Consumers R Us

Why the technological consumerism of self-care is so effective

Hannah Johnson, Contributing Writer

If you’re chronically online like me, you’ve probably heard a thing or two about self-care. 

Maybe you’ve heard that self-care is reading, applying a face mask, shopping, pilates, ice rollers, gua shas, flower bouquets, green juice, cafe dates, getting your nails done, etc.—trust me, I could go on.

We are constantly told that the banishment of stress only takes a handful of items and a small fortune. Why do we end up falling for this idea so many times?

The answer lies in the media we consume.

Science says that our brains aren’t fully developed until around the age of 25—which, lucky for companies worldwide, means young adults are fair game for easy manipulation. 

In addition, shopping is easier than ever before. We live in a predominantly online society that makes purchasing incredibly simple. We can buy things through social media and pay monthly subscription fees without even noticing.

Many companies even save your card information so that you can order things with just one click. I should know—I accidentally rented a Chevrolet Tahoe the other day. 

That being said, sometimes shopping in the United States is almost too accessible for most of us—and with social media advertisements, it’s not just impressionable kids or naive older adults that are victims of technology.

Newspapers and TVs don’t give us all the same ads like they used to. Ads have become so much more subtle and individualized.

They’re slipped onto our TikTok for you pages as regular videos, sponsorships in YouTube segments, Instagram posts or even in cinema as a branded facial oil in a new movie that stars far too many influencers to be critically acclaimed.

Advertisements have become so much more enmeshed in the personal lives of people we come to trust, the people we look to for entertainment and comfort—which inevitably causes confusion. 

Social media creators, at their core, are just people. It’s the reason why so many of them are so relatable. They aren’t just presented as the face of a product—they’re also branded as users and are, therefore, our equals. After all, they’re humans that sit in their rooms, talk to a camera and then upload videos onto the internet. An internet personality could be any one of us. 

It’s understandable then that we may start to trust the recommendations of a person we have never met, but it also opens up a host of other issues—issues that start to crop up when the delineations between what’s genuine and what’s passionless become blurred.

According to clinical psychologist Scott Bea from Cleveland Clinic, retail therapy can “actually [have] a lot of psychological and therapeutic value.” He says that even window shopping can “bring brain-fueled happiness.” The main idea is that shopping brings a sense of control. By making a purchase, you’re able to get exactly what you want when things may feel largely out of your power.

Shopping also stimulates our senses, serving as a way to distract us from our issues. We get to take ourselves out of the reality where our problems haunt us and insert ourselves into the shopping world—whether that be online or in-store.

It’s also worth noting that the entire idea of capitalism itself promotes productivity and efficiency. Americans have to work. We have our nine-to-fives, rigorous academics, and if you don’t get your work done in the time expected or beforehand, you’re supposedly a lazy bum that is destroying the American Dream. This hustle culture practically fuels the self-care industry because there’s nothing more rewarding than treating yourself to something nice after a tough week. Self-care shopping, many times, is a feeble effort to hold onto some sense of humanity in a culture that constantly tells us we need to go, go, go.

These shopping-filled fantasies, mixed with social media creators’ influence, generate the perfect concoction for capitalism to tamper with our wants and needs. I don’t need to drink green juice, but if I’m told it will increase my overall physical and mental health by someone I trust, then why wouldn’t I want it? I don’t need to ice roll my face in the morning, but if I’m told it will reduce the puffiness and make me feel more alert, why wouldn’t I try it? I don’t need to buy a year’s worth of books at the bookstore, but if reading is supposed to foster my development and intellect, then, I mean, sure, take all my money.

We desire anything we think could bring us a sense of fulfillment, and we love the aesthetics of doing something that’s said to have an outright effect on our happiness. In this way, self-care often becomes less about doing things that genuinely benefit us and more about doing things to make it seem like we are trying to better our lives. 

This is not to say that all of the advertised products are scams that we should actively avoid and protest. However, we, as individuals, should be more honest with ourselves about why we may desire a certain product before we accidentally click that buy button.