"You've got to put yourself first."

This is something we say to our friends and our family all the time, and often even ourselves.

We're told to love ourselves first - a sentiment I agree with - and always ensure our own physical and mental wellbeing is taken care of before embarking on any kind of work or play.

"Eat healthily", "Get enough sleep", "Start your day with hot water and lemon", "Get a mindfulness app"... you know the drill. Self-care advice is thrown out by everybody from doctors to celebrities to lifestyle columnists like me.



Wellbeing, wellness, and similar terms have been welcomely on-trend for a while now. Rather than bottling up our feelings we're being encouraged to talk; rather than sit at home with a bag of biscuits we're given delicious ways to satiate a sweet tooth healthily.

The 21st Century has forged a new era of consumers who are conscious about their personal welfare and understand that if you can't get that right, you may fail at other aspects of life too.

Self-care, as New York Times culture columnist Jenna Wortham described in a recent podcast, has also been co-opted, even bastardised and made a mockery of, by the likes of Goop and the endless number of unqualified YouTubers spitting out wellness advice every day.


Wortham also notes, "I feel like self care has somehow become synonymous with self indulgence or... self investment, or people who have time to indulge in self care practices are somehow, you know... they have an excess of time and money."

It's definitely no secret that the self-care movement is one championed by the one per centers. Those who have time and cash to go to yoga classes, buy fresh produce from organic supermarkets, and listen to wellbeing podcasts on $1000 smartphones.

So at what point does self-care and this wellness trend become self-indulgent? When does taking the time to put yourself first verge upon narcissism?

I agree that a person must look after themselves first before they can look after others. Where this becomes narcissistic, potentially, is when we use self-care as an excuse for becoming entirely inward-looking.


For example, a busy parent taking an hour out of the day to go to the gym and be child-free for just a moment? Definitely self-care. Declining a dinner invite from friends so you can get in six days of exercise this week, instead of five? Narcissistic. Eating a balanced diet of whole foods so you have the energy to get through 15-hour days at work? That's self-care. Going raw/vegan/paleo because somebody told you it prevents your skin from ageing? Narcissistic.


The difference between these very similar behaviours is that one normally means you can be the best version of yourself, so you can efficiently and effectively tackle real life. The other is putting real life aside so you can focus entirely on being the best version of yourself.

I do believe it's important to be your own caretaker, but it also pays to recognise how much of a privilege it is to be in this position. If you have a gym membership and get the occasional facial or massage - I'm including myself here - you should appreciate that most of the world don't have such luxuries.

To be able to care for yourself when you're not sick, in order to prevent getting sick? That involves time, money, and a certain level of intellect: things all brought to us by virtue of the inherited advantages that most of the world doesn't enjoy.

None of this is to say I think wellness is wrong. It's just that self-care does not have to be an "either/or" situation. You don't have to care for your wellbeing OR care for that of others. You can do both.

Don't forget that ensuring your own wellness can serve as setting a good example for those around you - if you order healthy food with friends, for example, they're more likely to order healthily too (and the reverse applies to junk food).

Self-care is one of the great innovations of the 21st Century. It's enabling us to feel better than ever before. We just need to ensure we don't become wholly introspective and obsessed with ourselves, to the point we don't care about others at all.