Marketing Self-Care: From Femtech and Biohacking to Painmoons and Extreme Travel

Alyson Spurgas, Trinity College

Self-care today is a highly lucrative market. Some websites and pop culture venues make the white feminization and commodification of self-care more explicit than others. And monetized self-care is often linked to descriptions of “ancient” or “sacred” femininity, suggesting the co-optation, appropriation, and neoliberal optimization that undergirds the discourse and market. Feminine self-care is further linked to refueling one’s self so that one may be of better service to others—but in its contemporary, westernized, and feminized form, it may be about being more efficient, effective, and better at caring for others, but not necessarily about directly caring for underserved populations or broader communities. Instead, we see women in the Global South symbolizing improvements in the world economy and international relations, while women in the Global North are rolling out business ventures to better pamper themselves (and their nuclear families). In this paper, I map out the history of competing self-care discourses and movements, juxtaposing today's "self-care moment" against its radical and abolitionist historical origins. One of the most crucial aspects of the contemporary iteration is that “community care” is good for the self—that is: doing social justice work (broadly construed) which emphasizes diversity, equity, inclusion, and even “intersectionality,” is personally beneficial, and that’s really the reason to do it. After illuminating the concept’s history and interrogating contemporary self-care fads as they pertain to health and wellness, I show how the market and industry are fully compatible with neoliberalism and the commodification of care, and argue that they are rooted in a white liberal feminist political economic vision. Eradicating the concept of “self-care” completely is a step toward a more revolutionary formulation, wherein care is re-centered, and the self is de-centered.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 239. Gender and Health