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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