© Illustration by INJECTION - Mia Hatch
How the motion of looking after ourselves has been put behind a paywall.
Life can be stressful. Work, family stress, arguments with friends; it’s easy for everything to pile up and be overwhelming. But fear not! Here, in the 21st century, there are plenty of ways to look after your mental wellbeing using handy apps. Why not try a meditation service or an app that allows you to anonymously vent your frustrations? There are many new, digital ways to improve your mental health - but there’s a catch. To use most of these services to their fullest extent, the user has to pay a monthly subscription.
Self-care is the act of looking after yourself, and your physical and mental wellbeing. It can be something as simple as making your bed in the morning and opening your curtains to let in the sunlight. Somehow these simple acts have turned into an entire subculture, and have been put behind a paywall. Acts that have been proven to be beneficial to improving your mental health, like meditating and even talking about your feelings, have somehow turned into business ventures. Self-care has twisted into something almost undefinable - is it eating healthy, or is it indulging in an extra slice of cake? Is it spending an extra ten minutes in bed, or spending $13 a month on a mediation service? Is it drinking enough water, or paying an app to remind you to drink enough water?
Day by day, it’s becoming less clear. Self-care these days apparently entails spending money that a lot of us don’t have; whether it’s subscribing to self-care apps and services, purchasing expensive skin-care products for 20-step skin-care routines, or even filling our living spaces with fancy crystals, self-care culture has become a marketplace of gimmicks and platitudes. It’s difficult to know what could actually be helpful and what is just a ploy.
Putting self-care behind paywalls and marketing items as self-care ‘essentials’ is not only negatively changing our perceptions of what self-care means, but also having damaging effects on people’s wellbeing - exactly the opposite of what it is supposed to be achieving. The constant onslaught of brands and companies encouraging you to buy or subscribe is headache-inducing and overwhelming, creating an environment that causes more stress than there was to begin with.
Apps such as Vent, for example, allow users to anonymously express their feelings and let out their frustrations. ‘Listeners’ (the equivalent of ‘followers’ on other social media sites) can show their support with emojis and handy buttons that read ‘H4U’ (Here For You) and ‘ILY’. Signing up is free, and there are free preset emotions to choose from, but if you want more emotions to help you express yourself then - surprise! - that’s going to cost you. The monthly subscription doesn’t just unlock extra emotions, but also removes adverts from the platform for the user. On the surface, this is a harmless free app that allows people to talk about things that perhaps they don’t feel comfortable talking about with the people around them, but to do this the user is surrounded by advertising and pressure to spend money on upgrades.
Flashy adverts don’t make for a particularly relaxing or healing environment, but unless you want to pay the monthly fee, it’s what we have to put up with in the modern age for the privilege of speaking about your emotions. There’s another issue as well, in that it mimics social media sites, and not to make any grand sweeping generalisations, but when people aim to focus on improving their mental health, do they not usually take a break from social media? The ‘Listeners’ element of the app that echoes the ‘followers’ feature of other sites is visible to other users - anyone can see how many listeners/followers you have. People thank their ‘listeners’ when they reach a certain amount. Instead of being a safe space to anonymously vent, it appears to be just another social media platform with all the pressures that come with other platforms, such as wanting to increase your follower (listener) count.
Self-care is essential. Taking the time to look after yourself - whether that be physically or mentally - is important for us to be able to lead productive, healthy and happy lives. But the culture that is associated with it has become toxic and unproductive. Self-care doesn’t have to mean spending a fortune, or lathering lotions and serums on your face every night, and venting your frustrations anonymously to followers on a social media site will never be as beneficial as having a real conversation about your feelings to someone.
There are services and products out there that market themselves as if they’ll improve your life drastically, the cure to all your suffering. However, under the bright colours and relatable slogans there appears to be a dark underside: these companies are capitalising from people - usually young people - who clearly need help, and could be easily influenced by empty promises.
There’s only so far that ‘self-care’ can take you, and if you are truly struggling the best thing you can do is reach out to a professional for help.