Commercialization of self care threatens working women

Kat Sampson

Head to any Austin yoga studio for a 6 a.m. class, and the room will be filled with young professionals, mostly women, squeezing in their sweat session before heading to work so they can check off the “self-care” box in their color-coded iPhone planners.

The World Health Organization defined self care in 1983 as “what people do for themselves to establish and maintain health, and to prevent and deal with illness. It is a broad concept encompassing hygiene, nutrition, lifestyle, environmental factors, socio-economic factors and self-medication.”

There has only been a two percent increase in the number of women in the workplace from 1990 to 2012 but a 15 percent increase in self-help book sales from 2013 to 2014, according to a Nielson BookScan report.

Obviously, eating healthy and exercising regularly is crucial to longevity, but this trend toward self care suggests women can only love their jobs if they have some sort of release that, more often than not, is a weight-loss activity. There are entire websites and brands banking on women feeling guilty about their work-centric lifestyles. Instead of advancing females in the workplace and society, these magazines and websites boil down a woman’s worth to the size of her body.

What we need are more successful women of all races and socio-economic statuses telling other women that it is okay to be in love with your job. The beauty of Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” was that she wasn’t telling women to leave work an hour early to make a Zumba class or to substitute green juices for one meal a day. Sandberg wants women to feel like they can succeed in the workplace without sacrificing their identities as mothers, partners and friends.

Comedic actress Mindy Kaling’s latest book, “Why Not Me?” addresses the growing distrust of working women and how we accept women partaking in extracurricular activities.

“We do a thing in America, which is to label people ‘workaholics’ and tell them that work is ruining their lives,” Kaling wrote. “It’s such a widespread opinion that it seems like the premise to every indie movie is ‘Workaholic mom comes home to find that her entire family hates her. It’s not until she cuts back on work, smokes a little pot, and takes up ballroom dancing classes with her neglected husband that she realizes what is truly important in life. Not work.’”

The prolific emergence of self care softens women in a way that makes them approachable, creating a double standard. Women are already centuries behind men in the workforce, and having to concern themselves with physical demands is just another hurdle women face. The heavy-drinking, steakhouse-eating, Mad Men lifestyle of the ’50s and ’60s suggests men don’t have the same pressure to live “balanced” lives.

The pressure to succeed affects not only working women. Students feel the same work-related stress, too. Almost 90 percent of students reported feeling overwhelmed by all they had to do, according to the American College Health Association’s University of Texas Executive Summary for Fall 2013.

Instead of indirectly pressuring women to partake in self-care activities, we should place an emphasis on doing what makes us feel fulfilled. If someone lives for his or her 6 a.m. yoga class, by all means hit the mat, but we shouldn’t make others feel guilty for sleeping in and staying late to work for an extra hour.

Sampson is a journalism junior from Chevy Chase, Maryland. She is an associate editor. Follow her on Twitter @katclarksamp.