You may be surprised that I would move on to pampering after being adamant that self-care is more than face masks and scented candles, but I think it’s a natural progression. In a wellness context, pampering is those little indulgences that allow us to slow down for something special once in a while. I know the language of indulgence feels like I’m trying to square a circle, but what if we didn’t think of these acts as something we do for ourselves, as a treat, but as acts that slow us down, create extra space for prayer, or spiritual readings, or just rest, and give the people around us a renewed and energised us? It doesn’t have to be something excessive either. If you take showers every day but one evening you soak yourself in bath salts with a good book, that’s pampering. If you have a basic skincare routine and get a facial (at home or at a beauty salon) every so often, the facial is pampering.
If you are always short on time and take a full shower in about 5 minutes but one day your husband is home and taking care of the kids so you just stay in silence under the stream of warm water clearing your head of preoccupations, that’s pampering. Going on retreat, for me, is a form of spiritual pampering.
Most of pampering, as you know, would revolve around beauty. It’s easy to jump to the conclusion that, therefore, it must be wrong, but I would argue that this comes from a misunderstanding of what modesty really means. It’s easy to think (when reading passages like those in 1 Timothy or 1 Peter) that anything other than plain dresses is un-Christian, but it’s as easy to fall into a pattern of pride when our lack of adornment does not reflect the adorning of the interior that the Apostles were talking about in those letters. We can judge women who do take care of their skin, or wear make-up, or keep their hair beautiful with regular visits to the hairdresser as vain, forgetting that a) a lot of modesty is a societal standard and b) not everything to do with the exterior is coming out of vanity.
If I tell you to picture a professional woman, what does she look like? Chances are you are picturing someone polished, who looks like she has her life together. Is it an unfair prejudice that we judge competence from how we carry ourselves? Indeed, but that’s what most of us are conditioned to think, so it would be difficult for someone to live in such a society and not play by these rules. We are very image-oriented and to live differently, if done in true humility, is a form of ascetic mortification. You are giving up all of the implied benefits that meeting the standard does. However, for most of us with a calling in the world, it’s alright to take care of ourselves in moderation.
The Church has a lot to say about virtue (here’s a great talk if you want to explore the subject), but in short, virtue is what’s in the middle between two extremes. Modesty is, according to St Thomas Aquinas, an aspect of the virtue of temperance, which is the medium between doing too much of something and doing too little of something. Like self-care is taking care of our needs in the sweet spot between mortification that is not spiritually beneficial and selfishness, pampering, if done right, sits on the sweet spot between thinking too much of ourselves and thinking too little of ourselves.
This episode of the Food Medic Podcast with Dr Anjali Mahto breaks down skincare to the basic and contains a routine with the only things most of us need for healthy skin from the outside.
This clay face mask from The Body Shop has been a favourite with me for years. I use what I get in goodie bags but if I have to buy something, this one is it. It only needs the average time of a decade of the rosary to work before you need to wash it off, which is great if you can’t sit around for 15-20+ minutes at a time.
Big Blue bath bomb by Lush. I am also partial to the Black Rose and the Sex one (don’t let the name put you off), but if you want to feel like you are soaking in the sea while you’re not able to leave your own bathroom in the city that’s a good one for this time of quarantine.
If you are looking for a recommendation to read in your soaking (or some other time), High Heels and Holiness is one of those books I have almost fully underlined, and keep going back to.
Rooted in the Word
I clothed you with embroidered cloth and with sandals of fine leather; I bound you in fine linen and covered you with rich fabric. I adorned you with ornaments: I put bracelets on your arms, a chain on your neck, a ring on your nose, ear-rings in your ears, and a beautiful crown upon your head. You were adorned with gold and silver, while your clothing was of fine linen, rich fabric, and embroidered cloth. You had choice flour and honey and oil for food. You grew exceedingly beautiful, fit to be a queen. Your fame spread among the nations on account of your beauty, for it was perfect because of my splendour that I had bestowed on you, says the Lord God.
New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition (NRSVACE)
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Catholic Edition, copyright © 1989, 1993 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.