Why self-care is more than masking

Wednesday, 5 October 2016


A friend once said to me that taking care of myself was more than just doing a face mask and it's a sentiment that rings true across the beauty community where self-care rarely extends past a new lipstick or a pamper evening. As our society becomes more and more tolerant and knowledgeable of mental illness, it makes sense that we also address our part in down-playing stigma and accepting difference in our community.
Everyday I am glad to see the internet moving away from past tumblr narratives of 'quirkiness' and 'weirdness' being cool and fashionable labels to apply to ourselves. We've seen the shift as we collectively acknowledged that turning eccentricities into fashions diminishes and belittles the experiences of people who really have anxiety or other mental illnesses. And it's also reassuring to see the rewriting of 'wellness' to include both the body and the mind as people realise that mental health, like physical health, needs to be worked on and maintained.

But even with these progresses in online discourse, the idea that mental 'wellness' can be achieved in a day or a week is rife and grossly misinterprets the experiences and needs of those who are mentally 'unwell'.

I know that I'm someone who cycles through depressive states and last year I was incredibly unhappy. For a long, long time I was trying to convince myself that if I just refocused on my writing or uni or my blog, if I spent fewer nights out and more at home in the bath then I would get better. And this attitude is re-enforced across the online beauty community with pamper night routines and tips on how to destress by doing your nails in front of a favourite show or the infamous notion of 'treating yourself'. Occasionally a popular blogger will 'come out' about a mental illness they struggle with but more often than not any sort of mental unrest is framed as a fleeting experience that you can sooth in an evening.

You can be sure that last year I tried it all: I became very good friends with the local Lush staff, I revamped my youtube channel, and I spent more on beauty products last year that I ever have before. But (surprise, surprise) nothing I did beauty-wise made me any less sad or any less anxious.

But I think my, and other bloggers', repeated attempts to simplify mental health to face masks is indicative of a pervasive social narrative that mental illness isn't that big of a deal. Telling those with a mental illness that they can fix themselves with a few simple changes redirects responsibility away from society, who should be providing the appropriate information and resources, and instead says those who have a mental illness simply don't practise enough self-care. While this can sometimes appear malicious, I think this mostly stems from a complete misunderstanding of mental illness and the ways it effects a person's life. And that's a consequence of the stigma still attached to mental illness of it being a bad or shameful thing not to be spoken of in public. It certainly isn't something that easily gels with the otherwise 'pretty' aesthetic of the beauty blog.

And I know it seems so much easier to take a bath when in reality you should probably see a doctor, or change medication, or quit your job, or dump your boyfriend. But if you do believe in the idea of self-care then it must extend past the trivial and include the hard, ugly options, as well. And it must include talking about it because that's the only way to break down barriers surrounding the understanding and discussion of mental illness in the wider world.

So, let's stop pretending that we can fix our problems with beauty products. Let's acknowledge that while taking care of ourselves physically is a great time, and something I encourage anyone to do anyway, sometimes it's not enough and we need to learn how to recognise and accept when that's true.

xx Julia

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