Trigger Warning: This post discusses eating disorders.
When I first sought help for my eating disorder, I went through the public health system.

Coaxed on by my best friend, I begrudgingly agreed to give it a shot. I waited weeks for my first appointment. A self confessed control freak, I was filled with dread. What happens at these appointments? Will they force feed me? Or will they sit me on a leather couch and ask about my relationship with my mother? 

I don’t remember much from that first visit. I force it out of my mind. I can only recall a series of disjointed fragments. The lukewarm tea and scotch biscuit, left untouched. The heavy-set weighing scales. The white, old lady who asked me a series of questions from a clipboard, her harsh jawline tightening with every answer. A photocopy of the food pyramid thrust into my hands.

The disapproving tone of her final question: “why do you feel the need to do this to yourself, huh?”

The feeling of not belonging in that room, not being understood by that lady. The feeling of anger and shame bubbling in my stomach. An overwhelming desire to slap that stupid checklist out of her hands. 

I refused to go back. 

As the weeks rolled into each other, and my refusal to touch any food that wasn’t boiled veggies or poached chicken worsened, I had no choice but to tell my parents about my disorder. 

I remember feeling sickened to my core by this prospect. Words usually come easy to me. But as I dialled my mum’s number, I knew I couldn’t hide behind an eloquently phrased sentence. How could I tell my parents that I was willingly hurting myself? Would I be met by rejection? By disappointment? Who else would I turn to?

Thankfully, my confession was received with kindness and tenderness, followed by immediate action.

Enter stage right: the private health world.  A world that was predominantly white, expensive, and yet, if I’m honest, not the least bit intimidating to me. A world designed for people of privilege. 

My parents paid for me to see a psychologist. Each fortnight, they’d transfer me $350 dollars, and I’d trudge into the office of a pleasant, white woman who, despite my initial cynicism, I connected with. And each fortnight, I started to make progress. 

My parents paid for me to see a nutritionist. They funded six monthly sessions. She was a thin, young white woman. She looked just like me. So naturally, I trusted her straight away. I learnt that carbs weren’t going to ruin my life. I was introduced to a number of bliss ball recipes. I left with an expensive shopping list of food. And when my uni student allowance didn’t cover the cost of bulgar wheat and raw cacao, I’d simply ask for a couple of extra shifts at my part time job. These requests were almost always granted.

My parents paid for me to see a personal trainer. Each month, the funds would arrive in my bank account so I could receive my new training plan. My trainer was a friendly, white man who made me feel like one of the lads. I swapped punishing cardio for weight training. My mental strength grew each time I gripped the barbell.

A privileged recovery 

Having an eating disorder was a shit time. It was shameful, at times nonsensical, and it was a huge cause of suffering for me. 

But, my recovery was privileged. I had support. I wasn’t isolated. My parents could afford the specialists, the programmes, the counsel often unavailable in the public health sector. 

The specialists I saw looked like me. They had similar experiences as me. They had familiar lifestyles, ate the same food I grew up eating, and made me feel heard, valued and above all, comfortable. I could attend appointment after appointment, because I had the leisure time available to do so. 

I got well, because the wellness industry is designed for people like me.

Superficial self-care

Years later, having recovered from my eating disorder, that familiar anxious feeling began to seep into my mind. Nudging at my thoughts, catching in my chest, permeating my every mood. The doctor’s diagnosis: anxiety. She prescribed me some pills, suggested I invest in therapy and told me to incorporate ‘practices of self-care’ into my life.

I took to Instagram ( a very reputable research platform). The self-care hashtag was flooded with over a million posts. Like a social media ethnologist, I trawled through picture after picture of clay face masks, pastel pedicures, and yoga classes set on the shorefront of a blissful island resort. Greasy pizza binges were labelled as #self-care and #treatyourself by one influencer. Another influencer gloated about her 29 ingredient green smoothie. She was #sorrynotsorry about her #selfcaresunday efforts. 

Suddenly, the work of looking after your mental health looked a lot more palatable through an Instagram filter. I could eat pizza as an act of self-care. I could ease my frantic mind with a cheeky clay mask. And I could ward off a looming panic attack by booking a yoga treat in Bali.

At this point, I was confused - is self-care the simple act of taking care of yourself when things are rough? Or is self-care an exclusive #treatyoself lifestyle, captured and curated for our Instagram grid?   

An air of exclusivity 

I started this blog because I was sick of the filtered, diluted, and white-washed version of self-love, commoditised and sold to us by lifestyle brands and influencers flogging a discount code.

I felt that putting mental health coping strategies in the same category as expensive wellness products undermines the meaning of self-care, as if there’s no difference between overcoming panic attacks and over-indulging in a weekly facial. 

The #selfcare posts on Instagram made me want to drown in a 29 ingredient green smoothie. 

Because this unapologetically, #sorrynotsorry version of self-care is exclusive. Self-care’s human equivalent is Regina George in a velour tracksuit, screeching “you can’t sit with us.” 

Because often, our acts of self-care are actually just acts of privilege.

Some confronting truths

A quick caveat here. I am indeed a white, financially resourced woman. By divulging my privileged experience with mental health support and self-care, I’m not looking to expunge myself of white guilt. I have no intention of writing this blog, washing my hands of any discomfort and checking the box of ‘white ally.’ This isn't about my social capital, it's about societal change.

Beyond this post, I intend to take action. Not because I want a gold star on my activist sticker chart. Because to do nothing is just no longer an option. Shock and awe over systematic inequality simply isn’t enough. The relationship between privilege and healthcare might be a recent awakening for me (and admitting this is embarrassing), but for so many others it’s a reality they deal with on the daily. 

The work of examining privilege isn’t easy. In the last month, I’ve had to redefine my mental health journey. My constructs had to come crumbling down. I’ve had to unravel my narrative, examine it with a new lens. 

It’s icky, difficult work. 

It’s admitting that the private health system that supported me so dutifully, so kindly in my time of need, oppresses others that don’t look, sound or come from the same background as me. 

Its realising that I’ve spent my whole life cashing in on #selfcare privileges that favour white women. 

It’s knowing that you can’t uncouple mental wellbeing from privilege. 

It’s recognising that if I want to write about a realistic, accessible version of self-love, I have to also examine the societal systems that fail time and time again, to care for the mental health of marginalised groups. 

I still recognise that my mental health struggles were hard. They just weren’t made more difficult by the colour of my skin, the dollars in my bank account or my sexual orientation.

Profit over protest

Self-care wasn’t always the vernacular of the Lululemon wearing, smoothie wielding white woman. Before it was reduced to a hashtag, self-care was an act of protest; a way for activists to call out society's failure to care for women, Black people, people of colour and LGBTQ communities. It was a big, middle finger to the patriarchy and white supremacists. It was a radical act of love, in a world that was constantly trying to deny marginalised people of their self-worth. Black lesbian poet Audre Lorde famously said, “caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

But some years later, the wellness industry realised that self-indulgence is more palatable than political warfare. And so, self-care was appropriated by companies, reduced to a kind of coy tease about the mental health support that so many are lacking and are desperate for. 

This transition from self-care as a protest to self-care as profit is problematic for a number of reasons, especially considering the concept of self-care was conceived largely by and for Black people in order to survive in a world that cares disproportionately about white health and well-being. 

Now self-care has wellness, wealth and whiteness at its very core. White mental health and white feelings are once again centred and prioritised. And the once radical notion of caring for a marginalised body, has been commoditised. 

The movement has become a market. It’s trending. Self-care is #spon by big brands who are only interested in making the big bucks. 

Now, influencers declare “anyone can fit some self-care into their day” as they Youtube their ten step skincare routine, completely unaware that many people don’t have the time, or money to afford a face treatment made from babies' tears. 

Now, self-care is found in material things, like quartz infused crystal water bottles, charcoal body scrub towels and jade eggs that you stick up your hooha as some sort of expensive clitorial cleanse. (I wish this list was made up, but Gwyneth Paltrow’s GOOP empire has made over $250 million selling these bizarre products).

Now, as Trump makes us lose faith in humankind, when the economic outlook is bleak and less people have access to the healthcare they so desperately need, self-care has become societies’ scapegoat - the system we exist under isn’t fucked; you are. The onus is on the individual. Take care of yourself. Don’t have the agency, money or leisure time? That’s on you to deal with. The irony is almost sickening - the very system that wasn’t designed for marginalised groups in the first place, persuades those same groups their problem isn’t one of economics. 

The way forward

So, why can’t we get the self-care we actually need, instead of letting Gwyneth and her GOOP empire take the wheel? And in particular, why can’t marginalised groups get access to quality mental health support? 

My hot take: we are collapsing big, icky, systemic problems into a personal quest for wellness.

People are angry, exhausted and anxious because each and every day they exist in a system that works against them. But we tell them society isn’t the problem. They’re the problem. Why can’t they adapt to the structural imbalances? Why can’t they be grateful for what they’ve got? Why aren’t they looking after themselves? 

I call absolute bullshit.

You simply can’t address wellness, mental health and self-care without first addressing systemic racism, the wealth gap, affordable healthcare, paid family leave, mass incarceration and disability access. Can we really get on our soap-box and preach self-care, when as a society we fail to care for the millions overlooked, and cast aside by a flawed and deeply exclusive system? 

Mental health interventions should be culturally informed. Accessible. Inclusive.

Mental health interventions shouldn’t be culturally exclusive. A luxury. Expensive.  

Self-care on it’s own can’t save the day. Sorry Gwenyth, but your crystal quartz and jade eggs can’t do shit. 

But, do you know what can?

Community care. 

It may not be a popular Instagram hashtag, but community care is something I’d like to see more of. Nakita Valerio, a community organiser and researcher, sums up community care well. She went viral after posting, “shouting ‘self-care’ at people who actually need ‘community care’ is how we fail people” on Facebook, following last year’s terrorist massacre of Muslim worshippers in New Zealand. Valerio defines community care as people “leveraging their privilege to be there for one another in various ways."

Community care doesn’t have to involve grandiose gestures. It can range from simple, interpersonal acts of kindness, to organised efforts like joining community support groups. It’s self organising and selfless. It involves putting your privilege to good use. Not because you feel guilty. Not because your Instagram brand would benefit from a bit of feel good content. But because you’re 100% committed to using your privilege to benefit others, and making lasting social change.

Community care is joining protests. It’s advocacy. It’s emailing government officials. It’s leaning into hard, and not overly glamorous work. 

Where can you begin? 

Honestly, I don’t have all the answers. This is lifelong work . The more I read, the less I know, but the more committed I am to learning; and in some instances unlearning what I know to be true about self-care. 

Start by examining your mental health over the years. Think about your privileges and the ways self-care has come easily to you.

Have you had access to support? What did that support look like? Was your treatment tailored to your needs and preferences?  Could you share your mental health struggles with someone who deeply understands your cultural context? Did you feel safe? 

Who do you follow on Instagram? What versions of self-care grace your feed? Is the self-care you’ve come to understand rooted in privilege? Is it white-washed? What self-care products do you buy? Who is really profiting from your purchase? 

Then, look at your community. Are there existing groups you can join, digital or IRL? What mental health advocacy work can you contribute to? What petitions can you sign? Whose voices can you amplify? 

Educate yourself and push for changes in self-care that are more inclusive, equitable and grounded in reality. Then, find and develop networks of people to work toward personal and collective healing.

A #balanced approach

It’s important to note that I’m not denouncing self-care altogether. If you strip back the capitalist constructs that we have nestled self-care in, at its very core, self-care is nourishing the mind and body when it needs it. You can’t dismantle the system, fight for equality, and support your community if you’re burnt-out, exhausted, and generally treating your body like ass.  Sure, self-care teas are more likely to liberate your bowels, than liberate people of the microaggressions they face daily, but there are other forms of self-care that are free and fruitful. 

Go for a walk and drink in the greenery. Then, pen that email to your local council. 

Turn down that coffee date when you’re feeling flat. Then, donate to community groups who are advocating for improved access to mental health services. 

Read a book, feed your mind. Then, unfollow a bunch of vacuous influencers on Instagram, and start following people that use their platform to contribute to a cause greater than teeth whitener. 

Recharge, then re-engage with this work. 

Redefining self-care 

I often remember the rush of rage I felt at the eating disorder clinic. The suffocating judgement. The lack of dignity and respect. 

Here’s what I know. The feeling of not being understood is isolating, and shameful.

Here’s what I don’t know.  I'll never know what it's like to have no other option. To have limited resources. To not have access to a plethora of women that look like me, talk like me, and can deeply empathise with me. To have the colour of my skin, the shape of my body, my sexual orientation or my income dictate my access to wellness. 

I’ll never understand what it’s like to exist in a system that doesn’t serve me. 

But, I can refuse to buy into a privileged view of self-care and self-love. And you, my dearest reader, can do the same. 

As a starting point, here’s some resources:


  • @justspeaknz
  • @deconstruct_nz
  • @_enterthedragon_
  • @Rachel.Cargle
  • @LaylaFSaad
  • @ajabarber
  • @tamikadmallory
  • @munroebergdorf
  • @soyouwanttotalkabout


  • Bobo and Flex: so, how are we going to end racism? 
  • Bobo and Flex: do you think black lives actually matter?
  • After Work Drinks: let’s talk about something uncomfortable..race


Follow me on instagram