Around this time last year, I started noticing the term "self-care" appearing in many of my internet wanderings. I took note of it but wasn’t fully interested in the concept until a friend of mine brought it up on our summer vacation. We were all jokingly deciding on our personal Real Housewives mottos (mine was something ridiculous, along the lines of “I’m a feminist, but my hair is the most important thing in my life”), when my friend Ari mentioned that her motto would be “self-care is sexy.”
Intrigued, I asked her to elaborate on what her concept of self-care was. She explained that self-care in her eyes meant making time to do all the things needed to keep herself healthy and happy. She also added that a big factor was not feeling guilty about prioritizing herself and that the concept of “guilty pleasures” was anathema to her.
It seemed like a lack of self-care might be a problem that women — who are often indirectly socialized from a young age to ignore their own needs in lieu of those of others — are uniquely predisposed to. When you don’t think you should be taking up any space at all, it's hard to see your own needs as valuable. Conversely, certain things that I might define as parts of my individual self-care process (makeup, hair, hygiene, skincare routine, and so on) could also be construed as routines that women are expected to undertake societally in order to conform to a patriarchal beauty standard.
Additionally, men are taught that masculinity is defined in a very narrow way, and many of the actions often cited as important parts of self-care (including my own beauty and hygiene faves) could be viewed with a negative, feminine connotation within the social frameworks of American masculinity, making men miss out on all of that potential awesomeness. (Seriously, for many, many examples of how ingrained this is, check out the #MasculinitySoFragile hashtag on Twitter.)
Basically, self-care was definitely a “thing,” and I wasn’t sure if I was doing it “right.”
Over the past few months, I've started to develop a self-care routine that really works for me. One of the major components of this is finding the time to work out in a way that makes me feel healthy but doesn’t make me feel terrible. When I enlisted the boyfriend to try all of my workout classes with me and let me write about it — a totally a normal and cool thing that writer girlfriends do — I was excited to see what his perception of the “workout class” culture was. However, when I offhandedly mentioned that the classes I took were a part of my self-care routine, his immediate response was complete unawareness. His exact words, I believe, were literally, “Self-care, what is that even?”
Because I’m either a very nice or super-mean girlfriend (take your pick), I asked him if he would be interested in trying out aspects of my self-care routine and telling me what he thought. He is lovely, so he said yes. There are a few things that we both agreed were a big part of a what we would define as our self-care: namely, sleeping well (and enough), alone time, and spending quality time with our family and friends. Accordingly, I decided to only ask the boyfriend to participate in the parts of my routine that were unique to my specific self-care routine.
Part One: Skincare
My skincare routine has always been a particularly calming constant in my day. I know that my love of nice skincare splurges is probably somehow wrapped up in how I feel about keeping my skin looking youthful, but even without that reasoning I still like the feeling of having a constant routine that also makes my face and skin feel good. To that end, I had the boyfriend try one of my favorite skincare products: face masks.
There is nothing I love more than putting on a face mask, putting a deep conditioning masque in my hair, and sitting back to watch an episode of Game of Thrones or Keeping Up with the Kardashians. For the boyfriend, I picked out the Skin Laundry Hydrating Radiance Facial Treatment Mask ($48 for five sheets), because he is lucky enough to have really good skin already, so a mask that hydrates and improves skin radiance was a perfect choice.
I also had him try out VMV Hypoallergenics Grandma Minnie’s The Big, Brave, Boo Boo Balm ($19.20) on his dry skin patches on his hands and his prone-to-chapping lips, and Shu Uemura Essence Absolue Nourishing Protective Oil ($69) on both his hair AND his body.
According to the boyfriend: “This whole skincare process thing was pretty nice, and afterward, my face glowed. I still prefer a good workout and sauna session to rejuvenate the skin, though.”
Part Two: Treat Yourself
My preferred methods of treating myself are, maybe unsurprisingly, tied to beauty. There are times when I have to give myself permission to unwind and relax, and the best ways I’ve found to do that involve pedicures, facials, blowouts, and massages. These are definitely splurges, but I really believe that getting a beauty treatment once a month makes me feel like I'm making time for myself, while also doing something that's good for my body.
The boyfriend had never tried any of my chosen strategies, but he doesn’t have long hair, and I had already made him use a face mask, so I decided to focus on pedicures and massages.
For the boyfriend’s first pedicure, I treated him to a signature pedicure at one of my favorite spots, Hortus Nailworks in Soho. Hortus was a deliberate choice of location, as its ambiance is calming and quirky with a ‘20s speakeasy vibe meets comfortable hipster decor. The boyfriend was initially confused with all of the various different steps included in the pedicure — “Wait, where do I put my feet now? What is this large stone for?” — but after the olive oil treatment, callus exfoliation, and sea salt scrub, he was happy as a clam. Pedicures, he noted, were “surprisingly really enjoyable.” He did not get polish on his toes despite my best efforts to convince him to, but after his final buffing he commented that his feet “felt like they were completely new.”
Next, we headed to Oasis Day Spa in midtown for a Swedish side-by-side massage. This was actually my first “couple’s massage," and although I’m not sure there is much added to the experience by including your partner or friend in it (you basically close your eyes and ignore them the whole time while you are relaxing), the massage itself was amazing. The boyfriend totally agreed, telling me, “the massage was sooooo relaxing. I'd do it once a week if I could.”
Part Three: Workout Classes
Working out often, and specifically attending workout classes, has been one of the bigger changes in my self-care routine as I have aged. Working out is a great way for me to both calm my mind and make my body feel powerful (as opposed to icky). I also prefer workout classes to going at it solo, for a few major reasons. One, I’m kind of lazy and prone to flakiness, so scheduling a specific class (as opposed to just a general gym membership), and knowing that I will lose my money if I cancel last minute is a big motivator in getting me to work out. Two, I am also prone to daydreaming (and living that ADHD lifestyle on the regular), so taking class with an instructor is a great way to keep me on task when I’m trying to get the most out of my workout time. And finally, I live in NYC and I can’t run long distances effectively (bad knees), so I don’t have a lot of outdoor, all-season workout options.
Oh, and I also just really like listening to music and jamming out while sweating in a hot room full of other people. Call me crazy, I guess.
The workout class my boyfriend attended with me was a Torque Cycle Spin Class in Williamsburg. I was going to make him try SoulCycle (which I unabashedly love and I don’t care what people think), but I (correctly) predicted that the repeated mantras and candlelight would scare him away from our first class together. Torque Cycle is a little more athletic in concept, but he was still the only guy in the class save for the instructor. The class was a standard spin class for me, with awesome music and an instructor that encourages us to push ourselves in various sprints and cycles.
According to the boyfriend, though, he felt like he was going to vomit the whole time, and the class was “the most difficult workout class ever. Highly recommended for sadists.” I was pretty excited that I seemingly was better at spinning than the boyfriend, to be honest, but I had a hunch that this wasn’t the most accurate barometer of our respective fitness levels — the boyfriend had just never tried spinning before. And, as he puts it, not everyone wants to “get yelled at by a guy on a bike and sweat with people who are in better shape than you.”
After all of this, I asked the boyfriend to tell me how he felt about my self-care routine as a whole:
“I think I love self-care? ‘Doing something to make myself happy every day’ seems like a pretty good idea to me. Like getting a delicious burger. Does that count? But seriously, I really enjoyed almost all of the stuff we did. For me though, it would be a little different. I like to do something active every day, ideally outdoorsy stuff. Shooting hoops at the park for an hour; hiking a trail, doing some cardio, or getting some sun. You get natural endorphins and you get time to yourself.”
Though I don’t think my boyfriend is going to want to join me at SoulCycle anytime soon, I think I at least may have found a new pedicure buddy. I also realized during the process that I really loved doing the things that made me happy with my partner. Though they aren’t always shared interests, it was cool to show him the things that made me happy. I guess that means I should give shooting hoops in the park a try sometime soon.