What’s In A Title?
Shakespeare suggested that roses would smell sweet no matter what they were called. The idea, of course, is that the name of a thing does not change its essence. However, when it comes to the word “self-care” all bets will be void.
Although the essence of self-care is to take care of yourself, the term has many different meanings. It’s a word that women either love, like to hate, or may not even recognize. What is important is that a woman’s reaction to the word “self-care” can have a direct impact on her wellbeing.
As the medical system defines it
Although the concept of self-care is as old as Socrates, the modern self-care movement began in full force in the 1970s when nursing theorist Dorothy Orem proposed a strategy to evaluate patients’ ability to care for themselves when they become one ill.
This theory provides the framework that governments, medical systems, biomedical health researchers, and many health care providers use to design self-care. In other words, the biomedical community views self-care as activities used to prevent and treat illnesses, such as going to the doctor or dentist, taking your prescription drugs, and so on.
How women think about it
However, the biomedical definition is not what women use in my self-care research. In fact, not a single woman spoke of seeing a doctor, getting a mammogram, or getting a Pap smear as part of her self-care.
Rather than focusing primarily on disease management, women considered self-care to support all areas of well-being, including physical health, but also mental, emotional, social, financial, and spiritual well-being. They were just as concerned about protecting future financial well-being by saving for retirement as they were about eating a nutritious diet or exercising regularly.
Doctors and their patients may not think about the same things when they talk about self-care. All women agreed that activities to support their wellbeing were important, but disagreed on the word “self-care”.
Some detest the word
Michelle, for example, is a very busy divorced mom of two teenagers who didn’t use the term and actually suggested that “self-care” is condescending. She also believes that self-care is inappropriately associated with forbearance.
Michelle shared her frustration with a former employer who occasionally pulled her aside during busy times to ask if she would cater for herself – by which she meant taking a dip in a bubble bath.
Michelle explained, “The way my manager talked about self-care – and I think the way it is done a lot – is for women who can financially or can afford the time.”
Given that businesses like hotels, travel agents, and chic restaurants to car dealerships and florists are using the term “self-care” to sell their various merchandise, it’s no wonder women like Michelle feel the way they do. Michelle is also not interested in bathing in a bubble bath. For them it would be a lavish pleasure.
However, her story matters for a number of reasons: If Michelle feels that self-care is about indulgences and she isn’t interested in indulgences, she might turn herself off
Michelle’s comment also raises important questions about socio-economic status. If a woman believes that self-care only relates to expensive activities and purchases that she cannot afford for financial or time reasons, she might think that any form of self-care is not for her. She, too, might ignore the word “self-care” in important health messages when taking care of her busy life.
Some love it (with reservations)
Jacqueline, a married mother of one young daughter, runs a day care center at home. She is a self-proclaimed self-care attorney who, like many women in my research, believes that self-care is a personal responsibility.
However, she also expressed concern about the trend in self-care towards more indulgent activities. She explained, “I can’t get my nails done and pretend I have no problems. For me, solving your problems in a practical way is self-care. “
Jacqueline also stated that pressure on women to care for themselves and upload evidence on social media undermines the importance of self-sufficiency. In fact, several women who work full-time and are busy raising children or caring for dependent family members admitted that social pressures to support themselves are stressful.
Ironically, for some women, the social need to participate in self-sufficiency can negatively impact well-being. The term “self-care” for people dealing with mental health issues can create an expectation that all of their problems will be solved with a little pampering. Clearly, in a mental health example, the best strategy for self-care must include finding appropriate treatment from a professional.
Some may not see it
In addition to potential financial barriers that can undermine enthusiasm for self-sufficiency, it is also possible that self-sufficiency waters can be tarnished by racial, ethnic, or other community influences.
In my research, more than 90 percent of respondents who responded to the call to study self-care strategies were straight white women and mostly in the middle socio-economic class. This fairly homogeneous demographic pool suggests that “self-care” may be a term that does not resonate with people in all walks of life.
When this happens, many women may be missing out on important resources to promote their wellbeing. In creating wellness programs, researchers and health care providers need to understand how different populations deal with self-directed wellness behaviors in order to use visual language and messages.
A rose is not a rose
In the many conversations I have had with women in recent years, it has become clear that the word “self-care” can be problematic. The business trend to market everything as a “self-care product” has diluted its potential ability to promote proactive strategies for wellbeing.
Different interpretations of the term can lead some women to believe that self-care is not for them, which could lead to negative health outcomes. While the concept of proactive care to support one’s own well-being is valid and important, the term itself needs to be renamed.
Indulgences are not taboo!
Many women enjoy spending time in the hair salon or a girls’ weekend. But they also understand that these activities are the icing on the cake, not the cake.
Self Care Journaling Prompt
Important areas of wellbeing are physical, mental, emotional, social, mental, and financial health. List each of these domains in your journal and write down what you are doing (or can commit to) to promote wellbeing in each area.
What is in a name? first appeared alive.