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The Rise of Selfie-Care

by Jeremy McCarthy

Ask yourself, do you practice “self-care,” or “selfie-care”?

I see two major trends in wellness and beauty that seem to be at odds. The first trend is “self-care.” People are taking more responsibility for their own wellness and seeking personal lifestyle choices and strategies that help to keep their mind and body functioning at an optimal level and improve their quality of life. We see this trend being expressed through the growth of new fitness programs, yoga studios, meditation classes, health-food offerings, etc.

The second trend is what I call “selfie-care,” which is less about individual wellness and more about social fitness. In the age of social media it is important to not only be well, but to appear well. This trend is expressed through the personas that people create on their online profiles to demonstrate their wellness and social value. In this trend, people use photo editing, filters and extreme curation to show the most attractive version of themselves on their social network.

Although these trends are being expressed in new ways in the modern era, they are actually universal across time and across species. The law of evolution is not so much “survival of the fittest” as it is “survival of the fit and of those that appear fit.” In any species we see examples of behaviors to not only maximize fitness, but to use signaling and camouflage to maximize the appearance of fitness.

Take the glorious peacock, for example. At first glance, it is hard to understand what possible evolutionary advantage the male peacock could have from carrying around its beautiful but inconvenient plumage. Although the imposing plumage is a clear disadvantage in many ways, these majestic creatures use their feathers to convey health and vitality to potential mates. Clearly, this is a successful strategy, which is why the feathers have evolved to such an extravagant degree.

Even in humans, from an evolutionary perspective, beauty is the way we signal our suitability as a partner to the opposite sex. Across time and generations, features that indicate our health and genetic value become more attractive. Features that indicate poor health or genetic weakness become less attractive. In this sense, beauty is not only an important aspect of human existence, it is an inherent feature of all life. Beauty is universal.

Human strategies to convey health and vitality through beauty have included hairstyles, makeup, skincare, dieting, injectables and surgical enhancements. But increasingly in the modern age, we show our beauty through our social media channels, with a carefully curated persona. Much like the peacock’s tail, this appearance of wellness is becoming more important than actual physical fitness and well-being. After all, we can live, work and even establish close relationships, all based on our virtual selves. In the future, reality may be completely overshadowed by the virtual representation of it. Like the beautiful peacock, those who can put on the best show will win the genetic lottery.

In spite of this digital growth spurt in selfie-care, however, self-care is also on the rise. There is a growing appreciation for acceptance and authenticity that is an inevitable backlash to selfie-care. Consumers are demanding less Photoshopped and more authentic imagery from the brands that they support. Celebrities are becoming more transparent in showing what their unedited lives are like. And people are eschewing technology for more traditional approaches to the good life.

I’m optimistic that this surge toward self-care will continue, but in the age of technology, selfie-care will also be an important part of the equation. Our digital avatars will be an increasingly meaningful part of our existence. There is, however, a well-being “tax” that we pay when we feel a gap between our real selves and our virtual selves. The true power is in authenticity or “real beauty,” when what we show and who we are are one…no editing required.

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