Tag Archives: capitalism

The Venus Flytrap: Self-Care & Capitalism

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I thought The Goop Lab, Gwyneth Paltrow’s new Netflix series, would be the perfect lazy watch to zone out on, and drain out my snarky side (like physical aggression can be gym-ed away, we’d do well to very carefully and privately dispose of our other belligerences). I couldn’t get past the introductory reel, which ends on the weak laughter of her employees before they are subjected to extreme experiences. It only takes a basic familiarity with workplace dynamics to know what would happen to those who didn’t agree to take shrooms, explore their sexuality on camera, share their deepest secrets or anything else the job requires.

Paltrow says that her company is all about “the optimization of the self”, as explained by the question, “how can we milk the shit out of this [life]?” Well, presumably she meant life, but given that Goop is a multi-million dollar company, who knows? Believe me when I say I’m desperately trying to bite back the snark, but the catalogue includes a candle supposedly scented like her own vagina, and a USD15,000 gold-plated sex toy.

Goop is only the pinnacle of a global culture of capitalist appropriation of the radical concept of self-care. Most of the brands whose products we can’t help but succumb to, thanks to attractive keywords like “organic”, “sustainability-conscious” and “authentic”, fall under this umbrella. Self-care is a necessity, not a luxury, as many pretty ads say. Some of what self-care entails may come naturally, while we need to be reminded of other aspects. The concept has been explored by activists, psychologists, medical field researchers and human rights historians in ways that teach us to honour its importance.

Its conflation with capitalism is where we must be wary. Moreover, a substantial portion of what the self-care industry appropriates, repackages and promotes comes directly out of traditional and indigenous wisdom.

The damage done is two-fold. Tangible effects range from patents being slapped on ingredients and practices which take them away from the communities that best understand them, to crises such as the over-harvesting of sage and child labour in crystal-gathering. Secondly, the avarice in all capitalism-driven enterprise leads to cutting corners, exaggerated prices and dishonest promotion. Chasing the bottomline erases the care with which the original methods were intended to be applied.

The products become parodies, and in turn are parodied. This begets disrespect towards therapeutic and beauty methods or instruments which are indeed effective, as well as towards their practitioners (who are rarely ever well-compensated financially) and beneficiaries, who then hesitate to share information on their healing. One of our colonial hangovers is the rejection of native wisdom in favour of allopathy. But the stealing of such wisdom by money-oriented businesses, whether they are pharmaceutical or cosmetic, neither meaningfully imparts nor protects it.

I should be the last person to lecture anyone on consumer habits. So I’ll share only what’s been true for me: it’s been really important that I sieve apart when my desires are about self-care, when they are about addiction (including emotional deflection), and when they are about indulgence. When I don’t deceive myself, the lies of brands can’t hoodwink me as easily.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on January 30th 2020. “The Venus Flytrap” appears  in Chennai’s City Express supplement.

The Venus Flytrap: Not Your Women’s Day

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We don’t want your token rose because what do you think this is, Valentine’s Day? It’s not Mother’s Day either, and you need to find a way to respect women that doesn’t require them to be desexualised into a familial role.

We don’t want your chocolate unless it’s as dark as the history of our oppression, as bitter as you think feminists are, and full of nuts – which is what we’ve been driven to by all these antics.

We don’t want your “saree day at the office” dress code because we are not employed for your viewing pleasure. And – on this day or another other – if you have a problem with our bra straps showing, or our bare arms, or the fact that we won’t wear a slip under a white tunic, we’re certainly not going to make the effort for you.

We don’t want your special discounts. Unless that discount happens to be 25%, which is where the gender pay gap in India stands as per the latest report by Monster India. And no, we don’t want to hear your smug justification about how you spend 25% more time at the workplace than we do. It’s not our fault if you can’t manage your schedule as efficiently. It’s not our fault that we leave on the dot because when we get home, we have even more to do, because no one considers that housework is also work.

We don’t want your complimentary salon services unless you promise to ask each one of your patrons, “Who are you doing this for?” and have them at least ponder the answer before ripping hair out of their skins with hot wax. And we don’t want the allied weight loss programme, ever. Don’t even offer.

We don’t want your free cocktails, because we never liked Ladies’ Night to begin with. Here’s an honest poster for you: “Stags! Here’s bar full of half-drunk women disappointed with watery shots, just waiting to you to hit on them!” Yeah, that. Just try lowering our inhibitions while we’re busy raising our standards.

We don’t want your contests that basically require competing with other women. Just No.

We don’t want your televised speeches and mandatory tweets about the girl child, not when your misogynistic actions and ideologies contradict them.

We don’t want to hear how strong you think (you have to say) we are, because this isn’t a weightlifting tournament.

International Women’s Day falls on March 8th every year, so this is either a day late, or 364 days early. It’s been observed – not celebrated, necessarily, but observed – since 1909, and was initially known as International Working Women’s Day owing to its political (specifically, Socialist) roots. The day’s history is one of strikes and protests, and here are some in India this year: a silent protest by Garment Labour Union in Bangalore, a double-observance of Savitribhai Phule’s death anniversary called Chalo Nagpur, and.. I can’t even find one more to finish my sentence nicely. I dearly hope there are more.

The pink-hued capitalism and condescension we see around us this week demeans the day’s true meaning. How shall we observe it next year?

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on March 9th 2017. “The Venus Flytrap” appears on Thursdays in Chennai’s City Express supplement.