I was smearing my favorite and extremely hard-to-come by moisturizer by Trish McEvoy over my body this morning. (Just as an aside, you can’t get the scented version anymore so I hoarded 5 bottles about a year ago thanks to a personal shopper on the look out for me. Now back to the smearing story…) No, this isn’t the start of some erotic video but rather a typical scene from my actual morning routine. As you can imagine with 3 kids and a hectic work schedule, my mornings are ANYTHING but languid. So I’m always “speed dressing” and never spend more than 4 minutes on beautifying. But today something different happened: I actually spent an extra minute massaging the moisturizer on my legs. In that extra minute I was reminded of the tremendous value of self-care.
Let me explain. A few months ago I interviewed Ying Chu, the beauty and health director of Marie Claire, and asked her whether American women approach beauty differently than European women. She told me a story of being in France a few weeks earlier with a number of American and French colleagues. They were asked if they would take a pill that immediately took care of all their daily beauty routines. The Americans jumped on it but the French said no way.
No surprise. We Americans want immediate results with little effort. Who wants to work hard anyway?
The French don’t see beautification as work but view it as a form of, in the words of my good friend and Anthropologist, Tom Maschio, “self-care.” For many French women their bodies aren’t detached objects to be prepared for public appearance but, rather, are inextricably linked to the self. And every part of the body — appendage, organ, secretion, etc., function together harmoniously. Beautification, i.e., the act of massaging, applying, fixing, plucking, whatever the actual activity, isn’t just a means to an end but an act of health care and self-love.
Unfortunately our relationship with our bodies is more distant. We tend to see the parts of our body as separate from our own selves. And, as Tom pointed out to me, we see our secretions (sweat, menstrual flow, mucus) as bad. They must be managed at all costs. And, let’s face it, spending too much time taking care of our bodies in the form of massages, facials, make-up is considered an indulgence. Think of the language we use to describe self-care: maintain, treat, transform. Very objectifying, no? Like our bodies are machines.
Some good news. Things are changing. With the growing interest in Eastern medicine and holistic health, and the influences from other cultures, we are becoming much more aware and respectful of our bodies. And we’re beginning to recognize the tremendous value in caring for them. We just need to be reminded of this more often.
So the next time you reach for the jar of moisturizer try not to schmear it on in record time, but consider showing some love to your body, and ultimately, yourself. Just don’t go for the almost extinct Trish McEvoy stuff!