Women’s Wellness: What it is, what it has been, consumerism and how we should redefine it
Sporting a ‘healthy lifestyle’ through wellness practices has been a mode of living for many cultures for decades now. We can remember back to the Jane Fonda workout tapes and fad diets from the ‘90s that started different waves of wellness. And with every new celebrity face comes a new workout routine, diet and concept of mindfulness. Especially in the 21st Century, this has become an opportunity for economic growth for many companies. A rise in both consumer interest and purchasing power presents tremendous opportunities for these companies. Mental health, wellness, mindfulness and diet culture intertwine with social media and marketing more and more these days, with apps like Tiktok and Instagram on the forefront for pushing trends. The biggest category is targeted at women who have been interested in looking youthful, feeling good with healthy skin and a sense of comfort in their busy lives as students, mothers and workers in society. As we celebrate women this month, here we will take a deep dive into the factors of women’s wellness, the trends that may or may not be as ‘healthy’ as the media portrays and how ‘wellness’ is defined by different groups.
A $1.5 trillion market
In an article by the company’s blog, McKinsey & Company organized the consumer’s definition of wellness into 6 dimensions:
Consumers are looking for a better way to take care of themselves. With platforms online and in print that provide an array of information on this topic, what do we need doctors for? Well, that isn’t the exact case, but it’s close, as people are increasingly looking for ways to better their overall health. These apps do not even have to be social media, as companies have developed data-driven profiles for consumers to track their habits, appointments and progress.
Naturally, COVID-19 has changed the game for another thing in society–fitness and the entire industry. Quarantine has forced us to develop new ways of keeping physically healthy, even for those who were gym-junkies and relied on equipment or facilities like swimming pools and sporting courts. But, not everyone adapted well during the pandemic, thus altering the effects of this generation’s take on ‘healthy living’. Redefined, it is now about working out in whichever way serves your body right. Gyms, yoga studios, community centers all used to be the go-to, but since discovering the ways one could save money by performing physical exercise at home, a whole new universe of wellness erupted and continues to thrive, with apps like Youtube hosting the average influencer’s workout plan for the general public’s use. A common issue with gyms, anyway, is how intimidating they can be. Perhaps not all women feel comfortable with ‘gym-bros’ at every corner lifting heavy dumbbells in front of a huge mirror. Working out at home has solved that issue for those who would rather be in their own space while still achieving results.
As a basic protocol for healthy living, the food we eat can be at the top of consumers’ lists. In 2022, is everyone vegan or paleo? Is oat milk still the best thing since sliced bread? At-home Starbucks dupe-drinks flood social media pages for health-freaks who still enjoy a version of their favorite caramel macchiato, right? Trends surround food just as much as they do with clothing and accessories. But, at the end of the day, all that consumers are looking for is the confidence and ability to increase their nutritional value in foods easily, effectively and in the most cost-friendly way. This will always include: juice cleanses, naturopaths and nutritionists’ offices, diet programs and subscription food services.
Collagen supplements is a current trend that dominates not only the nutrition industry, but the skincare industry, too. Being the most youthful version of yourself is the goal for many, and having a healthy appearance is how to get there. An example of what ‘healthy’ looks like is the trending ‘clean girl’ concept. You will see this on every social media app. Even on Pinterest, searching ‘clean girl’ or ‘it girl’ will flood your screen with images of young women sporting similar attire, makeup routines/looks, food programs and plans, along with videos of their daily experience living the ‘clean girl’ life. A ‘clean girl’ has no pimples, tame hair, simple yet elegant makeup, portioned, small meals throughout the day, coffees and smoothies, exercise inside or outside the home and the ultimate skincare routine. The conception is that once you achieve this, specifically as a woman, you will model a youthful, happy and healthy appearance, which is what consumers look for when trying to find wellness in their lives. It is not a perfect concept or method, and can lead to other issues for those who will naturally struggle to match social media’s version of a healthy woman. But, if used as a simple guide, the idea is not completely flawed.
This is general for men, women and everyone in-between. Better sleep means better days, better skin, better appetite and better mental attitudes. But, it is a new category popular with consumers—and maybe that’s no wonder, given the stresses the pandemic has unleashed. In a consumer market, this looks like your feed filling up with products and services that will help with sleep. Founded in 2012, Calm as an app has risen in popularity under this category of better sleep and mindfulness. It features guided meditations, calming music and ‘sleep stories’ even told by celebrities like Harry Styles, Kate Winslet and Lucy Liu. Consumers have to purchase subscriptions to listen to exclusive content. There are more articles on Yoair Blog that can educate you on this subject, too!
Within the category of meditation and better resting state, mindfulness has gained mainstream consumer acceptance relatively recently, mostly in the form of these meditation apps like Headspace and Calm. And with COVID occupying our minds for the past two years, mindfulness is more engaged as a topic of concern when consumers are looking at bettering their wellness and health. It’s a revolutionary time for those who struggle with mental health and controlling their mind-to-muscle connection.
Women and Wellness
Everything stated above is mostly marketed to women. Why is that? What is it about looking healthy, feeling youthful, working out and cooking healthy meals all the while maintaining a steady career and beauty sleep that belongs to women more than anyone else? Looking at this through a neoliberal feminist point of view, the idea that women’s health and well-being must depend on our individual choices.
It is important to recognize that what is being made into propaganda for the ‘clean girl’ aesthetic and ‘ultimate sexy, healthy woman’ is not healthy anymore. Because wellness is an industry, making it susceptible to also being a seductive distraction from what’s really causing the need for lifestyle changes in someone’s life. It glosses over the structural issues undermining women’s well-being. If you look closely at the ads put all over influencers’ posts, you will find a pattern of how the market really works–everything in women has a fix and now with technology and new products going live on the daily, can be fixed. There are so many options and products to buy that are being shoved into women’s faces, blaming them for not being healthy enough, young enough, pretty enough, ‘womanly’ enough.
This quote from The Conversation’s article by Kate Seers and Rachel Hogg explains it very well:
“As such, wellness patronises women and micro-manages their daily schedules with journaling, skin care routines, 30-day challenges, meditations, burning candles, yoga and lemon water. Wellness encourages women to improve their appearance through diet and exercise, manage their surroundings, performance at work and their capacity to juggle the elusive work-life balance as well as their emotional responses to these pressures…Wellness demands women focus on their body, with one’s body a measure of their commitment to the task of wellness. Yet this ignores how much these choices and actions cost.”
As we celebrate women this month, we mustn’t forget about the way society works–against us whenever it can. And in the wellness industry, there are companies who feed off women who feel victimized by these trends and new waves of the ‘ultimate’ healthy person in a Westernized world. To add on to this discussion on how we are influenced by others too much, Yoair Blog has a great article by writer The Impact of Social Media Influencer Culture on Human Behavior.about
How do other cultures approach wellness?
The talk of wellness and healthy living is different among other cultures around the world, but it is most significant to note how the Westernized Americas have developed such a far-stretched approach to wellness in comparison to so many other cultures who achieve it much easier, cheaper and healthier. Wellness is not a transaction, gym membership or social media page in countries like South America, Japan or Norway:
This is a Danish word that is used to acknowledge a feeling or moment. In this culture, it is an act of lifestyle more than just an adjective, as it encourages consciousness and slowness. The Danes created hygge because, in order to survive the cold, dark winter months, they needed to create moments to celebrate the mundane. To them, celebrating the little things will slowness and awareness help to live healthily, all under the ‘wellness’ umbrella of taking care of yourself.
Maté (South America)
This is a tea-like drink made from the leaves of a tree called a yerba mate, which is found in South America. Almost every family has this drink in their home. It is considered an antioxidant, diuretic and even laxative, boosting numerous accounts of one’s internal health. But it is how this culture shares the drink that really makes it special; it is meant to be shared in a group of friends and loved ones, quite literally, too, as one cup of it is passed around the circle with a straw for everyone to take sips of. Encouraging community is one of the ways South Americans feel contentment in their mental and spiritual health, therefore adding to the overall idea of what ‘wellness’ means to them.
“Shinrin-yoku,” Japanese Foot Bathing
This is an ‘activity’ that encourages consciousness in nature as folks are meant to dip their feet in forest lakes/water as part of an experience with your senses with your body as your guide. The difference between this ritual and an American one being a hike or swim, is that it is not at all goal-oriented. You do not go into the forest with an Apple watch and a goal of how far you have to walk or how long you have to be there for. In fact, the Japanese master minimalism and consciousness in their daily lives, in many ways, not just through rituals. Check out Alice Blunden’s piece on Japanese Zen Minimalism and Design to further expand your knowledge on this wonderful culture.
These are simple ways to help us better understand just how many approaches there are to wellness, and how there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way, so long as the individual experiences consciousness and well-being. As for women, there does not seem to be such an obvious distinction between what a woman’s version of wellness must be compared to a man’s (in other cultures and countries). We can only wish that women’s wellness will be treated equally at some point, with a better outlook on what it means to take care of themselves. There are still things we have to look out for, living in a Westernized society, to approach this topic.
What is the best approach to women’s wellness?
Although lifestyle coaches, influencers and celebrities with their own ‘brands’ may feed into the unhealthy side of wellness, there are some that pass the vibe test. The issue with this is how individual wellness is, how there is no one perfect program or app or influencer who ‘does it right’. Since we are all embarking on our own journey of mental and physical health, it is necessary to establish routine and practices based off this individuality, not the general community.
The one thing women especially should look out for is the scam of being too active a consumer. It is easy to consume, consume, consume, hoping that the final destination ends there. But it never does. Because products, in whichever form they exist in, are too external to ‘fix’ what is going on internally, inside of you, a real person. Wellness fads may discuss ‘making time’ and spending money on certain treatments, plans or people to help you through this entire process. But, expensive skincare or your city’s top rated gym may not feed healthily into a successful wellness journey, in the end. Balance is necessary, and this is the case here, too. Splurge when needed, not when someone on Instagram tells you to. Take that yoga class, but don’t abuse the beautiful practise of being a yogi unless it serves your purpose, because burning a hole in your wallet for yearly memberships could ruin the process.
Women don’t need to be told that money buys wellness. Women do not need the consumer market to control their ability to feel healthy and content. Women should try to resist the neoliberal requirement to take personal responsibility for wellness. Even with the 6 categories discussed earlier, there are ways around falling into the trap of consumerism and false advertising. 2022 is a year of growth as the pandemic (hopefully) settles and we embark on a new phase of living–let’s change the standard of wellness for women specifically, at the same time.
Let’s redefine it.