We can't be saved by Wellness Culture. It only makes us sicker
Even while the wellness sector is a relatively new public phenomena, it is not at all new
Since then, a clear line has been formed between wellness and good health: whereas Dunn defined wellness as a "active, continual pursuit" that focuses on the enhancement of the self as defined by the self, good health is defined by Dunn as the absence of illness. This image-conscious view of health has persisted as wellness has expanded and changed into an industry with a projected $1.5 trillion market value.
Wellness offers various opportunities for self-improvement. Pursuing these qualities under the pretext of health is promoted as the key to unlocking a life free from insecurities and concerns. These qualities include increased physical flexibility, mental clarity, a stronger body, cleaner complexion, and shinier hair. Many of the practises that belong under the wellness category, such as meditation and customised exercise programmes, are fun and helpful to many people. It sounds good, and in practise, it may frequently feel good too. There is no question that taking care of your body and mind is healthy for you. However, the way the wellness sector markets itself makes it easy for it to cross the line from beneficial to dangerous.
The end of the wellness tunnel is you: a joyful, radiant you who can easily handle the rigours of life, ideally while balanced on one foot. It is a perfect version of oneself, one that can be attained with only a little bit of willpower and the correct adaptogens.
Some people may find this favourably inspiring. According to Dr. Rumina Taylor, chief clinical officer and clinical psychologist at Hello Self, setting goals for oneself can help us feel motivated, excited, and like we have a purpose in life. Dr. Taylor continues, "These goals are a sort of 'healthy striving' when they are set with flexibility and reasonable expectations. We create attainable goals for ourselves, and the path to success is one of learning. To achieve your goal of being healthy, you must actively pursue it (so that it doesn't turn into a tiresome routine). However, perfectionism can creep in if your drive for self-improvement through wellness is unrealistic, whether consciously or unconsciously. This is especially harmful considering that the wellness culture's claim is that you can only become your "best self" by your own activities, and that "best" can range from being just slightly out of reach to being utterly unachievable.
Dr. Tom Curran is a social psychologist who is a chartered member of the British Psychology Society with a focus on perfectionism. He is an assistant professor in the LSE department of psychological and behavioural science. For R29, he characterises perfectionism as a personality trait with two key components. "The first is an unceasing drive to strive for perfection and faultlessness. When we don't live up to such lofty ideals, the second reaction is a deep disdain or wrath toward ourselves."
Whatever its form—self-directed, motivated by peer pressure, or aimed at others—perfectionism is more about setting extremely high standards for yourself and punishing yourself when you don't meet them. There is no psychological flexibility, making you vulnerable to worry, heightened awareness, and obsession if you fail to live up to your own high expectations. Because they feel essentially inadequate in the first place, many people strive for perfection. This belief is a major driving force for people's interest in wellbeing.
The wellness culture is characterised by both strict standards and harsh consequences. In Dr. Curran's words: "The self-betterment movement holds people accountable for fighting against things they cannot change. But what good is self-improvement if, after all our work, the hostile, competitive, individualistic, pressured, insecure, unstable world is still waiting for us outside?" When pricey spin classes, smoothies, or yoga are designed to help you get clarity about who you are, it can be mentally upsetting when your daily worries or body dissatisfaction persist. But the actions that were intended to aid you are never to blame.
According to Dr. Curran, "the guilt that you impose [for not meeting those standards] is the responsibility that you place on yourself," meaning that you aren't strong or good enough. The entire focus is on what you can manage, which, in his opinion, is more of an industry feature than a flaw. "People tend to blame and criticise themselves a lot when they are under pressure to improve themselves while being silent about the external factors outside of their control. You can understand how that leads to perfectionism as a result."
This might cause a lot of harm. In addition to being extremely harmful in and of itself, perfectionism is co-morbid with a number of other diseases, especially anxiety, OCD, and eating disorders like orthorexia. While the ideal of wellness still involves a beautiful, thin, white lady with glossy hair, which is an unattainable Western beauty standard, a lot of wellness advertising rejects the idea of perfection by employing language that is taken from activist settings (particularly the activism of Audre Lorde and fat activists pushing for radical body acceptance). As a result, your reluctance to accept and love yourself makes it even harder for you to live up to that standard. Your perfectionism becomes yet another personal fault thanks to the wellness sector.
The root of the issue is that wellness culture has always put the self first. Wellness has always been organised around "three tenets: fierce individualism, scepticism of Western medicine, and a devotion to self-optimisation," according to Sirin Kale's article in The Guardian. In reality, this self-centeredness leads to advertising that discreetly offers to allay fears without addressing their root causes, promoting fatphobia and rigid beauty standards. Additionally, it ignores the vast array of environmental and biological factors that are essential in deciding people's health and instead places the entire responsibility for eradicating hardship and sickness in your own willpower. This has historically resulted in a lack of respect for and inaccurate knowledge regarding neurodiversity, chronic illness, and disability, which can have disastrous social repercussions, seen most clearly in the link between wellness movements and debunked COVID vaccine ideas.
The wellness movement ends up freely borrowing from other cultures without considering its impact on those cultures and disengaging with others on a local and global level because of this conviction in your personal wellness coming first.
The fact that "health" is a $1.5 trillion industry only serves to exacerbate everything. Although many of the activities at the centre of the wellness sector—flexibility and fitness, meditation, and self-care—can be advantageous on their own, they are now a part of a larger complex that sells you remedies to your issues, both real and made-up. Why else would you purchase the solution if you hadn't already accepted that there is a problem? In Dr. Curran's words: It is a circular justification for an industry that must expand by capitalising on consumer unhappiness.
In a world full of uncertainty, the wellness sector provides stability. However, by putting so much emphasis on the self, it might skew our perspectives and open the door to dangerous behaviours. The answer is in two directions: first, in a radical acceptance of the self through an unwavering embrace of the self; and second, in a searching for something beyond the self.
This may appear to be a return to Audre Lorde's idea of self-care as preparing for battle. Or, to put it another way, enhancing your own life contributes to enhancing the lives of others. This can take many different shapes and is unique to each person. Perhaps it's practising meditation to control your anxiety so you can interact with your community more effectively; Running a free yoga class for your neighbours might be one way to break free from fatphobic perspectives on bodies and health. Another option is to advocate for improved access to healthcare.
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