I’m getting the feeling that people are sick of “wellness.” The topic’s starting to feel a bit wiffy, like a green juice that’s gone off. By wellness, I mean the trend, not the state of being. The calls for mindfulness, the fears of Western medicine, the natural cures, the expensive retreats. The gurus, the healers, the herbs, the crystals. Wellness’s rise to popularity isn’t perplexing. What if your every ailment was actually under your control and mutable? What if the solutions were as simple as changing your breathing, or eating raw garlic, or drinking hot water with lemon? Can you really lower your risk of cancer by reducing inflammation or improve your immune system by walking barefoot on a beach? In this complicated world, where large, invisible forces shape almost every aspect of our lives, the idea that our well-being is under our control is incredibly appealing.
According to The New York Times, wellness has swelled to an over $30 billion industry in the US. This includes, as my friend Rina reports for Fast Company, a “billion-dollar” gemstone industry. The ranks of yoga practitioners are rapidly swelling. Sales of herbal supplements are growing. It feels like everyone’s trying to Vitamix and Headspace their way to happiness, and spending a ton of money in the process.
The backlash became visibly apparent after the news that Goop, the Gwyneth Paltrow-backed brand whose editorial bread-and-butter is wellness information and advice, would partner with Condé Nast to release a quarterly magazine. Attitude dripped from nearly every press mention. The most vehement reaction came from Vox, whose headline read, “Conde Nast is enabling Gwyneth Paltrow’s health bullshit with a new magazine.” As Julia Belluz wrote, “Paltrow has for years faced intense criticism from the medical and scientific communities for selling junk health products…Goop is a multimillion-dollar empire built on misleading people about health.”
Gwyneth has proven a lightening-rod for criticism, so this response wasn’t entirely surprising. But it came on the heels of a gleeful takedown of another wellness startup, Juicero, created by Doug Evans, previously of Organic Avenue. The Silicon Valley gadget company has netted almost $120 million in funding for its $400 machine, which juices packets of fruit and vegetables at home — a sort of “Keurig for juice.”
As Bloomberg reported, “after the product hit the market, some investors were surprised to discover a much cheaper alternative: You can squeeze the Juicero bags with your bare hands. [We] found that squeezing the bag yields nearly the same amount of juice just as quickly — and in some cases, faster — than using the device.”
The Juicero debacle perfectly exemplified what’s mockable about the current preoccupation with all things holistic and New Age-y. I posit that the industry’s in the crosshairs because it sits perfectly at the intersection of the below four trade winds:
1. A general eat-the-rich sensibility, which sneers at the expensive dusts, potions, ointments and treatments that fall under the wellness umbrella.
2. A growing concern about “fake news” and a desire for claims that can be backed up by actual research or data.
3. A disgust for what is seen as window dressing or frills during a time of intense nationwide crisis.
4. A general exhaustion with the pursuit of self-improvement.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this topic because I’m a skeptic yet I’m also game for just about anything that might make me feel better. I see myself reflected in both sides. I’ll admit that I’ve carried crystals in my handbag and dry-brushed my skin before a shower. I enjoy yoga and breathing exercises. Walking barefoot on the beach makes me feel good! I both understand the backlash and wonder if we aren’t just looking around for an easy target, something or someone to take our anger out on. It’s easy to scoff at a blonde, Venice Beach-based fashion stylist turned ”energy practitioner.” But, to borrow a phrase, we’re all on our own journey. As long as what you are doing isn’t hurting you or anyone else, who am I to judge?