Big Wellness goops up real health talk



Whether we like it or not, celebrities have influence over multiple facets of our lives. Their fingerprints are all over the clothes we wear, the media we consume and what we name our children. We shouldn't be surprised that they also hold such sway over how we talk about health.

Chris Johnston cartoon has celebrities practising 'wellness' while a person with real health issues watches on nonplussed.Most celebrities have the kind of bodies we're conditioned to aspire to. In the age of #cleanliving, the ideal body parameters now include the prerequisite of a certain level of health and its corresponding weight (i.e. your leanest liveable weight).

The 'thin is in' trend is nothing new — women have been told to aspire towards this standard for aeons. But something's changed in how the one per cent lives. Celebrities and influencers, rather than credit their physiques to intense exercise and diet regimens, now owe it all to 'wellness'. And you owe it to your health to get on board the wellness express as well.

When it comes to conversations regarding women's health and noncommunicable diseases however, including chronic illnesses and autoimmune diseases, this talk of wellness becomes problematic. To quote Gwyneth Paltrow's Goop website: 'Where we have found our primary place is in addressing people, women in particular, who are tired of feeling less-than-great, who are looking for solutions — these women are not hypochondriacs, and they should not be dismissed or marginalised.' In the eyes of Big Wellness, you can make a profit out of these women's insecurities.

Wellness gurus create a false conjunction between aspirational wellness and authentic self-care with phrases like 'nourish your body with real food' and 'live your best life'. In other words, if you're not drinking celery juice or drinking from a rose quartz water bottle, are you really taking care of your body? This particular kind of advice from famous wellness gurus is a product of their privilege, namely being able-bodied and wealthy. It's easy to share the idea that global warming will give more Americans diabetes when you've never had to ration insulin.

What makes wellness gurus so alluring is the idea of 'empowerment'. When you get off your bum and have the chutzpah to take control of your health, you too can live your best life! Unfortunately, this idea of 'willpower' doesn't work when applied to instances of noncommunicable diseases. It's a fairly reasonable assumption that sheer willpower and going Paleo aren't the cure that people with noncommunicable diseases have been waiting for.

There are very real concerns about health and conversations that need to be magnified, and these gaps and silences are capitalised upon. Literally.


"Statements like 'have you tried X' and 'eat less Y' feed into the idea that managing chronic illness and other invisible disabilities is a simple solution."


Plenty of people are stepping up to the task of debunking pseudoscience and exposing the problematic side of the wellness phenomenon, but even this leaves little space for authentic calls for better scientific understanding of noncommunicable diseases. The plethora of anti-Goop opinion pieces ensures we're no longer talking about why autoimmune diseases are under-researched. In addition to perpetuating the gaps in conversations, we're not really making room for people with noncommunicable diseases to speak up. So how can we do better?

There's certainly work for science and the pharmaceutical industry, but there's also a lot to be done in improving the way abled-bodied people engage with people with noncommunicable diseases.

Much of what needs to change lies in our vocabulary. Statements like 'have you tried X' and 'eat less Y' feed into the idea that managing chronic illness and other invisible disabilities is a simple solution. If we haven't got a noncommunicable disease, we can start by not assuming that one solution (holistic or otherwise) will work for everyone, even if a detox fixed your Aunty Edna's fibromyalgia.

While giving advice and suggestions may come from a good place, more often than not this advice isn't necessary. Instead we need to use our words to call for more scientific research into the effective management of noncommunicable diseases, creating systems where people can afford medical treatment and making accessibility paramount.

Insights from disability/chronic illness activists (including Carly Findlay, El Gibbs and Stella Young) have illuminated barriers and problematic actions that would otherwise go unnoticed by able-bodied folk. In order to improve the conversations about health and accessibility to health services, people with noncommunicable diseases and disabilities need full involvement in how we shape the world and construct the healthcare system.

We need to amplify and listen to their insights rather than give our clicks to outrage pieces about jade eggs.



Vivienne CowburnVivienne Coburn is an eclectic writer and ardent coffee snob from Brisbane. Her work has been featured in Junkee, Ibis House, PASTEL Magazine and on her mum's fridge. She is also the host of 'Spookzzz' on 4ZZZ (102.1 FM). You can follow her on Twitter @pearandivy

Topic tags: Vivienne Cowburn, wellness, disability, El Gibbs, Gwyneth Paltrow



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Existing comments

'Wellness' - the latest euphemism for 'You should be master of your own health.' Good to have the word exposed for its inanity.
Helga Jones | 18 November 2019

Excellent article. I have but one criticism. Which is, the use of the 'free market's, neoliberal term "consume" in relation to media. I consume food. I read and listen to media. I am more than an economic unit consuming product. This terminology reduces all of us to participants in an economy rather than a society.
Maxine Barry | 19 November 2019

I like this article Vivienne, but l agree with Maxine Barry, and disagree with your comment regarding 'celebrity influence. No - we don't all allow such influence, why would anyone??? Julie Shannon
Julie Shannon | 23 November 2019


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