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As we said way back in the beginning, a major reason why the term “self-care” can raise the hackles is that self-care is so often linked with what the kids today are (prematurely? we don’t know yet) calling “late capitalism.” Consumer acts like getting pedicures and shopping for underwear—procedures that used to take place more privately and were thought unremarkable, certainly not worthy of assembling a crowd of witnesses—are now Pinned and Instagrammed all day, the world over.

Commerce, or some form of exchange, is a major feature of life on Earth. It’s not a bad thing, by itself. Documenting our lives: also not wrong. But the marriage of the two—every consumer act greeted by an audience of a size once reserved for weddings and funerals—is causing some complicated feelings. And some more material conflicts as well.

Because of course, it’s not just nail-color puns and homemade breakfast pudding we’re clicking on, but nutty things like dried-and-powdered fungi in a heartstoppingly beautiful bottle bearing a label that with gentle knowing irony hints—no promises!—that the unicorn tears within will fluff your aura, confer enlightenment and make stretch marks disappear.

We all know: this is gonna cost us.

Sometimes the naked lust of all this savvy imagery pushes us away. But sometimes it hits us just in the right place, at the right time, and we go nuts with seemingly attainable desires. Social media is so democratic! Surely there’s more room up there at the top. We too want to reach this place of peak beauty, peak #goals. We too want to be Living the Dream! Preferably in an expensive caftan clutching a sunset-colored drink on a white-sand beach on a trip that someone else paid for. With our willing Instagram husband at the ready, to catch it all at our best angle.

As a rather graspy person with limited funds and an Instagram feed full of glittering objets, I’m always thinking about the intersection of self-care and consumerism. Always having to exercise that muscle of restraint—not the one that stops me reaching for my limited funds when I spy some glam lipstick, but the one that stops me feeling victimized by those perfectly livable limits. The one that stops me feeling self-pity and envy, which a somewhat lean childhood left me unsympathetically prone to.

So I was fascinated by the recent New York Times Magazine profile of Gwyneth Paltrow, Ultimate Envy Object, and her business, a piece which I strongly recommend—in part for the can’t-look-away evidence that major celebrities are so not just like us, even when they think they are, and partly for the critique of haute girly consumption of products that can’t deliver anything even close to what we hope they will. (Ask me about the criminally expensive sunscreen I bought on Goop this summer, hoping it would be the one that didn’t turn me white as a Miyazaki ghost. Result: disappointed.)

The piece, written by Taffy Brodesser-Akner, is quite respectful to Gwyneth, who comes across as a lovely person, in no way a shallow presentational layer, but kind and thoughtful to a completely un-Instagrammable degree. But Taffy, bless her, is unsparing about Goop the Business, and the effects of all this aspirational pitching on those of us who can’t afford what’s for sale.

Taffy visits Gwyneth at her house, gets a load of her skin up close, has a pleasant dinner with her, and goes home feeling bad about herself. Because when a gal compares herself to Gwyneth Paltrow, or the next person in her feed, she comes up short.

I have the antidote for this! And I’m passing it around. The antidote is real self-care, not stagey social-media self-care or the purchase of Internet goods, however fun that may be.

Real self-care is kindness. It’s turning away from impossible comparisons, like us versus celebs. It’s seeing the engine of desire for what it is: someone else’s need to earn money.

Self-care might make use of a potion now and then, but it is never the potion itself.

And this too bears repeating: self-care is not just an amusing side project for the rich. Self-care is an attitude of being on our own side, it costs zero dollars, and it is for everyone.

Further Reading (and Listening)

How Goop’s Haters Made Gwyneth Paltrow’s Company Worth $250 Million
Still Processing: We Got Goop’d (a New York Times podcast discussion with Taffy Brodesser-Akner)
Self-care: What Are We Really Talking About?
Self-care: 100 Free or Low-cost Ideas


Celebrities are so not just like us.
Image:  Portrait of Charlotte Beatrix Strick van Linschoten, Mattheus Verheyden, c. 1755, Rijksmuseum. Used with permission.

About The Author

Max Daniels is a research-based life coach whose weekly emails make us laugh with recognition and rethink everything we thought we knew. Her new book is Meals at Mealtimes. What a concept!


  • Thank you!

  • Max you’re so totally right every time. XO

  • I honestly had never heard of GOOP. I wasn’t missing anything!

  • Best thing I’ve read in AGES. It is good to hear a voice crying in the Instagram wilderness and know I am not alone. I’m so so so tired of all the conspicuous consumerism masquerading as happiness, as life itself. This year, I chose to share just ONE photo from Rhinebeck – a SHEEP. The reason the festival exists. The unassuming animal that doesn’t buy the latest project bag, cute little enamel pins to stick on the trendy project bag (which are destined for a landfill), the newest must-have yarn, etc etc etc. I will no longer share photos of my « Rhinebeck haul » for the same reason – no longer willing to glorify consumerism. I’ve also found it healing to unfollow those who engage in excessive consumerism in their feeds. I see less « stuff » now in my IG and it’s great!

    • I hear what you are saying, and I agree that consumerism for its own sake does a lot of harm, especially when you don’t have the means to consume the “right” things or in the right amount. But to me your comment seems to share that mindset that X is the only “real” way to be happy, just with a different X, and I think we should be kinder to one another than that.

      We already spend so much time and energy chasing happiness by imitating what others tell us will fulfill us—that is, after all, much of the reason why GOOP and things like it make so much money. How do we get past that to find our own forms of happiness, self-care, what have you, without feeling the need to denigrate the popular or “common” forms as the wrong way? So many times I have judged myself for enjoying something I “should” not, along with judging others, and certainly neither habit has brought me happiness.

      I think at its core self-care is about knowing yourself and caring enough to take time to bring yourself joy, whatever form that may take. Let’s not add to the voices saying we are wrong, that is not the right way to be happy, do it my way instead.

      • Yes. Thank you Megan for putting into words some of what I felt as I read the comments. Not the article, but the comments. Why not focus on the positive instead of the negative? You can feel good about yourself without needing to pull others down.
        If self care is giving yourself the care you need, for some that might be looking at pretty pictures… day dreams of gardens, of houses, or of wool… with joy for their existence rather than jealousy that they belong to others.
        I LOVE when people share their Rhinebeck haul (or whatever festival, or knit camp, or cruise). I am not able to go and may never be… but that doesn’t mean I can’t celebrate the glory that they experienced!
        If you can not look without judgment (on them or yourself) then yes, you should avert your gaze and leave the social media feeding it… and that’s a good choice. It’s right and healthy for you. But please don’t rob me of my enjoyment! I’m going to stay right here (on blogs and Instagram) and hope others will continue to share their life with me… including their good shopping luck at Rhinebeck. Their pleasure IS my pleasure!

        Also a thought about the heavy shoppers at festivals… some of us have no LYS within several hours drive. There are those who save all year in order to purchase at these festivals. I do not begrudge them their opportunity to finally indulge. I hope they have a great time shopping and find all sorts of yarny goodness… and they better share the photos with me!

      • Ah, yes, THIS TOO. Thank you, Megan. There is a balance, and we often find it in an unexpected place.

    • Your comment Bonnie is seriously as spot on as the article, perhaps even more so. I thought perhaps the article was headed in this direction (that of your comment), not specifically about NYS&W but all the festivals that seem to be heading in the opposite direction of what so many of us claim we value. Slow fashion, slow making, thoughtful processing & creating… all these things lauded most days on social media are suspended during the festivals in order to acquire the extras. Better than the obligatory #haul pic that can lead folks to envy, what a wonderful “share” to let others see the sheep, the smiling faces, the sweaters, the dedicated farmers bring their flocks of critters. I am very thankful for so many of those that popped up on my feed! There were many. So many happy smiling faces sharing leaves and animals and hugs. That is the essence of self-care. By all means, support the vendors who worked so hard to get to these events & create our beautiful yarns! Absolutely buy hand-dyed or handspun or handsewn or even the new books being launched. But would it not serve these artisans better to capture their face and a few thoughtful insights in to what makes them so special and then share that? That is *other care*. And for me *other care* is #goals & what it promotes with in us is better than any purchase we can get.

    • Amen.

    • Funny, since I was never able to attend Rhinebeck I never thought about the consumerism angle of it. I’ve always thought about being with a group of Knitters, of like-minded people, on a beautiful fall day (and maybe eating a candied apple). However, I do see your point. Also, in my Instagram feed almost on a daily basis somebody’s trying to get me to follow them and they are usually selling something ( usually those t-shirts that have a funny or cute saying about how “I’m a Knitter” or how “I’m a crocheter”, etc etc). I always block them.

      • If you go, you’ll see unbelievably long lines for the “latest thing,” congested booths you can’t even get near (just as well, I guess!), people who bring baby strollers and rolling luggage to fill up with their purchases (making it hard for others to walk around). There are also knitters wearing beautiful handknits enjoying being together, animal lovers enjoying the sheep and goats, great food (that you wait for in long lines), and the pretty fairgrounds. So it’s a mixed bag.

      • Oh, me too! I block freely, and it makes life nicer 🙂

    • I love this. Thank you.

  • Real self-care is feeding your mind & strengthening your body. Forget Instagram. Read a book, talk a walk with a friend, do something for someone else. Any one of those will make you feel better than buying something you don’t need.

  • Brilliant! Thank you. XO

  • Loved your article, so much. Being a woman of a certain age, as the French call it, and living on a small retirement income. I find myself frequently wondering about self care. You know, like is Boom really going to make me look youthful? Am I looking older because I can’t afford these wonder cosmetics? Logically, I think not. But the ads all point to yes I will look younger, and feel better, etc.

    And, yes, sometimes I feel that I’m the only woman out there that can’t afford miracle makeup, gorgeous exotic yarns to knit with and come to that. Knitting cruises, weeks at knitting retreats really incite the green eyed monster in me. In the end, the best self care is to realize that I am part of the majority. There are more of us out here in same boat. Realizing that, “Real self-care is kindness. It’s turning away from impossible comparisons, like us versus celebs. It’s seeing the engine of desire for what it is: someone else’s need to earn money.”, is the best knowledge that we can attain. Thank you for that statement. It will be with me always.

    • I’m also a ‘woman of a certain age’ without an income to be able to afford the gorgeous exotic yarns I see online and in stores. Nor the knitting retreats, knitting cruises, etc. Used to make me feel bad. And jealous. But I’ve realized I’m just as happy with an inexpensive cotton yarn to knit simple dish cloths if nothing else. And scarf after scarf to give away. Knitting along to a good audio book is my therapy. And it’s my self care. No FB, Pinterest for me. Although I confess to following a few Instagrams – mostly knitting ones. Have never posted there myself though. Great comments to a great article. Must share with my 20-something daughter who tends to get sucked in.

  • Thank you, great article

  • Great article. Like watching podcasts but tiring of all the haul and “go buy this”. I know deep inside of me that is not the norm. So glad others feel that way. Thank you.

  • Yessss. Totally. This.

  • I think a lot of self care is about taking the time… I’ve just started making a veg currie which due to scoring a free mini freezer I can now my my own ‘ready’ meals which means that I’ll eat better when I’m tired or ill.

    • Lot of ninjas on this thread! I admire your style, fatblackcatjournal.

    • Oh, I need a mini-freezer! Cuz I barely have any freezer at all! I’ll skip the long, boring story of why. But the answer does relate to my avoidance of FB — Max just wrote all about the answer to that one. (Never became an insta junkie, so no need to avoid!)

  • Spot on! Now someone please make a Goop so I’ll remember this……

  • Mark Twain wrote, “Comparison is the death of joy.” Words to live by!!

    • Love this!

      Another one: “The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.” ― Steven Furtick

  • Excellent essay.

  • Thanks!

  • As part of my regular self-care I’ll delete social media accounts. Yesterday I deleted my Pinterest account and it was surprisingly therapeutic. Sometimes you just need to walk away.

    A recent podcast that talks about the toxicity of the wellness industry and the “Paltrow effect” was on the Aug 16th podcast of Still Processing, from the New York Times.

  • So good, so thoughtful. Social media can make it hard to be who you are and quiet the want-y parts. I’m always trying to live in this world and float above simultaneously, you know?

  • Well said!

  • Self care-lay off the iPads, and phones. Enjoy your time. Once its gone you will NOT get it back.

  • Such a spot on article! Thank you Max!!
    So glad I never got into any social media; instagram, facebook, #stuff!! So I don’t even know what I’m missing. A somewhat lean childhood left me prone to self-pity & envy also so I don’t need that kind of influence to add to it. From the comments, I see I’m not alone

  • Excellent points to keep in mind while scrolling through social media 🙂 Thank you!

  • Having gone from “a doctors wife” to existing on disability, this hit a cord. I had always been a self sufficient RN/BSN until I was sidelined by an accident. When I was married my Visa bill was around $5,000/month and always paid in full. My current monthly income is $1,200.
    But I’m happier now than I have ever been.

  • Just today I plan to use my one dollar and fifty cent face mask from Uwajimaya. not free but certainly not expensive. and definitely real self care – get to feel silly and placebo smooth/young/clear skin afterwards

  • Thank you!! You are receiving a standing ovation from me!!

  • Thank you. Common sense, but it gets buried. ❤️❤️

  • I love that you’re so damn smart Max.

  • It is hard for me to watch the young women in my family practice ‘self-care’ by buying protein powders, supplements, and ‘clean food’ making someone who is good with a website and youtube very rich, and in the meantime the ladies are not sitting down and eating with their own kids and families. I wish they could all read this essay.

    • Yep! Ouch.

  • Oh bless you, Max – as always, such great wisdom and So. On. Point. Thank you!!

  • I do not have an instagram account. I have a facebook acct to keep in touch with family and friends. I also made it positive, meaning for me that beautiful things appear on my feed. Kaffe Fassett quilts, shawls, sweaters, my nieces wedding, my dog, my husband, a bunch of flowers, Kristin Nicholas inspiration, college girlfriends,and inspirational quotes or thoughts. If something makes you feel envy, sad that you don’t have what they have remember this, it is staged, not real, there is debt, deceit, personans, and mental illness, not to mention broken marriages, kids that don’t talk to their parent and parents that don’t talk to their kids. Social media today is the super child of the television. Television told us mothers stay home wear pretty dresses and purls. No mom I knew wore dresses and purls taking care of the kids. Fathers came home at 5 pm dinner was suppose to be ready and kids and dad ate dinner. This wasn’t true for the majority of households. There were alcoholic mom’s dads, grandparents, mental illness, and a facade of normalancy that wasn’t real. We are figuring that out today. Not everything is as it seems, and that is okay. We grow, adapt, change, love and keep going on. WE are at the point where we are questioning and isn’t that exciting?

  • How odd. My Instagram feed is full of beauty – children and dogs, flowers, scenery, artists musicians and actors creating, quirkiness, makers, joy, friendship. Nothing to buy, nothing to sell. You need a better feed!

  • Thank you SO MUCH for this viewpoint. As a 70 year old woman I have struggled throughout my life wondering why I didn’t measure up to the models in the magazines. Just within the last 10 years we have been afforded the truth about touch ups and photo scamming. Hallelujah – I say that we can finally love ourselves with all our imperfections and truly give ourselves a hug for being simply wonderful

  • Thank you MDK. I am new to your newsletter, but have been enjoying 100%. I look forward to reading daily and do. I have yet to find a contributor whom I do not resonate with. Thank you for offering humor, but also clarity to daily life observations that were not fully formalized, but lingering somewhere b/t conscious and subconscious.

  • Thanks for another good, thought-provoking article.

  • I am doing everything in my power right now not to click on

  • After reading the article and your post Max, I referred to your loving gift to MDK readers on 100 free or low-cost self-care ideas. It’s the cumulative experience of small, thoughtfully tended self-care gestures (throughout the day, weeks, months) that truly pack the punch of “real” SC for moi.
    in gratitude

  • This is the time of year everyone is fund raising or doing some kind of fundraising.

    Often products are being offered for sale with a tiny portion going to a charity(5-10 percent)

    These fund raisers are linking consumerism with charity and saying “what a good person you are for buying our products”

    Just saw a web site that appeals to people to buy pink yarn hat kits for $50 to support a 5 donation to a cancer charity.

    Please… worst way to advertise a product .

    Having had breast cancer i notice this type a bit quicker. I am tired of the whole thing of buying something with pink to support the fight against breast cancer. Companies just use this to sell more.

    People should try giving without the gift to themselves!

    I know this is somewhat off the topic of “self care” but it is something else to consider as consumers.

    Everyone should donate to a charity of their choice directly. Bypass the shysters trying make some bucks for themselves.

    • And i am talking about commercial for profit companies… not individuals or self employed… not targetting all the pattern designers who mean well giving their proceeds away.

      There are many self care companies doing this. Corporations….

  • Yes! And thank you. I’m a teacher and I had a moment of laughter when a 6th grade boy, describing the struggles of a fictional Jewish immigrant in 1920 (who was narrowly avoiding starvation), wrote: “and Saul isn’t doing self care very well.”
    Hopefully the next generation sees self care the way you do, Max, and not the way it’s packaged on IG.

  • If it involves money, it is probably not self-care. De-cluttering (and not re-cluttering) is one form of self-care I have been practicing lately. The less stuff I have (and that I have to take care of), the better I feel about myself. IMHO.

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