Last week I found myself in a bad bout of anxiety and took an uncharacteristic course of action when I consulted my mom. Mind you, my mother is an indecipherable, partially detached proponent of tough love. Case in point: she has spent the entirety of my 19.5 years attempting to convince me that “true love is a ruse” and if I don’t believe her I can “try and find it” only after I “get my degree.” So, naturally, with an irrepressible case of uneasiness, I took a chance and attempted a heart-to-heart with my mom via text.
I don’t remember the specifics of my rant, but imagine it was something melodramatic and existential along the lines of: “What am I doing with my life? Why am I here? How’s the dog?”
Though I can’t say I found the answers I craved in a moment of desperation, my mother replied as follows (conveniently, I did screenshot and save her exact response):
“Is there a salon where you could get a blow dry, manicure/pedicure … It’s nice to always have your grooming! – Mom”
In that moment I learned an unequivocal fact of life — sometimes when all you need is a validating “pish posh, Caro, you’re smart, funny, stylish and beautiful,” you get an unexpected “It’s nice to always have your grooming!”
At face value, her advice seemed superficial and insensitive, but after considering my youth-through-teen years punctuated by beauty rituals that always lifted my spirits and soothed my soul, I knew she was onto something between the curt lines. Investing in oneself was, and always had been a tenet of her unorthodox parenting that I believed in (though I’ve yet to yield to her case against true love). Moreover, it wasn’t merely her unfettered belief in self-pampering, but her championing of taking breaks — alternating increments of hard work with something enjoyable — a wise morsel of advice that’s easier said than done in college when the funds and low and the work is all-consuming.
For some, it’s the sporadic jaunt to BuzzFeed during lecture to find themselves via trash quizzes, or my friend and her weekly splurge on high tea at TeaHaus. For me, it tends to oscillate between sprucing up the integumentary — a blow out or a mani/pedi — a kneading of the lumbar or a cosmetic application. But alas, after indulging in my own brand of fulfillment, there’s bound to be flack from third-party naysayers. Some version of “your lifestyle is too particular, Caro” or “you’re horribly self-indulgent, Caro” inevitably arises.
I can see the case for frivolity, or the disgust for perceivably giving into beauty standards, but neither argument is valid. Sure, I love the high of getting made up, but it’s never for vanity, nor intended to impress the male population — it’s always about looking and feeling good for myself. In the most reductive sense, I aim to carve out time each week for a refrain from the draining minutia, and who doesn’t need that?
Whether on a fixed schedule or executed impulsively, I have and always will believe in the necessary retreat from the day-to-day. Since my youth (read: when I had fewer problems and more outlets), I quickly recognized the remedial and restorative qualities of my mom’s case for occasional self-indulgence; I saw it as the cure-all for everything from melancholia to mild dissatisfaction.
After considering mother’s text message that day, I instantly reflected on the rare moments of clarity in salon chairs, or the mental repose only available post-massage. Suddenly, my freak-out made sense. I realized my self-care had fallen to the wayside, lost in a pile of study guides and history readings. I craved the endorphins and heightened spirit that only my particular religious methods could bring.
The next morning, in efforts to restore my long-lost rationale, I opted for a dual-focused day of indulgence and scheduled a pedicure followed by a deep-tissue massage. Walking back to my apartment in a happy post-pleasure haze without a single callus, kink or knot, I was absolutely certain it was the best decision for my physical and mental health.
Despite my moment of weakness, I do indeed enjoy living. Ideally, I strive for balance; I strive to maximize my human experience by alternating responsibilities with pleasure — so the utterly blissful moments hold some well-deserved weight. Apparently, some find inspiration in my simple philosophy and its noticeable benefits — a family friend even regards me as a “zen ideal.” However, I can only maintain personal equilibrium if I follow mom’s infallible lead and prioritize pampering.