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Today we introduce someone who is very special to us. Max Daniels is a knitter, most certainly, and that’s how we met. Soon, we discovered that Max has a rich career as a life coach, and among many things writes a killer email newsletter. A weekly dose of straight talk, with a side of love. Once we started receiving her email newsletters, we were struck by how much sense she makes. How fast she cuts to the core. How clearly she identifies the stakes. She focuses on self-image, self-care, and self-love, and she’s a truth-teller who keeps us laughing while tenderly exposing how full of it we are, on a variety of topics. Over the years, we’ve learned so much from Max. We hope you enjoy her thought-provoking new column.

Ann and Kay

There is a popular saying in self-development circles: “Self-care is not about the pedicures.” This is not false, but it’s not entirely true, either. As a woman raised in the hippie era in Boulder, Colorado (a town that has greeted gladly every hippie-revival mini-era since the ’70s), I came late to the understanding that pedicures, and many other standards of grooming, are indeed an important part of self-care. In fact, they were one of my first flags in the self-care sand.

Geneen Roth is the reason I started getting interested in pedicures. I found her book Breaking Free from Compulsive Eating in my early 20s, and it saved me. I had been an out-of-control binge eater for nearly a decade, and Geneen was the first person I encountered who seemed to understand how crazy I was and how to stop it. So when I heard her say “Self-care is not about the pedicures”—and for all I know, she coined the phrase; the woman is good with words—I made a note in my little book.

It read: “GR says self-care is not about the pedicures. But if you’re not getting pedicures, that would be a really good place to start.” Thus began an extensive side trip through the world of makeup and skin care. (By no means a dead end. But I didn’t find the pot of gold there.)

Leaving aside standards of grooming, I had no real models to study for self-care. My father was a Marine, so I’d learned something about self-respect, which I now know is not the same thing. I did have an aunt who took quite good care of herself, but—I’m sure this was just a coincidence—we didn’t see all that much of her. The notions I gleaned about how to take care of myself from Vogue, Dallas, LA Law were very external, all about appearance.

I just didn’t know what Geneen was talking about. She’s quite spiritual so—this is embarrassing—I sort of stopped listening at that point, assuming that we just weren’t going to be aligned there. I had no structure for understanding self-care that wasn’t outward-facing, performed for approval. I thought I was right, and that I did need pedicures and facials, and maybe soon they would make me feel better and I would lose interest in carrot cake. I thought Geneen was wrong when she said that the beauty of orchids could be nourishing, that a walk might be what we needed most. I had tried smelling roses and there was nothing in them to take away my hunger for sugar.

What happened next was I continued to eat a lot of sugar, and get a bunch of pedicures, and a few facials, and sprinkled in some massage and beach holidays, and I lost a bit of weight, and put some back on, and lost a bunch more, and started to dismantle my sugar habit (I still eat sugar, gluten, animals, all the things, just so you know, and food is still at the center of my life, but in a completely different way), and I took some crap from my family about how much of my (own) resources (time, money, brainpower, love) I was spending on myself, and then I started taking less crap, and then I stopped putting myself in the way of disapproval quite so much, and so if my family and friends objected to the way I was living, they were objecting Into The Void.

And I realized this: Decorating the body is delicious. Facials are good for your skin. Bathing in hot springs is ecstasy. That’s why people do these things, and have always done them. These things aren’t wrong and need no defense—though many people with various philosophies do disapprove of caring for the body in these ways, and may attempt to stop you, and we will talk about that.

Rather, caring for the body springs not from self-absorption, but from self-love and self-respect, aka kissing cousins to self-care. And caring for the body really is just one piece. Just scratching the surface.

Which, as it turns out, is what Geneen had been pointing at the whole time: Self-care is an internal position. It’s a stance we take toward ourselves, of loving ourselves, ending the hostility toward ourselves, of staying (I like to say ferociously) on our own side. It’s knowing that the responsibility of caring for ourselves is ultimately ours—no one else’s—and the glad acceptance of that responsibility.

Self-care is the best thing I have found—you know, once I found it—to go up against food-weight-and-diet obsession. Because, as (mostly) women, we have some powerful barriers between us and self-care, I have made it my life’s work to coach, write and teach about self-care.

So that’s what we’ll be talking about over the next few months. Self-care: what it is, what it isn’t, how to get you some if you need it, and why doing so will spread a powerful good to everyone in your world.

I welcome your questions and feedback.

(Image credit: Rijksmuseum, Mary Magdalene, Jan van Scorel, c. 1530. The Magdalene holds a jar of foot ointment, which she administered to Jesus. I hope she kept a bit back for herself. )

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!


  • Love the article – can’t wait to hear more. Also who’s the painting at the top of the post?

    • It’s Mary Magdalene! Isn’t she lovely? And so sumptuously attired…

  • I love Max! I’ve read her newsletter ever since you linked to it years ago. She’s right on.

  • Wonderful! Can’t wait for more from Max… so just signed up for her newsletter!

  • Just signed up for Max’s newsletter. I’m intrigued!

  • Such a timely topic… Self-care and the healthy mindset that goes with it… Perfect for talking with my pre-teen. Thanks for your insight and I can’t wait to see what’s coming next.

  • Max is an inspiration. I remember her working on this amazing sweater before she left our umbrella employer and headed down this path full time. Her knitting, and approach to live, inspires creativity and confidence. So glad she’s contributing to MDK to help us all figure out how to take care of ourselves!

  • Mary Magdalene just keeps appearing. Only a few Sundays age, she got a shout out on the Podcast On Being that MDK linked us to as ” the patron saint of showing up.”. That she did! Probably she was a knitter as well.
    I love your perspective on life.

    • The “patron saint of showing up” – Love, love, love this! Sometimes, that’s all it takes. 🙂

  • OMG!!! What amazing info & writing! Thanks. My self care begins tomorrow when 3 of my girlfriends & I leave for SAFF!! Our third annual girls trip!

    • Jamie, I, too, think this is awesome!! We need Max’s book. I wish I was at SAFF with you guys…sallie

  • So useful! Thanks.

  • um- know a good pedicurist?

  • My grandmom was a psychiatrist and she always said a mani/pedi is great for your mental health. She had one once a month and lived till she was 91. She was also a knitter 🙂

    • Once I told a psychiatrist that I felt terrible about getting a pedicure while there was war in Iraq, and she said “ARE YOU SERIOUS TODAY?! The salons in Baghdad have never been busier. This is how the women in those communities cope.” And she had reason to know. Psychiatrists: RESPECT!

  • Okay. That seals the deal. Teen daughter asked to go get mani/pedis after school and I didn’t want to spend the cash. But we need more good bonding time to offset the terrible teen episodes… So you know what I’m doing with her at 3:30 today!
    And I’ll sign up for Max’s newsletter, as well as share it with hubby. Thanks, MDK, for the breadth of topics you enlighten us with… 🙂

    • It’s wonderful how you have to sit still to get a mani/pedi!

  • If you’re living on 1,100 a month in social security, you’re lucky to be able to afford sugar, much less massages. Rich women have such terrible oroblems. Boo hoo.

    • Just what I was thinking; purchasing a skein of sock yarn and a bottle of nail polish are luxuries for me.

    • I don’t have much “fun” money after bills, food, and gas are paid for. And I don’t care much for pedi or manicures (I keep my nails quite short). But I took that suggestion as a symbolic placeholder more than an absolute. I took it to mean find what gives you pleasure, what gives to yourself rather than to others, what do you do just for you, and pursue it.
      I like gardening… on a nice summer day even the weeding gives me that feeling of connecting with the sun and earth and the buzzing and chirping of life around me.
      I pay attention when I pet my cat… how soft the fur, how sweet the half closed eyes, the way the purr rumbles through my hands into my body.
      I fill the tub with hot water, and with a cold drink on the rim, and tunes playing, I soak and melt.
      I play music. On the radio, on the computer, on an instrument. I sing aloud… as loud and as soulfully as I want.
      No one is denying that having money limitations doesn’t limit your options. It does. But that doesn’t mean you don’t deserve to care for yourself as well. Max does point out, self care is an internal position. She got there by starting externally. Some of us will have to find other doorways.
      I’m looking for mine. I hope you can find yours.

      • It is so great to have a fat playbook of free self-care things. I have a tub, and can go weeks without thinking of running a bath. I’m taking a leaf out of your book, Kathleen 🙂

      • What a thought-provoking comment, Kathleen. I have a lot to learn about “self care as an internal position,” which is one reason why I drink up everything Max writes. I feel like my passion for tidying is a kind of self care. Of course, it has an element of anxiety and image-projection to it, but ultimately even if nobody ever saw my kitchen drawer I would still want it to be calming and tidy inside when I open it myself.

    • Mimi, you are not alone, so maybe you could share something you do for yourself that nourishes and sustains you? Most of the things I do that fall into this category are not costly, but are very valuable to me. Being outdoors as often as possible, every day, even for a few minutes, for example.

      • This was such a lovely, kind response. Thank you Quinn.

  • This is very timely for me, as i’m battling with how to balance self-care around my new marriage, caring for a sick and grieving father, trying to step above childhood sibling tendencies, a new position in my company… i feel empty from the giving. Even when given the time to do “something for me” (my husband “gives” me time to take off from cooking, cleaning, caring for my dad… to get a manicure, or just chill out)– and i sit and think of all the things i *should* be doing. and the time is wasted. I’m struggling to find my voice that says: i want to take my time at THIS time, not on your schedule… I need help consistently, not intermittently… praising me for handling this all “like a champ” is not the same as lightening the load… just because i can handle it, does not mean i have to. I do find that i make the time to get ready for work, do my hair/make-up, paint my nails… and it does help. How do you advise those who are pushed to the extremes of caregiving to consistently be mindful of self-care?

    • I sympathise Kate. I am battling with a teenage daughter with anorexia and it has consumed my every second, days and nights waking at 4am. Consumed not just my time but every part of me so that I couldn’t even face supportive phone calls with much loved friends and family. I could however knit and that did at least mark the passage of time so that I didn’t feel completely in limbo. Finally light appears to be at the end of the tunnel – she’s normal weight and I managed to keep her out of hospital and at school. Just got all the psychological stuff to sort out going forward, but hopeful. For people on a budget, self care can be difficult and it might be helpful to step back and think about what really gives you pleasure. Many years ago, with 3 small children, a busy professional job and a long commute, I was reaching to the biscuit barrel for comfort. I felt that I had no time and the food and wine marked the transition into ‘ time off’, whilst still juggling at home. When I thought about it, I realised that what I really wanted to do was to read novels so I gave myself the gift of time – the children had un-ironed school uniforms, housework done less frequently, the occasional dinner of beans on toast – and I registered with the library, got some books and read! And the world looked better! I don’t go for pedicures myself but the key is to identify what connects with you and makes you feel whole.

    • It does get better, though –
      The more I read about ‘how to care for myrself’ and how to overcome ‘old relationship habits’, the more lands in my heart, and sticks. And then ‘what’s the next baby-step?’ just sorta shows up! 🙂

    • Oh, Huge Hugs, {{{Kate}}}!
      Been there, done that – and the “What about ME?” screaming in your head can be excruciating!
      Much love, from Detroit….

    • Oh, gosh, Kate – sending you love and perseverance <3. When I worked in the news office at Harvard, we published research on the caregivers of ill people, and the news, you will guess, was not good. Caregiving for a sick person is draining, we all know that, but the research shows that it's actually one of the *damaging* things for your own health. So whatever you can do for yourself is a necessity, not an indulgence.

      I find it helpful to remember that loss of control and freedom is maybe the most challenging part of caring for someone else. Any way you can find of maintaining a semblance of your own schedule, your own choices – even very small things help a lot. That, and a little emergency kit (book, knitting, journal) helps me a lot.

      This is the most-requested topic I've had lately – how to do self-care under extreme circumstances. It merits a long piece. To come! Hang in there.

  • So Happy to see Max joining MDK! I just love the combination of knitting and self care. Too many of us only do for others, when we really need to take care of ourselves first.

  • Sorry, but I find this obsession with pedicures morally questionable to say the least. Why first-world women condone having having (usually) third-world women deal with their feet (yuck) for less than minimum wage and often horrid working conditions is beyond me. (See the excellent NY Times article on the subject.) I understand that women feel ill-treated and under-appreciated—certainly the odious Donald has reminded us of that—but “self-care” pampering that just exploits other women hardly seems the way to go. Having tidy feet is fine, but it’s easily DIY.

    • True! DIY pedicures are still self-care. I always wonder about what’s best for women doing hard labor though – better to boycott the service, or use it and tip generously? It’s usually some of each for me. Last year I went to a salon where the pedicurist told me (it was a Russian place so we spoke in Spanish for some privacy) that she was booked solid for 8-10 hours a day and was NOT ALLOWED to eat. AT ALL. I could never go back – but I think of her often. And I hope she started sneaking some protein drinks at least.

      • These weighty considerations can, for some of us, become their own burden against self-care. I’d love to hear from you, Max, about making choices about inputs. Example: I have decided to limit reading certain news articles, because of how sad it makes me. I recognize this as a form of privilege -the people in the news articles don’t get to choose- but I pursue it just the same.
        I assume that you didn’t go back to the nail place because you didn’t want to support that business owner – but to your point above – you could also consider going back as a support to the woman you met……tricky territory.
        Looking forward to reading more.

  • I love the article and am looking forward to hearing more – it is what I truly need.

  • The angels brought you to me today. And I thank them and Him.

  • I can’t wait to hear more!

  • Thank you for this post! I’ve been in a little bit of a funk lately, and I needed to hear this message.

  • Maybe I should be a life coach because I know the ultimate form of self-care: Sleepytime tea. Cures what ails you. Taken in the evening, makes everything right. Take that, trained life coaches!

    • I’m making a note! Tension Tamer once got myself and several colleagues through the implosion of our Place of Employment. We chipped in and bought it by the case from a co-op!

  • What a great column! I’m not much into pedicures (I too lived in Boulder), but I accomplish much self care by knitting, thinking about knitting, and like Kay says, tea – lots and lots of tea.

  • Susan B – I think I neeed to dig into Mary Magdalene as “the patron saint of showing up”, too!
    Max – I’m not a knitter, or looking to lose any *more* weight, but I find your musings on ‘self-care’ invaluable, Babe! Thanks for the link here!

  • Max – thanks for the introduction to MDK via your newsletter. Now I can love your work in more places, and find knitting inspiration too! For me, knitting is part of self-care, btw. It can be so meditative.

  • I find it highly insensitive and elitist that nobody has even acknowledged, let alone had one iota of appreciation for, Mimi’s very pertinent comment. Ignoring the importance of providing for basic needs while kvetching about manicures and pedicures…wow. We Americans certainly are reaping what we’ve sown. I thought MDK was a kinder place than this.

    • While the content of Mimi’s comment is indeed pertinent, I suspect that many have, in fact, not replied as a measure of kindness and respect. To me, her tone did not invite kind replies (or suggest that she wished to engage in respectful dialogue on the issue). Of course, when we’re reading and not speaking, it is easy to mistake tone – I may have had that wrong. I chose to steer clear.

    • Well, as it happens, I just responded to Mimi’s comment. Maybe there will a conversation as a result, you never know.
      But with all due respect, your comment makes me wonder why you didn’t respond.

    • It seems to me that any kind of comment would come across as patronizing. What can any of us do? Aside from perhaps remembering that we might have friends or family members in equally dire straights and that maybe we can treat *them* to a mani/pedi or some other kind of treat. Some might say necessity, but I say treat.

      Also – MDK is plenty kind a kind of place. It’s a knitting blog. How long have you been reading it? Sort through the archives. You’ll find plenty of kindness.

    • Hi Dorothy,

      We receive all comments with respect, but often in silence. Personally, I tend not to know what to say to an angry comment from someone I don’t know, and I don’t feel an obligation to speak in that circumstance. Reading the comments on this post, I see thoughtful and inclusive conversation, as opposed to kvetching. To me, the article is about more than manicures and pedicures, and I think the comments above–all of them– reflect that. We don’t have to agree to have an interesting, civil and kind conversation.

  • It’s great to see Max here!
    Truly this sort of self care isn’t my favorite, I tend to treat myself to absolute vegging out, or candy, or an item I really shouldn’t buy (Super cheap sweaters, my gosh they can be cozy, like a robe that I’m allowed to wear all day!).
    But honestly, when I get a huge compliment, it’s almost always after a great invisible treatment like a pedicure. I think it just makes me *feel* extra good.

  • I LOVED this article!!!

  • pedicures and all are probably wonderful BUT for the first time in the history of the world, the majority of women are 65 and older. We earned less than the other gender (I maybe earned 59 cents for every dollar they earned) consequently poverty is the norm. I frequently have to choose between paying a bill or eating. SO lets wee more on the inner aspect of happiness

    • Yes, and we still earn less. However, you made progress for those following in your footsteps, and for that, I thank you. I hope everyone has some methods of self care no matter the budget. Some of mine are: a good cup of coffee in the morning, a shower to start my day, taking the time to chat on the phone with my friends or my mom and a good book. While i know a pedicure is a way some people love to indulge themselves, it isn’t my favorite. I think it is though a symbol of putting yourself first which we all should do from time to time, and I can appreciate the author’s intentions.

      • I am sorry that choosing between paying a bill and eating is a reality for you and others. That isn’t right, and we should be doing better. Thank you for the reminder to reach out in my community.

  • Love it, and I don’t usually love self help advice.

  • Oh man, do I ever need this. My question is: How do you get yourself to choose self-care over other, less effective methods? In the moment, I never want the self-care; I want the quick fix. Never mind the fact that the quick fix fixes nothing!

    • Oh, this is such a good question! Jen Louden writes about this a lot (she likes the term “shadow comfort”). Here’s how I think about it: Get out ahead of this. Don’t expect you’ll do the healthier-yet-unfamiliar thing in the difficult moment. Try to cultivate those things when you’re not under pressure. Let the real self-care crowd out the fake self-care / shadow comforts little by little. It’s actually the faster way. LEMME KNOW how you go! <3

  • Kay, Ann, Max, and everyone who has commented. Thank you so much for sharing. You have all spoken to my heart. In this past year I have suffered through huge health issues – in part from not taking care of myself – and as a result have become disabled. I am still trying to figure out why, how, when. But you have all shared and now you offer me some insight, hope, and the knowledge that it is OK to put out some effort and to love me a bit. Thank you!

    • Wishing you all the best. We all need help with this.

    • Ach, love yourself a lot, lovey <3

  • Wonderful! Thank you!

  • Very provocative thoughts. Being good to myself – that’s enlightening. Can’t wait to hear more.

  • Brilliant! Thanks for this clear and kind reminder.

  • Max! After emailing with Rose & Joe about you guys landing in Oaklend I suddenly realized I have never googled your life coaching website Just did that & of course was delighted with the gentle candor, insight and humor I’ve come to enjoy so much. your website is very much like you I person…no, make that totally like you in person I’d love to read more
    don’t worry about getting back to me right now…I know how busy you guys are there in CA with R &B!


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