Buying Happiness: The Internet and Self Care Materialism

I read an interesting article on Buzzfeed yesterday discussing the way youtubers and influencers use the idea of “self care” to sell sponsored content. The article discusses influencers who shill products that allegedly help them when they’re feeling low, as well as influencers who post sponsored (i.e. paid to mention certain brands) videos with a self-care focus. It’s a good article and it got me thinking about the way we use and, yes, commodify self care.

“Self care” is of course not a new concept, but it seems like there’s a definite uptick in talking about it as of late (especially, for obvious reasons, after the 2016 election). From blog posts to YouTube videos talking about “10 things I do for Daily Self-Care,” “My Davourite Beauty-Related Self-Care Products,” and so on. There’s also been a lot of discussion about the concept of self-care in positive and critical ways, ranging from an acceptance for the need for self-care being beneficial in fighting the stigma surrounding mental health to the inequality of “self-care” being limited to those who have the time and resources to achieve it. 

The materialism often underlying self-care talk that’s examined in the Buzzfeed article is something that’s come up before, and I think it’s an interesting discussion. Part of this comes from the fact that some youtubers and bloggers who frequently talk about their self-care routines also gain emotional credibility from their audience through their openness about their struggles with mental health. While their efforts to work against the stigma of mental illness is admirable, there’s also a definite backlash against people equating “self-care” with a treatment for mental illness. There’s this whole history of people saying, “Oh you’re depressed? Just do something that makes you happy” that doesn’t acknowledge that mental health treatment often requires medical treatment because it’s a medical condition, not just a bad feeling, so the ire is understandable. 

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The Museum of the American Revolution and other essential Philadelphia-area Revolutionary War historic sites

As a kid, it took me some time to realise that everyone in America didn’t grow up within minutes of important historical locations. I grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, so I would always say I was from “outside Philly” but whenever I need to give more specificity to people familiar with the area but who didn’t know my small town, I described it as “near Washington Crossing… as in Washington crossing the Delaware.” In addition to being just a few minutes’ drive from this historic location, the towns around mine are full of houses and buildings that date back to the colonial era, I used to work at a school that was owned by a doctor during the Revolutionary War (and is allegedly haunted by a Hessian soldier he operated on there), and, of course, the city of Philadelphia is only 40 minutes away.

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The Artillery park at Valley Forge National Historic Parka

Yesterday I visited Philadelphia’s new Museum of the American Revolution. A few blocks away from Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, the museum is the perfect addition to the area. Tracing the events leading up to, during, and through the aftermath of the Revolutionary War, this well-curated exhibit features artifacts from the time period and thorough explanations of significant happenings and people. Highlights include the excellent orientation video, the original tent Washington used as his personal office during the war, and one of the oldest preserved Revolutionary-era flags of the soon-to-be United States. Most of us are already familiar with the basic history due to years of primary education (is it just me, or did we learn about the Revolutionary War pretty much every year?) but the museum does a great job of providing a comprehensive overview while also delving deeper into lesser-known moments, people, and things.

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