What Self-Care Isn’t – Part 1: Pampering

June 12, 2013 in body love, feel-good

First off, I have an email list now!  Like, a fancy one that makes lists and calls emails ‘campaigns’ and everything.  I’m using it to send bomb-ass shit every two weeks or so.  You should be on it.

Moving right along…Massages, manis, bubble baths. Anything luxurious, really.  A perfectly crafted cappuccino, long window-shopping (or actual-shopping) sprees, languid afternoons in the sun.  These things bring me their own flavor of joy.  They make me feel juicy and delicious and keep my life rich with an essential ingredient known as ‘pleasure.’

But they ain’t self-care….

Ever feel like crap, throw pleasure at your pain, and still feel like crap?
You’re confusing your pampering with your self-care.

Think of your life like a car (a sexy car!).  Self-care is what that car requires to run well each day: gas, oil, all systems in check.  So do you, a lovely human being, have some basic needs to function at your basic functioning level: food + water, rest, healthy body.  And if you’re a real purist, that’s it.  But what if you want to run really well?  You’ll need a few more things: fulfilling personal relationships, satisfying work, a safe space at home, and healthy relationships with your body and your money.  If you have all these things in check (and if you regularly change your oil, replace warn wiper blades, and clean the stuff outta the inside of your car), you’ll be ready to hit the road most days.

Did you know they made thongs for cars?  Thank you, internet.

Did you know they made thongs for cars? Thank you, internet.

But what about shiny new paint jobs, or hella fly rims or something?  Those are your pampering indulgences – little upgrades to the system.  After them, you might feel totally ready to roll that baby down the highway, smilin’ at everyone you see, thinking delicious thoughts about how delicious you are.  They get you revved up and excited to ride with gusto.

But if your gas tank is empty, that don’t mean shit.

If you feel tired and cranky and totally lost in your work, your friendships, your dating life, and your health, ‘treating yourself’ to lunch out, fresh highlights, and three new pairs of skinny jeans isn’t the way to feel better.  Maybe a bit relieved – a bit lightened of the emotional pain you’re feeling.  But at best, your pampering is a temporary distraction.  And at its worst, it’s a cover-up, building a bigger wall between you and the real source of the pain.

But Emily,” you beg, “what about pleasure?!  I thought you like, loooooooved pleasure!?!??”

Oh honey, don’t even go there.

I wrote this post sitting in the sun in my bikini, with two fresh coats of polish on my fingernails, drinking a concoction I like to call ‘spwater.‘*  Pleasure is my lifeblood.  Let’s make one thing extremely clear: I am not advocating against pampering and I am sure as hell not advocating against pleasure.

What I am advocating against is this: throwing pleasure at your pain as a quick fix, using it as a distraction from the care you really need, and fooling yourself into thinking it’s been done in the name of ‘self-care.’

Because really, let’s think long-term on some typical indulgences.
-If you feel crappy about your body and your relationship with food and your weight, is ‘splurging’ on chocolate cake when you’re not even hungry a pleasurable long-term solution?
-If you’re worried about finding enough to pay bills this month, does ‘indulging’ in an hour-long massage help you or hurt you once the hour’s up?
-If you’re feeling empty on your current career path, is a cozy Netflix marathon the best way to spend your Sunday?

"The fuck is this salad doing on my face?"

“The fuck is this salad doing on my face?”

Real self-care means getting in check with your life and your body, finding out what they need to run consistently at a level that makes you feel good, and making choices that support those needs.  Exhausted at the end of the week?  Plan for more sleep.  Feeling stuck in, or disconnected from, your body?  Lace up them sneaks or go to a dance class, or ask yourself what you’re really hungry for.  Just cranky all the goddamn time?  Ask yourself “why?” over and over and over until you determine what choices you can make to support feeling better.

So how do you put real self-care first, and still live a juicy life that’s rich in pleasure?

Well to answer that, I would first say that the only true pleasure is pleasure that will ultimately serve your long-term well-being.  That short-term stuff tends to be distraction, gratification, sexy little bandaids smacked haphazardly over gaping wounds.

But to really enjoy pleasure while putting your responsibility to your self-care first, the answer is simple: you do not go out and find pleasure to use; you create your own and then you inject it everywhere.  This might look like dressing in your adorable-est sports bra, putting your hair in pigtails, and blaring dance tunes on your headphones to get excited for the gym.  It might look like dimming the lights, setting up some candles, and climbing into a bubble bath…to review your financials.  And if you’re feeling lonely and disconnected, then yeah, maybe a pedicure will feel good.  But a pedicure you spend on the phone reaching out to connect with a friend is probably going to feel better.

You can indulge in your self-care by making your self-care feel indulgent.

All it takes it tweaks.  I had to be somewhere in front of my computer to write this – may as well have been outside!  I’m trying to save money just like the rest of the world.  And you should see my piggy bank.  It is fabulous.  I sprained my neck a few weeks ago.  Maybe a massage would feel good for a few hours.  Instead, I made a list of chiropractors in my network who could fix my problem, and picked the cutest one with the best waiting room amenities.  And wouldn’t you know, my neck is singing these days (not actually, because that would be impossible, but you get it).

And the big indulgences?  Of course there is room for them!  When I know I’ve got all my ish in order, you bet your buns you can find me on a massage table.  But when what you need is care, care is what you need.  And true, real, nourishing self-care can be the most pampering, indulgent, delicious thing of all.


*spwater – spa water - icey water with cucumber slices and fresh mint leaves.  Gulping glasses of summertime, I tell ya.