What do you think of when you hear the phrase self-care? A day at the spa? Maybe getting your nails done? Simply putting on a face mask and taking a breather from the insanity of day to day life?
A quick search of the hashtag #selfcare on Instagram brings up 53.4 million posts, ranging from motivational quotes to self-love advice and, of course, spa days, face masks and perfectly manicured nails.
As the importance of integrating self-care in our lives has grown, the definition of what constitutes self-care has widened to include a vast array of activities, however most still equate the idea of enhancing our beauty with improved overall wellbeing. At least that is the content we see more readily on our social media feeds.
While there is something to be said about the “look good, feel good” approach, there comes a point where the beautification aspect of self-care becomes mandatory maintenance, an obligation by which we gauge our wellbeing. Additionally, the monthly wax sessions, bi-weekly mani-pedis and the constant upkeep of a carefully curated hair routine can leave little energy for the more vital aspects of mental and spiritual healing that holistically round off self-care. Let alone the burden of the associated costs.
We asked Womena’s audience whether they performed acts of beautification in self-care mainly for themselves or to appease people they may feel pressured by such as mothers, colleagues or significant others. While 72 percent of respondents said they do it mainly for themselves, 49 percent said they maintain their beauty regimen to look good, especially around special occasions where there is more pressure to showcase one’s beauty in a way that meets society’s expectations.
When asked whether they care about mental health aspects of self-care, 91 percent said yes but 68 percent said they did not prioritize it in their regular routine. When asked why, respondents said they lacked the discipline and consistency these activities require for long-term results.
While many women said they practice self-care to improve their overall wellbeing, these responses reveal a deeper motive that is aided by society’s expectations, one that prioritizes the physical aspects of self-care that are visible to society rather than the mental, emotional or spiritual ones that nurture us intimately.
Compounding these issues are the many expectations women in our region still contend with, and the judgments we face when it comes to our physical beauty, the way it still somehow reflects one’s health and fortune, and to a certain extent, the pride and prosperity of our families.
Zawya reports that women in Saudi and the UAE are the world’s biggest spender’s in the beauty and cosmetics industry, showcasing the weighted importance placed on external appearance and beauty in the region.
Even though there are strides being made toward destigmatizing mental health issues and smashing patriarchal standards of beauty to be more inclusive and relevant to our natural regional traits, Western standards of beauty are still prominently idealized. Meanwhile, the generational struggle over toxic ideas relating to women’s identity and place in society remain pervasive in the Arab community.
In place of open conversations around mental health and wellbeing, women still feel pressured to practice self-care as a means of beautification, with social media further perpetuating these ideas through infinite scrolls of perfectly filtered bodies and faces.
But the times where patriarchal values of beauty reigned and implying that our collective aspiration is to be suitable “marriage material” are coming to a rapid end. Slowly but surely, there has been a generational movement towards accepting our natural traits, a push to call out photoshopped and overly filtered images, and more awareness around body positivity and inclusivity.
Women no longer accept to feel less than because of how they look, and competition for the male gaze is being decidedly knocked down, replaced with championing a holistic sense of self that caters first to me as an individual before it does to society.
Even though social media has long spurred self-image issues among young women and teens, the same platforms are now being used by a new generation of creators and activists to call out archaic misogynistic mindsets, to empower and uplift women.
Societally as women, we need to stop equating improved looks with better health and instead, encourage self-care in the form of deep inner work. We need to stop using these trips to the salon, spa or aesthetician as a means of jumpstarting our self-care journey and see it as more of a complimentary treat to a more holistic lifestyle that can keep us physically, mentally and emotionally healthy in the long term. Only then can self-care truly serve its purpose.