Is Our Pursuit Of Wellness Making Us Sick?
This content may be triggering for those with a history of disordered eating.
Most women have done something in the pursuit of wellness that they’re not proud of.
I’ve done a few things. Mostly juice cleanses. I haven’t actually done a cleanse for almost a decade now, but boy did I love jumping on the bandwagon of three and five-day “resets”, enthusiastically subsisting on a colourful concoction of pureed fruits and vegetables in the hopes of achieving fewer breakouts and a flatter stomach. Unfortunately, all I got was the runs. Oh and speaking of the runs (!!) I should also admit that I experimented with laxatives in the lead up to my Year 12 school ball to which I will simply say: Christ alive don’t fucking do it.
And therein lies the first problem with the term “wellness”. For most women, it’s not wellness we’re actually seeking: it’s weight loss. Sadly, as a culture, we still equate thinness with wellness and weight loss with effort. Thin = healthy, fat = unhealthy. Losing weight = accomplishment, gaining weight = laziness. We still believe this crap, despite the fact that it’s disproven time and time again. I was reminded of this when I asked the TTC community on Instagram: “What is the strangest/funniest/scariest thing you’ve done in pursuit of wellness?”. Notice that I made no mention of flat stomachs, less cellulite or a smaller waist, and yet almost every single response I received was targeting one of those things. Here’s a sample:
“The cabbage soup trend when I was 16, which I think led to my disordered eating.”
“The Lemon detox diet.”
“Isagenix weight loss pills – which had a ‘COULD BE FATAL’ warning on the label.”
“A three-day meal plan consisting of eating the same curry for all three meals in order to stop my stomach bloating before my 21st.”
“A juice cleanse that cost $150, plus $99 worth of bone broth.”
“30 consecutive days of Bikram yoga for 2.5 hours. It destroyed my adrenals.”
“A girl I know researched places to buy a tapeworm that she could eat to help her lose weight.”
Of course, there were some responses that didn’t appear to be directly correlated with losing weight: “Bulletproof coffee”. “Eating dried crickets”. “Perenium sunning”. “Coffee enemas”. “Drinking your own urine”. “The Banana Island Diet”. I actually had to Google that last one because it came through a few times (although I didn’t need to because it is *exactly* what it sounds like). I think we can all agree that a diet subsisting of only bananas is not the best idea we’ve had?
This all came about after I started watching (Un)well, a six-part Netflix docu-series which delves into the sometimes promising, sometimes scammy, and occasionally dangerous world of wellness. Through six specific trends of essential oils, tantric sex, the consumption of human breast milk, fasting, ayahuasca and bee-sting therapy, (Un)well searches for answers to the efficacy and credibility of these trends, and does so using insights from believers, skeptics and scientists.
It’s not surprising to me that Netflix created this series. “Wellness” is a $4.2 trillion, high-growth industry of products and services; enticing us with everything from coffee enemas to biodynamic wine to coconut-oil dental floss to vaginal steaming to adaptogens in an attempt to improve our sleep, sex-life or stress levels. It’s also worth noting every single one of the trends explored on Un(Well) has proven health benefits: Even the use of essential oils which has been around for centuries, and studies suggest small levels can make a huge difference; the series follows Julie Marshall and her autistic daughter Sarah as they seek aromatherapy with essential oils as a last-ditch effort to treat Sarah’s insomnia, which exacerbates her mood swings and frustration. But the other side of the coin is outrageously dodgy: The series references a lawsuit alleging a pyramid scheme, which is illegal, against essential oil company Young Living.
The beauty of getting older is that we (hopefully) become a little wiser in our approach to health and a little kinder in our approach to selfhood. I’m more aware than ever that, as Jessica Knoll wrote for The New York Times, “The wellness industry is the diet industry, and the diet industry is a function of the patriarchal beauty standard under which women either punish themselves to become smaller or are punished for failing to comply.“ I’m aware that wellness is mostly just another way of describing the never-ending burden women feel in the pursuit of self-improvement. And I’m much more attuned to the fact that wellness remains a platform of privilege that typically excludes the people who need it most.
And I know, deep within my soul, that no good can come from *exclusively eating bananas*.