The Era of Self-Care as a Commodity

Saturday, August 4, 2018

I don't know about you guys, but it seems to me like in the past few years the term "self care," which I had never actually heard before has been omnipresent.  Instagram girls are posting photos of their knees in a bath with candles lit and #selfcare.  Self care seems to be anything from having a glass of wine after work and watching The Bachelor to going on a silent retreat in Joshua Tree.  Self care is doing things for yourself that make you feel good just for the heck of it, and in the Trump era and when the news is awful every single day, it sounds like a great thing.  And honestly, it is.  I've discovered a few self care rituals myself (which are mostly just me playing Tomb Raider on PS4 for 3 hours or reading in the bedroom for an hour before bed while Alex plays FIFA in the living room...which is probably his self care).  While self care is helpful and maybe a bit necessary, we are also living in the age of capitalizing on EVERYTHING.

Bloggers will pitch you anything if they think you'll spend money on it.  And let's face it, millennials would rather do just about anything other than work a 9-5 office job.  We saw feminism become commodity when everything was marketed as "feminist" in 2016.  People were manufacturing Trump protest shirts and pussy hats and they were flying off the damn shelves.  How many people did you see wearing a reproduction of the Labyris bookstore (the first women's book store in New York that opened in 1972) "The Future is Female" T-Shirt.  Online quirky retail supergiant ModCloth sold this shirt for $50 a pop.  It seemed like all you had to do was buy a t-shirt or cute new "Feminist Sex Toy" and pow, you're part of the new wave of feminism!  All it takes is retailers to notice a trend, and figure out how they can sell you that trend so that you'll buy it.  And like, how gross is it that feminism was a "trend?"

That's just one example of many, and now it looks like self care and self help are big time trends that a lot of people have figured out to sell to you.  Spoiler, you don't need to spend a lot of money for self care of even self help....

One thing that jumped out at me during my research for this post was the concept of "manifestation." I actually stumbled upon a manifestation "guru" Lacy Phillips, who has made it her job to offer web classes and real life classes where people (mostly women) gather and learn how to manifest their goals.  Funny thing, I actually went to elementary and Jr. High School with this woman.  She began her career as a holistic chef and posts photos of herself on Instagram in linen trousers with french market bags full of fresh vegetables. She has long, shiny brown hair and perfect, makeup-less skin. She's essentially a younger, hipper Gwyneth Paltrow, and the stuff she offers on her website raise just as many red flags as GP's $900 manifestation loofa (for real...).  On Lacy's website, "Free and Native" you can purchase classes, read her blog, and watch free content (one is called "Am I Unblocked Enough to Manifest a Partner?).

I began following her, because honestly who doesn't want their life to look like that?  She appears to have it all.  I actually bought one of her classes (the "cheap" one, for $40) but ceased using it when every single day I was supposed to just sit and breathe and journal (I can do that for free, thanks).  But I honestly gave it my best effort, and really tried to give it an honest try.  I tried to buy into the crunchy, new age vibe of her website and really see if I could "unblock" and "manifest" things that I wanted. I tried the "deep imaginings" that were marketed to me as a way to visualize what I really want.  But the more I tried, the more I felt completely ridiculous, and the more I began to think about the bigger picture here - there are so many people who can't just "manifest" a better life for themselves...and that's not their fault.

I read an article a while back about another self help guru who managed to capitalize on this trend.  Her name is Gala Darling and she has apparently made millions teaching young girls to use a technique called "Radical Self Love" in order to overcome their depression and anxiety, and live better lives.  On her website, you can buy similar classes to Lacy's, including a guide to feeling wealthy which costs $88, and a guide to get over your ex for good, which is only $33.  Gala Darling has also published books on Radical Self Love that include helpful information like wearing a fake mustache all day to feel better.  I'm being sarcastic, but in all honesty it makes me really sad that people like Gala and Lacy are (maybe unknowingly) preying on a generation of women who are vastly insecure about things like money and love.

Our culture has put immense pressure on women, and that's why things like this are marketed to us and we are actually buying it.  We are crushed under crippling student debt, we are underemployed and underpaid, we are undervalued for our work,  we are finding it hard to find a partner and get married because of all these things, and we have no idea what to do about it.  So I understand why it's tempting to want to shell out almost $200 for a web class that promised to help you make it better.

I honestly was a little on board with Lacy's methods when I first discovered her blog.  But then, in the midst of the Trump hysteria and a few months after the inauguration, she posted an article that really made me think about her angle.  It's all about labels, and how they stop you from manifesting.  In this article, Lacy tells us that when we label ourselves we are blocking our manifesting energy.  She tells us that calling yourself a feminist is harmful, that by giving yourself labels you are putting yourself in a box that will prohibit you from manifesting what you truly want.  We are not supposed to be feminists, we are not supposed to be liberal, we are not supposed to be victims, or label our sexuality. Yeah! Wait....what? Upon first glance, this ain't so bad.  But when you really think about it, it's a lot like Gala Darling's harmful and dangerous claims that you can turn your whole life around and beat depression with positive thoughts.  It puts too much pressure on us, and sounds a lot like "if you just worked harder, you wouldn't be poor" and THAT I have a problem with.

Lacy Phillips and Gala Darling are beautiful white women.  Lacy lives in Los Angeles, was an actress, and went to a great elementary school that set you up for academic success (I went to that school, it was in a "rich" neighborhood that I was out of district for).  I don't claim to know what hardships she had to endure and I don't know what her grades were, or how she may have struggled in her life.  But I do know that she's never had to deal with systemic racism or transphobia.  That she has most likely never been afraid that she would be deported or that she would be denied a job because she has another job and 2 kids. Lacy does talk about how she grew up poor, so she does have some idea about struggle and hardship.  And it really is great that she managed to come out of that and make a great life for herself.  But what about all of the people who aren't able to do that?  Should they just be manifesting harder?

See, this is the problem with this kind of thinking.  Putting so much pressure on people to just "think positive" and "put in the work" and when it isn't working for them possibly because of factors they have no control over, you tell them they aren't doing it right, or hard enough, or that they are labeling themselves.  Telling someone that they are depressed because they aren't wearing a fake mustache or thinking positively enough is dangerous and really irresponsible.  In this same article,  Lacy acknowledges her privilege, which should be a great start, I don't discount any hard work that she has done to get where she is.  I think it's great that a girl who grew up poor managed to work hard and achieve her goals, but I do think that it's flawed to think that "manifesting" is what got her to where she is now, and that if we buy her classes we can do the same thing.

Lacy claims that her classes and methods are rooted in neuroscience and physchology, and honestly the psychology part is kind of true.  But she is using basic PSYCH101 knowledge and peppering it with spirituality (which is all the rage right now, and something that people latch onto), and that's kind of it.  I think a lot of what makes Lacy popular is that she's...popular. She's cool, she's pretty, she drinks whiskey and she knows enough about what she's talking about and how to spin it so that she sounds like an expert.  You trust her, you want to be her...wait...this sounds an awful lot like Gwyneth Paltrow in this widely read New York Times article, right? I think we can draw a lot of parallels between "GP" and Lacy.  They both have that cool, nonchalant, je ne sais quoi that makes them someone you want to be.  And because you want to be them, you want to buy their shit.  They are both beautiful, white women, who are selling an aspirational lifestyle.  When you buy Lacy's classes, what you are actually buying is her brand.  You are hoping that you're buying a little bit of what makes her so cool.  You are buying the photos on her website of her dressed in white linen and wicker, and a perfectly curated life.  You are buying the notion that if you "manifest" then your life can be as perfect as these pictures.  You are buying this whole idea that comes from the Instagram influencer generation that your life has to be as pretty as a picture in order to be fulfilling, and for nearly 70 bucks a class your life can look like that too.

I was part of her Manifestation Secret Society on Facebook, and what I saw were a lot of women like me.  Women who are mostly white, middle-class, and educated who are just kind of in a rut.  We are in our late 20's and 30's and we don't really know what we are supposed to be doing, and a lot of us are looking for anyone who seems to know what they are talking about.  This kind of thinking is marketed to us specifically, and not those who have "problems" that stem from things they have no control over.  We are privileged in so many ways, but still feel that blankness.  So what is the answer? I don't think the answer is buying more stuff, or giving your money to someone who guides you in meditation. I don't claim to know the answers to these questions in fact, but what I do know is that we don't need to be sold false hope that what is ailing us can be cured by positive thinking or visualizing what you want.  And maybe the answer doesn't even really lie with helping ourselves get what we think we want.  Maybe we shouldn't be focusing on how to manifest a partner or more money.  Maybe we should be focusing on those who don't have as much privilege as us and using our privilege to lift others up, instead of ourselves.  I would much rather put my time and money into causes that help others than giving my time and money to someone who's job it is to capitalize on the collective depression that a lot of us are feeling in the late 2010's.

Further reading:

Throw Way Your Vision Board by Neil Farber M.D, Ph.D., CLC, CPT

How to Protect Yourself against Bad Self-Help, by Maia Szalavitz

Pursuing Self-Improvement, at the Risk of Self-Acceptance, by Alina Tugend

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