Since the turn of the 21st century there has been increasing popular engagement with the phenomenon of self-care. By this I mean those (sometimes everyday) activities that individuals carry out to manage and restore their own health, both mental and physical. This is how self-care has been most commonly understood within Western healthcare and clinical settings (Levin and Idler, 1983). However, themes of self-care have been co-opted by consumer brands within marketing campaigns, particularly targeted at women. Products and services are sold with the promise of relaxation, fulfilment and wellness – sometimes with a substantial price-tag attached, and with the expectation that consumers are able-bodied. Alcohol brands have also been found to draw upon similar, feminised themes of respite, reward and time-out within their marketing in order to present a healthful interpretation of alcohol-consumption. Wine or gin is sometimes portrayed as a key, constituent part in a woman’s self-care routine (Atkinson et al., 2021). Indeed, this is quite the departure from the self-care that was practiced within radical feminist circles of the Women’s Liberation Movement (Dudley-Shotwell, 2020) and Audre Lorde’s writings on living with cancer: Lorde described her self-care as ‘a political decision as well as a life-saving one’ (1988 , p. 130).
This rise to prominence of self-care has coincided with the emergence of women-founded, UK-based online sobriety communities that utilise social media platforms to help people change their relationship with alcohol, such as Club Soda, Sober Girl Society and Sober & Social. These communities primarily facilitate peer to peer support and sometimes provide additional services, including coaching and social events. The majority of their members are women, compared to men, who are less likely to utilise traditional, evidence-based treatment programmes (Davey, 2021).
In a recent open-access, peer-reviewed article (Davey, 2022), I explored the ways in which women, who utilise or lead online sobriety communities, conceptualise their sobriety as a form of physical and mental self-care. I found that women draw on discourses of wellbeing to position sobriety as a practice of individualised, embodied self-care whereby they experience improvements to their physical, mental and menstrual health. Women used sobriety as a strategy of care for their minds and bodies when medical assistance was lacking or not forthcoming.