The Value of Cute Self-Care

Photo by Alex Pavlou

Self-care can be exhausting work, doing the hard things required to take care of yourself even when you don’t have the time, energy or inclination. It’s not all lavender-scented candles, big fluffy blankets and cuddles with kittens. That said, there’s nothing wrong with self-care that is comforting, affirmational or cute.

In fact, a Japanese study from 2012 found genuine benefits to looking at cute pictures. Participants performed better at several types of tasks involving focus and motivation after looking at novel baby animal pictures. If a little cuteness in your life helps you feel better, it’s probably a good thing.

One creator tapping the cuteness market is Francesca Timbers, who creates wonderful temporary tattoos and enamel pins.

Timbers is a psychology student who coped with depression and suicidality after a being diagnosed with a serious health issue in her final year at the University of London. She describes the situation on her Etsy page:

What I felt in that moment; helpless, trapped, like I was in a burning building, and this was the only way out. This is something *many* people have felt at some point in their lives, but considering so many people experience it, we hear so little about it.

So she set out to create something to help other people going through the same thing: a series of temporary motivational bandage tattoos that she initially funded through kickstarter. Hundreds of backers flocked to get cute, cartoony tattoos featuring motivational words and phrases like “You Are Worth It,” “Courage” and “Believe In Yourself.”

In a conversation with Mashable, she explained that they’re not meant to replace professional help or serious self-care, but that they can be powerful nonetheless.

“The temporary tattoos serve as little pick-me-ups and reminders throughout daily life. It’s also a symbol, a way to connect people, and spread awareness of mental health,” she continues.

Timbers says that because the tattoos are visible on a person’s skin they’re effective as a constant reminder throughout the day. “Because it’s constantly there on your skin, it’s harder to ignore,” says Timbers.

From tattoos, she moved on to making pins with similar designs. They provide a tactile experience that can help center someone dealing with anxiety or panic. Through her store, she now offers a whole collection of cute, helpful items, like thought bubble cards where you can write your worries before dissolving them, a self-care zine she’s temporarily giving away as a printable, and other products that make mental illness seem a little more manageable and a lot less scary.

The products also come with supportive messages and resources for things like 4-7-8 breathing.

Hope Street Cards is another company making light of mental illness for the sake of those suffering. Sisters Sam and Trudy started a greeting card line designed for people who want to support their friends and loved ones who are dealing with mental health issues.

Huffington Post describes the disappointment of failing to find any such cards on more than one difficult occasion.

‘Hope Street’ online card shop came about after Sam, the company’s co-founder, wanted to send a card to her friend’s son who had attempted to take his life. She didn’t know how to show her support or show that they were thinking of him as there were no cards available that could convey this.

Shortly after, Sam, who is a psychologist, was hospitalised in a private psychiatric ward with mental health issues. While she was staying there, she realised that hardly anyone on the ward had received cards or flowers. The lack of support mental health patients received was heartbreaking.

Many of the cards she creates with her sister have light, cheerful messages — much like Take This, Hope Street Cards believes in the power of hope. “If only trophies were awarded for contemplating catastrophes,” reads one. Another reads “Would it help if I built you a pillow fort, covered it in fairy lights and sat with you in it all day whilst stroking your back?” Twee, yes. But also, as someone who’s experienced the isolation that comes with depression, it kinda might help, yeah.

From Hope Street Cards

Hope Street doesn’t stop at cuteness. Each card also comes with information about the disorders they address — not for the recipient, but for the sender. Anyone who cares enough to find and send a card like this probably cares enough to educate themselves, and Hope Street makes that easy with evidence-based information and tips on how to offer support. A dollar from each purchase also goes to support mental health charities related to the issue of the card being purchased.

Even in video games, there’s a move toward looking at mental illness with an eye for the cute side. Consume Me, by Jenny Jiao Hsia, is an adorable take on disordered eating.

Jenny made a compelling argument for the power of cuteness at a GDC talk earlier this year, explaining how cute, silly designs can make serious topics more palatable.

Stigma tells us that we should be quiet about our mental health issues — and that if we must talk about them, we should do it very, very seriously. No smiles or laughs allowed, no self-acceptance, and certainly no self-care that isn’t purely about the base necessities of life. Not if you’re really ill.

In reality, a little laughter, a little hope, a little cuteness — none of it can replace treatment, but it can all help let the light in. I signed up for a monthly sticker pack recently, and you know what? Some days the thing that keeps me working on my therapist-recommended worry journal is knowing I can finish it off with a sticker of an unhappy Japanese egg.

Cuteness is almost always harmless, it’s joyful, and if it helps, it helps. You don’t have to be ashamed of that, so it’s probably safe to give yourself permission to include a little cheer in your self-care if that’s what you need. Your tub isn’t going to glitter bath bomb itself, there are kittens out there that need cuddles, and there’s cuteness everywhere for you to find.

Here — I’ll start.

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