Recently, in 2019, The New York Times published an article that caused a great resonance in society. The name itself already resembles a call to action manifesto: “Smash the Wellness Industry.”
Jessica Knoll, the columnist for The New York Times who wrote the article, means “wellness” to the wellness industry through nutritional control. Diet, weight loss, bodybuilding – all this, in her opinion, has turned into an ideology that spoils the health and psyche of people, playing with their self-esteem.
Immediately after publication, the article gained great popularity among women. It was posted, discussed, reposted – there were over 200,000 reposts on Facebook alone.
We decided to figure out what ideas are being promoted in the article, as well as to separate the wheat from the chaff – that is, common sense from radicalism.
Remnants of a Patriarchal Society
Arguing about the devilish implications of all diets and the modern “weight loss” society, Jessica Knoll calls for a refusal of self-deception. First of all, stop following diets under the guise of “taking care of yourself.”
Wellness, in her opinion, is always a weight loss story. No matter how a clean meal plan looks, it is still about the desire to get closer to the “pure and weightless” ideal.
J. Knoll: “This is a dangerous deception that lures smart women into pseudoscientific claims to increase energy, reduce inflammation, reduce cancer risk, and treat skin, gut, and fertility problems. But at its core, wellness is weight loss. It demonizes high-calorie and tasty food, maintaining the vicious delusion: thin is healthy, and healthy is thin.“
The author of the article believes that such a painful attitude is a marker of a patriarchal society, where a woman is told HOW she should look in order for everyone to like and please everyone.
J. Knoll: “I am a thin white woman, and the shame and ridicule that I experienced for not being able to become even thinner is nothing compared to what women endure in less obedient bodies. Wellness is a privileged venture mainly for white, already skinny, and able-bodied women. Wellness sells them exercise (because only they have the time) and Tuscan cabbage (only they have the money to do it).”
Some of Jessica’s claims are dubious – she believes that “feeling well” from the diet is associated with offensive cultural overtones:
“It’s like we have to stick to some kind of ‘program.’ Otherwise, we’ll go off the rails. But when you have to deprive, punish, and isolate yourself in order to look “good,” it’s impossible to feel good. I was the sickest and loneliest person when I seemed to be the healthiest one ”.
Despite the fact that there are obvious deviations from the scientific nature and an overabundance of personal opinion in the article, such a point of view exists. And it makes you wonder what its reasons are.
Wellness Industry: Religion or Marketing?
Punishments, cleanliness, good and bad (sinful) food – all this leads to the perception of wellness as a belief, adherents of which systematically impose taboos on types of food. And in case of disobedience, they often punish themselves, like medieval flagellants – only instead of the whip, now training, retreats and new restrictions on food, and sometimes the use of laxatives and hunger.
It should be noted that the pursuit of perfection is a natural desire of a person who is imperfect by nature. And if there is demand, there will be supply – for everyone who is looking for an ideal. There will be someone who will make a product out of an ideal. You can buy the ideal in the form of a “wellness” program, a new meal plan, or even a sachet of detoxifying powders.
“Dirty organism! Dirty body! Restrain, fix, punish!“
Such phrases sound like the slogans of some sect. But if you take a closer look, many of us in the subcortex of consciousness agree with this – only in a whisper. The motive for punishment is sacred, and the wellness industry uses it successfully as a marketing tool. And diets are their product.
J. Knoll: “I no longer define food as a whole, clean, sinful, or deceiving. It has no moral value. And so is my weight, although I am still trying to separate my worth from my appearance. <…> My overeating stopped as soon as I stopped judging myself for wanting to eat wellness-abused food, even if for reasons other than physical hunger.”
Wellness vs Intuitive Eating
In general, the wave of “diet overthrow” appeared even before the publication of this article. Such ideas were transmitted by adherents of the concept of HAES (the health of any size) and intuitive eating. But now, according to Knoll, there is a particular rise in the “non-dietary” approach to life:
“Perhaps it’s because women are finally beginning to question a system that harms and exploits the body. Perhaps it is because we [women] are determined and ambitious, and we need energy. Not the frivolous energy of cabbage salad, but real energy – that energy that comes from eating hearty food that men eat.”
And the appetite, it turns out, can be considered a gift!
As for the intuitive approach, this is a psychotherapeutic practice, not a new dietary fashion. Initially, the approach is focused primarily on people with eating disorders, or ED (bulimia, anorexia, overeating, etc.). Its goal is to restore the mechanisms of hunger and satiety in a person, restore a healthy attitude to food, and remove fixation from the topic of food and figure.
That is, to live not for the sake of the body image, but to live in (!) your body and enjoy it. Over time, this tempting concept migrated from psychotherapy to the general public. In a New York Times article, the concept of intuitive eating is opposed to the wellness industry.
And you don’t even have to love your body in order to enjoy the joys of life and take care of yourself. Jessica Knoll believes that trying to love your body is a waste of energy:
“Most of the time, I feel good in my body. However, I will probably never love my body, and that’s okay. I think loving your body is not only an unrealistic goal in our appearance-obsessed society but also limiting. Nobody tells men that they need to love their bodies in order to live life to the fullest. We don’t need to love our body to respect it.”
Wellness Industry Summary
You can deduce the main theses that the author of the considered article promotes:
- Wellness is always about losing weight under the guise of “healing”;
- Wellness, as well as careers in the fitness and wellness industry, is a marketing machine that drives consumer guilt;
- The idea of a harmonious standard of beauty is a relic of a patriarchal society;
- In fact, you don’t have to lose weight to be healthy;
- And you don’t have to love your body to respect it.
Jessica Knoll speaks rather radically of wellness – as a wicked machine that recycles people’s bodies for the sake of fashion. But in reality, the meal schedule is not necessarily a “patriarchal” story. Someone really needs a regime. For example, if we are talking about people with ED, the same intuitive eating provides for strict meal schedules in the first stages of rehabilitation.
And the wellness-promoted food is not just cabbage, but also high-calorie avocados, nuts, oils, high amounts of protein, and delicious natural sweets (vegan desserts are actually delicious).
If a person (it doesn’t matter, man or woman) wants to build a sustainable nutrition plan for themselves, this can be done adequately. Not to the detriment of your physical and mental health and not to cleanse yourself of the dirt objectionable to wellness food.
So you cannot completely agree with her ideas. In general, this whole story fits perfectly into the matrix of modernity, with all its body positivity and slogans about self-acceptance. Some of you are annoyed by this – you have the right.
BUT! Perhaps the idea of accepting your body in nutrition and life is a necessary step in a modern world filled with gloss, images, and gastronomic overproduction.
The main thing is not to go to extremes and honestly answer questions:
- What is my motive?
- Why am I following this meal plan?
Your body cannot be “wrong.” After all, the standards of “correct” beauty are the same ephemeral thing as the foam at the top of the wave. Here it is, and a second later – it disappeared into the endless ocean.
And you are still here…
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