Many of us associate the new year with a tangible opportunity for a fresh start and a chance to focus on wellness. New Year, New Me! we proclaim, while mentally congratulating ourselves on our newfound willpower and commitment to health. And there is absolutely nothing inherently wrong with making changes that affect our health and bodies. But it’s important to remember that the wellness industry is a multiTRILLION dollar, established machine. A machine that is, at all times, competing for our time, our attention, and our money. Any time we log on to social media, google weight loss programs, or inquire about joining the gym down the street, we are being marketed to.
A Game We Will Never Win
Women and moms are especially vulnerable to such marketing by the wellness industry. Because of the patriarchy, the expectation on women is that we spend considerable time and money on our appearance. And if we opt out, we are accused of letting ourselves go. We are conditioned to take up as little physical space as possible, while at the same time being ever present and taking care of the majority of the physical needs of our families (meal planning, housework, childcare).
Every day, we have the same 24 hours as the men in our lives. And yet, in general, we spend more of that time on our physical appearances and the ever elusive “wellness”. The wellness industry specifically targets women by continuously making us feel like we are lacking and falling short of society’s ideal. It’s a game we’ll never win, and yet, so many of us keep playing.
Instead of throwing more hours and hard earned dollars at another skin care routine, makeup line, exercise program or protein shake subscription, what if we, as women, collectively decided to confront the societal expectations on women causing us to use our time and money this way? What if we redirected chunks of our time and income to our mental health, relationships, and creating a more equitable distribution of tasks in our families? Could we achieve true health, and destroy the illusion of wellness that a for-profit industry wants to keep us believing in?
Diet Culture is Not Wellness
We only get one body, and yes, we should take care of it. But so much that we view as “physical health” is actually diet culture. Diet culture is sneaky; it tricks us into believing that thinner is healthier, when science proves this is absolutely a myth. Genetics determine so much of our body shape and weight, and fighting against that is mostly futile. Excessive exercise and restricting foods does not make us healthy, it punishes our bodies for simply being who they are. The wellness industry wants to keep us dissatisfied with our bodies so we keep spending money on weight loss and other “self improvement” products.
We can only achieve true physical wellness when we start treating our bodies with kindness. For some, this actually could be increased exercise, a change in diet, and weight loss. For others, it could be getting an extra hour of sleep, taking a vacation, or making an appointment for a mammogram they’ve been putting off.
The Mental Health Piece
No discussion of wellness can exclude mental health. Thankfully, our culture is shifting towards being more open to talking about mental health struggles. There is no longer so much stigma in going to therapy and/or taking medication to combat anxiety and depression. We are having frank and open conversations about suicide. Thanks to the internet, we have almost unlimited access to resources and experts to educate us on caring for ourselves. This is great progress.
However, the barrage of messages that we need *this* product or *that* beauty treatment keeps us in a constant state of dissatisfaction. This dissatisfaction distracts us, takes up brain space, and wastes so much of our time (and money). This can lead to anxiety, depression, and strained relationships.
Part of caring for our mental health is for us to realize we are good, and our bodies are good, just as they are. We are people, not projects. We deserve love, pleasure and care regardless of our health status or what our bodies look like.
This year, lets redefine wellness and take a more holistic approach to caring for ourselves. It’s impossible (and probably not desirable) to completely reject the wellness industry. There are good companies doing good work and products that do make our lives and our bodies function better. But we can all be more aware of the messages we receive about our bodies and who and where they are coming from. We can choose to disempower the patriarchal expectations on women and our bodies by refocusing our attention. This year, let’s be kind to our bodies, attend to our mental health, and strengthen the relationships in our lives that bring fulfillment.