Self-Care in the Face of Affect Tourism
Today, Jake Jackson is sharing his views on self-care in academia with us. Jake Jackson holds a Master’s in Philosophy and is currently a Philosophy PhD Student at Temple University. His work is concerned with integrating phenomenology and affect theory into a comprehensive interpersonal ethics aimed at promoting better mental health practices with others. He still hasn’t cultivated any sustainable hobbies.
I am terrible at self-care.
Or rather, I constantly find myself believing this when I talk to others about self-care.
There has been a recent surge in thinkpieces on self-care, how to self-care, what it requires to take care of oneself, and on. The rise of self-care discourse is liberating and helpful for academics (and certainly others) who need to be reminded to take care of themselves. This rise in discussion ought to be praised in its insistence that taking care of oneself is a necessary activity and we should never feel ashamed of taking care of one s emotional well-being. However, I want to take a pause; in our discussions of self-care, we need to move beyond simplistic descriptions that revel in the wrong aspect.
Discussing self-care with others can be helpful, yet there is also oftentimes a negating undercurrent. Self-care has become not just a thing you do for yourself, but a thing that you do before others in comparison. Many discussions of self-care focus not on the intended effect of relieving stressors, but instead the cultivation of affectations. We lose sight of the efficacy of self-care or even what small everyday activities can count as self-care in striving for a certain purity or connoisseurship of activities.
My concern regards a subgroup of self-care enthusiasts who I call affect tourists . Affect tourism is when one does not authentically enjoy affective experiences like self-care activities, but instead cultivates such experiences in order to weave them into a narrative that one can tell to others. The affect tourist is not simply interested in taking care of oneself, but instead in creating the experience of self-care. That is, the affect tourist manufactures affective experiences in Sartrean bad faith in order to present oneself as someone who has experienced deep emotionally-transcendent moments. These are the people who constantly insist that others should try this one activity or film, swear by a particular restaurant or beverage, or argue that others haven t done x properly if they haven t done it in y way.
At the most basic, the affect tourist displays oneself as a worldly figure, one who has experienced many things in search of higher or more transcendent experiences through a form of connoisseurship. Connoisseurs in this sense do not enjoy the objects they enjoy and fetishize, but rather enjoy the process of learning a vocabulary and a palate in order to appear more cultured. At the most extreme, affect tourists are those who travel as literal tourists to different locales just based upon the ability to weave the experience into a longer narrative of their life journey . These are the tourists who travel to a particular location because the guidebook or another affect tourist told them to do so. They create the experiences that they feel that they ought to have, leaving nothing to the moment of self-care to take them directly.
Affect tourists cultivate hobbies not directly for their own self-care, but treat this activity of insistently narrating these hobbies to others as a self-care activity instead. This person curates experiences in order to smugly recommend what others should do. This vain presentation of one s emotions is an affect tourist s form of self-care. This is good for affect tourists and their own self-care, I suppose, but it is damaging to others who feel that they cannot keep up or afford such suggested practices.
While recommending activities could be helpful for those seeking new self-care practices, the affect tourist will give their opinion whether solicited or not. The affect tourist makes others believe that their activities or feelings are in some way inadequate. The very act of insisting that there are purer avenues of self-care than those one practices recodifies such them as shameful again. In comparison, what I do for self-care does not seem as extravagant as what others insist as a greater method of self-care. This is why I feel that I am terrible at self-care. I don t see my evening winding down watching television or talking with my wife as enough when others insist on cultivating more elaborate or expensive hobbies.
But self-care in itself should never be dependent upon the insistences of others. Self-care must be seen as a pragmatic activity in itself. Whatever works as self-care must be identified as such. The moments we take for caring for ourselves should never be made to feel inadequate, just as they should never be seen as shameful or selfish.
In the end, finding your own self-care practices can only come from assessing yourself. Self-care requires your own evaluation in what supports yourself. Take time for yourself and for your relaxing activities. Find what drives you, and pay no attention to the pressuring insistences of affect-tourists.