My frustrations with the self-care industry led me to create my own brand


WORDS BY Rachael Akhidenor

Self-care as I perceive it.

Like many, I have a visceral reaction to the self-care and wellness industry. I lament its equation of ‘optimal health’ with thin (most often White) bodies. The kind of body that is tanned and taught, free from caffeine and alcohol, stress and exhaustion. I shake my head at the marketing of a sheet mask for our vaginas as ‘self-care’ and diet culture as wellness.

The irony of my reaction is not lost on me. I am a deep lover of self-care. I have such a genuine passion for caring, exploring and developing the self that I created an entire business, Self Care Originals, out of advocating for its benefits. I believe in the true power of self-care and the way in which it can positively impact our lives and our internal and external landscapes.

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But I have my reservations with the industry. Such reservations are, perhaps, compounded because of my unbridled interest in nurturing and befriending the self. I was introduced to the world of ‘self-care’ long before it was labelled ‘self-care’. It was a mix of spirituality, mindfulness and self-development.

It centred around nurturing and bettering myself so that I could perform to the best of my abilities. I was captivated by the peace and clarity I derived from meditation; empowered by the personal growth that stemmed from reflection and self-analysis. I stumbled through the mindfulness and loving-kindness books of Sharon Salzberg and the neo-spirituality texts of Danielle Laporte.

From then on, I knew self-care would forever be the basis and foundation of my life. Without that deep, honest relationship with myself, all the other parts of life would be far less stable and rewarding. Fast forward a decade and my disdain for the modern-day self-care and wellness industry probably doesn’t come as a surprise.

The whitewashing, the elitism and the privileged perceptions that shroud these otherwise beautiful concepts are personally difficult for me to grapple with. The post-capitalist version of the self-care industry – with its expensive yoga studios and face oils – barely resembles the pure and well-intentioned space it was derived from.

Unlike some critics of the self-care industry, I do believe there is space for honouring and bettering the self. I don’t believe that learning to get better at life is ‘ridiculous’ or ‘amoral’ as Jia Tolentino contends in the infamous chapter ‘Always be Optimizing’ from her 2019 book Trick Mirror. Rather, I believe self-work is an integral part of human existence. To hold the opinion that we enter this world with all the knowledge, tools and insights needed to move through it with ease seems somewhat arrogant to me.

Through developing greater self-awareness, emotional intelligence and self-knowledge – all of which can be garnered through adequate self-care – we can minimise the catastrophes that, as Alain De Botton puts it, “have their origins in emotional ignorance”. It’s a shame, therefore, to see the way in which the modern-day industry has evolved and in many instances, failed us.

This phenomenon is not new, though. Perhaps vagina sheet-masks as self-care is the inevitable result of capitalism and it’s exploitative nature. Yet, when an industry booms at a rate faster than the mainstream consciousness can internalise and understand, we are taken to a strange place. A place where we accept marketing and messaging as gospel, only to then recoil in confusion as we are led further and further astray. (Again, vagina sheet-masks as self-care… how did we end up here?)

My disdain for the industry has driven me to be a vocal advocate for self-care as I perceive it. The kind of self-care that transcends race, gender and socio-economic status. The kind that is centred around individuality, discernment and self-awareness, as opposed to wealth, status and elitism.

Through our Wearable Activism that promotes the concept of self-care to anyone and everyone who sees you, Self Care Originals is working to challenge the tired perceptions of the industry. It’s about asking the questions that are staring us in the face. Like, why are self-care and wellness brands always white and cream in their aesthetics? And why is the self-care and wellness industry in Australia so whitewashed?

By challenging these previously-accepted self-care tropes, we can begin to divorce the fruitful from the futile. Because in truth, everyone can (and should) care for themselves. There truly is no barrier to entry. Drinking water is caring for the self; compassionate self-talk is caring for the self. So too is writing yourself a love letter and allowing yourself to get enough sleep.

When we strip these concepts to their core, we are left with something important and sacred. And in doing so, we can honour our (warranted) reservations with the industry, while benefitting from the beautiful concepts it espouses.

Rachael Akhidenor is a Melbourne-based writer and the founder of Self Care Originals, an ethical clothing label that advocates for self-care for all. You can find Rachael here and Self Care Originals here.

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