Column: COLUMN: Self-care is about happiness — not the price

The assumptions society has about self-harm and self-care can limit how people participate in self-care and promote their mental and physical health.

Abigail Ruhman is a sophomore journalism major at MU. She is an opinion columnist who writes about student life, politics and social issues for The Maneater.

As the stress of college settles in, students tend to start investing in some much needed self-care. As a concept, self-care is relatively easy to understand. Taking time to pamper yourself is necessary for our mental and physical health, but the action of doing so can be vastly different from person to person. However, the art of self-care is necessary for everyone.

For some, self-care can simply be the absence of self-harm, but as you dive deeper into the world of self-preservation, the definition of words, such as self-harm and self-care, can change based on public perception. While TV shows and movies, like “13 Reasons Why” and “Heathers,” likes to depict self harm as an easy-to-recognize series of signs, it can present itself in a variety of different forms.

Sarah Kessling, a trainer for a Harmless, a non-profit that works to educate people about the symptoms and consequences of self-harm, explains the media’s influence in our understanding of self-harm in an interview with Mental Health Today.

“The biggest challenge is the inaccurate message that’s out there. The media portrays self-harm as ‘attention seeking,’ ‘manipulative’ and ‘the teenage women problem.’ It’s that inaccurate information that gets out that affects how we can intervene,” she said.

The overdone image of teenage angst has left us with an incomplete understanding of the problem. Working too much, not eating enough, or denying yourself sleep are all forms of self-harm, but they have been normalized. This is how the modern concept of self-care became indulging in things that are necessary in life. Promising yourself a full night’s sleep if you finish an assignment isn’t self-care; it’s proof that society has conditioned people to consider basic health a luxury.

If you go deeper than just the absence of self-harm, you’ll encounter an additional problem: self-care has been exploited by capitalists. In a world of workaholism and being told that breaks have to be earned, the radical act of taking care of yourself has been turned into a sales pitch. The self-care industry has carved out a $400 billion space to fight for your attention. From self-care makeup to self-care temporary tattoos, the traditional concept of doing something you enjoy has been purchased and directed by corporations.

Self-care isn’t about doing what the world wants you to do, it’s the act of identifying what brings you joy. It is the implementation of happiness on days that you need it, and the recognition that this isn’t a luxury. Self-care is a part of living in a world that constantly asks people to give their all.

According to Lexico English Dictionary, the definition of self-care is, “the practice of taking action to preserve or improve one's own health.” Your quality of life is dependant on you finding and engaging in a healthy form of self-care. If the media and corporate portrayal lead us to believe that self-care is a purchase or the absence of unhealthy habits, people are conditioned to believe that self-care is a certain dollar amount or a certain set of behaviors.

Self-care is the art of being selfish, but it isn’t selfish to demand what you need. By allowing capitalism to shape the general understanding of self-care, society has turned living a healthy lifestyle into a game of relaxation scheduled around an overloaded schedule.

In order to live a healthy life, self-care is less of a luxury and more of a necessity. Society has convinced people that anything that prevents you from work has to be earned, but working isn’t the only purpose of life. Taking time and enjoying things that make you happy is an important part of being a healthy person.

Finding joy and excitement makes life more enjoyable. Self-care is an art that you have to perfect on your own. Whether you listen to musicals or color or go running, self-care is whatever makes your day a little brighter and keeps your mind and body healthy.

Edited by Roshae Hemmings | rhemmings@themaneater.com

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