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The wellness trap

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Rethinking what it means to be healthy in the age of content creators

Courtesy of Andrea Piacquadio

Musician Lorde was burning sage and cleansing crystals in her “Mood Ring” music video that premiered in August 2021. Throughout the satirical pop song, Lorde comments on wellness culture by pointing out the great lengths women—particularly privileged white women—go to feel well. 

In an interview with Genius, Lorde explained the meaning behind the lyrics in “Mood Ring.” In the lines, “I’m tryna get well from the inside / Plants and celebrity news / All the vitamins I consume,” the hypocrisy of digital wellness culture is revealed. 

“I had a moment of realizing like I’m trying to eat all these dark leafy greens, but I’m also going on the Daily Mail for two hours at a time,” she said. “I’m thinking of myself as a well person, but I’m literally rotting my brain,” Lorde shared. 

With the growth in popularity of social media and influencer culture, wellness content has been steadily increasing. But while viewing content that focuses on productivity and self-care can appear healthy, it often comes at a cost.

The troubling TikTok trend

Courtesy of Taylor Smith

POV: you’re lying on your bed scrolling through TikTok and come across a young woman’s morning routine that involves getting up at sunrise, meditating, journaling, making a brightly coloured smoothie bowl and doing a 30-minute workout video before she starts her busy day. 

You soon notice that your algorithm is inundating you with similar videos showing you how to be like ‘that girl.’ 

And why wouldn’t you want to be like ‘that girl?’ It seems like she has the perfect balance of leisure, fitness and productivity. Perhaps, you think these short snippets of someone else’s life can motivate you to be more self-disciplined and successful. 

In Alice Cappelle’s video essay critiquing the ‘that girl’ trend, she argues that ‘that girl’ is an ideology of the optimal self, or rather who society thinks we should be. 

“Be fit, healthy, productive, work hard, be woke but not too radical,” she said. 

Essentially, ‘that girl’ romanticizes hustle culture as aesthetically pleasing and appealing. By repetitively watching the same type of content, we can start to internalize the message that we aren’t good enough unless we have a flawless, well-calculated routine like the strangers we see online. 

The hidden costs of wellness

Wellness is a $4.4 trillion industry that capitalizes on women’s insecurities. 

Often, the lifestyles of influencers, gurus and celebrities are out of reach or completely inaccessible to the average person. Through social media marketing and influencing, wellness is being sold as something that can be achieved by purchasing physical products like supplements or luxury skincare.

However, many women don’t have excess money to spend on the latest fitness trend, organic plant-based foods and hyaluronic face serums, making the movement highly exclusionary. 

It is also important to acknowledge that many people work highly demanding and time-consuming jobs that require the majority of their time, energy and focus. However, rest and relaxation are rarely ever promoted as suitable acts of self-care.

Diet culture in disguise

Adhering to wellness trends doesn’t only drain your bank account, it can also have detrimental health consequences. Wellness and diet culture are closely connected and, for some people, this can result in a full-blown eating disorder if taken too far. 

Courtesy of Oleg Ivanov

Being aware of your health and nutritional intake is generally not a bad thing. Unfortunately, wellness culture becomes dangerous when foods are assigned a moral value (good versus bad), promoting restrictive diets and making vulnerable people believe they need to adopt a strict fitness regime and eating pattern. 

The truth is, everyone has different nutritional needs, and trying to replicate someone else’s ‘What I Eat in a Day,’ can lead people to neglect other important areas of their life. 

Falling into the wellness trap can cause individuals to spend most of their time thinking about food, checking ingredients and nutrition labels and unnecessarily cutting out certain food groups. 

These behaviours can result in the decline of your mental and physical health, which is the exact opposite of wellness. 

Tips for challenging toxic trends

The first step to combatting wellness and diet culture messages is to define what self-care means to you. 

Self-care can look different for everyone, and sometimes it’s as simple as taking some time to rest and relax without feeling guilty about it. Also, spending time with people who uplift, support and love you for who you are will boost your confidence and enhance your mental well-being. 

Another way to unlearn wellness and diet culture is to become aware of the content you are consuming on social media. 

Check-in with yourself as you scroll through your feed and note the feelings that arise. Unfollow and unsubscribe to any accounts that make you feel inadequate and start following more inspiring and uplifting profiles. 

It’s also important to get curious about the trends you see online and question their validity. 

Is this picture or video telling the whole story? What are they trying to tell you about their societal values? Does following this trend feel right to you? Does it align with your core values and long-term goals? Is it sustainable? 

A thought-provoking quote from Refinery29 says, “What good is self-betterment if at the end of all that effort to improve ourselves it’s still a hostile, competitive, individualistic, pressurized, insecure, precarious world outside, just waiting there when you’re finished.”

Getting involved in social advocacy groups can be another excellent way to shift your focus from fixing yourself to fixing the system. There are plenty of inclusive and supportive community groups that cater to different interests and hobbies.

Courtesy of Natalie Hua

Ontario-based resources

If you think you or a loved one might be struggling with body-image issues or disordered eating, there are plenty of resources that can assist those in need. Listed below are a few non-profit associations that offer free or low-cost virtual and in-person support groups: 

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