Wellness Blogging and the Privilege of Purity
I am obsessed with wellness bloggers. I follow nearly 100 of them, and even if a solid 60% of their posts make me roll my eyes, I have to admit that part of me must crave the content they're producing if I've stuck around as a follower this long. If you don't know who exactly I'm talking about, let me paint you a picture of a typical post you might see; a tan, usually white, thin woman, wearing an outfit than can be described as "athleisure" that probably costs somewhere close to $150 (it probably came from the ever-so-trendy Outdoor Voices brand). She's usually surrounded by an audience of indoor house plants. She can be doing an unattainably difficult yoga pose, displaying a plate of local vegetables bought at her farmer's market that are roasted to perfection, or holding a mug of some gorgeous combination of matcha, herbs, acai berries, maca powder, bone broth, collagen, or any other thing you've seen at Whole Foods and wondered how someone could spend $20 on a small jar of powder. She has a seemingly unlimited amount of free time to prepare her foods. I'm not going to mention any names, because I don't want to invite any feud into my life, but imagine Gwyneth Paltrow's crazy inaccessible lifestyle brand Goop's teachings, just taken down a half of a notch and acted out by somewhat "real" people. (I'm okay with calling Gwyneth Paltrow out by name. 1) there's a 1/5,000,000 chance she's reading this, and 2) if she is, I would LIVE to be caught in a feud with Goop. If you know her, please let her know I have A THING OR TWO TO SAY TO HER). Goop's tagline is "Cutting-edge wellness advice from doctors, vetted travel recommendations, and a curated shop of clean beauty, fashion, and home." Their website design is minimal, echoing their dedication to "clean." Their products are all supposedly tickets to living your best life. There is an emphasis on organic products, raw products, and all natural ingredients. To give you an idea of what I'm talking about, here are some of my favorite Goop products that promise you beauty, purity, cleanliness, only at a huge price tag.
And these aren't even the craziest ones. They get crazier.
Even though I'm displaying these products as ridiculous, I have to admit that this image of complete purity and adherence to wellness is appealing. How couldn't it be? By design, these women appear so completely flawless. Not even just flawless in appearance, but in their lifestyles. They have beautiful bullet journals, they do yoga every day, they make sure to meditate, they eat their vegetables, they have never killed a house plant (?!?). While I can simultaneously understand that most of it is bullshit, and they construct their pages to create the illusion that they are indeed without flaw, there is still somewhere in my mind that keeps these women in mind as a ruler to measure myself against. The thought process goes: "If I just lived my life right, ate all the right things, and was as productive as I could be, I'd finally have the answers. I'd be the woman I'm meant to be. I'd look like the woman I've always wanted to look like." By considering these women as the pinnacle of health and beauty, in comparison, I am a failure.
By placing herself as the ultimate pinnacle of wellness, she markets her lifestyle as the answer to living an unwell life. "Anyone can do it! Even you!"
...so long as you can afford the powders, the blenders, the supplements, the monthly meditation apps, the skin care products, the extra $2 or $3 that are tacked onto organic produce, not to mention the luxury of free time to dedicate yourself to maintaining all of these habits to your day. Something that is less glamorous to talk about is how reliant this form of Instagram wellness is on consumerism and having the privilege to afford these products. Part of this is the name of the game: many Internet personalities make their living on paid partnerships with brands, and that's fine. I'll accept it as the "way things are" now, and I certainly won't blame anyone for it. But another big part of me wonders about the paradox that they present- if you read between the lines, while these bloggers are intending to promote a healthier lifestyle in which one connects with their true purpose, finds abundance, nurtures their soul, and any other life coach-y type terms, they also are promoting a lifestyle in which you are constantly seeking out (EXPENSIVE!) new products to remedy all of your ills, and in turn subtly paint those who don't partake in these daily health rituals as the opposite of this kind of purity. In other words, dirty.
I may not be following the right people, and if you have a suggestion for someone who promotes wellness in a way that doesn't smell like elitism please send them my way, but I have yet to see a wellness blogger acknowledge how incredibly lucky they are to have access to all of the resources that they do or acknowledge that this lifestyle is either incredibly difficult for the average person to attain or downright impossible for large swaths of the world. While their captions usually provide some kind of advice for how you too can very easily live this life, they rarely include a mention of the people who truly cannot. In a country where 8% of African Americans live in a census tract with a supermarket, as compared to 31% of white Americans, and many lower-income Americans face extreme rates of obesity, it is a great privilege to truly be able to believe that everyone can live a life of complete purity if they just try hard enough and create the right habits.
I don't mean to say that if someone's career is in dealing with the food world that they must constantly be bringing up the very real crisis we have with wealth inequality and food access, but I do believe that if this issue has no place in the message you are sending about food, you have to reevaluate. Food does not appear out of nowhere. Food is not a non-issue in our society. It is a highly political power that keeps populations down while elevating others, and ignoring this fact is dangerous. These young women have huge audiences of other women who are looking to them for health advice, and pointers on how to live their lives. Although it's easy to not consider their impact by downplaying the importance of social media and Instagram, these women are increasingly becoming a voice in the health community. There is ample room for saying, "Hey, being healthy is hard, even if you have all the resources. Now let's imagine how much harder it is if you don't have the resources." There is ample room for acknowledging that the access that people have to wellness is incredibly unequal. And there is ample room for acknowledging how much this modern wave of wellness and purity is a newly disguised form elitism over lower-income populations.