Author and wellness blogger Gala Darling with her new book, Radical Self-Love. Photo: Gala Darling Instagram
More often than not, I'm more than happy for the internet world and the IRL world to remain separate. There's a time and a place for sassy Communist memes, and it's strictly online. Increasingly, though, there's an internet-ism I wish would spring from the pages of forums and blogs and be promoted to mandatory usage in publishing: ymmv.
That's "your mileage may vary", for those of you who've not been lurking since the late-'90s, and it's typically used as a disclaimer masquerading as a full-stop. "It was on sale at my local for 40% off, but ymmv", for example. Or, say, "I used Crayola Model Magic to make my Tusken Raider mask, ymmv" (ripped from the pages of my autobiography).
Where the very concept of ymmv (not to mention rational thought) has completely evaporated, however, is in the ever-booming self-help scene.
Enter Gala Darling's Radical Self-Love, published last month by Penguin. This latest collection of sparkly half-truths to find its way to bookshelves is, in fact, not a new one - Darling has been pushing her "radical self-love" agenda for years online, and in an e-book of the same name, but it is now in print.
The book, much like her long-running blog, promises to help the reader "gain a litany of tools and techniques to help […] manifest a life that bursts with magic, miracles, bliss and adventure". (Whee!)
From quitting sugar to eating raw food to touching crystals and beyond, these tomes are not pushed as interesting one-offs - or, indeed, autobiographies that happen to hinge on diet or lifestyle - but rather, as the key to paradigm-shattering change.
("Individual results may vary" may well be the eternal half-arsed Get Out Of Jail Free card of the diet industry, but that doesn't stop various Instagram-famous #fitspo celebrities from suggesting their workout plan - and only theirs - is going to change your life.)
There's no "might" or "could" or "did, in this one instance" here; rather "did", "will" and "can" are the order of the day.
This is clear in the tone of a Daily Mail profile on Darling this week, which heavily implies that conquering depression is as easy as "writing down all the compliments you receive in a year [...] She says that by writing it down, you can refer to the compliments when having a bad day and feel more positive."
Forgive me for raining on the cupcake party, but as someone who can say with some confidence that I have finally recovered from roughly two decades of depression, IF ONLY IT WERE AS EASY AS WRITING DOWN COMPLIMENTS. Or, for that matter, "[going] on a #radicalselflovedate - an adventure for one - at least once a week", as the book suggests.
This brand of "radical self-love" - which is entirely separate to the genuinely radical practice, by marginalised people, of self-love in the face of hatred - is merely the latest incarnation of capitalist hooey that has included The Secret in its storied history.
In an excoriating piece on the neoliberal capitalist empire of Oprah Winfrey, Niccole Aschoff wrote, of the ideology of self-help, "This is a fiction. If all or most forms of social and cultural capital were equally valuable and accessible, we should see the effects of this in increased upward mobility and wealth created anew by new people in each generation rather than passed down and expanded from one generation to the next."
(If the whole "neoliberal capitalist" angle seems unfair, consider that Darling's Radical Self-Love Bootcamp downloadable 'course' costs $197. What hashtag does one use on Instagram in order to manifest the money for that?)
But there's a big difference between believing that you deserve that fast car or raise at work, and implying that "manifesting your ideal persona" through "emotional freedom techniques" (a bogus "energy medicine" that makes homeopathic tinctures look like Aspirin) and #radicalselflovedates can help conquer depression.
To be clear, positive-thinking and self-soothing or self-care (not "self-care" of the "just have a bath and listen to Beyonce!" variety) do play an important part in the recovery process. "Infusing your day with magic", on the other hand, is little more than fluff.
It is tempting when we feel we have recovered from long-standing health (physical and mental) issues to tell everyone how we did it. But, as ever, to bring our new favourite acronym back into the mix, ymmv. I have friends for whom medication has worked wonders; it never worked for me. Similarly, some people find therapy a nightmare and would rather eat dirt than practice CBT. But we all agree there are certain accepted methods for dealing with depression - therapy or counselling, medication, exercise, good diet and a decent amount of sleep - and that all or a combination of them can really help manage the situation.
It's where miracle cures become more niche - i.e. the cornerstone of the self-help publishing empire - that things become dangerous. As an example: I genuinely believe that a particular YouTube compilation of "funny cats" helped me survive the darkest days of my nervous breakdown, but while I'm happy to share it with friends who are struggling (or you, enjoy!), I'm not about to tell them that "radical cat lols" are going to change their life - and I'm certainly not going to do so in print, while I take their money.
Mental illness is a profoundly serious issue that most of us will face, either personally, or as the friend, family or carer of a person living with it. Some people will emerge from the husk of depression, while others still may have to live with it, in some form, forever. The idea that "thought leaders" (the new "wellness warriors") could encourage a false sense of hope in vulnerable people through dippy books full of cute illustrations makes me apoplectic with rage.
Radical Self-Love's blurb announces, "When you love yourself, life is limitless. You can do anything you want." Really? You know, in the sage words of the 20th century philosopher A. Powers, I want a toilet made out of solid gold but it's just not on the cards now, is it?
My opinion is that #radicalselflove is a load of privileged claptrap and that publishing a book about it is less a humanitarian gesture than it is another brand management strategy, but, you know, ymmv.