Looking back to 2017, it seems quaint that such an event might have made waves in the femi-verse, and yet … and yet. Toggling between satire and clear-eyed sincerity, Self Care is nothing if not extremely on the nose ... Though the turmoil at the center of Self Care is entertaining, its twist ending a clawed swipe at the irony of the scarcity myth—the zero-sum foundation of capitalism—it’s not the thing that kept me reading. Instead, it was Stein’s deft navigation of the shades of superficial feminism, the lexicon of start-up culture and the tone of a generation reckoning with how to be honest with itself ... Stein...has a knack for aping the internet’s rhythms and tics, and her fluency in its hyperbolic headlines, fluffy PR-approved statements and off-the-cuff Slack missives is superb (though the rendering of these elements, in text bubbles and press release formatting, felt a little twee). Self Care is peppered with delicious, hateful details ... The pile-on eventually becomes a game for the reader, an updated, feminized riff on American Psycho. How many yuppie New York allusions can you spot? ... Published in a time of overlapping national emergencies, Self Care looks like a fully formed artifact, a portal back to a moment when catty tweets, the takedown of wellness charlatans and the spectacle of startup scandals felt urgent.
Self Care is the bitchy beach read for people who wear a 'Bitches Get Shit' done T-shirt, but who are also well-versed in debates about reclaiming the word 'bitch.' Stein is the kind of writer who would be at home both in The New Yorker and on a Tumblr page devoted to writing poems about The Bachelor. It’s no wonder she has crafted a book that is extremely readable, often laugh-out-loud funny, and loaded with pop culture references, internet lingo, Instagram hashtags, and every major and minor viral scandal of the early Trump years. This isn’t to say it’s pure fluff, though you’d be forgiven for thinking it, it’s such a quick read. At its core, it’s a very clever satire, sometimes a bit too smug, but with a deft hand behind it ... Khadijah is written earnestly from the get-go—a savvy move, given she is the one Black character in our trio of narrators ... On the other hand, this gingerly approach to her point of view means there is less of it as the story unfolds, and she ends up being somewhat drowned out by the other two, white narrators. It’s a solid attempt, but Khadijah’s presence in the book never fully transcends the white feminism™ it purports to ... The ending is unsettling and hints at a much darker subtext than the previous pages revealed. It’s as if Stein put on her own sunbathed filter, preferring to keep the tone bright through most of the book until the very shadowy finish, and one wishes it would have emerged earlier.
Stein’s light touch keeps her tone sparkly, but when the subject of sexual assault comes up, things darken. Although Self Care is a mite too short to do justice to its subject matter, Stein throws a classic accusation of abuse at one of Richual’s most important investors ... Despite all their public 'badassery' around protecting women, neither Maren nor Devin can find a minute to listen to Khadijah’s actual problems, which build over the course of the novel until we cannot but wish she would walk out the door with a match thrown over her shoulder, like Bernadine in Waiting to Exhale ... Amid all this multivalent offensiveness, Stein throws in some stark truths, like the fact that all this controversy might, in the long term, be good for the paradigmatically canceled feminist founder ... Self Care proves Leigh Stein’s status as a great 'demolition expert' (Kenneth Tynan’s term for Bernard Shaw) of the influencer era.