Authenticity   /   Fall 2021   /    Signifiers

Self-care

Why play hard?

B.D. McClay

THR photo illustration.

A friend often tells me I’m bad at self-care. When I ask him what he means, he usually responds with some version of “Well, you know.” But really, I don’t know what self-care is, what it means to be bad at it, or even why I should be good at it. Being told I’m bad at self-care usually feels like being told I’m bad at a job I didn’t apply for and that I’m not even paid for.

If I don’t know these things, on the other hand, I’m probably the only one. Self-care is a cliché of the times; cliché enough that it’s been written about from almost every angle: There are celebratory pieces and critical pieces, pieces that use it as a buzzword and pieces that attempt to contextualize it. (Michel Foucault is often invoked, I find.) In 2020, the poet Leigh Stein published a satirical novel, Self Care, about a progressive women’s startup. That simple title conveys almost everything you need to know about the book’s focus and tone. Self-care is a marketing gimmick, and thus a favored object of critique. Still, I want to know what I’m missing.

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