Should brands be capitalising on self-care?

28 : 11 : 2017 Wellness : Mental Health : Beauty
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Millennials are making more personal improvement commitments than any generation before, spending double what Boomers spend on self-care essentials.

Victoria Buchanan, strategic researcher, The Future Laboratory

Has anyone noticed the anxiety and anger lingering in the air? The perfect storm of geopolitical instability and the minute-by-minute commentary that we now receive thanks to social media, seem to be propelling us into a state of permanent frenzy.

Enter a new hybrid of self-help and wellness – self-care: a countercultural means of escaping our post-truth, consumeristic lifestyles by supporting our own emotional wellbeing. Its emergence seems to directly correlate with today’s distressing political climate. Google has revealed that searches for the term ‘self-care’ spiked immediately after the US election last November, reaching a 10-year high in the US.

According to Pew Research Center, Millennials are making more personal improvement commitments than any generation before, spending double what Baby Boomers spend on self-care essentials such as diet plans, life coaching, therapy and apps to improve their personal wellbeing. De-stressing and disconnecting has become an industry in itself at a time when anxiety levels among young people are increasing, with young women more likely than young men to report symptoms of anxiety or depression.

Brands have seized on this, designing a range of products that claim to support women in their everyday self-care endeavours. From self-care planners to self-care candles and self-care face masks, the term has been applied to just about any moment of indulgence. Beauty brand Lush recently positioned its foot product line as an antidote for tired minds, aching muscles and feet that need to be refreshed. Even McDonald’s has found a way to tap into the trend, collaborating with an Instagram influencer to position its Premium Roast coffee as the perfect way to indulge in the act of self-care at the start of the day.

Meeta Jha, author of The Global Beauty Industry, believes we are allowing self-care to become a form of feminist consumerism because it’s being co-opted as a form of empowerment and shares ‘consumerism’s focus on individual consumption as a primary source of identity, affirmation and social change’. Taking care of yourself is the new female empowerment, but only if you have the right products.

If you’re selling self-care, doesn’t it benefit you to have a consumer who is living in a permanent state of anxiety and unwellness?

This begs the question: if you’re selling self-care, doesn’t it benefit you to have a consumer who is living in a permanent state of anxiety and unwellness? Where do we draw the ethical lines?

Self-care used to be a radical, political and powerful act of defiance. Its roots were in communities that have endured oppression and been forced to create their own culture of caring for themselves when external forces would not. In 1988, Audre Lorde famously wrote: ‘Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.’ How has it been turned into the ultimate treat-yourself moment?

A quick check of the self-care hashtag on Instagram reveals more than 3.5m sepia-filled posts featuring bubble baths, mimosas and juice detoxes. In many ways visual culture is fuelling a culture of narcissism and privilege that is more about being able to broadcast the moment than being present at it.

As Nikisha Brunson, co-founder of Urban Bush Babes, says in a recent Well and Good article: ‘Society has made it look like this luxurious thing you do every once in a while, like going to a spa or relaxing getaway. Not everyone has access to that type of self-care.’

Brands should be careful to acknowledge the multiplicity that the term encapsulates, or risk changing its intended purpose. Of course, it will always require a delicate balance to marry wellness, feminism and politics, but a brand that can authentically support all three might just be a winner during these turbulent times.

For more on how brands are properly implementing self-care strategies, read our Self-care Spaces microtrend.