Is Self-Care a Matter of Privilege?

I relaxed in a comfy chair on a Sunday afternoon, treating myself to a $15 manicure. "Aaahhhh, self-care," I thought to myself; it felt good. But then my body tensed as the memory of a recent review popped in my head. It was my first "critical" review, and it talked about how many moms, especially single moms, who are working full-time, or maybe even two jobs to support their family, are not able to just take a yoga class or take a nap when they need self-care. Now, mind you, the rest of the review was very positive, but of course this bit of "criticism" sort of sent me off the rails. Here's why:

  1. I had this very conversation with myself as I was writing my book, "The Self-Care Solution," and I purposefully offer dozens and dozens of self-care tips that cost $0. 
  2. While I do think having disposable income to spend on self-care is very helpful, I do not think that having money is the answer to self-care. How many people do you know who have a surplus of funds but smoke too much, drink too much, have relationship stress, stress with their kids, and the many, many other forms of stress? Now, their stress is not in the form of worrying about where their next meal will come from, or if they will be able to afford rent, but their stress is real to them, nonetheless. And no matter how many manicures, pedicures, massages, personal trainers, and exotic trips they treat themselves to, many are not practicing the kind of self-care that does not cost any money, and often where the real work and real benefits come from--the kind of self-care that comes in the form of practicing gratitude, kindness to themselves and others, nurturing their creative spirit, and other types that allow one to feel solid in who they are, and therefore treat themselves and others with honor and respect; this is the true meaning of self-care.

When I finished this conversation with myself, I looked up to see the man who was cutting my overgrown cuticles chatting and laughing with the woman sitting beside him, who was giving another customer a manicure. I remember him telling me--before I left the present moment and drifted off to overanalyze my critical review--that he was married and the father of four children, ages 15, 11, 4, and 4 months. When he turned back to face me, I asked him where his wife worked. "This is my wife," he gestured to the woman sitting next to him.

She had a smile on her face. She looked refreshed and happy. And so did he. 

"How do you do it? How does she do it? You have four kids, a new baby. Your wife looks happy and healthy. She doesn't seem tired or crabby (like I was). How does she take care of herself?" I asked him with the utmost sincerity.

As I waited for him to respond, I thought to myself, Privilege, yeah, right. These two people working full-time at a nail salon are not getting manicures and taking yoga classes for their self-care, and yet, they are clearly practicing self-care in its truest form.

"Everything is 50/50," he replied. "We both do the work at home, and here. We help each other. And when she worries, I tell her that everything will be OK." 

He told me about some of their parenting strategies and their money-based reward system that incentivizes their 15-year-old to get A's in school, which, so far, is working very well.

I left the nail salon feeling better. I was so happy that this man and woman, working side by side, with most likely not very much disposable income to use on self-care, were indeed practicing one of the most important kinds of self-care--the kind that is more valuable than any trip to the spa. The love and respect they have for one another allows them each to find ways to meet their self-care needs, and to be happy individually and as a couple.

So, Mr. Critic, I would be happy to introduce you to this lovely couple working at the nail salon and we can talk to them about what self-care means to them.

I am certain that they would tell us that self-care is not an issue of privilege. It is an issue of honoring one's self, and in many cases, honoring one's relationship with his/her partner. 

I would love to hear your thoughts on this issue.