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Problems in Wellness Culture: White-Washing, Politics, and Exploitation.

What is wellness culture?

Wellness culture is a social and economic phenomenon that emerged in the late 20th century and has grown in popularity in recent years. At its core, wellness culture emphasizes holistic well-being, and aims to promote physical, mental, and spiritual health through a variety of practices and products.

Wellness culture encompasses a wide range of practices and approaches, including fitness, nutrition, meditation, mindfulness, aromatherapy, and many others. It often involves a focus on "self-care", and may promote the use of various products and services such as supplements, health foods, and spa treatments. There is no set definition of self care and self-care varies across positions of power and privilege.

Wellness culture can be seen as a response to the stresses and challenges of modern life, capitalism, and may be driven by a desire to achieve optimal health, as well as a desire to find a sense of purpose or meaning in life. It can also be driven by the commercial interests of the wellness industry, which has grown to be worth billions of dollars annually.

While wellness culture can be beneficial for some people, it's important to approach it with a critical eye and to prioritize evidence-based practices and approaches. Additionally, it's important to be aware of potential issues within the wellness industry, such as the promotion of pseudoscientific claims or the perpetuation of harmful beauty standards.

In general, wellness culture can have some problems, including:

  1. A focus on appearance: Many aspects of wellness culture emphasize achieving a certain appearance, such as a slim or muscular body, rather than overall health and well-being. This can lead to unrealistic beauty standards and can contribute to body image issues and disordered eating.

  2. A narrow focus: Wellness culture often prioritizes certain practices, such as yoga or meditation, while disregarding others, such as mental health treatment or disability accommodations. This can create a narrow and exclusive view of wellness, which may not be applicable or accessible to all people.

  3. A lack of regulation: The wellness industry is largely unregulated, which means that many products and services marketed as "wellness" may not actually have any proven health benefits, and could even be harmful.

  4. A focus on individual responsibility: While individual responsibility is important for maintaining health and wellness, it's also important to acknowledge the role of systemic factors, such as social determinants of health, in shaping people's health outcomes.

  5. The potential for exploitation: The unregulated nature of the wellness industry can make it ripe for exploitation, as companies and individuals seek to profit from people's desire to achieve optimal health and well-being.

A truly inclusive and holistic approach to wellness should prioritize overall health and well-being, and acknowledge the role of individual and systemic factors in shaping people's health outcomes. Basically, the industry of "wellness" is internalizing how we measure up to, as the infamous bell hooks named the standard, "imperialist white-supremacist capitalistic patriarchal culture", or less formally, white-washing.

What is the white-washing of wellness culture? The "whitewashing" of wellness culture refers to the problem of the wellness industry prioritizing and centering the experiences and perspectives of white, thin, able-bodied, and cisgender individuals, while marginalizing and excluding the experiences of people of colour, individuals with disabilities, and those who do not fit into narrow beauty standards. This can manifest in a number of ways, such as:

  1. The promotion of practices and products that are tailored to white, middle-class consumers, while ignoring the diverse health needs of other communities.

  2. The use of advertising and marketing that primarily features white, thin, able-bodied models, perpetuating unrealistic beauty standards and contributing to feelings of inadequacy and body image issues for those who do not fit into those standards.

  3. The use of language and messaging that reinforces harmful stereotypes, such as the idea that people of colour are less health-conscious or less likely to prioritize wellness.

  4. The exploitation of traditional healing practices and remedies from non-white cultures, without acknowledging or respecting the cultural significance of these practices.

The "whitewashing" of wellness culture can perpetuate systemic inequalities and contribute to health disparities, as it ignores individuals' and communities' diverse needs and experiences. A more inclusive and equitable approach to wellness should prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion, and work to center the experiences and perspectives of marginalized communities.

What does politics have to do with this?

Well, politics is connected to all things, firstly. Secondly, there is a growing concern about the connections between far-right politics and the wellness industry. Some of the potential connections include:

  1. Pseudoscientific claims: The wellness industry is largely unregulated, which means that many products and services marketed as "wellness" may not actually have any proven health benefits. This lack of regulation can create a space for pseudoscientific claims that promote harmful or dangerous practices, for example in very popular podcasts.

  2. A focus on individual responsibility: Many aspects of wellness culture emphasize individual responsibility for health and well-being, which can be appealing to far-right political ideologies that prioritize individualism over collective action or systemic change.

  3. The exploitation of anxiety and uncertainty: Far-right political movements often thrive on exploiting feelings of anxiety and uncertainty in society, and the wellness industry may offer a way to capitalize on these feelings by promoting products and services that claim to offer solutions to these problems.

  4. The promotion of exclusionary beauty standards: Some aspects of wellness culture, such as the emphasis on achieving a certain body type or appearance, can perpetuate harmful and exclusionary beauty standards that may be consistent with far-right political ideologies.

Regardless of your intentions, privileges, or political alignment always be mindful of the potential for harmful or exclusionary practices that may be promoted under the guise of wellness.


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