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The appealing concepts of wellness, self care and wellbeing have firmly entered the public consciousness over the last few years. Health bloggers, Instagram gurus and marketers have all contributed to a new culture of consumable wellness, where mental and physical contentment is only a juice cleanse away. But as legitimate science and genuinely good intentions become increasingly subverted by vested interests and big business, is it time to stop thinking of wellness as an antidote to modern life?

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Having eliminated smallpox and invented antibiotics, those lucky enough to live in areas with advanced health care are facing a new set of problems. The World Health Organisation has described stress as an epidemic of the 21st century, and mental health problems are on the rise. In Canada, over 40% of people are considered overweight, while in America and the UK this jumps to around two-thirds of the adult population.

Our collective self-esteem, especially amongst teenagers, is suffering as a result. It’s in this environment that people are looking for a magic cure, something that will make them feel better, and the wellness industry has neatly stepped into the gap. It’s important to note that, for the most part, many ideas around wellness are sound and extremely helpful. Meditation has been proven to relieve stress. Eating more fruit and veg and avoiding processed food is a demonstrably good idea. Well-intentioned and sincere providers share their knowledge because it has changed their lives, and are sure it can change others – often backed up by a huge bank of scientific data. But as the wellness industry grows and begins to make enormous amounts of money, some of the key messages are being lost.

Bright, beautiful and optimistic, the imagery surrounding wellness promises a new life, one free from niggling aches, worry and exhaustion. Glowing and shiny-haired, some of the smiling faces of the wellness industry utilise dubious means to sell their lifestyle. Sometimes they’re simply happy to peddle bad science, but more often than not it’s far subtler than that.

Playing On Our Fears

For decades, cosmetic and pharmaceutical companies have played on our fears – particularly around appearance, likability and performance at work – permanently affecting our self image. Whether it’s “if I take any more time off sick I won’t get a pay rise” or “everyone’s looking at my bad skin”, being worried and searching for a solution drives consumer spending. Instead of genuinely wishing to improve lives, there’s some elements of the wellness industry that are increasingly happy to take advantage of these artificially sensitized weak spots in our psyche.

Instead of making us question whether we are simply working too hard in an onerous culture, placing much of our value in economic potential, big businesses are now telling us to take a ginger supplement and get on with it. In this way, the wellness industry is guilty of pitching itself as a coping mechanism for circumstances that we shouldn’t be accepting in the first place. If you are constantly exhausted without a clear medical cause, it isn’t up to you to take up a new habit that allows you to work harder, you should be looking at why your lifestyle makes you so tired in the first place.

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The wellness industry also enjoys the best of both worlds in that it offers a solution in the form of something you can buy – whether it’s a cookbook, candle or spa weekend – safe in the knowledge that if we still feel terrible we are bound to blame ourselves, rather than the product. It cleverly transfers the onus onto the individual. We are told it’s our responsibility to make ourselves feel better at the same time as being parted from our cash. Still feel unhappy and unhealthy? Then we simply haven’t done (or spent) enough – we haven’t followed the diet properly, we didn’t relax sufficiently on a day off, we haven’t given up coffee yet – whatever it is, we are constantly encouraged to find the fault within ourselves, rather than considering the circumstances that surround us.

Instead of seeking out teachers and information that can guide us in the techniques that may well have a profound effect on our lives, we are being manipulated into thinking that simply buying something will prompt the lifestyle change we hope will make us look and feel better. So we buy yoga pants rather than actually practising yoga, or get a spiralizer instead of thinking about our diet, constantly searching for quick fixes that sometimes cause more harm than good.

This, of course, works out best for those looking to make money, as people embark on a cycle of self- denial and overindulgence that’s very profitable. The fact that certain conglomerates can simultaneously own calorie controlled meal replacement brands whilst manufacturing ice cream is pretty revealing. We may have moved on from powdered weight loss aids to “all natural” clean eating, but the same corporations will be looking to make money from this market.

In this, the efforts of sincere individuals (like Deliciously Ella) to change people’s lives are being cynically exploited, while the kinds of special diets these people promote provide further fuel for insecurity and even eating disorders. This isn’t because someone like Ella is a bad person, but because she’s working in a culture which actively encourages poor relationships with food and ourselves. We are told that all of our unhappiness and health problems are our own fault, not the fault of a society that has its priorities in a serious mess.

We need to reclaim wellness from the tightening grip of big business and turn it into the act of empowerment it once was. Meditating daily can result in profound individual change which in turn, through small acts, could change the world. Choosing the best diet for us, as individuals, will help us enjoy life and feel brilliant. Dedicating time to self care will make us more ready to help others. We shouldn’t be pursuing wellness because of the pressure to look good or because it’s the only way we can bear to get up for work in the morning, but because our health and happiness are genuinely important -not another market for those without our best interests at heart.

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