Self-care: You have only yourself to blame

Olivia, my colleague, works two “part-time” jobs, or so they are labeled, despite her hours exceeding 60 in a “normal” week. When we see each other on the weekends, she tells me all about the tests she ran at the laboratory and what she lectured about at the college.

She has a double academic expertise, but she is compensated far below the value of either. Her classification as “part-time” has less to do with the intrinsic value of her work and more to do with what her employers invest in her, i.e. reduced benefits, limited insurance, lower wages.

For the overworked, overstressed, underpaid, and underinsured among us like Olivia, “self-care” has become the trendy answer as of late for how to improve life and get the most possible “wellness” out of it.

Interest in self-care—and the number of products peddled under its label—has become increasingly commonplace in recent decades. For a generation of workers who’ve grown up never expecting things like comprehensive health coverage, self-care has all but replaced notions of welfare, Medicare, or accessible public institutions for psychiatric emergencies and long-term care.

With Olivia’s limited options, she regards “self-care” as the focal point of her health care.

Waking up extra early is Olivia’s “best” time for self-care—to work out and get in her yoga. Without a lunch break and because there isn’t a “good” place to eat on her commute, all her calories and nutrition come very early or very late in the day. The weekends are for stocking up on groceries. The bookends of Olivia’s days and weeks are the scraps left to spend on “self-care.”

People like Olivia, dependent on self-care, are a natural target for the burgeoning wellness industry, which is already estimated to be a $4.5 trillion market. It’s a sector of the economy that comes with a language with which we are already all too familiar: personal accountability—or blame—is the answer for our health problems.

You aren’t simply exhausted or burnt out, we are told; instead, you just need to work harder at improving your health. You aren’t struggling with a mental illness; you’re just failing to do enough for yourself.

The reason you have zero “me time” isn’t because of a second or third job. Self-help guru John Rampton, of the Entrepreneur Leadership Network, says it’s your fault: “Complaining that you don’t have enough time…[is]…not getting to the root problem, which may be that you’re lousy at time management. Admit to yourself that there is enough time—you don’t know how to get the most out of it.”

Or according to the Goop website, you aren’t overworked and underpaid; the problem is you’re failing to “conjure up positivity” by keeping “psychic vampires” at bay with a wellness concoction of an “essential oil blend of lavender, rosemary, and juniper,” available for just $27 or four easy payments of $6.75.

Self-care isn’t necessarily a bad thing; in fact, if we all could afford the time to focus on it, we might be able to imagine new forms of health altogether—forms that don’t require purchasing and consuming “wellness” products or outfitting ourselves in “proper” exercise and yoga gear. Perhaps these newly imagined views of health would tell us that our social goals should include making food deserts and poisoned water things of the past.

However, until we are able to purge self-care of the logic that purports it solely as a personal and private issue of success or failure, we have a long way to go.

Olivia doesn’t need vampire oils or an attitude change. She needs better pay and a shorter work week with just one job and good health care.

As with all opinions published by People’s World, this article reflects the opinions of its author.


Andrew Wright
Andrew Wright

Andrew Wright is an essayist and activist based in Detroit.  He has written and presented on topics such as suicide and mental health, class struggle, gender studies, politics, ideology, and philosophy.