What’s the Difference Between Necessity and “Self-Care?”

Photo credit: kennejima, CC BY 2.0.

At Man Repeller, Callie Ahlgrim has an essay titled “Uh Oh: I Spent Almost $600 on “Self-Care” in June,” which I found interesting both because of its spending roundup (I love numbers) and because of the items Ahlgrim put into the “self-care” category.

You should read the whole piece, but spoiler alert: it’s food, clothes, soap, and cosmetics.

Which are all, arguably, stuff you need. You gotta eat, you can’t go naked (nude beaches excepted), you aren’t going to go far in life without soap, and although some people will say that cosmetics are optional, skincare and makeup help create the face you put into the world. (Plus employers often expect, if not require, a specific type of presentation.)

Ahlgrim calls these purchases self-care because she was “acting to shield myself against insecurities or emotional distress,” e.g. buying a $15 Sweetgreen salad because “I feel gross about my body right now and eating salad for lunch will help, I think?” It’s hard not to read the defense of each purchase as another attempt to shield herself against insecurities — because we’re supposed to feel bad about spending $15 on lunch when we could have packed leftovers or bought a less expensive clamshell salad from a convenience store or cobbled together a meal from whatever snacks were available at the office, right? Latte Factor! Avocado toast! We’re all doing everything wrong forever!

Unless we call it self-care — because how can taking care of yourself be wrong?

There’s a fine line between acknowledging that food and clothing and skincare items are all necessities and giving yourself permission to, you know, have lunch or buy a shirt that fits, and acknowledging that you’re spending more than you can afford on those necessities. Or even spending more than you’d like to spend, in terms of your values and goals.

There’s another line, slightly higher up, that represents the person we wish we could be and the clothes we think that person would wear and the skincare products that we feel like we should be using at this stage in our lives, and sometimes “self-care” feels like trying to pull that line a little closer.

Or, as Ahlgrim puts it:

The beauty and health industries have poured billions of dollars into convincing me, throughout my life, that it’s my job to be visually pleasing — and that I need certain products to receive a positive evaluation.

As it turns out, I’m not really engaging in self-care when I do just that; I’m performing it.

Read the whole thing and let us know what you think — and whether you categorize specific purchases, even if they’re stuff you need, as “self-care.”


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