Charlie Ambler

Debunking “self-care”, the modern day snake oil


‘Self-care’ is a term that has swelled into a lunchtime utopia. We scale mountains, we take photos of ourselves, we daytime drink. All of this is an unhelpful sidestep.



Self-care has become a popular term in recent times, almost a meme of sorts among overworked millennials seeking refuge from the various hurricanes of self-doubt and judgment they’re perpetually exposed to. Yoga. Health food. Spiritual vacations. Exercise. Meditation. Baths. Juice.

This ethos of self-care has been commodified and amplified to such a point that we tend to indulge in it as if we live in some sort of progressive bohemian utopia. In truth, we’re a new lost generation, born of 24/7 commerce, tech and endless war. All the forces we’re conditioned to tolerate do not know how to stop, let alone move along with tact. On a practical level, many of us feel we have no choice but to work and consume constantly, with bosses, co-workers and partners maintaining endless contact with us through digital communication mediums. So we turn to these activities when we need some time “for us”.

So what’s the problem? It’s twofold. Firstly, we have become so accustomed to constant stimulation and activity that self-care just becomes an integrated remedial part of our nonstop routine. It becomes a new set of plans, activities, spending habits and consumption behaviour. Secondly, when we stay “on” at all times, even when we believe to be catering to our deeper needs, we never actually get any rest. Self-care is a bit of a myth in this regard.

We forget how much technological and ideological progress has infiltrated our everyday lives. We think the Internet has opened our eyes, but we still gawk at the same garbage…

As both a millennial and a business owner, it’s very easy for me to never turn my brain off. I can go for weeks on five hours of sleep, a constant diet of organic food, local coffee, craft beer and vaporised nicotine. I can never stop answering emails, designing new products, spending my budget and distracting myself after-hours with Netflix and Instagram. But just because we can keep our dials turned to 11 at all times doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. I imagine such a life will, over the next 20 years, take the same toll on many young people that cigarettes, bad marriages and hard liquor took on their grandparents.

So here’s my extremely simple solution: find some time to do absolutely nothing. Maybe it’s a little time each day. Maybe it’s one day each week (if you’re self-employed). Just turn everything off. Do absolutely nothing. I tried this recently. I took a Friday off and basically just hung out with my cat and for the day. I went for an aimless drive. I had a cup of tea. I went for a walk. I read a book. I did not use my phone, computer or television. It felt amazing, which is hilarious because to anyone living before 1950 it was basically just a day of leisure.

We forget how much the grand march of technological and ideological progress has infiltrated our everyday lives. Men and women alike think they’ve been “liberated” to work on their own terms; for many people this just means working nonstop, never finding enough free time to remember the life that could be reclaimed. We think the Internet has opened our eyes, but in many ways, it’s just focused our preexistent gaze. We still gawk at the same garbage, even when we have infinite access to all of the information ever generated.

This is why it’s so important to just turn off. Completely. Let yourself reboot. See what emerges. Go on, do it now.


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