HOW SELF-CARE BECAME AN INDUSTRY
Goop Medicine Bag via shop.goop.com ($85)
This past year has been turbulent, to say the least. We’ve suffered the losses of several iconic singers and musicians, an increasing number of celebrities are being outed for committing sexual assault, and it feels like every day unveils a new scandal in the Trump administration. These occurrences aren’t entirely tragic – the traction of #MeToo has given voice to thousands of victims and backlash towards Trump has inspired an expected record of 100 women to be elected to congress in 2018 – but the tense circumstances have renewed the social and political anxiety we were able to put to rest during earlier progressive waves in the 2000s.
The internet’s response to this resurrected unease is the new and exciting phenomenon of self-care. Self-care encourages an individual to do what felt best for oneself and to utilise healthy coping mechanisms in the wake of hardships. Though born from digital wellness communities, self-care is for everyone. It’s about practicing positive attitudes and actions that contribute to one’s well-being. A concept simple and inviting enough to be digested by the masses, self-care has spread like wildfire in recent years, sprouting everything from a rise in crystal sales to blogger-run weekend retreats.
This is where I, and many others, take issue with the self-care movement. Theories surrounding self-care are rooted in ancient Greek and Roman philosophy, though they weren’t popularised in the western world until the 1980s, when French philosopher Michel Foucault published The History of Sexuality, which identified self-care as an act of freedom to exercise over your own body and mind. But since then, the idea of self-care has taken a capitalistic turn; companies, entrepreneurs, and business tycoons recognise that self-care is something we need right now, and have in turn, branded and boxed it in all shapes and sizes.
The biggest offender in the controversial trend selling of self-care is Gwyneth Paltrow, founder and CEO of “lifestyle brand” Goop. Launched as a weekly email newsletter in 2008, Goop has since expanded to sell its own clothing, makeup, skincare, candles, supplements, and fragrances, as well as a producing a magazine, podcast, annual wellness summit, and recently, its first international pop-up shop in London. It’s not difficult to see that Goop, a company worth $250 million, has found success in monetising self-care. When browsing the Goop website, I noticed that the site offers plenty of opportunities to shop, both in tabs in the site’s header and through content that promotes its merchandise. This is normal for any website, I thought to myself. A quick browse in the ‘Wellness’ shop, however, affirmed that Goop’s brand of self-care is intensely profit-driven and caters only to the rich, with products ranging from a $10 tube of natural toothpaste to a $3500 24-karat gold sex toy.
Paltrow has made little effort to rebut critics, and believe me, a quick Google search proves that Goop has many. The New York Times reported on Paltrow’s appearance at Harvard Business School, where in response to a student’s question about engaging people with lesser incomes, Paltrow said, “It’s crucial to me that we remain aspirational. Not in price point, because content is always free.” For me, the word ‘aspirational’ reads more as ‘exclusionary,’ at least in the context in which Paltrow was using it. What she was describing was the elitism that Goop thrives off of – poorer people could read Goop, sure, but they could never participate in the expensive breed of self-care that Goop flaunts. Paltrow followed this up, and affirmed my newfound standing as a Goop critic, by saying, “Our stuff is beautiful. The ingredients are beautiful. You can’t get that at a lower price point. You can’t make these things mass-market.”
Goop is only one instance of the evolution of self-care as a capitalist commodity. Self-care is sold in all forms – meditation apps, organic bath bombs, expensive yoga classes, and overpriced tea, to name a few examples that I’ve encountered in my own life recently, some of which I’ve witnessed my peers partake in, and others that I’ve (guiltily) joined in on myself. This introduces the new question of when one should and should not indulge and feed the industrial self-care machine, which is ultimately an entirely personal choice. I might not be buying Goop’s $35 Moon Dust, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to swear off shopping at Lush.
Regardless of how you interact with the self-care trend, I think it’s up to all of us to work towards decapitalising it and returning the focus of self-care to loving and being patient with oneself. I’d like to round this off with something that has been stuck in my brain lately, and especially throughout composing this article - a quote from writer Audre Lorde on self-care in her 1988 novel, A Burst of Light: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”