Wellness culture may take more than it gives


Ananya Kulkarni

The wellness industry is as popular as ever, offering everything from cure-all green juices to at-home cardio fitness classes to hundred-dollar skincare regimens. Unfortunately, the business of beauty can get surprisingly ugly.

Isabel Baron, news correspondent

The wellness industry is as popular as ever, offering everything from cure-all green juices to at-home cardio fitness classes to hundred-dollar skincare regimens. The industry itself has nearly tripled in value since 2000, valued at roughly $4.1 trillion in 2020, compared to $1.4 trillion 20 years prior. The market has become saturated with countless methods, exercises, routines and diets peddling the promise of gaining greater mental and physical health without leaving the comfort of home. 

Despite the fact that many facets of the “wellness” industry are more accessible and consumable, the commodification of what it means to be “well” isn’t always making us healthier; it may be doing just the opposite. The rapid growth of the industry coupled with the rise of wellness on social media begs the question of where helpful turns into hurtful and the search for better health morphs into an obsession with perfectionism. 

“This has always been a problem,” said Sarah Grope, a doctor of medicine and licensed pediatrician based in Denver. “People want a one-stop shop for everything, perfect diet pills, perfect everything. Humanity has always wanted the easiest fix for their problems.”

One of the main problems with the ugly side of the wellness industry is that everything is amplified by social media, pushing ideas, regimens and products into the hands and heads of consumers quicker than before. 

“Social media has transformed things because you can look it up on your own,” Grope said. “You can find ‘evidence’ to substantiate what you think, even your personal opinion.” 

On TikTok, there are a variety of trends dubbed “healthy” or “fast-acting” that are neither of the two; internet trends like these are not only unnecessary and risky, but have also hospitalized certain participants. These videos include dry-scooping pre-workout mix, which involves taking a powdered mixture of amino acids, creatine, caffeine and artificial sweeteners without water, and doing salt water flushes to “clean out” the small intestine. 

“Like anything that’s a trend on the Internet, [wellness culture] can be problematic,” said Nicole Guadagno, a third-year mechanical engineering major. “People take it too far and try to be the best at it, and it becomes this perfectionist game instead of actually being well and promoting health.”

Wellness culture capitalizes on Western beauty standards, framing them as the overarching image of health that is neither inclusive nor necessarily realistic. The inability to meet what wellness culture promotes can feel like a personal shortcoming, possibly leading down the exhausting path that includes perfectionism, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety and a variety of eating disorders. This hyperfocus on staving off aging and everything that comes with it, from weight-gain to wrinkles, often leads to fatphobia, body dysmorphia and generally unrealistic beauty standards. 

That’s not to say that wellness culture at its core is inherently harmful or necessarily means to be. It’s what wellness culture has become through a social media explosion and an ever-expanding industry that has transformed the well-meaning lifestyle into a toxic game.

Not all facets of wellness culture are problematic. Mindfulness, self-care, well-rounded diets and improved fitness are all valuable when practiced in conjunction with other healthy habits. However, at the core of wellness culture is the idea that something always needs a “fix”; for an industry that has shown consistent growth, there are always numerous solutions readily available to solve non-problems. 

“The popularity of fad diets, detoxes, blood detoxes, all these TikTok things is worrisome,” said Anna Garrison, a dietetic intern at Tufts Medical Center. “The emphasis on a whole diet is not quite there. It’s the push for things that work quickly.”

Wellness culture today is built on consumers accepting that they suffer from a problem that the industry conveniently offers a solution to. Bloating? Try green powders, even though dietary supplements aren’t required to be regulated by the FDA. Thinning hair? Try blue gummy bears that are promoted by celebrities but have no scientific backing. Weight gain? Cut carbohydrates, take supplements and meal-prep your way to success. Wellness culture encourages a cyclical pattern of finding a problem with the human body or its aging in order to push a profitable solution.

“People want what’s easiest and not what’s most effective, which is consistency,” Garrison said. “Nobody wants to read an evidence-based source with jargon they don’t understand when there’s something easier.”

Wellness is referred to as a solution for the struggles of daily life, whether it’s journaling, meditating or practicing mindfulness. The amplification from social media has made wellness out to be a chore instead of purely for healing, causing wellness to be seen as yet another obligation on the daily to do list. 

The obsession over the aesthetic of wellness instead of the actual meaning of it creates an appearance-obsessed industry that provides a facade of control by means of consumption. Consumers gravitate toward products marketed as being able to improve their standards of living, whether it’s niche workout classes, pricy juice cleanses or miracle supplements. 

They see the perfect body posted by other people and try to attain that which isn’t well,” Grope said. “You can be healthy and not look like others. It’s affecting people’s mental health and it’s affecting girls more than others. We see more body dysmorphia and stuff like that.”

With anything absorbed on the Internet, moderation is key. The wellness industry isn’t inherently evil, but social media has crafted it to become a monster that influencers and corporations alike wield with power. 

There is a balance when it comes to wellness culture. The obsession with “being well” is not synonymous with “being healthy,” although there’s no guarantee it stays that way forever. Rejecting the perfectionist grip of wellness culture and embracing balance, acceptance and moderation is how health can be attained and maintained.