How to Do Self-Care Without Being Classist

Feminism Mandy Shunnarah Self-Care

By: Mandy Shunnarah

Here’s a fact that bears repeating: self-care is a feminist issue.

With the countless injustices women face, fighting the patriarchy is exhausting. And the only way we can have the energy to fight oppression is if we’re taking care of ourselves first.

Though it’s a point of progress to see so many discussions about prioritizing well-being, it’s important to remember self-care can be achieved regardless of income and it doesn’t have to come with an exorbitant price tag.

It’s not uncommon to see Instagram posts about manis and pedis, massages, and spa treatments shared under the #selfcare hashtag. And while there’s nothing wrong with investing in ourselves, especially if we have the financial means to do so, the problem comes when expensive self-care rituals are posted on social media.

All too often, it becomes a competition about who’s doing #selfcare “right” and who’s taking care of themselves “the best” as judged by how much money was spent, rather than the actual outcome, which can be hard to capture in a photo. Whatever we do, it should leave us feeling refreshed, relaxed, and rejuvenated––all of which can be accomplished without spending much, or any, money.

Sometimes those who need self-care most are the least likely to get it. People who work in activism, teaching, social work, and the service industry often have jobs where their emotional, mental, and physical reserves are tapped on a daily basis. These are often the jobs that pay the least and don’t have flexible hours or sufficient off time, thus making time and money for self-care difficult to come by.

By focusing on the monetary aspect of taking good care of ourselves rather than the result, self-care goes from being a healthy ritual to a means of performance––one that shames others for not wanting or being able to take care of themselves in a similar expensive fashion.

Regardless of what Instagram might have us believe, there are plenty of ways to practice self-care on a budget. Here are a few of my favorites:

At-Home Facials

You could go to a spa and drop a Benjamin on a facial, or you could make your own face masks from things you’d find in the produce section. There are hundreds of recipes online for face masks (for example) you can whip up from fruits, veggies, and oils––all of which you can find at a grocery store.

You can even steam open your pores by heating water on the stove and holding your head in the steam (as long as it’s not unbearably hot––don’t burn yourself). That will help your mask deep clean your skin all the better.

Cheap Crafts

If you’ve spent any time on Pinterest, you’ve probably seen some elaborate crafts that require serious skill and investment in raw materials, but there are plenty you can do easily and cheaply.

Knitting and crocheting are both fairly easy to learn and can be done on a budget. The needles, especially if you get plastic instead of metal, can be found for just a few bucks at thrift stores. And you can choose from a variety of differently priced fibers, some of which are much cheaper than others. Just stay away from the alpaca and merino wool.

Don’t have a grandma around to show you how to knit? There are a ton of videos on YouTube.

Another cheap craft that anyone can do is coloring. While adult coloring books are a little more expensive because the designs are more intricate, you can get a coloring book and a pack of colored pencils for $25 or less and have hours of entertainment.

Dance It Out

By the time you pay the cover to get in, buy a couple of sugary cocktails, and buy a roundtrip Lyft ride, a night at the club can wind up being more than you bargained for. But if you have your own space, you can dance it out anytime for free with a YouTube playlist (like this one).

Sure, you might have to listen to a couple of ads between songs, but it beats having to pay a day’s wages just to have a creepy guy hump your leg as he’s trying to “dance” with you.

If you have Christmas lights, you can string them up to create a cool ambiance. And if you do want a sugary cocktail, cheap vodka and Kool-Aid does the trick.

If you normally party with friends, you can invite a handful of trusted people over and create your own private safe space to shake it without fear of having your drink spiked or your purse stolen.

Visit a Library

As Hermione said, “when in doubt, go to the library.”

In addition to physical books, you can check out CDs, DVDs, and other media for entertainment. Or, if you prefer digital files or just don’t want to leave your house, you can use your library card to access OverDrive and Hoopla, two websites libraries use to house their digital collections, including ebooks, audiobooks, music, movies, and magazines. No Netflix subscription required.

Of course, if you can afford fancy self-care days, there’s nothing wrong with treating yourself. However, it’s good to be mindful of how it comes across to others in the movement who are just trying to make ends meet.  

And if you do have expensive tastes when it comes to your well-being, please tip well. A self-care day for you is a regular work day to the people serving you.


Mandy Shunnarah is a writer based in Columbus, Ohio. When she's not writing book reviews and creative nonfiction essays and working on her first novel, she can be found binging on political TV dramas, drinking craft beer, shopping at thrift stores, and cuddling with her three devilish cats. Learn more on her website 

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