I have been thinking a lot about self-care recently. Mostly because I am going through a four-week-show stint at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. A lot of performers think it’s crucial to ramp up their self-care during the festival, going vegan and alcohol-free for the month, doing yoga every day and taking regular meditation breaks during which they polish their halos. After four years of coming up here for a month, I usually do something like this on an annual basis and have benefited from it. So, I’m not knocking it or judging. Whatever gets you through.
But this year, however, I decided instead to set myself a different goal: a 12-Margarita challenge. Over the course of the month, I would drink 12 Margaritas. Obviously, I took care to space them out, otherwise that would get messy. (And I mean the cocktail, not the pizza. Although the latter would have been more Fringe.) It has been a rather different kind of self-care. And it has not been terrible. Because I am exceedingly old (correction – I feel exceedingly old), I drank on average two bottles of water for every cocktail. Rock ’n’ roll. Not. But this was a bit of a controlled experiment for me. To see if I can let my hair down a bit. Could that be what a different kind of self-care actually looks like? A form of self-conscious, highly controlled, middle-aged deviance.
I did this partly because I am getting bored by, and nauseous around, the self-care trend. I think sometimes it undermines the discussion we need to have about serious mental-health issues, which cannot be fixed by manicures, scented candles and spa visits. (And, also, certainly not by tequila-based slushies.) I think the self-care trend has a tendency to play up to some of the worst aspects of the performative lifestyle that now surrounds us online, all glossy, dewy and ready to be showcased on social media, to inspire envy and #fomo in others. I think the pressure to “keep an eye on your self-care” becomes another source of anxiety for some people.
I think the self-care trend has a tendency to play up to some of the worst aspects of the performative lifestyle that now surrounds us online, all glossy, dewy and ready to be showcased on social media
Self-care, I realised, is the permission to have a Margarita occasionally. Even every other day for a defined period. (Crazy!) Instead of a spa day, maybe self-care is not washing your hair for a while. Or not worrying that you have six-week old scabby nail polish on. Or just giving yourself licence to be phenomenally lazy and disregarding of any standards whatsoever. In short, it is highly personal and defined by you and what you need in that moment. And sometimes that might just be a form of benign neglect or a very lazy day or a loosening of standards.
Self-care is only necessary if it fixes something for you. It’s a safety net or the release of a pressure valve. There might be times when that is Pilates and avoiding dairy. But there might be times when it is a really expensive glass of wine and five Babybels. What it’s really about is the avoidance of the build-up of resentment, stress and anxiety. Because, once you’ve controlled those, you can be a much more generous, balanced and free individual. There is more than one route to that. Really, it’s not self-care at all. It’s just doing nice stuff for yourself. Why did we have to start making such a big deal about it?