Let me begin with one well-known phrase of Audre Lorde, a poet and feminist writer: "Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare."
This phrase has been used so much - from feminists and political activists to bloggers, healthy lifestyle coaches and wellness vloggers.
In the last four to five years “self-love” and “self-care” became real buzzwords. What would be the first association you get when you hear these words? Probably, it would be something like bubble-bath with a glass of wine on the side, relaxing in a spa salon, going to a gym, ordering a brand new anti-wrinkles cream or just taking a day-off and indulging oneself etc. I’d like to emphasize that it is not my purpose to demonize self-indulgence here. Certainly, all of these things are normal things to do. My focus here is slightly different. If those are your first associations, it is completely understandable. Why? This once radical idea of Audre Lorde has been stripped of its original politics to make it more adaptive to a mass market. For instance, the hashtag #selfcare has been used far more than 26 millions times on Instagram. If you type it in, you’ll see thousands of posts with “perfect” bodies, glossy hair, sets of brand-new cosmetics, jogging in new sneakers of a best-selling trade mark, “we-wake-up-flawless” morning make-ups and so on. Many of these posts are sponsored by corresponding companies. Again, people are free to do whatever they want. Important here is the ability to define the true level of this freedom.
Our current monetarist system profits from our natural humanly limits
When I was studying at university, I had a lot of marketing and customer behaviour studies. We learnt how to retain customers, how to “direct” their consumption choices, creating demand, mechanics of advertisement etc. In a very schematic way it goes like this: you put bottles of Cola like this, make the light like this, engage famous “happy and shining” people in ads, which will run at these particular times of the day, and voilà - the magic happens. But then I dived a bit into neuroscience and understood roughly how our attention works and that it is a limited resource, which is easily influenced by a third party. I was shocked to realise that all those marketing and advertising tricks that I was studying are nothing more than a mere manipulation. What is more, is that people actually receive grants and scholarships for research and studies on how to better manipulate the perception of fellow human beings, in order to stimulate or alter their consumption behaviour. For example, there is one technique called “information overload”, which implies incentives to bound a potential consumers’ financial literacy by overwhelming his/her limited attention with loads of unnecessary information.
The biggest wonder for me has always been a question as to why it is allowed in the first place. Why is it still permitted on a political level? Knowing and understanding how fragile and receptive our minds are, we still have scads of manipulative advertisements all around us that are backed up by the law. The next question arises now: in the age of so-called humanism, how humane is this utilization of the natural boundaries of our minds? There is a constant fight for our attention everywhere we go. Our attention became a new currency of our times. Therefore, mastering your self-awareness is a political act. You must truly understand whether you want to buy this new pair of shoes or you are just conditioned to want to buy it. You should be able to discern your real need in buying this new gadget from the infused desire of seeing the ad for the last ten months in your Instagram news feed. Imagine for a moment what would happen to the consumption rates and the system in general, if people raised the level of awareness. The techniques to solidify the power of your attention are in abundance out there. One should just have a little motivation for it.
The system benefits from our insecurities
While Victoria’s Secret models are getting even thinner, the amount of people with distorted body images are growing bigger. Wherever you look, there is a flood of overly-perfected images of beauty. They are in magazines, on billboards, on the sides of the streets, in ads, in TV-shows, in movies, on your social-media feeds, on the sides of buildings - literally everywhere. There has been a persistent and subtle beauty image dictatorship for many years now. This is especially true for women, as we still have a sexualized attitude towards the female body in today’s society. People, who do not meet these requirements, may be exposed to body shame, body dissatisfaction, depression, anxiety, and eating disorders (e.g. starving oneself in order to lose some weight). It is also very destructive for a young generation, whose personalities are still developing, and who are absorbing cultural signals very easily. It is in our nature to compare ourselves to others and to check whether we meet social standards or not.
Moreover, many people get obsessed with the newest beauty products, plastic or cosmetic surgeries on different “strategic” parts of the body, smoking the same cigarettes as one’s favourite celebrity does or wearing the same brand of clothes. And again, we see how the marketing schemes are using our very nature for the sake of profit.
We’re constantly getting a message from the culture that the most important thing our body should be is “sexy”, “beautiful” and “attractive”, distracting us from the fact that our bodies are for doing things rather than just for looking good. They carry us around. They move us from place to place. Through them we create things. This is our instrument for action and communication. Our arms hug. Our eyes express love and enjoy the colors of nature. Our ears appreciate music. Our noses smell flowers. Our lips sip our favorite cappuccino...
By Self-Love, I mean looking deeper into yourself, finding the destructive conditionings, erasing them, being grateful to your body for every little gift it gives you on a daily basis and enjoying your life as it comes to you. Imagine one more time what would happen to the consumption rates if we would do just that. And now combine Self-Love with Self-Awareness. There is so much talk about freedom. I believe that true freedom begins within oneself. During these quarantine times, we’ve got a perfect opportunity to learn more about ourselves.