The self-care hashtag has become a place for us all to share how we are looking after ourselves but the line between help and harm is becoming more blurred
The wellness industry has had a makeover in recent years. Self-help in the form of books and motivational talks from people who have built careers around helping us to ‘become our best selves’ have now been overtaken by the altogether more trendy practice of ‘self-care’. Softer, more fun, and something we’re all keen to talk about – self-care is part of a lifestyle defined by millennial values.
If we’re being critical – we can say that self-care is a symptom of a market of purchasable experiences like manicures and spa days. Cynicism aside, the ancient Greeks were practising self-care long before it was a multi-billion dollar industry. The Greek word ‘philautia’ translates to ‘self-love’ or ‘love of self.’ The ancient Greeks believed that self-care was positive not just for the individual, but for wider society too, because the more you love yourself, the more you could love others.
“Self-help and self-care reflect a fundamental optimism that we can make changes, that my changing our thinking or simple behaviours we can increase the likelihood of positive outcomes,” says Dr Pamela Rutledge, “It is linked to the Law of Attraction which says that we have the ability to attract into our lives whatever we focus on; it is the power of positive thinking.”
Scrolling through Instagram, it doesn’t take long to be greeted with a plethora of pictures of friends and influencers wearing face masks, sharing their shopping spree or pictures of their latest spa day. All with the helpful hashtag, #selfcare. The self-care hashtag has become a place for us all to share how we are looking after ourselves.
“Self-care is extremely important to me. I’ve been an influencer and blogger for years now. I post about self-care because it’s about me showing love to myself, being happy with myself and encouraging others that they should show themselves love and take care of their wellbeing,” explains social media influencer Urszula.
But with its huge social media presence, is self-care is at risk of becoming a carefully curated lifestyle? Many of the images showcased on social media seem to consist of beautiful, slim women in bubble baths, green juice in mason jars, and yoga classes in beautiful parts of the world. When we share our self-care practices, who is it really for?
“I think sharing my self-care related content benefits my audience that comes across my content,” Urszula continues. “It encourages them to practice self-care and to realise that they need to truly care for themselves to achieve healthy mental, emotional and physical health.”
“Sharing my self-care related content benefits my audience that comes across my content. It encourages them to practice self-care and to realise that they need to truly care for themselves to achieve healthy mental, emotional and physical health” – Urszula
Rebecca Lockwood, author of The Females Handbook: Step into your Personal Potential, explains that self-care is just one step in the practice of wellness – but that sharing it is a big part of her life too. “I have a lot of business owners and mums who follow me and I like to think that by seeing (on social media) that I walk my talk and prioritise my self-care, that they can too,” she says. In sharing self-care, we are increasingly creating a conversation around it and encouraging others to take part. But does the real self-care lie within the action of sharing our practices with the world?
“Humans are social animals. Likes (on social media) make everyone feel good. We all crave social acceptance and validation,” explains director of the Media Psychology Research Centre, Dr Pamela Rutledge. “Likes, however, that are not attached to some action or accomplishment are less valuable. If someone is receiving likes for sharing information about, for example, self-care, the likes can have a different interpretation. Instead of “they LIKE me,” it can be seen as “they LIKE the content, they find what I’m sharing valuable in some way.”
When we share self-care, we are telling all of our followers that we are practising it. Telling the world that, yes, we’ve got it together. While it’s unlikely we are actively searching out self-care in the form of social recognition – we will likely get it purely from feeling like we have done something good for others.
“I always feel as though when I share my self-care habits and routines I am inspiring others to put themselves first too, which makes me feel as though I am doing something positive and empowering to others,” explains Rebecca. “I think there is an element of self-care in sharing our self-care because doing something that feels good always ticks the self-care box.”
“I always feel as though when I share my self-care habits and routines I am inspiring others to put themselves first too, which makes me feel as though I am doing something positive and empowering to others. There is an element of self-care in sharing our self-care because doing something that feels good always ticks the self-care box” – Rebecca Lockwood
Nowadays, we all have an awareness of the internet and social media being filled with largely performative, metaphorical and gestural content and it’s becoming less likely we believe that people’s lives are brilliant purely because they sat in a bubble bath. But is the act of sharing our self-care meaning that we are less present in the actual moment?
Dr Rutledge says, “There is a tendency to view social media posting as being about ‘gaining social recognition’ as if it were a negative akin to bragging. There is some of that, but sharing any activity can reinforce the individual’s appreciation of an event, make them more reflective and mindful, which can increase meaning as well as making them feel more connected to the people they share with.”
In a world in which social media is increasingly a reflection of our everyday lives, personalities and activities it is possible to argue that it would be strange not to share self-care activities as we share pictures of our favourite cocktails. Sharing seems to be an extremely normal part of life that we are all-embracing, and in sharing and encouraging others to practice self-care – giving social media a healthy dose of positivity from which it is often deprived.
“Losing sight of the point of self-care by focusing on the sharing can, of course, cause stress and negative emotions,” concludes Dr Rutledge. “But this would be true of any action, online or offline, that is performed for the sake of getting approval rather than for some intrinsic value.”