The Harmful Nature of Wellness Culture
The complexities of the wellness movement. Is it authentically accessible and inclusive for all?
The Birth of the wellness movement
The 1979 edition of 60 minutes included Dan Rather, who declared the following: “Wellness. There’s a word you don’t hear every day. It means exactly what you might think it means: the opposite of illness. It’s a movement that is catching on all over the country.” The wellness movement was popularised in the late 1950s by Dr. Halbert L. Dunn, who was dubbed the father of this movement. In 1959, he stated in the Canadian Journal of Public Health that high-level Wellness involves “a condition of change in which the individual moves forward, climbing toward a higher potential of functioning.”
The growth of the wellness movement
Wellness has become a trillion-dollar business. Self-care has become a top priority for many, and this has only amplified during the COVID-19 pandemic. While this movement is good in theory and working towards achieving our best self is something to aspire to, it is essential to note that this movement towards Wellness has become a status symbol. For example, Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop image and those who fit within this image have become the image that aligns with physical, mental, and social well-being. This fragment of wellness culture is where this movement falls short because it is simply brands capitalising on manipulation. The explosion in Wellness has created an exclusive image. To have the ability and accessibility to participate in the wellness movement is a form of privilege. It is important to note and reflect upon the fact whether Wellness can be bought? Does it solely rely on consuming wellness products? Participating in this movement and phenomena typically involves spending and consuming products and services designed to elevate your inner and outer being. Ultimately, you have the privilege to buy into a lifestyle. However, is it an authentic one? The marketing approaches and branding of many wellness companies rely on targeting individuals’ insecurities. The concept of Wellness should be inclusive and accessible to all; the essence of Wellness and the narrative surpasses the rich white woman narrative it currently paints.
Wellness in the workplace
Over time, there has been an increase in companies integrating Wellness in the workplace. We see more organisations offering wellness services in varied forms. However, to truly implement and see a difference with employees, an employer must create a wellness culture. They must not rely on stating all the ways and initiatives they will implement to create an environment of Wellness, but they must follow through with these objectives in a meaningful way. Creating a Culture of Wellness means nurturing a workplace that endorses and encourages the well-being of employees. There are various ways companies can foster a workplace that promotes Wellness;
- Encourage movement
- Offer health-oriented food choices.
- Encouraging healthy habits by possibly applying incentives.
- Providing opportunities for social engagement.
- Acknowledging stress that the workplace may cause individuals
- Providing resources that are feasible and accessible to all. Companies need to focus on the accessibility of information.
The harmful nature of the wellness movement
However, there are elements to wellness culture that are harmful and toxic. It is apparent every day when we scroll through social media. We see so many content creators, specifically those working in the realm of Wellness, who like to discuss the idea of transformation. Targeting those who are unhappy with themselves, the concept of transforming is incredibly appealing. What these creators and influence don’t mention is that self-love begins with self-acceptance. The idea of loving who you are in the present is something that wellness culture disregards. Would the Wellness Culture we see today exist if more of us embraced the person we are in the present? Suggesting transformation implies that we are currently not good enough; this can cause individuals to set unrealistic expectations that are often unattainable to the average person. Any growth that you may partake in should involve building upon the foundation of the qualities that make you who you are.
One element of the wellness movement that often entraps many individuals is the focus on weight as an indicator of health. Often this leads to an overly consuming obsession with healthy habits to the point where they become unhealthy. Wellness also tends to involve rigid thinking, where everything becomes something that will either keep you alive or kill you, and this way of thinking often leads to guilt, shame, and self-doubt – none of which promote the premise of Wellness. Working towards achieving healthy habits and integrating them into your lifestyle is admirable. Growth requires change and effort; nevertheless, it shouldn’t come at the expense of throwing away the person we are by grasping and aligning our self-worth to an unrealistic, idealised version of the person we think we should be.