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When Did V-Day Become Me-Day?

SYLVIE FLORMAN // FEBRUARY 23, 2018

Art by Sylvie Florman.

The realities of Valentine’s Day have long been disputed, and whether you are a true believer in love and the story of St. Valentine, or you’re a sucker for the cupid that was cultivated by mega corporations like Hallmark, it’s indisputable that the celebration of Valentine’s Day relies heavily upon material objects and the commercialization of love. In my former years, Valentine’s Day entailed waking up to chocolate and a handwritten note from my over-involved parents, and coming home with a bag full of lollipops and sweetarts from the entire third grade classroom. In High School, sex and dating changed the day, and the holiday was spent overindulging on heart shaped Reese’s cups, while avoiding my APUSH homework and mocking the happy couples that my friends and I weren’t a part of. Halfway through High School though, like all other conversations and social interactions, confessions of admiration and confirmations of love that were once expressed through expensive chocolate and roses moved onto social media platforms, more specifically, Instagram. Places like Instagram and Facebook cultivate a culture in which people we’ve met once, or have possibly never met at all, become spectators of our most intimate moments and privy to the inner workings of our relationships and lives, and the day of love is no exception. In fact, perhaps more than any other day of the year, I become acutely aware of just how many of my Instagram followers are seemingly fulfilled by their love life. Valentine’s Day Instagrammers have always fallen into categories: The PDA-over-sharer, the Instagram shout out to your Mom, and perhaps the most popular genre of post this year– the Valentine’s Day post-to-self. Seemingly more than any time before, friends, celebrities, and brands boasted about expressing a little “self-love” this past Valentine’s Day. This act, perhaps a declaration of protest against the conventional romantic celebration of the holiday, or a statement against societal expectations and norms of love and relationships, seemed to be the theme of this year’s Valentine’s Day. Valentine’s Day has always faced protest from the lonely and the grumpy. This year’s protest of the holiday didn’t seem to be about the aches and pains of being single, but rather an attempt to reclaim and redefine the holiday. But, does this holiday really need a reformation? When did V-Day become Me-Day? Self-awareness and self-care can be critical in improving both mental and physical health, and are concepts Oberlin students are familiar with. This year, perhaps more than ever before, we as Oberlin students, and elsewhere, should participate in a little “me-day” ritual– a year after Trump, a year full of sexual-assault accusations that can be triggering and emotionally taxing, a year in which you might have been constantly at odds with yourself, constantly put in positions where you were made uncomfortable in ways beyond your control, let alone defending your identity and your rights––spending a day celebrating yourself is more than just acceptable, it’s encouraged. But just like Valentine’s Day itself, self-care has become a social and commercial trend, that was grossly exploited this Valentine’s Day. On February 13th, The New York Times posted an article entitled, Treat Yourself for Valentine’s Day, which listed 10 products to buy this Valentines day, rationalizing, “there’s little reason not to think of the day as an excuse to buy something nice for yourself.” These suggestions ranged from a $100 bathrobe, to a $600 suitcase. Lavish materialism has become the norm in celebrating Valentine’s Day. This type of article appeared on a variety of sites, from our most trusted news sources to our trashy sources of celebrity gossip, but regardless of the producer, the tone was consistent: treat yourself to something nice, especially if no one else will. Many articles also project feelings of a deep disappointment or depression because you don’t have someone to buy you $50 incense, implying a lack of independence both emotionally and financially, as if one would not or could not buy myself something nice any other day. It is also impossible to ignore the sheer ridiculousness of the NYT article. In suggesting the best way to celebrate Valentine’s day is to spend obscene amounts of money on accessories you haven’t been missing, it implies also that this day is reserved not only for the romantic, but also for the rich. These articles exploit and twist the idea of “self-care” by tapping into our wallets on a day that can be hard when it doesn’t meet social or personal expectations. So, when we treat ourselves to roses and chocolates it seems we are hardly really engaging in a protest of Valentine’s Day conventions. The flowers and treats that we indulge in are hardly independent impulses, but rather purchases that are manipulated, expected, and encouraged by the companies and stores from which we buy them. In fact, we are supporting a commercialization of the self, just as Valentine’s Day has evolved into a commercialization and exploitation of our relationships and love for others. Especially for young women who have been taught that Valentine’s day is either to celebrate or to sulk, instead of protesting this day of romance, we are feeding into it exactly the way Hallmark hoped we would! I’m not in any way suggesting that material acts of love on Valentine’s Day, or any other day, are to be avoided. Yummy food and plants are influential to anyones happiness, but as Oberlin students who pride themselves on being critical of big-business agendas and vocal about the exploitation of self, perhaps it is time this holiday moves not away from romance, but away from candy, flowers, and indulgence. Buy yourself a plant, bake yourself some cookies, you deserve a break, you deserve something nice, but stop pretending that in buying yourself roses you’ve escaped personal and social expectations and ideals of love, or that buying yourself flowers is equated with self-acceptance and independence. You are not escaping the Valentine’s Day monster, you’re simply feeding it with more money and superficiality. As we think about the ways we participated in Valentine’s Day this year, we should think about the ways we can engage in love each day by taking a note from our third-grade selves. Let’s share a little more love with our friends and a little more love with our families, and remember that self-love does not mean indulgence, and consumerism is not the answer to to loneliness, even in a place as cold and isolated as Oberlin, OH.

Contact contributing writer Sylvie Florman at sflorman@oberlin.edu.