There is a dire need for a whole generation that has grown up fiddling their thumbs on gadgets since they were two to realise that what they have essentially termed as self-care, is not exactly that

Pick an Instagram post with a self-care checklist. 

Box 1: take a warm bath. Box 2: make yourself a cup of tea. Box 3: use a nice smelling hand cream. 

Boy, if only soap could wash away what years of conditioning have taught us to feel.

Welcome to the era of self-care, where accountability is alien, and champagne fixes everything. That is, until your next breakdown.

An assignment is due but instead of adhering to a deadline, you prefer bingeing a show. You have a commitment that requires you to show up, but you don’t ‘feel like it’. Cue self-care, loosely used to get out of situations where you really don’t need the care, but just want to think about the self, showing up be damned. Hell, the hashtag for self-care at the moment of writing this article pulls up 61.5 million posts, and just #selfcarethreads is 2.3 million posts. I scroll through a few, and here’s what I find: boxes of pizza, face masked faces, a really nice tub, aesthetically laid down beauty products on a patch of grass, and my biggest nightmare — healing crystals. 

For all that we blame pop culture on, our earlier shows, even F.R.I.E.N.D.S, encouraged the idea to talk to someone whose opinion you value when things are going wrong. I remember till at least a decade ago, a bad day was not dumbed down by ‘just take a break and get into a bath’ or ‘tell yourself you’re okay’. The only really bad example of ‘self-care’ from that time of television that I can recollect was Carrie Bradshaw buying stuff left, right, and centre on a bad day (I realise I can hate on Bradshaw for everything), but that’s more of a retail therapy problem, although that too, comes under the garb of self-care, because ‘treat yoself’. 

Look at this example. A has just gotten an earful from their boss, and a warning. A knows it’s their fault, and that they have repeatedly missed the morning meeting, which has led to this unpleasant exchange. There are two things A can do. A can sulk, but then either sit down alone, or with a trusted colleague, to understand what is causing them to make the same error more than once — is it their focus, maybe they are bothered and distracted by something bigger, maybe they need to organise their calendar better to be able to punctually show up for the meeting? Or, A can sulk, feel attacked, and then head home to just take a break, i.e. order a pizza, open a bottle of wine, and fall asleep in front of the TV.

A chooses to do the latter. A is the victim of the Instagrammable self-care culture.

I know I sound like a total bummer, but trust me, I love bubble baths and bubbly just as much as the next person. However, tough love time — I cannot believe that solves anything except maybe allows me to cool my head about something. There is a dire need for a whole generation that has grown up fiddling their thumbs on gadgets since they were two to realise that what they have essentially termed as self-care, is not exactly that. There’s also a dire need for the rest of us who grew up watching Tarzan on TV to remember what social media parades as the ultimate form of self-care is the ultimate form of repression — and no amount of bath bombs are going to help when this repressed shit explodes all over us.

Please also note, the Instagram version of self-care is bloody expensive, and comes from a place of sheer privilege. A fancy ass candle, a ‘nice’ meal, a long, hot shower with some exotic products — it’s self indulgence, kids, not self-care. You do not need a Rs. 2,000 candle to feel good about yourself, you do not need that godawful crystal, and you do not need to chant ‘I love myself’ when you know you’re the one who hurt your friend, or screwed up at work.

Let me introduce to you, the real self-care. Gen Social Media, meet uncomfortable conversations with the self, responsibility, accountability for one’s actions, and knowing when to seek help. Here’s what you do to take care of yourself, and not just of your #moodoftheday.

Notice when something feels off. Just like A’s example, have you found yourself in the same situation more than once? Sitting down with yourself, understanding where you’re coming from, admitting to yourself where you’re going wrong takes courage. Mentally and emotionally evaluate your head space.

Take accountability for your actions. Given all the unsolicited advice about boundaries on social media, we have gone from having no boundaries to not having any tolerance towards being called out when we’re in the wrong, and instead, invoking the boundary clause, and then shutting ourselves off from people we love, because ‘self-care comes first’. This is bullshit, and deep down, you know it. Real self-care means taking responsibility for yourself, your actions, your baggage, and how it affects those around you. 

Sometimes, you need an extra hand of help. A bad day can be washed down with a few indulgent activities, a shower most certainly helps the mood. But a bad feeling will need more work than that. If you need a soundboard, speaking to a friend who has the space to have a conversation will help more than affirming to yourself. And then, there’s professional help. Stop, pause, and think about which one you need — is it a good meal, a friendly ear, or a doctor? 

It’s all fun and games until you realise your Pinterest board is not paying for your self-care candles. Taking care of yourself, sans aesthetics, counts for more. 

Take real care.