Zhu: Self-care has spiraled out of control

While our definition of health continues to change and expand to fit the current generation, we also must ensure that this definition stays accurate, and most importantly, achievable. This is especially important in the face of the self-care trend, which seems to promote maintaining one’s health and happiness, but has slowly morphed into a system that promotes overspending and other unhealthy habits in young adults.

When addressing this issue, we must be able to define what health is. To me, it is balancing one’s physical and mental health with a social and work life and ensuring that none of these are neglected in favor of another. However, this definition is a very broad one and proves to be overly simplistic. The trend of self-care is a response to the broad definition of health and acts as a breakdown of the broader definition into more manageable, everyday tasks.

Self-care has become increasingly popular in the past few years, likely stemming, at least in part, from the intensely popular “Treat Yo Self” gag from the television show “Parks and Recreation.” At the time, this brought attention to an often overlooked area of personal care, pointing out that we often refuse to spend money on things that make us happy. Upon closer inspection, the trend points out that people often choose to work towards some long-term goal, which can make them single-minded and neglectful of their short-term happiness.

This commentary is especially relevant now, when studies have recently been published from Columbia University and the City University of New York citing that depression rates are rising in the United States, particularly in millenials and members of the following generation, which may account for why the self-care trend appealed to so many. As a continuation of the “Treat Yo Self” bit, the self-care trend focuses more on basic issues like helping young people build healthy habits.

In its early stages, the self-care trend helped many young people who struggled with mental illness and taking care of themselves daily by encouraging them to hydrate more or keep up with skincare. However, the trend has since grown to include too much. What began as a way of providing simple tips to living a healthier lifestyle has become a trend that teaches young adults to spend their time and money on goods and services they don’t need. This has built cult followings of consumer brands developing into unhealthy overspending habits in many young adults.

These shifts in the self-care trend were subtle, but eventually snowballed into a culture of overspending on unnecessary items. Staying hydrated prompted people to buy water bottles, which created a cult following under the Hydro Flask brand. Similar followings developed under skin care and cosmetic brands, as well as stationery and other utility brands.

Looking at each of these situations individually, there seems to be no problem. Spending some money on short-term happiness does not necessarily mean wasting money, as “Treat Yo Self” shows us.

The issue stems from the fact that many young adults have taken self-care to mean that in order to achieve healthy standards, they must spend money on these cult-following brands. By equating these two ideas, the opposite also becomes true: without spending money on self-care, they are neglecting their health, essentially becoming “unhealthy.” This mindset also often convinces young adults that consuming goods will act as a stopgap against depression and anxiety, which only contributes to these unhealthy buying habits.

The issue lies in the misconception that buying consumer goods to achieve short-term satisfaction is the same as taking steps towards self-care and long-term happiness. Self-care is ultimately a long-term investment, as we have to take care of ourselves in order to stay healthy for the future. However, buying consumer goods in the spirit of “Treat Yo Self” is only a short-term consideration. To equate the two will not lead to a healthy lifestyle.

Caroline Zhu is a first-year computer science major with an interest in economics. She spends her time reading good literature and watching trashy movies or belting out ‘80s power anthems.