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I find the term ‘self-care’ irritating. This is partly because, like words such as ‘wellness,’ ‘fierce’ and even ‘health,’ it’s often tossed around gratuitously by people less interested in its meaning than in associated self-promotion. I strongly endorse the principle of being kind to oneself, but, like many forms of personal development, self-care has been commercialised and gendered at the expense of sincerity. If one were to play self-care word association, they’d probably come up with things like ‘girls’ night,’ ‘spa day,’ ‘massage,’ ‘mini-break,’ ‘yoga’ and ‘lotion’. All fine per se, but generally wrapped up in a Special K woman-come-Instagram influencer vibe of spending money on the ‘right’ things in hopes of becoming a better version of yourself.
So, with that off my chest, I’d like to offer you a few routes to self-care that cost little or no money at all, and are less likely to appear as #spon items on Gen Z celebrities’ social media. Today, I’m going with podcasts.
We all know about podcasts. There are actually more podcasts in the world now than there are people*, and some behemoth examples like My Dad Wrote A Porno, The Guilty Feminist and This American Life are household names. The following list is specifically chosen with self-care in mind. They are safe hands, and you don’t need to ‘need’ care in the areas covered by the pods to feel the benefit of their thoughtful words and humour. My litmus test is: engaging enough to listen to on the go or when you really need distracting, gentle enough to listen to when you can’t sleep.
- Made of Human. Comedian Sofie Hagen chats to interesting people – often comedians, but not exclusively – about their takes on life, how they’ve overcome struggles, their most pressing concerns, and their place in the world. Fatness, gender identity, sexuality, discrimination, relationships, trauma, family and careers are all recurring themes. Sophie is an attentive and considerate interviewer, volunteering her own experience where relevant, but always allowing her subject space to follow their thoughts through. Your Fat Friend, Jessica Fostekew, Jessamyn Stanley, Sara Barron, Susan Calman and Nimko Ali are all great listens.
- Hoovering. Hosted by Jessica Fostekew, who many keen podcasters will recognise as a regular co-host of the Guilty Feminist, this is a very relaxed, very engaging listen. Jessica interviews comedians about their eating history and habits over a meal or snack, which is often prepared by Jess with an endearing amount of forethought. Jess is a very smart, very funny conversationalist, and always quick to address and interrogate her own complicated relationship with food. She asks thoughtful questions around her guest’s eating, all with a very evident respect and love for what’s on their plate. The Jack Monroe, Pierre Novellie, Jess Phillips and Grace Petrie episodes are especially lovely.
- Secret Dinosaur Cult. This is also hosted by Sofie Hagen, but presented alongside fellow comedian Jodie Mitchell, SDC has more lighthearted tone than MOH. It’s recorded as a live show, but not in an annoying way – like, the odd bits of audience interaction don’t hold things up, and work well on audio. The premise is: every week Sofie and Jodie explore a different theme – like debt, getting into comedy, nudity, horniness, and food, which they introduce by way of a type of dinosaur. Both Sofie and Jodie also use the show to explore their daddy issues, which they tackle in segments like ‘daddy hole’ (much funnier and less gross than it sounds). They have brilliant chemistry and are both excellent improvisers, so the chat moves quickly with a high ratio of laughs to facts. All the episodes are can be enjoyed solo – I think they really hit their stride by the fifth or sixth – but for a full appreciation of a few running jokes and callbacks I’d recommend listening in order.
- Authentic Sex. This is a gem. Sexologist and counsellor Juliet Allen talks through all manner of topics related to sex, covering everything from fetishes to strap-ons, casual sex, commitment, intimacy, soft kink, self-pleasure and dozens more. The episodes are low-key and unscripted, generally consisting of Allen talking through subjects off the top of her knowledgeable head. The topics are occasionally seasonal – eg sex rituals to kick-start the new year, but often seem to derive from Allen skimming the top of her brain and seeing what’s most prevalent – or in demand – at the time. The tone is non-judgemental, open, and very informative. Very easy to dip in and out of.
- Don’t Salt My Game. Hosted by intuitive eating coach Laura Thomas PhD, DSMG covers the methods and theories around intuitive eating, and dispenses with the common myths and lies fed to us by diet culture. Laura’s no-nonsense approach is very accessible and sympathetic, and she covers areas like #fitspo, when public health misses the point, and health at every size accompanied by experts in the relevant fields. The general principles of being attuned to your needs and not penalising yourself apply far beyond a relationship with food, and make for a forgiving and companionable listen whatever your baggage.
Holly is a freelance writer and editor based in London. She writes regularly for CNN and The New Statesman, among others.