Self-care: narcissistic or necessary?

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In the last few years, Twitter has been a frequent platform for the ‘millennial vs. baby boomer’ debate, which has often captured perceptions that one group is more entitled than the other. In these debates, millennial’s self-care and lifestyles are interpreted as indulgent compared to baby boomers. For example, in 2017, Time Magazine featured an article in which millionaire real estate mogul, Tim Gurner, criticized millennials for wasting money on avocado toast instead of saving for a down payment on a house.

Gurner’s critics pointed out that 1) part of Gurner’s fortune was inherited, 2) the low percentage of American millennials who own homes (35%, which is within margins of international rates) is a result of social and economic inequity and not buying avocado toast, and 3) millennials face more barriers to becoming home owners when taking into consideration student debt, cost of rent, etc.

If there are any arguments to be made about the cost of avocados on toast, surely, they ought to center the working conditions and wages of farm workers, the lack of affordable housing, and predatory lending practices.

While avocado toast can range from $3-$16, which may be a lot of money for bread and fruit (fun fact: avocados are fruits!), it should seldom seem like a luxury, especially from the perspective of a millionaire. Further, given its health benefits, is having avocado toast indulgent or self-care?

Self-care is any deliberate act to take care of our mental, emotional, and/or physical health. Diet is a huge part of self-care. The crux of the issue is not whether avocado toast, specifically, is indulgent or impractical, rather we must consider where to draw the line in judging people’s efforts to take care of themselves (mentally, emotionally, and/or physically). Culturally dependent self-care is not just a matter of varying age or socio-economic status. Our various identities (race, gender, body size, ability, etc.) create specific mental, emotional, and/or physical needs that also vary depending on our environments.

In their Inside Higher Ed article, Macy Wilson, an African American Xicana queer doctoral student, writes, “A lot of attention has been paid to self-care and the ways in which we practice it (or fail to). I firmly believe that, as a woman of color, having conversations about what it means to survive and thrive in predominantly white spaces is integral to my self-care and self-preservation.” Wilson’s proclamation of the necessity for self-care to sustain oneself especially rings true for the millennial generation.

In 2015, the Pew Research Center reported that more millennials make personal improvement commitments than any generation before them. Millennials spend twice as much as boomers on self-care essentials like working out, diets, and therapy. This does not mean that self-care has to be bound up with capitalism. Rather, the data may reflect shifting social priorities about wellness. While we don’t want to compare our self-care practices to Instagram posts of avocado toast, we might want to affirm self-care practices in a variety of forms. Self-care practices will vary from person to person based on resources and needs. What will continue to be important is not how much money one spends on self-care, but rather whether each of us is being intentional in the work to take care of our mental, emotional, and/or physical health.