The wellness industry has commodified your health | Carson’s Class Notes

Ivana Chen / Contributing Illustrator

Self-improvement has become a trillion-dollar industry. Wellness gurus preach a lifestyle of mindfulness, diet fads, vitamins and other buzzword chemical concoctions that provide you an outlet for your struggles. While these products often appear harmless, they have the troublesome effect of making us treat our problems as issues with ourselves. “Your insecurities are not the result of poor health care or your uncertain material reality but rather a failure to support yourself,” proclaims the twisted logic of wellness. The industry has manufactured exclusivity over a healthy lifestyle and expects us all to buy into it — a cost we should refuse to accept.

Take Gwyneth Paltrow’s brand, goop. What started as a newsletter that shared muffin recipes has transformed into a $250 million company that hosts “wellness retreats” with thousand-dollar price tags. What has accounted for this meteoric rise? First, goop has led the way in cementing the wellness industry into the cultural canon by building a customer base that will buy into its image-focused products without question.

Second, Paltrow has a knack for profiting off of controversy. In 2015, she attempted the “food stamp challenge,” a celebrity trend to live off of the $29 a week given to families on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. She quickly failed the challenge and had dinner that same day at a high-end restaurant in Los Angeles. While living on food stamps is a near impossible feat that millions of families face every day, the challenge turns their real struggles into a game played by the elite, who act like tourists in the lives of the poor.

But goop is merely indicative of broader trends within the health and wellness industry. Where ancient preachers of self-focused healing, reflection and betterment centered their practices around accessibility and universality, modern wellness influencers have manufactured scarcity over health itself. The wellness industry has positioned itself to be a source of healing due to the American health care system’s failure to adequately support people. However, instead of communitarian practices around meditation and recovery, such as 12-step programs, the industry has turned self-improvement into a commodity and made it an individual act.

Not only has wellness become individualized, meaning its products and preachings are entirely self-focused, it has turned the fulfillment of health into a class question. By charging high prices for specialized goods and associating health with the image of luxury — toned celebrities, perfect skin, unattainable diets — the industry has successfully twisted the idea of health into an aspiration, reserved for the elite.

Some would dismiss this argument, claiming that those who fall for the snake-oil style marketing that the “goops” of the world employ are simply misguided, and being healthy does not require subscribing to the modern ideal of wellness. What this argument fails to grasp is that despite the perceived ridiculousness that commercialized wellness embodies, it nevertheless represents the ability for our collective condition to be exploited. Americans are insecure — we lack support, and the majority of us are dissatisfied with our class position given increasing inequality and stratification. The wellness industry is symptomatic of this reality and is perfectly positioned to exploit it for profit.

Its senseless products, questionable beauty practices and image-focused culture are simply dog whistles for its true product: class itself. Emulating Gwyneth Paltrow, Khloé Kardashian or Matthew McConaughey is not a matter of will but wealth. A $100 lotion or $50 supplement won’t magically heal you, and the majority of its consumers are aware of this. What they are really buying is the image — the feeling of being slightly closer to the unattainable. The wellness industry and its apostles have manufactured a scarcity of life and reserved it only for those with the power to pay.

 

Carson Kindred (25C) is from Minneapolis, MN.

 


Carson Kindred (he/him) (23Ox) studying political science and philosophy. He is a lead consultant for the Oxford Writing Center and a research assistant for The Center for Working Class Politics. On campus, Carson serves as the president of the Oxford Young Progressives, and is a member of the Student Activities Committee.


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