The wellness trend is surging, so we’re told. Women are taking care of themselves more these days. Prioritizing their needs (an idea whose time has surely come). Paying attention to nourishing foods. Getting more exercise. Starting to think about the health of their minds and spirits. These are good things, right? Yes!
I’m on board. I have a curious bent. As much as I like to try new physical activities, I also like to try new health and wellness protocols. Why wouldn’t I want to feel as good as possible physically and emotionally? I’ve had some kind of meditation practice for more than a decade. I incorporate acupuncture and massage into my schedule with some regularity. There’s a Korean spa just over the George Washington Bridge we like to go to with friends for a stiff scrub and some time in the saunas and under the far infrared light. Yes, my vagina has been steamed with mugwort vapors (enjoyable, not life changing). And I have succumbed to the promises of quite few skincare products; the best of which deliver on about 25% of their hype, which is more than I really expected, if I’m honest with myself.
Have we gone too far?
Lured by the wellness industry’s promises of eternal youth and beauty (also great sex), are we trying to buy our way out of reality? Goop is one of the industry’s most high profile villains-du-jour. High on the list of accusations lodged against Goop are that it is marketing products that are not scientifically proven.
As an aside, researchers (at Harvard, no less) are hard at work studying the surprising efficacy of the placebo effect. Virtually all of us engage in some magical thinking that has worked. There is a good chance that we will discover that a lot of pseudoscience may be less pseudo and more science than is currently understood.
In the meantime though, Goop has been taken to task (and court) more than once for grandiose claims it makes about the products it hawks. The clientele, largely white women of privilege, is disdained as gullible over-spenders with too much money and not enough sense. It’s so easy to question the priorities and intelligence of someone who buys a jade egg for her vagina; even if the whole idea of the egg is pretty ancient.
Yet, the very success of enterprises like Goop demonstrates that for all the privilege (whether real or not—the infamous jade egg was only $66), money is not buying us peace of mind. I haven’t actually bought anything from Goop, but I’m pretty certain I wouldn’t feel better about myself. Rather, our unease with ourselves enables companies to offer more and more outrageous and outrageously priced “solutions” for unsolvable challenges, like aging (and fear of aging). As this article in Quartzy points out, #skincare is just a code word for anti-aging. The marketing language may be coloured with all sorts of body positive words, but the root emotion that’s targeted and monetized is the same as always with these kinds of products—shame. Shame about our bodies. Shame about getting older.
I struggle with this. I spend too much time studying the wrinkles on my face, trying to decide if they are worsening, or if whatever new miracle product I’m using is actually smoothing them away, even a little. I have strong feelings about cosmetic surgery. Denying my aging feels like a betrayal of women. Yet it is also a high horse that is precarious. As much as I want to accept the inevitable with dignity and grace, to stay strong and healthy by eating well, drinking water, exercising, sleeping and such, I know that at any moment I might fall off my hobbyhorse, landing on needles full of Botox and fillers, or UPS boxes full of promise-y Goop products.
We women are not alone in our susceptibility. Men are just drawn in by different language. For men it is the language of performance optimization that closes the deal. Deploying knowledge to biohack a more efficient personal ecosystem are their code words for lose weight, get strong and stay young.
We are not idiots for falling for these bright, shiny promises. We live in a society that delivers a torrent of messaging, which tells us that we aren’t young enough, fit enough, beautiful enough, rich enough, famous enough, or really enough of anything. Even when anti-aging is rebranded as the dewiness we all deserve, we know the truth of what we are buying. We are spending money to put a finger in the leaky dyke of our not-enoughness. Intellectually, I know I should always think that I am enough. But I don’t. I know I’m not alone in this. It’s a big part of why the health and wellness industry is growing.
We have the actual, literal possibility of more and more comfort, yet we live with less and less ease.
I wonder if that’s because we know that our society is askew and our subconscious senses this dis-ease. The gap between have-a-lot and have-not is widening exponentially. Some women are spending a small fortune and enormous amounts of time on wellness, while in the same country other women are working multiple jobs and still can’t put dinner on the table for their children. Coming home from a dermatologist appointment during which I had a little skin tag on my neck removed (a voluntary procedure), I walked past a homeless man, sleeping out in the pouring rain. A wave of guilt washed through me. Should I have given the money I’d just spent to him instead?
I’m not saying we shouldn’t take care of our health and wellness. I’m not going to stop trying to stay physically and mentally healthy, or stop buying any beauty products. I’m not saying we shouldn’t indulge.
I am proposing that if we do so more mindfully, perhaps we can indulge just a little less and share just a little more.
We are optimized when we are comfortable in our bodies and with who we are. That’s the brass ring of health and wellness.