Another Instagram influencer posts another photo of another facemask, labeling it "#selfcare," adding it to a growing collection of nearly identical photos. "Are you taking care of yourself?" she questions, though she might as well be asking if you've taken the appropriate number of bubble baths, splurged on enough luxury skincare products, and called in sick to work in the name of "self-care."
If Instagram's doctrine of self-care was right, a massage or a bottle of wine or a fancy dessert would fix everything. "Self-care" and "indulgence" would mean the same thing.
But self-care doesn't always feel good and it's not always Instagram-worthy. As an adult, truly taking care of yourself sometimes means doing things that you don't want to do. Some self-care -even the most important self-care- is ugly.
The concept of self-care, at its core, embodies things that we do an in effort to improve our lives now and in the future. For example, you regularly exercise in order to clear your present mind and maintain your long-term health. In a Medium article on real self-care, Carly Mae listed straightforward, frill-less ways she takes care of herself and optimizes each day, including packing a lunch for the next day, reading before bed, taking vitamins, and going for walks during the workday.
Packing a lunch might not look as pretty as treating yourself to a café. Going for a walk during work might not be as appealing as skipping work altogether. But when you do these things, you're taking care of your health, your wallet, and your career rather than letting your brain's urge for pleasure drive you. You're setting yourself up for long-term success and satisfaction rather than temporary enjoyment.
Instagram's self-care doctrine completely rejects the idea of delayed gratification, and, when truly taking care of yourself, you may sometimes need to make choices which feel unpleasant now but will pay off later. "Our cultural norms encourage us to seek Band-Aid solutions and temporary comforts—basically, whatever it takes to ease our discomfort now," wrote psychotherapist Ilene Strauss Cohen for Psychology Today. "We often make our life choices according to how we can avoid pain in the moment and, in doing so, fail to see that the path of delayed gratification is sometimes where the real solutions to our problems lie."
True fulfillment and satisfaction take time and consistency. Surface-level self-care is a temporary fix. It feels good in the moment, and it looks nice in photos, but ignoring real, practical solutions will only lead to future failure. Overindulgence in pleasant things like food and shopping will drain the joy from your life, accomplishing the opposite of self-care's objective. You can put a pretty Band-Aid over your problems, but they will demand ugly solutions.
What actions can you take to care for yourself today? Can you clean up your room? Schedule a dentist appointment? Start the project you've been putting off? There is time to do the pretty things -the facemasks and the bubble baths- but don't forget to do the ugly things, too.