All is (not) well: The backlash against 'wellness'

All is (not) well: The backlash against 'wellness'
CEO Gwyneth Paltrow attends In goop Health Summit Los Angeles 2019 at Rolling Greens Nursery on May 18, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Phillip Faraone/Getty Images for goop)

The wellness backlash has begun, writes Ciara McDonnell. So is it time to ditch the gratitude journals and Goop subscriptions?

An umbrella term to house everything from yoga to giving yourself an enema with cold coffee, wellness is at once the most popular pursuit of the moment and the most ill-defined. We all know people committed to the cause.

They juice their celery in the morning before journaling a bullet list of gratitude. Weekends are spent walking (purposefully and with intention) around the place, wearing a ‘Does-Running-Out-Of-Wine-Count-As-Cardio’ top and skyping with their guru.

However, we are talking about a big industry that generates the big bucks. In 2017, the global wellness market was worth €3.9 tn, reporting a 6.4 percent growth annually from 2015–2017. This is nearly twice as fast as global economic growth at the same time.

In their book The Wellness Syndrome, Carl Cederstrom and André Spicer suggest that the ever present pressure to maximise our wellness has started to work against us, making us loathe ourselves more than we ever did before.

While following a group of wellness junkies as they started their days at raves, going to extremes trying to find the perfect diet or obsessively self-tracking their every move of the day, the university professors hypothesise that we are in a world where feeling good is indistinguishable from feeling bad.

This is the entire problem with the wellness industry, says Máire Treasa Ní Cheallaigh, sports psychologist, medical student and reporter with Off The Ball. “I have a huge issue with people making ludicrous promises that have absolutely no basis and which give people false hope,” she says.

“I think lots of these companies are selling people a white elephant that does not exist. They are taking advantage of people’s insecurity and oftentimes sick people who are looking for something to hang their crutch on.” Miriam Hussey co-founder of The Awakening, a wellness brand based in Co Galway, agrees:

Wellness has unfortunately become an industry that can play on very vulnerable people. This thinking actually goes against the grain of what wellbeing is about.

For many of us, mindfulness is the first rung on the wellness ladder, but it shouldn’t be for everyone, says Máire Treasa Ní Cheallaigh.

“People think mindfulness is a lovely practice to get into, and for a lot of people, it is. But it can be very damaging for people too. For example, if you’ve got obsessive compulsive tendencies, the last thing you want to be doing is embarking on a mindfulness course.”

This is an excellent point, according to Miriam Hussey. “Mindfulness has so many amazing qualities and helps a lot of people, but like all holistic therapies, if you have a precondition diagnosis or underlying anxiety then it is crucial that you surround yourself with trained, qualified professionals who know how to take you in and take you out in a safe way and a safe space.”

Image: Pixabay
Image: Pixabay

Wellness is designed to make us feel good, and why shouldn’t we? Exercise is exercise, no matter how it is packaged, and if we prefer a particular kind of niche yoga, then more power to us. Motivational speakers have been around since the dawn of man, and so why shouldn’t they exist in the wellness arena too?

Many stars of the wellness world like Deepak Chopra and Eckhart Tolle started out in our sitting room on the Oprah Winfrey Show, and today sell out giant stadiums, just like rock stars.

In June Adriene Meschler, the Texan darling of the online yoga world, with a following in its millionsled a yoga class at London’s Alexandra Palace for 2,400 people. In July, Gwyneth Paltrow, the simultaneous angel and devil of the wellness world, brought her In Goop Health Wellness Summit to London.

Over a whirlwind weekend, people were invited to part with thousands of pounds in exchange for an opportunity to kiss the ring of whatever experts and products Paltrow had handpicked. For a millisecond, the world watched, waiting for wellness to implode on itself. It had all become too much.

There was talk of vampire facials, and an aversion to nightshade vegetables and critically, the recommendation of the use of something called a jade vagina egg. And yet, the wellness world kept turning, because we simply can’t get enough.

Our yearning for connection and understanding in an increasingly complex and digital world is leading us towards an industry that promises to simplify and streamline our lives, while tackling all of our emotional foibles along the way. As essential to us as the organic kale in our supermarket trolley, Wellness is no longer a luxury; it’s a lifestyle.

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