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Is Wellness a Fad, and Is It Over?

I’m getting the feeling people are sick of it.

05.18.17

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?

Photos by Edith Young; Michael Lo Sordo bra top and Outdoor Voices leggings.

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  • Abby

    I am personally not at all over the wellness trend, because I’ve always been a big hippie, but I do see it losing its cache a bit for the rich people who can afford to be into the very latest thing, which is AWESOME news for me! Once those people are over something you know it’s pretty mainstream and companies will start making things that are on wellness trend but also affordable for plebeians like me. I can’t wait til fancy juices drop to $5 and probiotics drop under $30. I’m ready!

  • gracesface

    The folks at The Pool profiled a Swedish author who is Over It. I mostly agree with him. I still love yoga, I love astrology, and I took real, effective cough drops for a bad cough I had a few weeks ago and damn, I felt like a new woman. I hadn’t taken medicine like that in YEARS. And it made me feel way, way better.

    https://www.the-pool.com/health/health-news/2017/8/svend-brinkmann-on-stand-firm-resisting-the-self-improvement-craze

    • Sheila T.

      it kills me when I see Instagram celebrities (term to be used very very loosely) attempting to remedy their colds/flu/whatever with orange juice, turmeric shots, juices, etc. Take some NyQuil and stop getting the rest of us sick!!!

      • Cristina

        Don’t forget about Flat Tummy Tea to drop that baby weight! ::rolls eyes::

  • Mary

    This is so well written! I like wellness too but it’s becoming sort of a chore and I’m just gonna come out and say it: I love western medicine !!!!

    • Leslie Price

      Wow thank you

    • Senka

      very well written, I agree. And I also agree on the fact that even though it’s not omnipotent I trust chose to trust western, conventional medicine. I am currently suffering from severe depression, and the only thing that makes my live somewhat tolerable is medication and therapy with trained professional. All those other things can be great, even usefull, but when u really need help, real medical institutions and professionals are the only places to find it.

  • Caroline

    Thought provoking and well thought out by the author.

  • i feel like wellness is approaching a critical mass where the benefits from the movement are being overshadowed by the preachiness/unverified info/capitalistic takeover — i have noticed myself absorbing wellness by making efforts to choose whole foods and take the time to work out, but am not really spending my days googling “rhodiola rosea” or anything anymore… i think we are swinging a little too deep into the wellness sphere, which happens, and when we level out we will still be in a better, more conscious place because of it.

  • Kristen J

    You captured my thoughts with the statement “A general exhaustion with the pursuit of self-improvement.” I am at the point where I recognize that no matter what I do, I will have a few pimples and a few wrinkles, I will be jiggly in certain spots, and some days, my colon won’t cooperate as well as I’d like.

    And it’s ok. No body promised that my life or my body would be perfect every single day, and no amount of hot lemon water, DIY masques or “do this one thing to prevent belly bloat” is the magic cure. Some of it may help, and sometimes I just want to be me as I imperfectly am.

  • Amelia

    I hope the “athleisure” trend also bites the dust…

  • Thorhildur Asgeirsdóttir

    The sheet mask on Elizabeth’s face is THE CHERRY ON TOP of this thoughtful, on–point piece of writing

  • Arden

    Thought: in the seeming end-of-the-world era of Trump, are people starting to just say fuck it and do what they want? The rise of 2000s bling and attendant attitudes remind me of the general rejection of rules and strict lifestyles embodied in the hippie movement in the 1960s.

    • Suzy Lawrence

      Just my opinion, but the hippie movement of the 60’s had so many more substantial parts (kind of the perfect storm with the WWII boomers and Kennedy’s assassination and Vietnam and the rise of psychedelic drugs, etc). What I do feel, however is more of what resonated in the late 70’s when punk culture started brewing. That “stick it to the man, do it all backwards just to flip the middle finger to tradition, screaming and banging as loud as possible, ‘I WANT TO BE AN ANARCHIST!'” cultural revolution. I feel we’re still trying to define exactly what we’re trying to do here, but that’s where my faith in the underground takes over 😉 I also feel this may be why we’re falling off the “wellness” train. We’re all broke and angry (I know that’s an over statement), so this mantra of “walking barefoot on the beach to find our center” just isn’t resonating anymore. We need action. We need to be loud and relentless in the protection of the progress this country has made in the last 60 years. All that said, I need to let it be known that I’m currently reading a book on how to alter my inner vibration to…I think…get on par with the vibration of the universe? Yeah, that’s not a joke (as much as I wish it was).

  • Anne Dyer

    Moderation is everything. I’m over, overthinking it all. Namaste and pass me a beer please.

  • Holden Caulfield

    Wellness is too much work.

  • Kay Nguyen

    I have never liked the wellness trend, simply because I don’t think it’s sustainable! I never understand why people like green juice with kale and stuffs, they are alright, I prefer just a regular smoothie though.
    I think it’s best to feed what your body tells you since it’s your body and it knows best, wellness trend may or may not satisfy what your body need so either follow your heart or actually see a professional to get some advices.

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  • Anonymous

    I think the point is that wellness as misleading/misinformation IS hurting people

  • Laura Guarraci

    I think the irony about “wellness” is that people just want to buy health/balance/peace of mind without actually looking at what in their life causes their health problems. The American mentality is so much about consumerism and competition. You wouldn’t be bragging about your fancy juice that keeps you “healthy” if you didn’t work 15 hour days at a job you hate to make the money to buy the fancy juice! When wellness becomes an industry, it’s a competition of who can be THE MOST WELL, and that competition itself is corrosive. It may be best for all our souls to take that juice money and try to save a starving child/ overheating polar bear.

    • Beasliee

      I just wrote something really similar!
      I think also, we need to apply context to our ‘health problems’ – in a lot of cases we need to just get on with it and stop making mountains out of mole hills!

    • Jeanie

      You hit the nail on the head there! I’m more in favor of a simple, balanced approach to wellness. You don’t have to buy all this fancy stuff (though it is fun.) your regular produce section will do you the most good, really.

  • Beasliee

    I think wellness gained momentum because we forgot that life isn’t supposed to be easy and picturesque all the time, sometime it just is what it is and you have to roll with it and make it as excellent as you can within your powers.
    Buying a green juice instead of a vodka / coffee seemed to be the answer; going to yoga and not having pizza seemed like it would solve your inner turmoil; worrying about money and your future seemed like a mental imbalance that needed solving. But for the most part, this isn’t the case.
    Life is challenging for everyone, you are no worse off than anyone else – you just have to make the most of what you’ve got and what opportunities you have.

    • gracesface

      Amen! Thanks for putting this so succinctly.

  • Stacey

    Looking after yourself is great and very important. Trying to have the control over your body won’t work. Our bodies aren’t perfect, neither is the world we live in. I think people are fooled into believing they can control their bodies completely. And there is $$ to be made.

    “As long as what you are doing isn’t hurting you or anyone else, who am I to judge?”

    We do need to judge and be critical about what comes across our social media accounts. Unfortunately there are dodgy individuals that sell ‘wellness’ through social media. And they prey on people who are vulnerable. The author behind The Whole Pantry comes to mind…

  • Cristina

    AMEN!
    I have recently been on a quest to unlearn everything I know about health and wellness. Because the more you learn, the more inadequate you feel. Slogan: The More You Know the More You Fail, haha. Seriously, the deeper into “wellness” you get, the more unattainable it becomes. Those Mood Dust or whatever it’s called that celebrities are hawking?! STAHP. No normal person can fork over that kind of money. If I did, it better not only make me LOOK like GP, but also end world hunger.
    I still like Michael Pollan’s mantra “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants”. But we’ve taken that and ran with into all these trendy things on the quest to be eternally healthy.

    • gracesface

      I agree with you so much Cristina!! No one is healthy all the time and everyone’s idea of health is radically different.

  • Cynthia Schoonover

    I never was into the wellness craze. Rather, I follow my mom’s advice: Eat a well balanced diet, drink plenty of water, get some exercise, and get a good night’s sleep. She lived to be 94 and when she passed away, she had all original parts-no replaced hips, knees, or shoulders, and was active until the minute she passed.

  • Luxe Lis

    GMOs, Pesticides, Synthetic Chemicals, Artificial flavours, pills with 100s of side effects…yeah…’dream’ come true. Sorry I’ll have to agree to disagree. LOVE the WELLNESS ‘trend’!

  • Willa Konefał Davis

    I’m not over wellness, but I am over the commodification and competition of the new culture that has developed. Like with feminism, I am on board with the objectives, but have began to realize that the shirts, etc., are hollow marketing schemes. Wellness isn’t something I want to show off. It is something I want to practice, for myself, sans bragging.

  • Jeanie

    I try to search for actual studies these days as opposed to looking at articles. There’s so much misinformation or contradictory information and food science is actually not super great to begin with. It’s too hard to have a “control” in these studies, and many self reports are not reliable. It’s so confusing and blogs/news love stretching the truth of these studies for a catchier headline. I love wellness, but I don’t think it has to include meditation and moon juice. Just lots of veggies, fresh air, and self love is good enough.

  • Em

    First, where can I find that top that the model is wearing?!
    Second, great article! I really resonated with the last line: we should all do the things that make us feel the most “well” and let others do the same.

  • I hate the wellness industry for its promotion of pseudoscience and the way it undermines evidence-based medicine. Most wellness is just expensive rubbish that doesn’t really hurt anyone, but some ‘alternative’ practitioners can be really dangerous. Also, it just irks me when intelligent colleagues tell me they’ve cut out dairy or gluten or coffee for no reason at all other than that they heard it’s vaguely ‘toxic’. I’ll be glad to see the trend die down.
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  • A Local Honey

    I saw an interesting statistic stating the obesity rate in America is 38% as of 2015. Wow! Isn’t it perplexing to live in this culture where “wellness” is hocked right and left (cleanses, vitamins, shakes, meal plans, juices, workout companies, et. al.), yet 38% of us are still obese? Sobering, to say the least. The obesity rates of several countries are <10%; countries where it is a medical anomaly to be overweight instead of the norm. I would bet that the "wellness communities" of those countries (Italy, for instance – developed countries) are nonexistent. Americans are at a very strange place where we want to be told what to eat, drink, wear, do and when AND we want science to figure out how to keep us "well." We make "wellness" much harder than it needs to be – we, as a culture, refuse to believe it could be as easy as eating small meals made of good food and building exercise into our daily routines. THAT'S BORING! HOW CAN WE BE MORE EXTREME?? WE WANT TO SPEND OUR MONEY! I say this with tongue-in-cheek because I'm just as guilty as anyone, but we are the worst!

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