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What Self-Care Isn’t

On Friday morning I was perusing my Twitter feed and followed a link to an article about “wellness” and “clean eating.” I’ve often felt like I must be doing something wrong when people talk about their clean eating habits. (Am I eating “dirty food”?) What’s the big deal with wellness anyway? This trend isn’t really anything new, but this quote struck me like a bolt of lightning:

“But when we advocate, and even insist upon, a diet so restrictive, moralising and inflexible, and market that diet to young women, and then dress it up as self-care: just how responsible is that?”

The Unhealthy Truth Behind ‘Wellness’ and ‘Clean Eating’ by Ruby Tandoh

(A big shout out to my friend Clio for reminding me that Ruby is none other than Great-British-Bake-Off-Ruby. Yes, that one!)

Self-care is a loaded term, but you get the gist of it–it’s whatever we do to maintain our physical, emotional, and mental health–and it seems easy enough to do in theory. But on closer look, maybe it’s not so easy–why else would there be thousands of how-to guides and a cult of diets preying on people desperate to achieve peak health and “wellness”? At best, self-care is acknowledging, naming, or labeling the things we do on a daily basis to get by, and at worst it’s the expectation that we manage our stress so it doesn’t affect others. For example, when I was having a rough day at work and let it show, I’d be chastised to take better care of myself. Now as a new mom, I’m reminded by nearly every blog I read that I can’t be the best mom or a successful person if I don’t take care of myself first. I even throw the word around with friends when we exchange sympathetic and well-meaning texts.

The idea of self-care is lovely, but the practice can be extremely taxing. So instead of preaching about what I think self-care is, I’m going to tell you what it isn’t.

what self care isn't

What, when, or how you eat does not change your value as a person even if it changes your dress size.

Self-care isn’t taking on an eating plan that is so restrictive that it stresses me out because I have food on the brain 24/7. Self-care isn’t feeling guilty when I indulge in a scoop of ice cream or three. 

so many flavors
I don’t care how full I am, if I’m in San Francisco I have to take a pilgrimage to Bi-Rite Creamery.

I love food. It nourishes my body, mind, and spirit. I love a delicious chunk of cheese, but I also like it in American product, powder, and puff form. I have an evolving relationship with vegetables, one I’ve worked hard at, but I still love chocolate better. Sometimes I’m bigger, and sometimes I’m a bit smaller, but I’m literally always a baller.

What drives some people to accomplishment and success may not work for you, and that’s completely okay.

Self-care isn’t feeling like a failure because I don’t wake up at 5 AM to juice, meditate, and hike.

labyrinth trail at lagoon island ucsb
I’m more of a ‘walk at lunch’ kind of gal.

When I was in the depths of despair, my doctor told me that I could pop a pill to dull the edges and motivate myself to get up before everyone else in the house to go for a run. She told me that I needed a thicker skin and that I could accomplish this if I just took better care of myself. I internally rolled my eyes, quit my job soon thereafter, and never looked back. There are some situations you can’t self-care yourself out of, and that doesn’t make you a failure.

Your home and your life don’t have to be picture perfect.

Self-care isn’t keeping my house effortlessly clean by picking up clutter every time I walk through a room.

all the bins i've loved before
My New Year’s resolution was to KonMari my house. For two months the floor of my living room looked like a Container Store. I am still not done decluttering. #ihavehopes

My house is messy. I’m doing the best I can. I have a one year old that thinks it’s fun to throw Cheerios, watermelon, broccoli, and his apple juice on the floor. When I walk through a room I’m usually chasing after my son or trying to get my cat to stop vomiting on the couch. My house is clean when it needs to be, and while I’d like it to be a more frequent occurrence, I’m not going to lose sleep over it.

Adulting and parenting are hard, and there’s no ‘right’ way to do either.

Self-care isn’t regretting that I don’t put on night creams during an elaborate bedtime ritual. Self-care isn’t turning off screens and closing social media an hour before I go to sleep.

deep selfie
Wise words in a Seattle bathroom. “Beauty is worse than wine, it intoxicates both the holder and the beholder.”

I am still working on flossing every night. I’ll move on to night creams by forty, I’m sure. Yeah, I know it’ll be too late by then. Oh well. And to anyone who lays in bed with their little ones, whether it’s for co-sleeping or TV is just the easiest way to get them to sleep, you won’t get any judgement from me. The only time I can read or watch things uninterrupted is when my son is asleep.

 Sometimes it’s just about survival.

I think it’s enough to eat Cheetos and watch Netflix on your phone in the dark and feel guilt-free about both. I think it’s enough to take a shower to the sound of your kid wailing in the next room over because they don’t have your attention for five minutes. (They’ll live.) Of course, when you can do better, you will. Maybe in this season of life your self-care is just about survival. There’s always future-you to look forward to, and she has it slightly more together. I hope you take comfort in that, because I sure do.


  1. Margie Margie

    This post is legit the most important thing I’ve read this week. I wish it were as easy to remember when you’re really feeling like crap. Generally, then I think self-care is eating a whole pizza ;). Bookmarking this post.

    • Christina Christina

      Thank you so much! I think the trick is to know that crappy feelings will pass, and to ease up on yourself and not beat yourself up further. Eating pizza is medicine for the soul, I agree!

  2. D D

    I never got beyond the konmarI clothing stage but I have hope that I will get back to it when I’m ready. And just because I didn’t complete her method doesn’t mean I’ve failed. I’m just a work in progress., right? 😉

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