Is the Wellness Community Just Another Con?

Fit tea. Yoga mats for $100. Mass produced elixirs and sparkly crystals. KALE.

The wellness movement arrived on the scene in an explosion of fairy dust and lavender a few years ago, but now it’s being transformed into a lucrative business everyone wants a piece of. News of Anthropologie opening a shop in Palo Alto, California called Wellness By Anthropologie that will cater to the green goddess in us all got me thinking about the concept of wellness in a consumerist society, and what it really means to take care of yourself. Are you doing it wrong if you’ve only got one essential oil? What if you can’t seem to part from those desserts? Now, more than ever, we have to figure out how to navigate the business of being well.

Anything can be made into a product, so I wasn’t surprised to see how many businesses have picked up on the quest for health. You can go into any Urban Outfitters (the parent company to Anthropologie) or grocery store and find yourself inundated with all the things you absolutely need to buy to truly be healthy. There’s always another serum, a new product, another food or technique designed to make you your best. But what these businesses (and some of us, for that matter) have forgotten is what wellness is really about . We can’t truly be well with a diet switch or a horde of products if we’re unwilling to go deep and discover what ails us emotionally as well as physically. Without the fundamental understanding of what wellness is, we might remain beholden to the cycle of consumption.

In viewing the development of the wellness community I am reminded of the surge of the natural hair movement years ago. The movement of black women embracing their true selves through the act of abandoning chemical straightening was monumental. Minds were reshaped. Eventually, that ,too, was picked up by corporations and repackaged with images of hair textures that few women could achieve naturally. The tight coils of 4C hair were replaced with ringlets and waves. This was in direct opposition to what the movement was all about: acceptance of our hair, and the joy that accompanied the freedom of being who you are. The wellness community is at a similar crossroads.

Last year, Taffy Brodesser-Akner wrote a piece in NYT Magazine detailing the remodeling of the weight-loss industry into a wellness racket hell-bent on keeping customers trapped in the cycle of defeat. Writing for Jezebel, Julianne Escobedo Shepherd takes the critique further. She writes about the dangers of allowing the concepts of self-care and wellness to be transformed into a weapon. She writes:

“The thought process behind a majority of ‘wellness’ tips and marketing feels inhumane and, at times, potentially physically problematic, especially when coming from the lithe Gwyneth (Paltrow) types whose bodies most people will never be able to achieve, no matter how long we sustain ourselves on powders and juices.”

Although this movement has been commodified and sterilized into a capsule collection of trinkets, I still believe the heart of the wellness community is in the right place. It began as a call to action, a permission slip to love ourselves as we see fit.  What I love so much about the wellness community is that it isn’t about “fixing” yourself; the movement is about loving what you’ve got and nurturing it. Above all things, the community is about growth and healing. Self-care is dependent on the belief that you are worthy of care as you are, not who you might become after a facial. It’s not about the products, but about taking back control of your own well-being in ways that help you grow and heal. What you fight for, who you love, how you treat yourself, and the steps you take to be a positive force in the world – that’s wellness.

My best piece of advice is to not get caught up in the glitz of the world of wellness. You’re not doing the whole self-care thing wrong if you don’t drench yourself in the latest chakra-balancing serum, and no one has the right to come for you if you prefer Chipotle to kale. You don’t have to amass a treasure trove of products to be good at this, unless that’s what you want to do. Be good to yourself and ask for help when you’re struggling – those are my keys to success.

What do you think about the wellness movement and community? Let me know your thoughts in the comments, and (as always) stay strong out there!

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