One night, I was beating myself up about my inconsistent self-care routine: Face masks, baths, and solo dates were all things I wanted to do but couldn’t make a habit. But then I started to wonder if these activities really showed care toward myself. Does a bath really make me happier? Would I show people I love them through skincare? I started to question what I considered “care.” If I were to show myself true care, what would that look like? What would bring me closer to myself? What activities could quell my anxieties or boost my self-esteem? What would speak to the discouraged, defeated parts of my psyche and help restore my attitude? I quickly realized that body scrubs and candles couldn’t do it. Like much of our culture, I was confusing self-care with self-maintenance and, in the process, denying and ignoring a key aspect of self in the pursuit of better skin and a more aesthetic nighttime routine. It was time to make some changes.
The difference between maintenance and care
When we perform cursory searches for “self-care routines”, we’re often inundated with videos and articles about face masks, candles, or body butter. Social media’s definition of self-care has become incredibly superficial and steeped in consumerism. When we examine the landscape of social media, self-care can look like a performative, elaborate routine that may actually cause more anxiety than relief because of the expectation. Even with this obsession with “self-care,” I think we’re missing the actual care part of it.
What our culture has believed to be self-care is actually self-maintenance. The 10-step skin routines, workout regimens, and biweekly mani/pedi are more about maintaining our physical bodies than caring for our internal selves. We’re maintaining our physiques, our appearances, and our collection of the latest Sol de Janeiro scents. For example, think of a car: You aren’t caring for your car by having your oil changed and your tires rotated. You’re maintaining it. You’re doing what’s necessary to keep it functioning or looking its best. Maintenance can include working out, skin regimens, hair appointments, and the like, but care is something different altogether. When I was looking at my “self-care” practice, I realized my routines were only maintaining me in my current state. They weren’t refreshing my spirit or eliciting any joy.
Care is what brought me joy and nourished me from the inside out. Care took care of my soul. Care meant getting in touch with my emotions and bringing balance when everything in my world felt out of whack. Maintenance made sure I was healthy and well enough to care for myself; it helped me look the part while care helped me feel it.
How to create a true self-care practice
I’ve learned that showing myself care means learning new skills, writing, and taking a dance class for the fun of it (not the workout). Care can look like reading books or spending more quality time with friends and family. Care can look like therapy, limiting time on social media, or setting boundaries. Bottom line: Care is highly individual, and what feels like care to me will likely look entirely different than what feels like care to you. Think about: What activities bring you joy? When you’re feeling down or stressed, what helps to lift your spirits? Examining what makes you feel like your best self can help you determine how you can actually care for yourself.