Most nights, Alisha Ramos unwinds from her day with a skincare ritual.
“I love spending 15 to 20 minutes on a several-step skincare routine — I double cleanse, once with an oil cleanser and a second time with a different cleanser,” she tells Refinery29. It’s not only a skincare routine, however. Ramos says that her regimen is how she practices self-care.
“I think having that ritual is very calming,” she says. “It’s something you can count on, you’re investing in yourself.”
Investing in yourself, in fact, is the theme of the month at Girls' Night In, Ramos’ startup focused on encouraging self-care through staying in and having, well, girls' nights in, and connecting with your friends in a low-key, intimate way. Instead of framing self-care as self-improvement, where you’re meant to think of yourself and your body as something to polish or make better, Girls' Night In posits that self-investment, or devoting time and care for yourself, as a more thoughtful alternative.
The company, which Ramos founded in January 2017 after getting burned out from her own career in tech, seeks to rethink how women take care of themselves in a world where the news cycle only seems to get more and more anxiety-inducing, and our love for social media has become increasingly linked to poorer mental health.
Ramos, who saw a rise in anxiety amongst herself and her friends after the presidential election in 2016 (which, by the way, they weren't alone in experiencing), wanted the company to be a community for women to focus on looking after themselves.
“I really wanted to create something that helps people get away from [the news cycle], something that brought a little bit of joy into people’s lives,” she says.
That little bit of joy is infused through Girls' Night In's newsletters, which sends a list of recommended self-care articles from the site itself, in addition to pieces from around the web, to subscribers' email inboxes every Friday morning, as well as through the Girls' Night In bookclub (past books have included The Power and Goodbye, Vitamin). As of now, the newsletter has more than 25,000 subscribers, and the company has expanded their book club meet-ups to seven cities, including New York and San Francisco.
"I think staying in and practicing self-care is having a huge cultural moment right now, especially among millennial women," Ramos says. That's one of the reasons why she was initially hesitant to brand her startup as one focused on self-care, specifically. “I did see it becoming such a huge trend, and I didn’t want anyone to think we were latching onto that trend,” she says.
Her wariness is understandable. In the last few years, self-care has become a sort of fad, one that has become tied to millennials and millennial women, in particular. In the last five years, people have been Googling “self-care” at an increased rate, and according to market research company IRI worldwide, self-care has become a $400 billion industry. Scented candles have essentially become synonymous with instant self-care, popular YouTubers are releasing mental health-based videos that also function as advertisements for sponsored products, and even mainstream brands like Nordstrom are getting in on the movement with wellness-themed pop-up stores and products.
Marni Amsellem, PhD, a clinical psychologist at Smart Health Psychology, says that it's not surprising that self-care has become a trend that people and brands have latched onto.
"The term is certainly a buzzword right now, and there’s a whole industry around it because it can sell things and ideas, and it's marketable," she says, pointing to brands that tap into people's emotional desires and purport to sell experiences to enrich your life and make you feel better.
While we all love a good bubble bath, many people have criticized the treat yo'self brand of self-care, arguing that it can be superficial, and distract from what it really means to take care of your needs.
But in a moment when self-care has become commodified and trendy, weaved into internet influencers’ personal brands, Ramos says that Girls' Night In is here to help women get to exactly what it is that helps you feel better as an individual. Though it's not a counseling service, and Ramos isn't a mental health specialist, the brand wants to offer women a space to prioritize the ways they take care of themselves.
And during a time when loneliness is so widespread that governments are appointing ambassadors to tackle it as a public health issue, and millennials are bonding over loneliness by building robust, meme-based online communities, Ramos hopes to look ahead with the company by doubling down on helping women take care of themselves through friendship and community.
"Having friends is literally good for your health, but at the same time, it can be difficult to make new friends, and that’s something we’re thinking about," she says. "Because we think that while it’s important for you to stay in and recharge and do all those things, it’s a balancing act, and it’s really important to create meaningful connections with other people and we hope we can help in that aspect."
Self-care at its core, she says, is about nourishing and nurturing your inner life, but as it becomes more in vogue, she fears that it may become diluted as brands begin to capitalize on it by focusing on what people need to buy to feel better. While Girls' Night In certainly isn’t opposed to a good shopping spree, Ramos is trying to take things a step further than the marketable form of self-care that brands often push.
Of course, there's nothing wrong with treating yourself to a luxurious bath bomb or presenting said bath bomb on Instagram with the perfect filter if that's what makes you feel good. Caring for yourself comes in different forms — maybe capturing that aesthetically pleasing photo of your new bedspread and bringing more beauty into your life is your way of taking care of yourself. But what really matters when it comes down to it is that you’re actually practicing self-care, in whatever form it takes for you.
As Dr. Amsellem puts it, taking care of yourself starts when you ask yourself, “What are my needs right now?”
"There are standard things that the wellness industry will tell you is great for self-care — which they certainly can be — like getting a massage," she says. "But there are so many other things that allow also allow for a connection with yourself. Taking that time to really hone in on what our needs are and doing something about it can be huge."
Sometimes that means finally taking a sick day at work when you're not feeling well, or saving that perfect photo for a #latergram if you're feeling worn out by your social media feed. It could mean going to therapy, or even just reaching out to a friend to catch up.
How we nurture and nourish ourselves is such a broad topic that as people try to nail down what it really means to practice self-care, they're bound to run into solutions that may seem trivial, or even superficial, to others — and that's okay. What's important is that people are taking that time to figure out how they can prioritize emotional health.
To that end, what Ramos and Girls' Night In are trying to do is to help women get to the root of what self-care is for them, both as a solitary act and as something they can do within a community. And whether you desperately need reminders to take a moment for yourself, or you consider yourself a self-care guru, that's something we could all probably use a little help in figuring out.