Treat YoSelf
January 5, 2016 9:11 AM   Subscribe

On the sad seduction of “treating myself” during a crisis. My life became a blur of errands and chores and emotional breakdowns. As a woman nursing two men back to health, I felt stuffed into an archaic gender role for which I had little aptitude. It was getting to me. And so I began to Treat Myself. Between retrieving my dad’s mail and my man’s pills, I ducked into swanky bars and flirtatiously asked the bartender about new cocktails. Barely able to squeeze in shower time, I instead dropped everything and went to Drybar, where for a precious 45 minutes, a stranger complimented my curls, caressed my head, enveloped me in the white noise of a blow dryer, and transformed my frizzy top knot into a fall of fragrant, golden silk.

Nona Willis Aronowitz talks about self indulgence as a balm in bad times at the Billfold.
posted by sweetkid (106 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
 
Sometimes it does feel like continuing to consume, hungrily, just might fill the black hole within.

Not sure it's necessarily a bad thing if you can afford it. Not sure I blame those who can't.
posted by qcubed at 9:17 AM on January 5, 2016 [3 favorites]


I sort of went on a retail therapy bender towards the end of the year. (Anxiety, depression, panic, unhappiness about my current job, continual bad health news from home.) Much like the author, it was very much Not Me as I procrastinate on buying new clothes (even at a thrift store!), any make-up at all, or really anything for myself except for books. And I have to say I liked it. I wish I could do it more but I can't afford to pamper myself with massages, blow-outs, new vegan boots, handbags any more with pre-retail therapy me now back in action. I don't regret it, I was diligent about paying down my entire CC once my fling was over, and in her case--with an ill father and recovering partner--it was necessary.
posted by Kitteh at 9:23 AM on January 5, 2016 [9 favorites]


Ok, I did a teensy bit of this too, last month. Fully aware I was doing it. I don't care, my hair looks great. Olaplex was my Christmas miracle.
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:28 AM on January 5, 2016 [6 favorites]


Unhealthy cures like high-priced retail therapy and alcohol are not the only way to take breaks from hard things in life. There are also (for many of us) such options as walking, Buster Keaton movies from the public library, tea.

It is not necessary to only choose from the extremes of perfect stoic-ness and reckless hedonism.

And hell, if you want to get a beer or a facial once in a while, go for it.
posted by splitpeasoup at 9:35 AM on January 5, 2016 [11 favorites]


to me having tea and going to the public library when what I want is steak and a blowout to soothe my nerves would be some torture right there.
posted by sweetkid at 9:40 AM on January 5, 2016 [79 favorites]



And hell, if you want to get a beer or a facial once in a while, go for it.


Did you read the link?
posted by sweetkid at 9:41 AM on January 5, 2016 [7 favorites]


Not sure it's necessarily a bad thing if you can afford it.

There's quite a gulf between having the money to purchase a thing and being able to manage the consequences of having done so.
posted by mhoye at 9:43 AM on January 5, 2016 [7 favorites]


Unhealthy cures like high-priced retail therapy and alcohol are not the only way to take breaks from hard things in life. There are also (for many of us) such options as walking, Buster Keaton movies from the public library, tea.

I'm sure it's not intentional, but saying this makes people who use these coping mechanisms feel really badly when they're already having a rough time. I'm guessing you don't mean to be judgmental, but it's very easy to hear those words and (especially as someone with mental health issues) think that you're saying that we are bad people for using whatever tricks we can to get us through the day.

I don't so much spend lots of money and I'm not drinking for now, so my tricks tend to be more take-out food and watching Law & Order reruns which I know is also not necessarily the healthiest course of action I could take, but being told that it's a problem that I'm doing something that helps me feel better when I really need to feel better makes me feel worse about myself AND makes me feel guilty about whatever coping mechanisms I have so they don't work as well but I don't have anything with which to replace them.

If you are able to use moderate coping mechanisms to make the effort you have to put into daily life feel wortwhile, great! That is awesome and fantastic for you! Sometimes that works for me too, I can just read Tintin books and drink hot chocolate and everything is good and excellent. Other times that is not enough. You do what you can to make life feel worth it.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 9:43 AM on January 5, 2016 [135 favorites]


It feels like she could be getting to a good point and good article, but she circles the drain and never hits the target. I'm not buying what she's selling.

Getting your laundry done, your home cleaned and paying to be physically touched (hair, manicure, massage) isn't extravagant, it's self-care. She uses examples of things that are pricey but not considered ridiculously extravagant, so I don't really see it. If you can afford one, a brand new DVF $400 dress is an investment piece because you'll own it for years.

And I hate the word bougie.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 9:45 AM on January 5, 2016 [7 favorites]


I don't think she's trying to sell you anything - she's describing her method of self indulgence as a way of soothing and calming her own pain - and I think it's important how much these are things the *outside* world will react to, especially for women - lip gloss, hair, laundry, cleaning - things that will make everyone think "she's got it together" even if internally she very much doesn't. There's a bit of "fake it till you make it" happening which I think a lot of women can relate to and feel trained to do.
posted by sweetkid at 9:52 AM on January 5, 2016 [43 favorites]


Unhealthy cures like high-priced retail therapy and alcohol are not the only way to take breaks from hard things in life. There are also (for many of us) such options as walking, Buster Keaton movies from the public library, tea.

And when those options aren't effective or desirable? There are times when the only thing that's going to make me feel better is a big fat... cigarette and seeing a movie. Sometimes it's a cup of tea. Self-care is a difficult thing, and being judged for 'unhealthy' choices just reinforces the spiral that demands self-care in the first place.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:55 AM on January 5, 2016 [25 favorites]


The only thing that makes me feel better is going down waterslides. Which would require flying or driving hundreds of miles away and spending money on water park admissions. So I settle for a bath and sloshing around, while I project images from the movie Waterworld on my bathroom walls. If you don't like it, then motes, beams, etc.
posted by cell divide at 9:57 AM on January 5, 2016 [22 favorites]


Whatever gets you through the night
it's alright, it's alright
It's your money or life
it's alright, it's alright

posted by mosk at 9:58 AM on January 5, 2016 [3 favorites]


The bigger issue is finding space in your stressed, freaked out, underperforming brain to figure out if this self-care thing is actually gone across the line into escapist habit that's just making the situation worse.

I know when I had some really crappy shit going on in my life, my comfort was laying on the couch watching Buffy and eating wheat thins with peanut butter. Not a horrible way to self-care, and overall it wouldn't do a ton of damage to my life, but at some point I realized that it wasn't self-care any more. I wasn't using this as a moment to collect myself and get back out there and fix the problem. I was ignoring the problems. I was hiding from the problems and they were just getting worse.

At some point the self-care is just a crutch to avoid the real crap and you have to be able to identify that moment. Trouble is, it's far harder to see when you've crossed that line when you are in a bad place to start with.
posted by teleri025 at 10:03 AM on January 5, 2016 [45 favorites]


The self-care-as-industry thing is insidious. I've brought a lot of extra stress and suffering upon myself as a result of treating myself.

There was a time once when I was living abroad and feeling very isolated and homesick. I never articulated it to myself that way, and I didn't have access to talk therapy, but I did have a great credit card and a stipend from my school. I got stuck on the hedonic treadmill in a big, big way: more in debt than I'd ever been (and still crawling out from under it, ten years later), a 30 lb weight gain (pastry and wine! cheese and wine! chocolate and wine!), and a number of ultimately ugly impulse buys from cheap department stores.

I still struggle with this, even back home and when things are going well. It's so easy to convince myself that I "deserve" or "need" this or that, and I often don't notice when I've gone too far and start to actively harm myself. "Self-care" is a great mask for "self-pity" if you're like me and your pleasure-seeking knows few boundaries.
posted by witchen at 10:04 AM on January 5, 2016 [10 favorites]


There's quite a gulf between having the money to purchase a thing and being able to manage the consequences of having done so.

That's kinda what I mean, though. I'm lucky for now, I haven't been stressed to the point where I've wanted a long course of 'retail therapy', so the brief "I am stressed and I want this thing now" doesn't add up to anything unmanageable.

At the same time, I can understand why those who don't have the funds available might sometimes 'act irresponsibly' with their money and do these things. And I don't think it's something to blame them for. We live in a society where we're pegged for what we do with our money, when it's visible. And the way our culture and media push into our minds what a 'normal' person does, well, it's alluring. It's a sirens' call.
posted by qcubed at 10:07 AM on January 5, 2016 [6 favorites]


Sometimes spending money on luxuries seems like the only thing I have control over when having a rough time.

At various times, luxuries have included baked brie at the pub, massages, manicures, new silly socks, buying fancy healthy food at the store so I could have a really good meal even if it meant not eating well the rest of the week, paying to see a psychiatrist or doctor when I really couldn't afford it, buying shoes so when I looked down I had something to bring me up.

Coping is coping and I shame myself enough for everything I do without needing someone suggesting I have some tea and visit the library. I drink tea and read and walk on a daily basis, thank you very much.

Sometimes it's not enough.

Please enjoy your tea and Buster Keaton.
posted by sio42 at 10:07 AM on January 5, 2016 [42 favorites]


This think piece was painful and alarming. There's no reason on God's green earth why someone in the midst of 2 medical crises with no support should not get their laundry sent out, their house cleaned, a new party dress, their hair fixed up. All of this stuff is hard and time consuming work and cannot be skipped. Yes, even the "vain" stuff. Even the "indulgent" stuff. I wish she at some point found forgiveness in herself for being a human and not having unlimited capacity for hard work and self-denial. Or if her examples of air-quoted self-care weren't legit requirements. But it's like the whole point of the article was to continue to beat herself up. I just want to give her a hug.
posted by bleep at 10:11 AM on January 5, 2016 [75 favorites]


There is one reason, bleep, though not a good one: sexism. Women are taught that they must suffer in silence and Do What Needs To Be Done, and getting haircuts/etc is seen is frivolous (because men don't do it) and self-indulgent.

Instead of what it actually is, which is "fuck all this shit I need some Me Time." Yet when guys blow a million dollars on Lego or play video games all day or whatever, it's a hobby. Ugh.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:15 AM on January 5, 2016 [79 favorites]


The article she links to, How ‘Treat Yourself’ Became a Capitalist Command, is compelling.

A few years back I did Peace Corps, and I lived in a village where there was really nothing to buy except bare essentials - bread, soap, maybe some cheap snacks. Buying things required traveling an hour or two to the nearby town, so sometimes when I was having a rough time I'd go to town and treat myself to fast food or modest shopping for disposable little things. And it worked! Like clockwork, I would buy something, and then feel immediately better. Instant gratification. Which gave me the disturbing realization of how much my self-esteem is tied to buying things. In the US I never noticed this as much because "buying things" was/is part of my everyday experience, whereas there it was something I was very conscious of.

I mean, I don't think I'm a bad person for feeling that, and it works when you need it in a moment of crises (getting your laundry done when you have no time to because you're caring for your elderly father, totally understandable), but it's worth pushing back on a little, I think. Because that high wouldn't really last in a meaningful way. The things that did actually start making my life better consistently were building relationships, making friends, starting a habit of walking in the evening more, writing, planning interesting things to do, etc.

I'm someone who buys a lot of things in everyday life, so it's not like this experience made me long-term different, but I think it's true that we should question the "treat yourself by shopping" impulse we get, and find other ways of treating ourselves when possible. I even like that "spark" trend where people just try to stick to buying things they get immense pleasure from using or looking at on a daily basis, instead of things that are just disposable.

So I'm happy for this post for reminding me.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 10:16 AM on January 5, 2016 [18 favorites]


There's no reason on God's green earth why someone in the midst of 2 medical crises with no support should not get their laundry sent out, their house cleaned, a new party dress, their hair fixed up. All of this stuff is hard and time consuming work and cannot be skipped. Yes, even the "vain" stuff. Even the "indulgent" stuff. I wish she at some point found forgiveness in herself for being a human and not having unlimited capacity for hard work and self-denial. Or if her examples of air-quoted self-care weren't legit requirements.

Sincere question: Is there a rubric for determining how much one deserves the thing vs. their means for affording it? How do you weigh these factors in a healthy way? I've been trying to figure this out my whole life, and there are mixed messages everywhere I look (and I can't trust myself, because I will always default to what is easy/delicious/fun).
posted by witchen at 10:16 AM on January 5, 2016 [8 favorites]


But it's like the whole point of the article was to continue to beat herself up. I just want to give her a hug.

Yes, this is what I was expressing poorly. Some of her treats are expensive, yes, but most of them are completely within the realm of good self care, whether or not one is in a crisis. The things she does aren't super indulgent.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 10:18 AM on January 5, 2016 [7 favorites]


When you're responsible for two adults with significant medical issues, the amount of effort to wash dry and style your own hair would make me want to shave off mine to have one less thing to deal with. Except you can't if you want/need to fill the spot of Woman, so you just have one more thing to be stressed about.

Witchen... I think that if your day does not allow you time to just sit for an hour or more and do whatever you want, only for you, then you need to outsource some stuff like laundry or hair care or grocery delivery.
posted by sio42 at 10:20 AM on January 5, 2016 [3 favorites]


I mean personally, I am fine trusting myself. I have indulged in things I couldn't afford because I needed them, it was a crisis, and I had credit. Those times when I literally could not afford anything and had no credit, I just cried instead. I trust myself to do the right thing. I clean my house and drink tea and deny myself all kinds of things I want when I feel well enough to.
posted by bleep at 10:21 AM on January 5, 2016 [6 favorites]


Overall I've found that when I acknowledge what I am doing as self-comforting (rather than blindly doing it to numb the pain I am afraid of) it becomes both more helpful and less compulsive.

I used to seesaw between being Fine and being Very Not Fine but doing some kind of addictive behavior to numb that feeling. But it wasn't the actual action/behavior I was indulging in that was the problem, it was the fact that I didn't even want to admit I was hurting. And running from yourself makes you act in crazy ways.

Women, I think, do a fair amount of this mostly because we are never supposed to be in so much pain that we can't take care of other people. We have to be Fine. At all times. Or at least cheerful. So when we can't do that, we panic and reach for whatever numbs us, so we can cover up the pain and present the face we are supposed to present to the world.
posted by emjaybee at 10:34 AM on January 5, 2016 [36 favorites]


I read somewhere -- was it on AskMe? -- an exploration of 'self-care' vs. 'self-soothing.' Self-soothing is the pedicures, the shopping, the movie nights -- just trying to get yourself through the day as kindly as possible. Self-care is regenerative activity like going to the gym, cleaning your space, making a date with a friend... Self-healing things that take energy but actively improve your circumstances and ability to deal with hardships. I haven't thought it through all the way but I've been chewing on that differentiation as I struggle to pick myself back up after a joyful-but-stressful holiday season and a persistent sinus infection.
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 10:36 AM on January 5, 2016 [58 favorites]


In travelling here and there, I've noticed that in the most economically devastated towns, two kinds of business thrive - hair salons and bars. Sometimes three of each on the same strip, even when the factory's been shut for years, and nothing's come to take its place.
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:36 AM on January 5, 2016 [7 favorites]


I agree it also makes me sad that the author feels shame for getting help performing the necessary actions our society pressures woman to perform, even in a moment of crises. It's a lose/lose situation, and she shouldn't feel guilt for that. That's our internalized shame that comes from our culture's disdain for both unattractive, "needy" women AND women who spend money on themselves. Like you're just expected to wake up everyday looking flawless and also ready for some thankless emotional labor.

But on the other hand I think she's brave for writing publicly about what this costs, because there are plenty of women in crises who aren't able to get their hair done, etc., and the fact that some of us can afford to, and choose to, hurts them as well. I don't think any individual woman should be shamed for "treating themselves" (aka conforming to society's demands and pressures) but I think as a society we should examine how we encourage those treats, for women, to take the form of conspicuous consumption like "make yourself look pretty" instead of things that would probably work better, were our society more fair.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 10:40 AM on January 5, 2016 [11 favorites]


I just wish the things she describes in the article weren't framed as "treats" because they're not. They're requirements. The article doesn't bring up being able to afford them, she just seems to have come to the conclusion that it was wrong, she was weak, and she's sorry. I find it painful to read.
posted by bleep at 10:48 AM on January 5, 2016 [6 favorites]


If you are able to use moderate coping mechanisms to make the effort you have to put into daily life feel wortwhile, great! That is awesome and fantastic for you!

In splitpeasoup's defense, they're actually saying that too. I think splitpeasoup was more saying "there is actually a continuum of options between 'total asceticism' and 'going on gin benders every single night'."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:49 AM on January 5, 2016 [2 favorites]


I hope that when she is out of this crisis (because she is still very much in it), she can look back with more kindness for herself about this. Self recrimination is a stress response, and a less healthy one than a mani-pedi.
posted by stoneweaver at 10:49 AM on January 5, 2016 [10 favorites]



In splitpeasoup's defense, they're actually saying that too. I think splitpeasoup was more saying "there is actually a continuum of options between 'total asceticism' and 'going on gin benders every single night'."


No idea what this has to do with the actual article though.
posted by sweetkid at 10:50 AM on January 5, 2016


I did this: I bought a $1000 pair of Jimmy Choos when I broke up with my ex. They still sit on my shoe rack, black and glittery, with ridiculously high heels... and unworn. It is especially ridiculous considering that I only wear flats now.

But you know what? Having three people in the store fawn over you and make you feel like a princess does help you feel better. It's temporary and probably escapist, but at the end of the day, the retail "therapy" worked.

I guess to some point, I don't even see why she should feel guilty about it. If the choice is between (a) spending more to hire someone to take care of her family (b) losing her job because of mental breakdown and (c) spending some money (that she can afford) for self-care then (c) is the obvious logical choice.

And anyway, there's no reason a woman has to do laundry/cooking/cleaning/etc. In our two income household, we hire someone to come clean our house and do laundry, even when there is not a crisis. It feels nice because it is nice. As long as you treat your employee fairly and pay them a decent wage, everybody comes out of the transaction happier.
posted by ethidda at 10:51 AM on January 5, 2016 [6 favorites]


"Women are taught that they must suffer in silence and Do What Needs To Be Done"--I think this is even truer for men. Men are supposedly taught to be strong for others, and to get the job done, and to not break down in public. I've never heard of a man "treating" himself to these sorts of services--guys would usually buy an expensive thing later, but going to the barber--not much of a treat.
I don't think of taking Uber or cabs as being all that indulgent, but whatever.
posted by Ideefixe at 10:54 AM on January 5, 2016 [7 favorites]


I think maybe the context matters here: the Billfold is a personal finance blog for Snake People, and the author of this is pretty young. I think she's about 30. So on the one hand, she's dealing with a crisis that is probably pretty rare in her peer group and among the blog's readership. And on the other hand, some of her "indulgences" probably feel more indulgence-y for someone in her stage of life than they would for the typical person caring for an 80-something parent.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 10:55 AM on January 5, 2016 [12 favorites]


Is there a rubric for determining how much one deserves the thing vs. their means for affording it? How do you weigh these factors in a healthy way?

For me, I have a lingering fear of credit thanks to a bankruptcy that ruined my folks during my childhood. This has caused any number of poor decisions, but ultimately serves me well in that if I know I cannot pay off a thing within the month, then I do not think of myself as having the means for affording it.

An expensive haircut when a guaranteed paycheck is coming in two weeks that will more than cover it? I have the means. That same haircut, if that same paycheck might be delayed or denied? Nope, I do not have the means. Deserve doesn't enter into it, really, because ultimately what I most deserve is to live an economically stable life (the life my childhood couldn't provide). And I also deserve the chance to care for and comfort myself within the bounds of that stable life, whether this means carving out time or judiciously spending money.

What's funny is that during my three years of perpetual crisis I never had two nickels to rub together (one of the crises, after all, was a layoff, and another was an expensive divorce). Now that I do have some money, I feel as though I am retroactively "treating myself" to make up for how shabbily I got along all those years. It's somewhat nerve-wracking for a lifelong thrifty sort, but feeling like I am "in charge" of how I am cared for, for once, has been extremely healing. I hope this author also comes to feel that her indulgences played that worthwhile role for her somewhat.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 10:57 AM on January 5, 2016 [8 favorites]


I can't trust myself, because I will always default to what is easy/delicious/fun

Why can you not trust yourself? I'm not saying it's the best philosophical stance, but there is a position that the only thing in the world is your reaction to things, so why not do what's fun?

I mean, clearly the answer is that it can't last forever, but that doesn't mean you have to reject anything pleasurable just because pleasure is fleeting.

Perhaps you're worried that you're actually self destructive?

Trust yourself and do something fun.
posted by GuyZero at 10:58 AM on January 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


but going to the barber--not much of a treat.

Depends on the barber, mine is a full on facial experience with free whiskey and old jazz records, I totally view it as a treat.

See also, set lunches at very nice places when I'm feeling low.
posted by The Whelk at 10:59 AM on January 5, 2016 [6 favorites]


I've never heard of a man "treating" himself to these sorts of services
That may be because men are less likely to do the kind of care-giving that she's doing.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 11:00 AM on January 5, 2016 [29 favorites]


"Women are taught that they must suffer in silence and Do What Needs To Be Done"--I think this is even truer for men. Men are supposedly taught to be strong for others, and to get the job done, and to not break down in public. I've never heard of a man "treating" himself to these sorts of services--guys would usually buy an expensive thing later, but going to the barber--not much of a treat.

Men are taught to be that way because we can offload all the emotional labour onto women. And men don't 'treat' themselves so often in crisis because we treat ourselves all. the. time. Sports, big TVs, man caves, etc etc. Aaaaand when men do indulge to weather crisis, in my experience, it's usually into substance abuse, gambling, and sex.

a personal finance blog for Snake People

Say what now?

Depends on the barber, mine is a full on facial experience with free whiskey and old jazz records, I totally view it as a treat.


I really need to come visit you in NYC.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:00 AM on January 5, 2016 [36 favorites]


Forgot to add after "substance abuse, gambling, and sex": the consequences of which tend to also be offloaded onto women.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:01 AM on January 5, 2016 [22 favorites]


I've never heard of a man "treating" himself to these sorts of services

Then perhaps you've heard of alcoholism and binge-drinking, the traditional way men deal with stress.

posted by GuyZero at 11:02 AM on January 5, 2016 [28 favorites]


"Women are taught that they must suffer in silence and Do What Needs To Be Done"--I think this is even truer for men. Men are supposedly taught to be strong for others, and to get the job done, and to not break down in public.

Sure. But not to do anywhere near as much.

(on post: snap, fffm!)
posted by lokta at 11:02 AM on January 5, 2016 [3 favorites]


Say what now?
Sorry! Snake People are members of the generation that we no longer refer to as Millennials. The Billfold is a personal finance blog for people in their mid-20s to mid-30s or so.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 11:04 AM on January 5, 2016 [9 favorites]


I've been in a very similar position to the woman in this article for the past couple years, and also at a young age relative to when a lot of people start dealing with this stuff. Given that this situation is becoming somewhat long-term at this point, I'm starting to get tired of taking comfort in treating myself by buying food, jewelry, and EDC stuff—nausea of existence catching up with me, my body, and my credit-card limit—but there's no denying it's a nice escape. I try not to judge myself too much for indulging in self-soothing like this, as it does run counter to my ascetic upbringing. When I worked in an office I hated, I used to make myself feel better about going by Amazon Priming myself stuff, and the same general principle still works.

I'm not complaining about the relative good fortune that allows me to do this, but for my part, since the medical misfortune part of it has become long-term, I do feel like I routinely get to the point where I want to stop doing this—and unfortunately, that's about the point at which, almost every month for the past few years, something happens with one of the men I'm charged with looking after. Like the writer, luckily I'm in good shape financially and I can afford to indulge. But I kind of feel like that again this week, and I literally just cut my data plan, with the goal of cutting back on time spent online on my phone. I'll just have to bump it back up if, knock on wood, something happens and I find myself working and surfing the Web via 4G tethering at a hospital for a week again.

And yeah, to the point made above about how guys just call it their hobby, that's exactly what category I put my pin purchases under in Mint this fall.
posted by limeonaire at 11:04 AM on January 5, 2016 [6 favorites]


Though my point is more specifically: men aren't socialized to take on anything like the amount of labour women are. Labour, period.
posted by lokta at 11:05 AM on January 5, 2016 [5 favorites]


And yeah, to the point made above about how guys just call it their hobby, that's exactly what category I put my jewelry purchases under in Mint this fall.

Yes, oh my god. The amount I spent in 2015 on revamping my anemic wardrobe made me a little dizzy, but it was less than HALF of what my SO spent on random hobby supplies. And yet I doubt an outside observer would call him the "indulgent" one. (To his credit, my SO absolutely considers his hobby indulgent, and worries that I am still too frugal and self-denying.)
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 11:09 AM on January 5, 2016 [24 favorites]


I’ve been craving not only these luxurious items but human kindness, too.

This is also what spending more money will get you. Sure, salespeople might have their schtick down to the point where "good salesmanship" is replicated as "human kindness," but I've worked retail enough to know the shopper who is doing something because things are tough, and there is definitely a lot of kindness built in. It's therapy in that you're connecting with someone who knows you not at all, but whose job it is to make you feel better, if only for a couple of minutes.
posted by xingcat at 11:10 AM on January 5, 2016 [10 favorites]


I thought one of her points is that she can't afford these things. That is the part that is most relevant to me. I used to be incredibly avoidant about my finances, but now I find it empowering to have savings. I can't keep a credit card because for me it is a slippery slope where I start treating myself to things I can't afford. I experienced a major life event a few years ago that would have been much worse had I no money to cushion the fall and allow me options.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 11:11 AM on January 5, 2016 [2 favorites]


I hope that when she is out of this crisis (because she is still very much in it), she can look back with more kindness for herself about this. Self recrimination is a stress response, and a less healthy one than a mani-pedi.

I totally agree. The author's in the eye of a stress sandwich tornado - she should give herself a break. It's true that stuff like exercising and socializing is better for long term mental health but that shit takes time and energy. It sounds like she's spent most of her life being frugal and reasonable and I'm sure she'll return to that baseline once things start to feel more normal.

Societal demands on women are insane and unrelenting - take care of everyone, look perfect, keep a perfect house even if you work 60 hours a week - I don't blame her for trying to take some shortcuts.
posted by Jess the Mess at 11:12 AM on January 5, 2016 [5 favorites]


Has "Austerity is Virtue" so penetrated our lives that we're no longer allowed material comforts? Do we need to confess every kindness we do for ourselves as if it's a sin?

An overwhelmed person used her money to alleviate some of her workload and purchased herself a few nice things. Good for her.
posted by Lighthammer at 11:12 AM on January 5, 2016 [18 favorites]


mandymanwasregistered: I'm not sure she is actually coming from a position of "can't afford" in the same way that someone with no income or no savings "can't afford." Her exact phrase is "can't really afford," which I find is often middle-class euphemism for "less than optimally responsible."
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 11:14 AM on January 5, 2016 [16 favorites]


I have been poor as an adult. Poor as in "holy shit I'm in my mid-20s working as a barista with no savings, barely able to pay my rent and utilities but I have cats to feed, and I drink too much" so there were no indulgences or retail therapy for me when I felt overwhelmed and stressed. I can afford those things now, just as I can afford to pay them off if I'm still a little restrained, but I will refuse to feel bad about it because I think of how much I would have liked to have felt that just once at 25.
posted by Kitteh at 11:22 AM on January 5, 2016 [13 favorites]


Has "Austerity is Virtue" so penetrated our lives that we're no longer allowed material comforts?

I think "Austerity is Virtue" contributes to what teleri025 was pointing out earlier in how easy it is that a treat or a slack day eventually crosses into escapism. At least for me, it's hard to find a middle ground when your default setting is "lean".
posted by FJT at 11:36 AM on January 5, 2016 [2 favorites]


I agree it also makes me sad that the author feels shame for getting help performing the necessary actions our society pressures woman to perform, even in a moment of crises. It's a lose/lose situation, and she shouldn't feel guilt for that

There's not a word in the article about guilt and not even the ghost of an implication of shame. Her point is partly that this behavior, so far from being shameful in contemporary culture, is positively encouraged and expected for certain demographics. Getting a massage and a pedicure is not quite at the level of wearing black for a year after a death in that nobody is going to notice and judge you if you don't do it, but it is one of the generally accepted responses to and remedies for grief and stress that is now prescribed to middle-class women on a regular basis, by caring friends and uncaring advertisers alike.

The pervading emotion of the piece is sadness, like it says in the title. It is sad that her dad is dying and there is nothing to be done about it except distract herself for a little while. It is sad that we can't just wallow in the good feelings brought on by the pleasant and absolutely safe kindness of retail strangers - safe because we know they can't ever tell us we're boring or walk away from us mid-sentence because their livelihood depends on being nice to us; sad because it would be so nice if this kind of attentive detached caretaking were something we could deserve and not just pay for. It is sad that the feeling you get, that she describes so well, of buying a $40 lipstick and thereby making yourself feel like the kind of person who buys $40 lipsticks, is such a real and profound pleasure and also necessarily one that is class-based as well as money-based (you may get a lift from a $2 Wet & Wild lipstick too, but the care you get from a CVS cashier is different from the care you get from a Sephora floorwalker is different from the care you get at the Chanel counter at Nordstrom.)

This is all sad and true and, worst of all from a Metafilter perspective I guess, sufficiently self-aware that it's difficult to point out things that the author was too dumb to notice about her own experiences.
posted by queenofbithynia at 11:39 AM on January 5, 2016 [21 favorites]


The paying for other people to care about you thing (via restaurant service, blowouts, home care) really hit home for me, too. I just wrote an AskMe about whether I should tell any of my friends about a recurrence of depression and the answers were mostly "No" "keep it short and apologize for taking up their time, "sing," "buy fancy vegetables", "well, are you planning to go ON and ON about this unpleasant topic??" . I didn't end up talking to anyone I knew but did go to get a blowout and other etc nice expensive things. There's just something necessary to me about small talk and having people just be nice and exist all around you without feeling like a burden, but it feels impossible unless you're paying for their time.
posted by sweetkid at 11:54 AM on January 5, 2016 [19 favorites]


Given that the refrain of "Treat Yo-Self" (mentioned in the title of this FPP) is straight from Donna and Tom from Parks and Rec, I think it is interesting to notice how little of the show's sly commentary about their ritual has been preserved as the catchphrase has spread.

Tom: his yearly "Treat Yo-Self" holiday is patently absurd, because he spends obscene amounts of money on "luxury" items year round, his character is canonically in horrifying credit card debt to support his "lifestyle", his desperation to prove he matters through material goods is only funny until you realize it is also destroying his life. He wants to be a "baller" so he spends thousands of dollars on things that don't actually bring him any intrinsic pleasure, for the most part. He doesn't buy them to treat himself, he buys them to display them and hopefully impress other people. It largely does not work.

Donna: one of the jokes of the show is that she is inexplicably but lavishly wealthy, with secret celebrity connections, and so for her the annual ritual of "Treat Yo-Self" is equally silly, but in the opposite direction. She can casually plop down $30,000 to invest in the Snakehole Lounge on a whim. Her family cabin in the woods is a palatial estate. She doesn't buy expensive things to impress people, because half the time no one knows how rich she really is. Her Benz is the only thing she mentions repeatedly, and interestingly, she never seems to upgrade it for show-- she just has an insane protective streak for her car.

So, for Tom, "treating himself" is destroying his life and well-being. For Donna, it's harmless fun but not really out of the ordinary, because she can basically afford anything. But because both characters are hilarious and gif-worthy, a lot of the social/class critique inherent in the gag became mostly invisible in pop culture writ large.

(I also think it is interesting that when they invite Ben, the outsider, to join them, he sucks at it-- he buys tube socks, has a panic attack in the spa, and has a breakdown after spending obscene $$ on a Batman costume. The thing that helps him, in the end, is Tom and Donna having an actual conversation with him and counseling him through his recent breakup. You know, kindness and human interaction from people who care about you. Things you can't actually buy.)

I don't point any of this out in order to say "treat yourself" is bad-- it has, at times, preserved my sanity. Surrounding ourselves with animal pleasures is a completely valid coping mechanism. But the original context of the phrase (in its current zeitgeist-- I rarely hear it pronounced without Donna's emphatic pronunciation these days) is not things like "sending out laundry" and "getting your hair washed at the salon". It was "velvet slippies [aka slippers]" and "fine leather goods" and "crystal beetle pin". It was a sitcom-absurd celebration of over-the-top consumerism.


disclaimer: yes, I know "treat yourself" existed as a phrase before it was on the show. But 95% of the times I hear it now, it is using the P&R inflection.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 11:58 AM on January 5, 2016 [38 favorites]


another interesting part about the things that are coded relaxing for women (and things i enjoy to do!) are often things that are in many ways requirements of being seen as sufficiently feminine. we're taking on so much emotional labor (and labor labor) that even our down time is spent in maintaining the requirements of womanhood.

all the same, i would love if i could afford a fancy haircut, a mani/pedi, and a new outfit that made me feel good. my own self-care/self-soothe/coping/escapist stuff angles more towards $10 bottles of facial moisturizer, nail polish, and a fancy thrift store goblet.
posted by nadawi at 12:09 PM on January 5, 2016 [14 favorites]


I guess I am still sorting out what "optimally responsible" means. It seems sort of normal to live paycheck to paycheck now, which is something I did for most of my 20's and 30's. Middle class income in the US is ~$30-75k. As someone making towards the lower end of that range (but with a fairly low overhead), were I to spend the money she details (plus the usual other expenses), it would have to come out of savings or go on a credit card.

I'm not interesting in picking apart the writer's spending habits and income. I think she is getting at larger ideas related to self-care and the service industry in a capitalist patriarchy.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 12:17 PM on January 5, 2016 [5 favorites]


I "treated myself" to a birthday present that was actually a video game my son wanted the other day (I made the excuse to my selfish parts that we could play the game together and it would be a bonding thing, but I never really had any intention of playing it by myself). The other day I treated myself by making a fancy meal for some friends. That's how screwed up I am right now--even my treats to myself are usually things I'm buying or doing for other people. I did hire a maid service to clean my kids' rooms and bathrooms for myself, so maybe that counts. I don't count the occasional bottle of whiskey as a treat since that's just a medicinal sleep aid, really, at this point. My grandmother raised me with a habit of clothes shopping to treat myself, but I've mostly abandoned it as it just makes me feel too guilty to spend on myself. I guess my other go-to treats are pistachios and turkey jerky. You can actually get yourself in serious trouble with that whole "treating yourself" business. When I first developed my spice addiction, that was kind of how I thought about it: I was treating myself for all my hard work with a little me-time for R&R. If I'd known that crap was as physically addictive as crack, I might have just settled for a new shirt or shoes now and then.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:29 PM on January 5, 2016 [2 favorites]


I guess I am still sorting out what "optimally responsible" means.

Well, in the specific middle-class sense that I'm speaking of, it means: "Not spending a single cent on anything except bare austere necessities, unless my 401K is fully contributed and I have a year's income in savings."

When a certain kind of person (and I suspect this category includes the author but don't know for sure) says "I can't really afford" something, what they mean is "I'm not a rich person, I couldn't manage to live like this every day of my life forever."
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 12:33 PM on January 5, 2016 [2 favorites]


but the care you get from a CVS cashier is different from the care you get from a Sephora floorwalker is different from the care you get at the Chanel counter at Nordstrom.

Is this true? I still haven't grown up in the makeup department, I still stick to the same basic things that work for me, always from CVS. I do sometimes 'splurge' on a nail polish in a fun color, but I have only been inside a Sephora once (after falling for one of these eyeliners and then freaking out at the price), and have never sat at a department store cosmetics counter.

For me, retail therapy is about the thing (usually shoes or hats, sometimes jewelry) and almost always on eBay because I feel like if it's a bargain it's less of a shameful indulgence. Plus I don't have an easy time talking to salespeople and can't lose sight of the fact that they may be on commission so I probably need to be distrustful of anything complimentary they say.

I don't get "care" from salespeople. But I do get it from "now I have this amazing thing that I didn't have before, and when I wear it I will look great / get complimented / feel special". The problem with buying self-care online, though, is it isn't instant gratification, and the possibility for buyers' remorse is greater (especially with eBay, where you can't always return things at all). Am I doing it wrong?

I mean, I know that's a facetious question. And I totally empathized with the writer of the piece and felt she spoke to my issues as well. Why is it that retail therapy is actually therapeutic? But if the answer is "because in that moment someone is caring for you," and that actually helps, maybe I am doing it wrong. I'd have to be a completely different person to consider getting a blowout as a good expense. But I might consider it, if it actually did a better job of making me feel better in the moment...?
posted by Mchelly at 12:36 PM on January 5, 2016


in the specific middle-class sense that I'm speaking of, it means: "Not spending a single cent on anything except bare austere necessities, unless my 401K is fully contributed and I have a year's income in savings."

Speaking of capitalism and the patriarchy! This is where I go adrift: whenever there is an item about someone's suffering or becoming homeless after getting laid off/hospitalized, someone in the comments must chime in about how people shouldn't live above their means. Every responsible adult must do nothing until they have 3-12 months' worth of expenses saved, no debt, and hefty retirement savings. THEN they can get their nails done and it's justifiable. Or buy a smartphone (hallmark of true luxury living).

Personal finance advice is based so much in that type of frugality that it does make these decisions ("Do I deserve this?") difficult. But the life they prescribe--never buying coffee out, planning meals a week in advance around a menu of mostly beans and rice--is so joyless it's nearly impossible to fulfill. And literally impossible to fulfill if one has special health, dietary, mobility, or caregiving concerns. Like that guy in the recent thread about extreme thrift: all this sacrifice, to what end? Really, what good is 6 months' income in savings if you can't just have a latte today?
posted by witchen at 12:41 PM on January 5, 2016 [12 favorites]


I figure if it's making you feel better and isn't causing harm, you're doing it right for you.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:41 PM on January 5, 2016 [3 favorites]


I'm not even really sure what "bare austere necessities" means, I'd imagine it means really different things for different people. For example, does it mean not having pets? Kids? Hobbies? Who knows.
posted by sweetkid at 12:43 PM on January 5, 2016 [3 favorites]


Mchelly - They all feel very different to me. I never have actually purchased anything from a high-end cosmetics counter because the blazing light emanating from the salespeoples' countenances is too much for me to endure and I scurry away in fear when they turn that holy light upon me. you have to have that sense of 'I deserve this,' even if it is a defiant and angry sense, to enjoy it. and also of course you have to want their products. CVS gives you no kind of attention except for the sign in the aisle warning you that they can see you on their hidden cameras, and Sephora is a middle ground where people kind of come at you with baskets and smiles and will put stuff on your face with their own hands if you ask them to, I have heard.

I don't actually seek this kind of interaction from regular retail as it makes me uncomfortable, although I do have a massage therapist who when my mother was dying would talk to me about his violent skate-punk youth and advise me on buying illegal weaponry and setting fires while he was working on my muscle knots, and I found that very soothing, the closest I have come to purchasing genuine 'self-care.' although I had a certain amount of self respect/delusion and did not and would not call it that.
posted by queenofbithynia at 12:45 PM on January 5, 2016 [3 favorites]


When a certain kind of person (and I suspect this category includes the author but don't know for sure) says "I can't really afford" something, what they mean is "I'm not a rich person, I couldn't manage to live like this every day of my life forever."

More commonly what it means is, I could buy it on credit as an indulgence even though that means I'm going to have to pay for it many times over before it's actually paid for, or I could buy it with petty cash, but that will mean I have to put something more important on credit.

Maintaining a sustainable equilibrium between cash flow/liquidity and structural debt is a hard problem for us filthy American bourgeoisie.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:54 PM on January 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


> Sincere question: Is there a rubric for determining how much one deserves the thing vs. their means for affording it? How do you weigh these factors in a healthy way? I've been trying to figure this out my whole life, and there are mixed messages everywhere I look (and I can't trust myself, because I will always default to what is easy/delicious/fun).
posted by witchen at 10:16 AM on January 5 [2 favorites +] [!]

How about "from each according to their ability, to each according to their need" as a starting point for a rubric? To the extent that lived experience differs from this (and lived experience, obviously, dramatically differs from that rubric), it is certainly not your fault, and you should not accept any blame for anything you do.

I mean I guess the real thing I'm trying to say is that there is no rubric that yields "correct" answers for poor people, no more than there's a functioning rubric for how women "should" dress. In the case of women's fashion, the game is rigged so that literally any answer can and will be dismissed as either "too dowdy" or "too slutty." In the case of self-care by the poor, everything you do or don't do can and will be critiqued as self-destructive in one direction or another.

So I guess the real-world rubric is "do what you can for yourself and your comrades, and ignore the haters altogether," because (as a certain daughter of a Merrill Lynch VP taught us) the haters are going to hate hate hate hate hate regardless.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:56 PM on January 5, 2016 [7 favorites]


It seems extreme if the choice is run up the credit card debt vs austerity. At least it's not something I find personally sustainable and am still figuring out my own middle ground given that I know how crappy I felt with credit card debt and no savings. I can't think of purchases in terms of whether or not I deserve them because I will always find ways to deserve them.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 1:05 PM on January 5, 2016 [3 favorites]


Speaking as a guy, I think that when many men are stressed out they indulge themselves in simply being a jerk to everyone around them, in not making the effort of patience or moderation of one's emotions that's necessary to deal with others in a polite and considerate fashion, just because we can get away with that sort of thing to a degree that women and some others can't.
posted by XMLicious at 1:07 PM on January 5, 2016 [23 favorites]


This is that classic catch-22 of accepting where you are at the moment while working to improve your overall situation. Sometimes the apparent need to change implies that the situation isn't alright. How are we supposed to do both? I actually think this is a good example of that, or a piece of it - taking care of yourself in a way that works for you now. Then you can do the change-and-grow stuff later when you are recharged.

One of the things I have been working to improve for myself is being able to recharge in a way that takes less time. In my mind meditation is ideal in that it is free and always available, but that is a skill that needs to be built and it's not there for me yet. So alcohol, shopping, movies, etc. Maybe I can squeeze in a couple minutes of meditation before diving into one of those to keep them on the lighter end, but it's definitely a work in progress, and it's not always the right time to be working, sometimes I gotta be just being.
posted by thetruthisjustalie at 1:20 PM on January 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


Like why does it feel so good to spend money? Is it at some basic level about feeling like I have control? Why do I feel that high when I'm spending it on wants instead of obligations? I get no similar charge out of, say, writing my rent check or even paying my therapist.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 1:24 PM on January 5, 2016 [5 favorites]


There's not a word in the article about guilt and not even the ghost of an implication of shame [...] This is all sad and true and, worst of all from a Metafilter perspective I guess, sufficiently self-aware that it's difficult to point out things that the author was too dumb to notice about her own experiences.

I read the guilt/shame in the terms "useless" "bougie" "irrational" "It’s all bullshit", how she justifies what she's doing while at the same time apologizing for doing it ("I know I'm lucky" "I don't normally do this", etc.) in a way that I, at least, am familiar with from my own experience in similar situations. Justifications spring from feelings of shame, irrational or not. Maybe I'm projecting, but enough people read a similar message that I don't think so. I absolutely think she's writing in part about the shame or guilt, and the need to self-justifiy, that women often carry as a burden when we chose to do things for ourselves, or don't.

You make a lot of great observations, so thank you for broadening my understanding of the piece. But I'm not sure about this last sentence - are you saying that you think I'm trying to point out things that I think she herself didn't notice? Or am I missing your point? I'm emphasizing, as a woman who has also experienced some part of these pressures, with what I percieve part of her point is. Not trying to deconstruct it. Everything I'm responding to are things I think she's purposefully exploring here.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 1:29 PM on January 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


Witchen: But the life they prescribe--never buying coffee out, planning meals a week in advance around a menu of mostly beans and rice--is so joyless it's nearly impossible to fulfill.

I'm not a personal finance guru, but I don't buy coffee out more than a few times a year and we do meal plan a week ahead, though not always around rice and beans. My life is far from joyless or even austere.

The point of personal finance is to be very aware of (a) how much money you have and (b) how on track you are to reaching your long term goals. If someone wants to buy coffee everyday and work an extra X years, that's fine, but that person doesn't get to complain about spending on luxuries now and not having money to spend later. It's a finite resource.

More importantly, people get used to a certain lifestyle. If you've been saving money and living "joylessly" then getting coffee out is a treat *and* you have money for it. If you've been getting coffee out everyday, then it's just something routine and not special, and you need to find something more extravagant as a treat.

I don't live austerely by any means. (In fact, I think I spend quite a bit of money.) But don't knock the simple ways of saving money. Meal planning can be fun, healthy, and frugal.
posted by ethidda at 1:44 PM on January 5, 2016 [8 favorites]


I think the important part of the article is not just the self care - it's the fact that the self care items are luxuries she cannot generally afford in her daily life, and how retail therapy is often about pretending you are wealthier than you are, that you're living a different life, that makes you hate your own and feel you're not treating yourself well without it.

I once dropped the money (plus groupon) for a $300 haircut. I cannot generally afford that. I pretended I did. I pretended as though the whole thing was totally normal. I took the stylist's card and inquired thoughtfully about her best days. The therapy was not just about the haircut, which made me look better than I had in years, but about for a short time, inhabiting the person who could get those haircuts as a matter of course. If I had had to confess that I couldn't afford it, that I would never see her again, it would not have had the same value to me.

And there's something there - in the makeup you're trying to pretend you can afford, in the way you feel somehow ashamed of not making more - that the unhealthiness lies.
posted by corb at 1:57 PM on January 5, 2016 [14 favorites]


Emotional labor and to-do lists aren't always the same. As the daughter of Ellen Willis and Stanley Aronowitz, I don't think the author was actually searching under the sofa cushions for spare change. If getting facials and blow-outs got her through her father's illness, great, good for her, and he's lucky to have a daughter to handle this stuff. But I don't think there's a cultural mandate to go to the salon when the going gets tough. As an only child, I've buried both my parents, handled their estates, and all without a trip to Sephora.
posted by Ideefixe at 2:14 PM on January 5, 2016 [3 favorites]


I think if our communities and urban planning wasn't so centered around efficiency, cars, and industry, and more around community, these kind of 'treat yoself' activities wouldn't be seen as shameful. We're all so isolated from each other, and it's so hard to find lasting, genuine human connection without being disappointed in some way, that it makes sense to turn inwards for something like this. People just want control over how to make themselves feel better, and unfortunately many of our environments make it so hard to actually feel good, and to want to be where you are at.
posted by yueliang at 2:17 PM on January 5, 2016 [7 favorites]


Good for you, Ideefixe. She needed other stuff to get through it.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 2:17 PM on January 5, 2016 [11 favorites]


I'm trying to be less judgmental of myself these days, so if I drink or eat or spend too much or don't clean the apartment like I had planned or whatever I won't spend the next day beating myself up so much anymore. But I also know it's extremely easy for me to go from doing something to help me cope and going back to normal life the next day to "Life's shit and doesn't seem to be getting better, so I might as well finish this bottle and why not that bag of chips as well..." and so on into self-destructive territory. And living alone it's hard to recognize where that line is most of the time. I just try to keep it to where I'm not noticeably falling apart to other people.
posted by downtohisturtles at 2:28 PM on January 5, 2016 [3 favorites]


> But I don't think there's a cultural mandate to go to the salon when the going gets tough. As an only child, I've buried both my parents, handled their estates, and all without a trip to Sephora.

Hey, me too! But I did other stuff*, and I bet you did too. Those things mostly worked for me, like yours worked for you, like the author's trip to a salon did for her. Why the need to judge her choices? Shrug and move on - different strokes and all that.

* watched too much TV, smoked a lot of weed, like that.
posted by rtha at 2:33 PM on January 5, 2016 [8 favorites]


As the daughter of Ellen Willis and Stanley Aronowitz, I don't think the author was actually searching under the sofa cushions for spare change.
What a weird comment. Is there some reason to think that being a leftist cultural critic is a particularly lucrative gig?
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 2:41 PM on January 5, 2016 [6 favorites]


But I don't think there's a cultural mandate to go to the salon when the going gets tough.

...did we read completely different pieces? i didn't read her at all saying this was a mandatory activity, but rather how she was dealing with her own pain.
posted by nadawi at 2:51 PM on January 5, 2016 [6 favorites]


But I don't think there's a cultural mandate to go to the salon when the going gets tough.

The author specifically says it is a trope, not a mandate. The article and the thread have been exploring why it has become such a powerful trope for so many people, but that's not the same as endorsing it for the Best Way to Deal.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 3:06 PM on January 5, 2016 [3 favorites]


Speaking as a guy, I think that when many men are stressed out they indulge themselves in simply being a jerk to everyone around them, in not making the effort of patience or moderation of one's emotions that's necessary to deal with others in a polite and considerate fashion, just because we can get away with that sort of thing to a degree that women and some others can't.

You've possibly never met my soon to be ex-wife, because she's never been shy about being disagreeable when she's stressed, but then, our family counselors did always tell us we had the conventional gender roles flipped in our marriage.

What you're describing's definitely a thing with guys, though. Especially guys in management, for whatever that says about power and the sense of entitlement.

I think the point about spending being related to a sense of control is on the mark, too. When I was trapped in a bad work situation and developed the spice addiction I've mentioned before, I also found it really hard not to spend excessively on snacks and little treats for myself throughout the day.

It's interesting to hear about how this sort of self-medicating-through-consumerism effect plays out for women and is expressed through American cultural norms about womanhood, so I'll stop dropping my own anecdotes and make room for others now...
posted by saulgoodman at 3:07 PM on January 5, 2016 [2 favorites]


What a weird comment. Is there some reason to think that being a leftist cultural critic is a particularly lucrative gig?

well yeah you know what they say about those east coast liberal elites don't you

i hear we also control the media
posted by poffin boffin at 3:12 PM on January 5, 2016 [9 favorites]


That was a sad read for me. The author needed the emotional labor of people around her and she had to buy things to get it. At least the services she bought (blowout, pedicure) included a labor/caretaking component, even if the emotional labor part of the caretaking is implicit. And what's really sad is, as other commenters have said, the way American society is structured now for time and space makes it difficult to sustain the emotional relationships that would make that emotional labor mutual/reciprocal in friendships.
posted by immlass at 3:19 PM on January 5, 2016 [2 favorites]


But I don't think there's a cultural mandate to go to the salon when the going gets tough.

Of course not, but I think the piece is pointing out that there has become a cultural understanding - maybe even a cultural expectation, that if you are feeling troubled or overwhelmed, the best solution involves consumerism of some sort. No one really jokes about "vitamin D therapy" (for getting outside) or "off my ass therapy" (for exercise) or even some cute way of encouraging down time with friends. We've become so used to the everpresent marketing message that the right beer will get you sex and the right car will get you status and the right sneakers will make you cool, that we don't even question the idea that spending money on the right [X] will give you that pat on the back you're hoping for.

What I got out of the piece wasn't guilt that she spent the money and shouldn't have, it was helplessness that that's what it took to get her to a place where she could function, and that wasn't really what she wanted. But there's no non-consumer, accepted, easily-available substitute in her life. It feels like she's asking for a better answer, not permission to have done what she did.

But the thing about spending money in a go-go-capitalism culture is, in that moment you have control. You decided whether this tangible thing you need to live should go toward food or rent or a fucking amazing wrap dress. Even if it's a bad choice, it was your choice, and completely in your hands. And when you're feeling helpless or spiraling downward, even a tiny bit of control can be so important.
posted by Mchelly at 3:49 PM on January 5, 2016 [8 favorites]


The other side of this is that having debt/not having savings is - for most people anyway - very anxiety-inducing, so there's a lot of potential for a vicious cycle. The comparison between "retail therapy" and substance use is quite apt. (note that having a history with one of those things I'm not looking down on people who do either)
posted by atoxyl at 4:06 PM on January 5, 2016 [4 favorites]


Ugh, we just got a whole bunch of mail, and I remembered the other reason why retail therapy by mail is so especially comforting: It gives me a reason to check the mail, because otherwise it's an endless mix of 75 percent family medical bills, 10 percent other bills, and at least 10 percent junk mail, and I don't even want to look at it.
posted by limeonaire at 5:32 PM on January 5, 2016 [9 favorites]


I attribute passing my oral exams for my Ph.D to the fact that I walked into that room with a shiny, sleek blowout and gleaming rose-red nails. I looked killer and I felt killer and I blew that room of committee members to pieces. Best money I ever spent.
posted by jfwlucy at 7:09 PM on January 5, 2016 [14 favorites]


"off my ass therapy" (for exercise)
runner's high

some cute way of encouraging down time with friends

girl's night

I attribute passing my oral exams for my Ph.D to the fact that I walked into that room with a shiny, sleek blowout


Yes, for the people saying that they can't imagine a blowout being better than the library - a good blowout shows off your hair, which shows off your face, and it makes you feel amazing. Also people say nice things but mostly, I feel two inches taller after a really good one and way more "bring it on world!"

There are power poses for women (or at least women who present and want to present in a standard "feminine" way) and a blowout is one of them. Nails too.
posted by sweetkid at 7:28 PM on January 5, 2016 [4 favorites]


I didn't think that her words were all about guilt and shame for spending money on help and/or indulgences. I thought her point was that these indulgences were not actually really satisfying for her, but she knew she needed some sort of self-care and felt compelled to try to follow the conventional advice for treating oneself.

It sounds logical, after all, that delegating some time-consuming chores and not fretting over spending extra cash on conveniences and physically pampering yourself would be a welcome respite when dealing with very stressful caregiver responsibilities. But when you're playing "fake it till you make it" with respite advice and it doesn't actually hit the spot, that's an even lonelier place to be.
posted by desuetude at 8:02 PM on January 5, 2016 [2 favorites]


the author was too dumb to notice about her own experiences

Or, perhaps, too mentally depleted from caring for two other people while also trying to meet professional obligations?

The mental energy and the uninterrupted time to craft an essay is a luxury unto itself as well. I can wholly empathize with the writer's impulse to fix her experience in words and explain it, sentence by sentence. And I can get on board with the notion that right now, she's still living the experience she's writing about, and so doesn't have the detachment to fully notice her experiences.
posted by sobell at 8:06 PM on January 5, 2016 [3 favorites]


I think she crafted this essay just fine, what a weird assertion.
posted by sweetkid at 8:24 PM on January 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


Are blowouts fairly commonplace now? I tend to think of them as a rich lady of leisure thing. Those Drybar places are always in wealthy 'hoods. I never like how my hair looks styled anyway, so they are lost on me. Which is something I struggle with in my whole "look more professional but still feel like myself" endeavor.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 9:38 PM on January 5, 2016


You might want to re-read the comment with the "too dumb" line - it doesn't say what you think it says.
posted by atoxyl at 9:45 PM on January 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


DryBar is basically the mass market version of the blowout trend. People usually want them before gojng out, weddings, interviews...
posted by sweetkid at 9:56 PM on January 5, 2016


But the thing about spending money in a go-go-capitalism culture is, in that moment you have control. You decided whether this tangible thing you need to live should go toward food or rent or a fucking amazing wrap dress. Even if it's a bad choice, it was your choice, and completely in your hands. And when you're feeling helpless or spiraling downward, even a tiny bit of control can be so important.

Actually, I feel very OUT of control when I'm spending money, and the more out of control the rest of my life is, the less I can bear to spend it. I become austere to a fault.

But I work in hospitality. I'm the FOH manager in a restaurant. Fundamentally, my job is to pamper people.

On New Year's Eve, when we all got off work, we went out to a nearby bar to try and enjoy the last dregs of the (already post-midnight) night, and a customer from that evening happened to be at the same bar with her friends. She was drunk and wouldn't leave us alone. She wanted to chat about how the restaurant was really too fancy for her and she had been overwhelmed by its fanciness and blah blah blah. I HATED talking to her.

I guess my feeling was, look, we went ALL OUT pampering you, and you could at least have the grace to appreciate it. Don't sit there and complain about how you don't enjoy being pampered after we wasted our whole night doing it.

I hate that everyone busted their asses, from 1pm to 1am on a holiday, and did an amazing job (because they're amazing at the work that they do) trying to make people feel special and wanted and part of a celebration, and at the end of it, this woman is like EHHHHH BUT IT'S TOO FANCY AMIRITE!?

Drink your fucking champagne and eat your fucking steak and have the fucking grace to ENJOY IT lady. That's all I ask of you.

Anyway, I guess my point is that ime it's actually *gratifying* to know that someone appreciated your work and honestly does feel a bit better and pampered and cared for because you gave them a nice lunch or a nice haircut or got their laundry done for them or whatever else.

Honestly, I'm happy if she's happy. Or at least happier.

I also don't think that people going to professionals to get that care rather than relying just on their buddies says anything bad about society. JMHO.
posted by rue72 at 1:44 AM on January 6, 2016 [9 favorites]


Like why does it feel so good to spend money? Is it at some basic level about feeling like I have control? Why do I feel that high when I'm spending it on wants instead of obligations?

I've been really thinking about this article and I've realized that I absolutely go outside my comfortable budget box when I'm stressed. I don't drink or smoke, I spend.

I'm in my 50's so have had a HUGE fluctuation in what has constituted an expensive treat throughout my life:

* as a teenager, went nuts on a multi-pack of Bonne Bell lip balms;
* in my cash-strapped 20's, bought a Burberry investment jacket;
* 30's, went to London, Hawaii, the Caribbean,Montreal, took my kids on cruises;
* 40's, bought a DVF dress, a $1200 Mulberry handbag, several pairs of Uggs, got monthly facials and massage, bought a Mini Cooper convertible; and

* in my 50's and sending three kids to college, my treat is getting guacamole on my salad.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 3:30 AM on January 6, 2016 [4 favorites]


When I'm stressed I go all out and treat myself to the fancy ketchup.
posted by XMLicious at 3:48 AM on January 6, 2016 [1 favorite]


There's just something necessary to me about small talk and having people just be nice and exist all around you without feeling like a burden, but it feels impossible unless you're paying for their time.

This hit me.
In November I decided that instead of driving back from a workshop, partly because I was concerned that recovering head injury me would be too tired and partly because I just felt like getting away for one night I decided to find a place to stay. Usual me would just find a decent and inexpensive motel. Then someone at work suggested a B&B. I've never been to a B&B. Once I made the initial decision to find a place I started looking on line. I felt guilty the whole time, like I shouldn't be doing this. Why am I doing this when just a motel would be fine. After years I finally have some money in the bank so financially it wouldn't hurt but boy did I feel guilty about all the more practical things I could spend it on. Like I could put extra on a loan payment or just keep in in rainy day savings.

I did do it and it was absolutely glorious even though I did the exact same things I would do at home. I sat in my bed, played on the computer and watched TV.

Your comment hit on why it was so extra awesome. I didn't have to worry about anyone else in the house, no pets, no household tasks bugging me to do them and really nice people, making me feel comfortable. I got an awesome breakfast made and served. I realize now that the money was really paying for getting a brief break of performing both emotional and regular labor because there was no obligation or feeling that I needed to reciprocate beyond just being nice and friendly to the people there. I could indulge without any burden.
posted by Jalliah at 5:50 AM on January 6, 2016 [6 favorites]


You know, this past summer I really loved going to the public library. My car was in the repair shop, and I needed somewhere to sit while I waited to pick it up, and I was just feeling like a kid again with nothing to do but read. My biggest problem had always been not getting the books back on time, so I was extra diligent about setting reminders.

I renew all my books online in plenty of time, and go to sleep feeling lovely and frugal with visions of paperbacks dancing in my head. I don't actually have time to *read* these books but I enjoy the idea that any day now, when I am better organized, I could.

When next the reminder comes up, I walk downtown in my good-quality sensible boots which I have had since 2001. Left, right, left, right. Such good exercise. We've forgotten about the simple joys in life in our fast-paced carbon-guzzling consumeristic lifestyle.

I get there, hand in my pile of books, and ask to renew the ones I have at home that have got 2 days left on them. They say no, because I owe them £22 in fines because the books I handed in were three weeks overdue. Plus they've tried to charge me for long-returned books before, so they had a track record of getting stuff wrong. But I didn't have any proof, and it was going to be another week before I could take the requisite morning out to go downtown and return the 2 books I had at home, so I had to stump up that fine so that those two other books wouldn't be racking up more fines hand over fist.

I hand over the money, yelling that I was never going to use the library again!!! And the librarian said fine, I was welcome to complain to the council if I liked. I mean what does she care if I use the library or not, it's no skin off her nose; but it's not like I was saying it as a threat. Anyway she renewed my 2 other books right before my eyes.

I walk back home with steam coming out of my ears. My boots have orthotic inserts in them which have gotten torn up and I didn't notice that, because I'd only been wearing them to work and not walking any real distance in them. I now have big blisters on the soles of each foot. I buy two packages of blister bandages at £5 each, and I order a new pair of orthotic inserts for £13 from Amazon, but this kind turn out to be no good - they just slide down inside the boot and stuff the toebox. I spend another £23 on a known good brand of orthotic inserts.

I spent the week trying to figure out a way to close out my library account altogether, so that they would never be able to claim I owed them money. It seems this isn't possible. It also seems that unpaid library fines go on your credit score and that the council has been known to send heavies round to people's houses to kneecap them over stuff like this. So basically I should have taken a screenshot when I renewed online and I should have gotten a receipt when the librarian renewed the 2 extra books, but since I didn't, I'm screwed. In a way, it was my own fault because I wasn't organized enough and I'd had prior experience of their system not working, so what did I expect.

A week later, I take the morning out to return those books and the librarian holds his hand out for another £13 in fines the system says I owe. He is very pleasant about it and maybe remembers me from last week's freakout, so he offers me a 50% discount. I accept, we part on good terms.

I've been going to that library since I was 13 years old. It has always been a major pleasure in my life. I am now 45. It's been six months now and I have not once gone back to that library.

This is absolutely typical of how frugality always works out for me. Every single time I try to enjoy one of life's simple frugal pleasures it turns out to be expensive and logistically wasteful.

I buy my books now. It's cheaper. I can't afford them, of course. And I don't have time to read them. But at least I'm not burning up entire half-days walking to and from the stupid library. And I just pruned out a lengthy rant about the cost of reheeling my comfort shoes with metal tips, which typically has to be done after 12 wearings and typically costs more than the shoe itself (to say nothing of the cost of shoe trees, instep straps, heel inserts, more heel inserts because the first ones didn't work, and more blister bandages because the second heel inserts did work but gave me blisters). So am I being extravagant, frugal, or both here? Either way I'm definitely doing it wrong.

I've got no damn discipline. Anybody know where I can get a good deal on birch twigs? I'm thinking it might be salutary to flagellate myself while I walk. Also the birch twigs should be fairly traded and ideally, made by artisans local to me. I'd thrift them, but as my church recently sermonized, thrift shopping is really just another form of consumerism. Except it was Flossie that gave that sermon, and no-one really likes her, so maybe I'll just go to Poundland.
posted by tel3path at 2:50 PM on January 6, 2016 [5 favorites]


Wow. I read the article earlier today, and thought about it, but came back to this thread late. I appreciate the gender discussion happening here, but this it's way more about capitalism, the defiance of any attempts to establish social safety nets, and how quick and easy it is to get to one sort of breaking point or another.

Part of why these luxuries, or just breaks from frugality take center stage is that they are increasingly the only self-care available.

What people really need is reliable single-payer healthcare that includes the "care" costs, and not just money that flows through to hospitals and pharmaceuticals.

Or they need job security, a reasonable schedule, a working wage, and paid time off, so that they can step back work demands when needed to focus on personal or family crises.

But those types of self-care have been made structurally impossible, because we are so insanely unable to push for legal and political changes to improve the lives of the lower and middle class. So people are asked to exert huge amounts of willpower for unsupportable periods of time. When that chronic stress pushes people to the breaking point, the sort of escape valves are the only thing there.
posted by mercredi at 4:42 PM on January 6, 2016 [8 favorites]


I appreciate the gender discussion happening here, but this it's way more about capitalism

thanks for coming and setting us all straight, here.
posted by sweetkid at 9:50 PM on January 6, 2016 [6 favorites]


Thanks the charitable reading, sweetkid.

The sentence, which you can see has a typo, was supposed to include "this seems to me it's".

When I said I appreciated the gender discussion, I meant it, and I do think the reaction to people "treating themselves" with this type of luxury is totally gendered.

But the forces that squeeze people to the breaking part shouldn't be ignored, and are not primarily about gender.
posted by mercredi at 3:47 AM on January 7, 2016


I don't think anyone's ignoring the effect of capitalism, she even mentions it in the article.
posted by sweetkid at 6:49 AM on January 7, 2016


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