"The problem with the well-being industry is that it’s morphed into the kind of enterprise that capitalises on, well, capitalism." Photo: Getty
I’m sitting in a cafe nursing my second coffee. I’ve just polished off a chicken burger, some beer battered fries and a large dish of aioli. Earlier (which was still later, given I rolled out of bed at midday) I passed by my friend’s house and huddled into a bean bag with a Bloody Mary while intermittently moaning and staring vacantly into space. My teeth are still red from last night’s wine. In case it isn’t already abundantly obvious, I’m in the midst of a hangover so ferocious that if it weren’t so intent on sticking around to torture me, it could actually peel itself away from my broken body and grow into a sentient being.
Clearly, I am no one’s template for healthy living.
It’s a shame really, because healthy living is big business these days. From Gwyneth Paltrow's website GOOP to Lululemon, the Paleo craze to Bikram yoga and everything in between, there is gold in them thar hills of rampant consumerism dressed up as well-being. It’s no secret that these obsessions - the organic raw food and nut snacks, the macrobiotic diets, the meditation classes - are reserved for those privileged enough to afford all the financial output that they entail. Who else but Gwyneth Paltrow can afford to detox for $425 (free shipping!) aside from people who also don’t think spending $125 on a set of 4 monogrammed cocktail napkins is completely absurd?
Gwyneth Paltrow promotes her book, and her impossible lifestyle, "It's All Good" at Williams-Sonoma on April 9, 2013 in New York City. Photo: Getty
The problem with the well-being industry is that it’s morphed into the kind of enterprise that capitalises on, well, capitalism. Take Bikram yoga, for example. You don’t just spend the already steep amount of $20 to stand in a hot room for 90 minutes, smelling other people’s bodily excretions and being occasionally splattered by them. Before you even get to that part, you have to invest in the right kind of yoga wear, usually the kind with scientific sounding descriptions attached that translate simply to ‘absorbant’. And then you have to worry about whether or not you even have the right kind of body to wear said yoga gear; the founder of Lululemon (whose expensive exercise pants only go up to a size 12) recently came under fire for suggesting that their products’ transparency and tendency to pill wasn’t a fault with their fabric, but with the size of the thighs daring to push their way into them. Who knew that only thin women were allowed to practice yoga in public - or at all?
'Ostentatious wellness' isn’t just about making yourself appear as good as you feel. In its own way, it’s an advertisement for the kind of hip, urban, aware lifestyle you want others to think you adhere to. What do people even do with kale? And why would anyone in their right mind put anything in their body that looks like a spirulina smoothie? There’s a self indulgence to ostentatious wellness that screams to the world, “I am the kind of person who activates their almonds”.
But it is a truth universally acknowledged that people will throw large wads of cash at anything that buys them social status. For all the emphasis on inner calm and cleanliness that propels the wellness industry, it runs on the same old grubby produce that fuels the rest of the world - money. Bikram Choudhury, the creator of Bikram Yoga sports his own personal collection of more than a dozen Rolls Royces and Bentleys. His fortune is largely due to the enormous fee he charges wannabe yoga instructors to become accredited in teaching Bikram - $7000 each for a nine week course. The founder of Lululemon, Chip Wilson, has a net worth of $2.9 billion. Meanwhile, the global market for superfoods was predicted to hit $177 billion a year by 2013, despite the fact that most superfoods don’t really work as advertised and goji berries actually taste disgusting. And none of that even takes into account how much of the wellness industry is actually just part of the same old diet industry re-branded to avoid uncomfortable accusations of capitalising on people’s (mainly women’s) self loathing.
In the end, ostentatious wellness is no different to any kind of disguise shrugged on to advertise a certain lifestyle while studiously pretending to be as far removed from capitalism as possible. You may not be able to live your well into wellness - but you can sure as hell buy your way into the appearance of it.