Self-Care: A Novel' Is Just As Annoyed by Girlboss Culture As You Are

Leigh Stein's new novel rips apart the fakeness and performativeness of the wellness influencer world.
Bettina Makalintal
Brooklyn, US
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Earlier this year, The Cut ran a hate read-worthy profile of Rachelle Hruska MacPherson, whose fashion brand Lingua Franca sells $400 cashmere sweatshirts embroidered with phrases like "Cuomosexual," "I miss Barack," and "I didn't vote for him." It read, "Lingua Franca and the rise of the resistance socialite." If that all—the price, the bourgeoisness, the performance of wearing the word "Cuomosexual"—makes you gag and not in a good way, then you'll thank yourself for adding Leigh Stein's Self-Care: A Novel to your reading list.


Though Self Care is a novel, Stein so perfectly captures that specific type of online, liberal, millennial, #girlboss white feminism that I checked multiple times to make sure it was a work of fiction and not, in fact, journalism. Self-Care stars Maren Gelb and Devin Avery, co-founders of a wellness-themed social network called Richual. Maren and Devin navigate the start-up world, New York City, the #riseandgrind of "hustle culture," and all the boutique fitness classes, confessional social media posts, and cutesy trappings of faux feminism—like beach towels that spell out "Believe Victims" in fern leaves, and a video series called "Stay Woke, Y'all"—in between.

The chapters alternate between the perspectives of Maren, Devin, and their sole employee of color, Khadijah. Interspersed are press releases that bear striking similarity to the ones in my inbox, Slack conversations, and even a schedule for a women's empowerment business conference that seems like something Sophia Amoruso would have spoken at.

Though Maren and Devin's world looks nice, they're faced with the fakeness and the hypocrisy of the wellness world, and as glowing reviews have pointed out, Self-Care couldn't be better timed, since girlboss empires are toppling: Audrey Gelman left The Wing, Jen Gotch resigned from Ban.do, Sophia Amoruso stepped down as CEO of Girlboss, and so on.

If you're a woman in a large American city between 24 and 35; if you're familiar with The Wing; if you've ever used ClassPass for barre; if you watched The Goop Lab, earnestly; if you get ads for Instagram bait therapy and gynecology start-ups, then Self-Care will be the rose gold-bordered mirror to reflect back that curated millennial life and all its flaws. You'll cringe at how much Self-Care knows, but you'll also laugh at yourself and the inanity of this culture. You will probably feel a little attacked. To quote another girlboss: Lean in.

For millennial women, this lifestyle of performative self-care is sold to us so often, and many of us can think how nice, in theory, it would be to be able to afford regular Daily Harvest smoothies while living in Outdoor Voices athleisure and taking $35+ per session fitness classes. While Self-Care gets the appeal of it all, it reminds us through incisive writing, knowing quips, and characters just shy of being caricatures that, sometimes, all the self-care we can buy still isn't enough to release the hollowness of this mortal coil. And that's fine, you can't buy your way out of everything!

The book goes down as easily as an episode of The Bold Type, and paired with a glass of rosé, Self-Care is the perfect bath read. With curvy black letters on a millennial pink cover, it even looks the part—you'll likely want to take a picture of your book, wine, bath bubbles, and candles, and post it. It's exactly what you were intended to do.

Self-Care: A Novel is available for purchase through Bookshop.org and other online book retailers, at your local bookstore, or as an audiobook at Audible, Apple, and more.