Society for Cultural Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Drawing on digital ethnography of Instagram accounts and Facebook pages dedicated to self-care, I trace how a subsection of predominantly white, millennial women in the US construct individual brand identities around a combination of biomedical diagnoses and magical forms of care. Increasingly, people are making sense of their alienation, sadness, and anxiety through DSM-5 diagnoses. Importantly, these labels are often either self-diagnosed or sought out as a medically legitimized way to make sense of suffering. And these biomedical identities are seamlessly entwined with non-biomedical forms of self-care. Crystals, essential oils, herbs, and astrology are all central elements of self-care branding. What’s important here is how self-diagnosis acts as a form of empowerment, as it inverts the historical pattern of oppressive medicalization of gendered and racialized suffering. Whiteness and power here are important: these practices are caught between histories of women creatively mobilizing illness and white women weaponizing fragility.
I ground this in a broader analysis of how, for millennials, self-care functions as a gendered and racialized response to mass precarity and late neoliberalism in the US. Under late neoliberalism, mass precarity and the fragmentation of work has disrupted an earlier labor market logic that shaped popular conceptions of the self. This has left much of the millennial generation without stable life paths and career-centered sources of meaning they were raised to expect. Most significantly, this vacuum has been filled through the development of online personal brand identities and sources of meaning grounded in a medicalized, therapeutic model of selfhood.