A Fascinating Look at What "Self-Care" Means Around the World
At Byrdie HQ, it's our MO to celebrate beauty from every corner of the world. The beauty customs of different cultures are unique and steeped in history, and by learning about them, we're able to expand our own perspectives (not to mention pick up a life-changing new tip or two). That's why we're proclaiming this week Global Beauty Week and paying special homage to women far and wide, from Thailand to Russia and beyond. Each day, we'll honor the beauty practices, trends, and traditions of our sisters around the globe—complex, intriguing, and versatile as they are. Enjoy!
It's hard to ignore that "self-care" is having a proverbial moment in the United States. Due to a combination of stress-inducing phenomena swirling in our culture at the moment (the current political climate not excluded), everything from foot scrubs to blowouts is being touted as a way to treat yourself.
But just as Kim Kardashian West did not invent contouring, the American beauty industry did not invent self-care. As Jessica Crispin, author of Why I'm Not a Feminist: a Feminist Manifesto, told The Muse earlier this year, "The self-care thing [has gotten] so warped and turned into something ridiculous. … It's not self-care if someone else is doing your hair." In other words, as self-care becomes a more popular mainstream trend, we find ourselves losing sight of what mental and physical healing really look like.
To get some perspective, we decided to look beyond America's modern wellness practices to see how other cultures do self-care. We spoke with beauty experts, models, and cultural specialists from 11 different countries and got their insights on the traditions and rituals that the rest of the world uses to maintain mental and physical health. Intrigued? Keep scrolling to learn the self-care practices of Japan, Pakistan, Argentina, and beyond.
Danner Mountain Light Cascade Hiking Boots ($360)
"Having been born and raised in Switzerland, I grew up always surrounded by mountains and lakes. Everyone hiked the trails, no matter how rigorous, and would make a day or weekend out of it with packed lunches and camping gear. We called these nature retreats our 'wellness weekends,' and it was our way to relax and rejuvenate." — Lisa Parigi, model and entrepreneur
Slip Silk Sleep Mask ($45)
"I previously worked in Taiwan for three years, and I learned a lot about what people there do for self-care. Because people work long hours (from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.), they make sure to take naps during their lunch hours in the office. In fact, offices will turn off the lights at noon for a calming environment to sleep." — Alice Lin, esthetician and owner of Wonderland Organics
drinking rose water
Wild Foods Whole Dried Pink Roses Pieces ($13)
"Drinking rose water has ancient origins in cultures such as Persia, the Middle East, Egypt, North Africa, Greece, Ancient Rome, and India as part of Ayurvedic medicine. The alchemists of Persia and the Middle East were fond of drinking rose water for beauty—and Cleopatra was also a big fan. In Lebanon, where I am from, we have something called white tea, which is hot water with rose water. Rose water plumps up the skin, helps acne, has anti-inflammatory effects, and reduces wrinkles and age spots due to its antioxidants." — Gabrielle Francis, DC, naturopathic doctor
long, social dinners
"People in Europe spend much more time together. I am Czech, but my mum is German, and I lived in Italy for many years. Dinners in Italy take at least two hours—you talk a lot between meals, and it's all part of the experience. Italians just don't rush or stress at all, especially when it comes to food." — Kateřina Částková, model with MSA Models
Talkspace Online Therapy ($30)
"In Latin America, there is almost no stigma attached to seeking psychological therapy. It's something on your calendar like anything else, so it's common to hear, 'I can't make it tonight; I'm seeing my therapist.' In fact, Argentina has the highest number of psychologists per capita in the world, according to the World Health Organization." — Annalisa Nash Fernandez, cultural specialist
coconut scalp massages
Cocovit Coconut Oil ($38)
"As a stress-relieving mother-daughter bonding ritual, my mom would always put coconut oil in my hair growing up. While she was watching TV on the sofa and I would be sitting on the floor of our living room, she would really vigorously massage the coconut oil into my head because it makes your hair insanely soft, silky, and would always help with the occasional dryness and dandruff. For a lot of my south Asian friends, this is a common practice!" — Rida Shaikh, member of The Beauty Line
Huffy Ladies Nassau Cruiser Bike ($150)
"When people of my city, Lima, Peru, feel stressed because of different things such as labor problems, traffic, and pollution, they tend to go for a walk along the viewpoint of miraflores or ride a bicycle next to the beach and appreciate the sunsets. When they have a little more time and money, they tend to travel within Peru. Destinations such as Machu Picchu and Máncora's beaches are very crowded for Peruvians because they're disconnected from the capital city, so you can enjoy the beauty of nature, which has no price, for a few days. This definitely removes the stress from anyone." — Paula Montes Pastor, model with MSA Models
Hammer & Hand
"Japan has been about wellness long before the term wellness came into play in the U.S.—from matcha and green tea (loaded with antioxidants and found in a variety of different food, supplements, and drink) to diet (seaweed, sesame, mushrooms—all superfoods). But one of the most notable aspects about Japan is its love for the bath and the bathhouse.
"Japanese bathhouses (known as onsens when using hot spring water, sentos when using heated tap water) are a mainstay throughout the country and are considered both physically beneficial for aches and pains as well as a chief method of boosting wellness and reducing stress.
"One of the better onsens in Tokyo is called Spa LaQua, located near the Tokyo Dome. They offer hot spring tubs, various gemstone saunas for detoxing, and every spa service you can imagine: ear cleaning, massage, scalp care, even a special sauna for the uterus. There are also nap rooms and really fantastic food. It's an all-day retreat that's completely affordable and gives you a major reset.
"Even if people aren't at the onsen, they take nightly baths at home to relax, always showering outside of the ofuro (bathtub) before entering. The tub is filled only with hot water. Its purpose isn't to get clean, but to relax and prepare for sleep. They're super deep, so the water comes up to your chin. Incredibly relaxing after a day running through Tokyo!" — Cynthia Popper, DHC Skincare editor
"In Brazil, self-help in a national pastime. Brazilians are very spiritual and proactive when it comes to mental and physical well-being. Self-help books dominate the best-sellers lists in Brazil, crowding out traditional literature." — Fernandez
"Before I go to bed, I love to take a steam or a sauna to prepare for a good night's rest and rejuvenation. Being Swedish, I grew up with a sauna in my house, so I'm used to doing it every day, and it's one of my must-do routines. Hot sauna or steam and a cold shower is the key to consistent health and beauty for me. When you raise the temperature like we do in the sauna, you trick the body that you have a fever, so it goes into healing mode and starts to heal your already healthy body. That's why northerners rarely get sick and maintain beautiful healthy skin even, though we are fair and sensitive to the sun." — Karin Agstam, model with MSA Models
a cuppa tea
Twinings English Breakfast Tea ($10)
"There are no traditional English cultural methods for stress management—well, apart from girl chats and a cuppa tea. (That's a cup of English tea with milk and a biscuit!)" — Holly Croft, model with MSA Models
What is your go-to wellness practice? Tell us in the comments below!