A big part of witchcraft is learning to see through illusions, and let go of that which is no longer useful. So how much longer are we going to keep putting up with wellness?
Sorry, I should probably specify — “wellness.”
I’m not sure when it began, though I imagine it’s an insidious trend that you could probably follow all the way back, beyond the days of irradiated water jugs and Eben Byers’ jaw. There’s money to be made in solving problems, but there’s a fine line — make sure people know they’re unwell, but not too sick in any verifiable way, just unwell enough to require an easily-marketable brand of help. Blame stress, and you can turn attention away from the socioeconomic factors that are actually making us ill in the first place. We’re stressed, and that’s a problem that needs solving! Maca lattes! Yoni eggs! Self-care!
I could go into the ways that self-care has gradually morphed into self-indulgence, or the various racialized and gendered aspects of the wellness industry, but these are things for another day. Instead, I’d like to point out the ways that self-care has adopted a more sinister role: Not only are we supposed to spend money and energy to properly perform “self-care,” we’re supposed to do this in order to prolong our own exploitation. Take enough eleuthero so you don’t feel worn out at your second or third job. Stay hydrated so your eyes don’t get puffy and tired-looking after you’ve been up until five AM with a sick child, or you’ll hear about it from your boss. Your company won’t give you benefits, but there are beanbag chairs in the break room. You have to put in mandatory unpaid overtime, but they’ll let you nap in your office. Forget about adequate sick leave, vacation time, therapy, or health care, you need ping pong tables and this herb-, vitamin-, and crystal-infused water!
The thing is, I’m not stressed by electromagnetic frequencies, or because I don’t know how to sleep properly. People around me aren’t stressed because they don’t have a relaxation app or aren’t drinking the right tea. They’re stressed because economic insecurity requires both parents to work in the majority of families (61.1% in 2016, up from 31% in 1970) while affordable child care options remain sparse and birth control, abortion access, and adequate maternity/paternity leave is considered an entitlement. (Don’t even start me on our maternal death rate.) They’re stressed because they have to hope they can crowdfund insulin this month, or figure out how to make their child’s medical equipment out of scraps from Home Depot. Oils won’t fix that, Brenda.
(Cue someone inevitably supplying an ironically smug, “Well, don’t have kids if you can’t afford them,” even though they’re eventually going to need the generation being born now to empty their bedpans, administer their medication, and keep them from wandering into traffic. Save your energy, my dudes. I see you.)
In an article by Jessica Knoll in the New York Times, Smash the Wellness Industry, she mentions that many aspects of it rely on the trope that women, especially, are silly bubbleheads that can’t care for themselves:
[W]ellness also contributes to the insulting cultural subtext that women cannot be trusted to make decisions when it comes to our own bodies, even when it comes to nourishing them. We must adhere to some sort of “program” or we will go off the rails.
The wellness industry exists as a sort of modern day panem et circenses that places the blame for our exhaustion and dissatisfaction squarely on ourselves, while absolving the structures that create these feelings with the vague, yet seemingly immutable, idea that “life is just stressful.” If we’re tired, it’s not because of the number of us required to work multiple jobs to make ends meet, it’s because we’re not sleeping right or drinking enough green juice. If we feel stressed, it’s not because the gig economy is quietly undermining worker’s rights and protections, it’s because we don’t take the right supplements. If we have brain fog, it’s not because of the anxiety and depression we can’t afford to treat, it’s because we sleep in the same room as our cellphones. Modern life, man. Whaddyagonnado?
It doesn’t help that wellness has effectively become a luxury, either. In I Helped Turn Wellness Into a Luxury Good. Now It’s Out of Control, Rachelle Robinett discusses just that:
I see healing sessions staged for the photo-op. I listen to supplement retailers position their wares with promises instead of information (“Calm”, “Youth Water”, “Meditation Tonic”). And, at the boardroom tables of so many companies, I hear how they want their products to represent “a movement,” be “a lifestyle,” and “empower” people. But I believe there’s nothing empowering about selling detox waters, vitamins we can’t absorb, or overpriced herbs without giving people the tools they need to create real, lasting change.
We’re worn down, and the solution we’re offered is something that costs time and money that more and more of us don’t have. The most overworked, underslept, undercompensated, stressed demographics — theoretically the most in need of the wellness industry — are also those least likely to be able to afford help. And, as Robinett points out, even those who can afford it are more likely to get placebos and platitudes rather than assistance achieving actual mental, physical, and spiritual health.
I am not against some of the things co-opted by the wellness industry, myself. Some of it helps. Gods know I use crystals, herbs, and oils. I meditate every day, keep a gratitude journal, and listen to binaural beats-enhanced music, because they work for my situation. I’m not against using them, I’m against pushing them as vague remedies for the symptoms of a much deeper problem. Unfortunately, the commercialization of wellness has turned many of these things into a performance, items to add and check off of a list in the pursuit of a nebulous vision of health and happiness. When we are told what we need to have and do to be well, rather than given the opportunity to get in touch with what we actually need, that’s a problem. When taking care of ourselves becomes a shopping list rather than a mindful practice that we are afforded the time and energy to do, that’s a problem. When we are given things to buy rather than ways to effect lasting societal change at the core of what makes us unwell, that’s a fucking problem.