Wellness

The History (And Future) Of Self-Care

From a humble beginning to help women regain control over their health, self-care has blown up into a billion-dollar business.

By Jessica Schiffer

Wellness

From a humble beginning to help women regain control over their health, self-care has blown up into a billion-dollar business.

By Jessica Schiffer

In the 1970s, self-care was considered a political act – to gain basic reproductive rights and place a value on women’s health. Today, it’s become a byword for reflecting upon and staying centred in an increasingly chaotic world. The definition of health itself has been transformed to hinge on central tenets of self-care. The rising popularity of the term has been closely followed by immense commercialisation, with hotels to Fortune 500 companies touting its benefits and seeking to profit from it. From lifestyle and consumer site Goop to mattress company Casper, these brands are focused on consumers’ desire to be “well”. And it’s working – with self-care growing into a USD$10 billion industry. The movement’s origins, however, are much humbler.

Starting out as a medical concept in the early 20th century, self-care was used predominately by doctors on their patients who were elderly, mentally or chronically ill. The premise was that teaching these patients to treat themselves and foster healthy habits would offer a sense of autonomy over their heavily regulated lives. By the 1960s, it was being touted by academics as a cure for post-traumatic stress disorder and burnout experienced by overburdened employees like trauma therapists and social workers – a practice that continues today.

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Self-care is highly personalised, ranging from a regular yoga class and a vitamin regimen, to New Age therapies such as reiki and crystal healing. The New York Times has recommended planning an entire holiday around the concept (Amalfi Coast, anyone?), which involves a digital detox and painting, among other activities. Celebrities and athletes are constantly detailing their own, unique routines, featuring mantras, dancing, push-ups and more.

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Going forward, we are likely to see this trend expand even further, beyond the indies and start-ups, and into the mainstream. A Mintel report, for example, argues that beauty brands will switch their user focus from function to feel. Many perfume brands, including Luna Noel and The 7 Virtues, are already doing this, selling fragrances that claim emotional benefits including “grounding your energy” or alleviating stress. But scents are just the beginning. “Consumers will begin to seek solutions for emotional health, mental wellness and energy harmony from their skincare and other beauty products,” says Mintel analyst Angela Teo, citing everything from lipstick to face mist.

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