says.

 "If my friend invites me to, like, five things and every time I say I need a 'me, night,' I'm going to get called out on it."

Kott, of That's So Retrograde, says her friends straight up tell her if her self-care starts to veer into selfish territory. "If my friend invites me to, like, five things and every time I say I need a 'me' night, I'm going to get called out on it. I rely on my friends a little bit to keep me in check." One way around it is inviting your friends to do nourishing activities with you. "Stephanie and I have wellness dates all the time," Kott says.

She also adds that no one is going to get the balance perfect all the time, and that's okay. "We're coming from a place in society where self-care was just not acceptable. So if it edges into selfishness sometimes because we're still learning how to take care of ourselves, I don't think that's necessarily bad." It's a learning process.

friends taking selfie at yoga
Photo: Stocksy/Kate Daigneault

Here's how to Instagram, the healthier way

It's completely normal to want to post about the amazing ombre smoothie you just made or the fact that you killed your Barry's Bootcamp workout. But there's a way to do it without making your friends want to unfollow you.

"The key is authenticity," Kott says. "What's your motivation behind it? Are you doing it for the likes, or to communicate an idea about something that really helps you? If it's the latter, that's really special and you should keep doing it."

"What's your motivation behind it? Are you doing it for the likes, or to communicate an idea about something that really helps you?"

Posting about your self-care habits can actually be really helpful to other people. Kott points out that a big reason why she and Simbari started a podcast in the first place was to talk about different tools people can use that they might not know about. But it's important to check yourself before you post. "If you're posting something to make other people feel bad about all the stuff they aren't doing, that's not cool," Brunson, of Urban Bush Babes, says.

In the end, it all comes down to mindset: Are you truly caring for yourself, and ultimately your family, friends, neighbors, and fellow citizens? Or are you in it for the likes? It's powerful stuff—yes, self-care can be "an act of political warfare" because it helps you become your full, healthy, energized self: loud and proud. So take that nightly bath with essential oils. Nourish yourself with bone broth you made in your Instant Pot. And keep your commitment to make it to 7 a.m. yoga twice a week. Or, even more life-changing (and free!): Try going to bed at 9 p.m. every night.

Is any of this selfish? Of course not. If anything, being a bit more selfish would help—in the form of "reclaiming your time" (a la Congresswoman Maxine Waters) from social media. So, next time you're doing a mask-and-soak #SelfCareSunday? Leave your phone out of it.

Find out why now is the perfect time to become an activist. Here's how to get involved in your local government.

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