If you’re hoping for the next magic diet, delete.
If you’re hoping for the next perfect Pill, delete.
If you’re hoping for advice on how to more effectively evacuate your guts into the toilet, delete.
I could go on, but you get the message.
If, rather, you are or have, like me, battled the bulge, battled your hate weight, battled your self-image, had surgery or had eating disorders or tried every fucking diet on the planet, struggled with the last ten or the first eighty, spent vastly too much time being pissed at more than an inch your waistline, and even if you DO get uber thin, spent your waking hours horrified at the idea of a single peanut passing your lips, please read on.
In this recent New York Times Opinion piece by Jessica Knoll, the writer beautifully takes on the whole so-called “wellness” industry for precisely what some aspects of it are: a nicely-packaged, carefully-presented set of demands for the same old, same old: You MUST be thin. You MUST be gorgeous. Thin is gorgeous. Fat isn’t. Even an ounce of it is shameful.
Here’s how she puts it:
….a dangerous con that seduces smart women with pseudoscientific claims of increasing energy, reducing inflammation, lowering the risk of cancer and healing skin, gut and fertility problems. But at its core, “wellness” is about weight loss. It demonizes calorically dense and delicious foods, preserving a vicious fallacy: Thin is healthy and healthy is thin.
I wish with all my heart that I couldn’t relate. But having lost all my lovely natural teeth to four decades of eating disorders, having quietly suffered a heart attack from constant starvation, having hurt my bones and my body from a lifetime of abuse by men- men and angry women who themselves hated their bodies- I do relate. God damn, do I.
I also love it when smart women call bullshit on an industry that does nothing more than morph with the times. However, before you crucify me, this is not about wellness per se. There is a great deal about wellness that works, but not the monetizing our misery part of it. Stay with me here.
The wellness industry has roots in the nineteenth century. Let’s be fair. There are many positive aspects to it. However, as Knoll makes clear, then as now, if you want to really be well, it helps to be white and well-to-do. Organic food is ridiculously expensive, so are spas, and meditation retreats. Come on man. It would be fair to say that a goodly number of indigenous tribal folks (pre-Coke, pre-Mickey Ds that is) were perfectly well for good reason. Before we got there. Which is why we see so many articles about tribal wisdom, which in some cases is outright pap, but in others, there’s some basis to it. Eat when hungry, mostly plants, move your body, have friends, have a purpose. Not a damned thing about thin.
Gah. That is just SO hard. But I digress.
“Wellness” at its worst is just another set of rules for Hate Your Body as it is.
Here is another one of her quotes:
The diet industry is a virus, and viruses are smart. It has survived all these decades by adapting, but it’s as dangerous as ever. In 2019, dieting presents itself as wellness and clean eating, duping modern feminists to participate under the guise of health. Wellness influencers attract sponsorships and hundreds of thousands of followers on Instagram by tying before and after selfies to inspiring narratives. Go from sluggish to vibrant, insecure to confident, foggy-brained to cleareyed. But when you have to deprive, punish and isolate yourself to look “good,” it is impossible to feel good. I was my sickest and loneliest when I appeared my healthiest.(Author bolded for emphasis).
Jenna is a lot younger than I am, and by all accounts she probably makes a lot more than I do, living on a disability. I can’t afford the organic food that is offered at my local Natural Grocers. I recently dumped every single supplement I was taking- an investment of at least $200 a month, which I also couldn’t afford. I can’t speak for anyone else, but That $2400 a year comes in damned handy. I don’t feel a bit different, have just as much energy and vitality. No miracle cures in bottles full of filler, but that’s another article.
No cleanse, no potion will ever do the trick, because we’ve been tricked into believing we are shit in the body we have. The entire industry- call it dieting, call it wellness, makes no difference- only makes money when we are miserable. When we hate ourselves. When no matter what we do, what we eat, how hard we exercise we will never ever look like Gisele or Heidi Klum or Gigi Hadid.
Gisele, who also struggled with suicidal thoughts at 23. What stupidity to think that being thin, rich, beautiful means that everything is just perfect?
Just eat this. Buy that. Try this. Invest in this. Dunk you face into that. You’ll just feel and look ever so much better.
Handy, isn’t it? Works like a charm. Like e.coli, it kills.
Which is precisely what would happen to me if I had to eat kale, Brussels sprouts and beets every day.
Our life energy, our joie de vivre, our enthusiasm, always and forever hijacked by OMG I LOOK FAT IN THESE JEANS.
As someone who was in the grip of pernicious eating disorders for four decades, who abused laxatives and ruined her teeth and eschewed water for fear of bloat, I have stories that would scorch even the most jaded of food abusers.
I don’t invest in cleanses or detoxes or expensive spa retreats. Or green glop juices or $1000 juicers or overpriced workout gear. I’m well, in spite of not spending a fortune on all this stuff.
Not as defined by the various fashion magazines that I pored over for years, looking for women’s bodies that I wanted to have. And would starve myself to get and maintain. Which nearly killed me off.
Sure. That’s wellness all right. Starving and your teeth coming out of your head.
The very picture of vitality.
Yup. Sure is. I did the above to myself. And had a heart attack. And a whole lot more. Some of you wish you looked like this. Pardon me, but you cannot even imagine what this costs the body unless your natural metabolism makes you this way.
More often than not, the men in my life complained about the sharpness of my hip bones. My protruding ribs. Eat a goddamned sandwich, they said. I did, then went to the toilet to toss it.
Four decades of horrific dieting to do this to myself. I don’t find this the least attractive any more. I remember what it felt like to have mastered my body through starvation. It was a temporary high. I was also sick, weak, inanimate, and constantly exhausted.
Oh, thin is wellness all right.
Patently bullshit. Which is why I have such issues with any kind of extremity, be it extreme body building (which kills young while selling snake oil to the unsuspecting under the guise of…you got it…wellness) or the multi-billion dollar sales pitch that the only thing worth being is thin.
This woman, to my eye, is beautiful.
To many, she’s fat. And that is because we have been brainwashed to believe that a very particular image (white, thin, Black women with Anglo features and thin, Hispanic women with Anglo features and thin, etc., you get the drift) is the ONLY image. When we drink that Koolaid we are forever addicted to the industry. We will never, ever, ever ever be enough. There will never be enough pills, Pilates, procedures or pain enough to carve us into something other than who were truly meant to be.
We buy lotions and potions to give ourselves a healthy-looking tan. Kindly, those same corporations, suck money out of Asian women who bleach their skin and have plastic surgery to change their lovely almond eyes to look Caucasian. The corporations don’t care. They are happy to march our money to the bank and pay off shareholders who profit from our insecurities.
That’s like being condemned to a lifetime of torture and prison at Gitmo. You’re no more free than a terrorist. The only difference is that you’re the one who’s terrorized. By a cookie. Or a doughnut. Or a slice of pizza.
I will by god on occasion have that doughnut. Or the cookie. The grace I have these days is that I don’t berate myself either for the delight of those treats or for the occasional extra bit of weight that will come and go periodically for various reasons. The body does what it needs to do. Let it, for God’s sake.
One of my closest friends, a Black woman who is frankly breathtakingly beautiful, has forever complained about the thickness of her nose. The size of her waistline. Her expanding hips.
She is gorgeous. And frankly, damn the hips, because she just got married to a man who loves her just as she is. Thicker nose (at least according to her) and slightly wider hips and all. That’s not what he married. He married HER. Her brains and humor and character and competence and intelligence. She and her beauty and brains and humor and all the things that make her beloved and precious to me are not in the least diminished by the thickness of her nose. To me, wellness is also having the wisdom to love what we were given at birth, to celebrate those very differences that define us. It is not well to hate who we are based on utterly fake standards that drive sales.
No amount of work on being thin got me love, or friends, or company. If anything I spent four decades so unwell that the attempt to look like what “wellness” make me a right bitch to be around. As Knoll points out (and I love this because we can all relate) about a recent businesswomen’s lunch:
Someone was slogging through the Whole30 program, someone had eliminated dairy, and someone else was simply trying to be “good” after a “bad” weekend. The producer said it didn’t matter how “good” she was. She had lost the baby weight and though she may look tolerable in clothes, under the Spanx her stomach was a horror show. The writer said she had so much cellulite on her thighs she looked diseased. I gazed around the restaurant, longingly, wondering what the men eating cheeseburgers were talking about.
That’s funny. But it’s also so very sad.
When was the last time you had lunch when at least one of your girlfriends didn’t comment, wail, complain, obsess, argue with the waiter, demand special trade-outs or otherwise not just fucking enjoy her food?
I have been that bitch. Thank god she’s been exorcised.
We are not well when we cannot eat. We are not well when we exercise ourselves to exhaustion just to burn calories. We are not well when we can’t eat a normal meal without being terrified that we’re being “bad.”
There’s nothing well about the wellness industry if it doesn’t teach us psychological wellness. The ability to be in our skins. Love what we were given. Give the body the food it wants and needs. The wisdom to love the stretch marks that prove that we gave life to another human being.
No insanely expensive Kale, or free-range chicken, or liver cleanse will make you well. What makes you well is the wealth of wisdom you gain by leading your own life, free of the shoulds, cleansed of the cleansers, and full of the joy of a life brimming with excitement.
Look, I can’t speak for you, but I can’t excited about a single lettuce leaf on my plate. I like to eat. It’s funny what feeding yourself intelligently can fuel. For my part, that’s pretty epic adventures all over the world. If I were still imprisoned by the so-called “wellness” industry as designed by men to manipulate otherwise perfectly intelligent women, I would still be staring at my leftover dinner in the toilet bowl.
But I’d be thin.
And sick, and lonely, and horrible to be with.
But it’s made a lot of people, if you will forgive the terrible pun, .
Wellness-the way I define it- begins in the soul. It is the ability to embrace who you and I are, our bodies as they are, and be free of the imprisoning standards of a society that sucks the lifeblood out of us by convincing us that we are not okay just as we are. In this piece by Medium peep Kitty Hannah Eden, which delighted me because like her I also fell in love with the farmer’s markets of the Netherlands, she explores our relationship with food and the negotiations we make with our appetites and our bodies.
To be well, we must have permission to nourish our bodies. Permission to delight in the exquisite experience that is eating for health, not forcing ourselves to eat shit that tastes like warmed-over cardboard (plain quinoa, anyone?) because some wellness wag says it will keep us thin.
Eat, god damn it. Your lovely, intelligent, extraordinary body will tell you what it needs: eggs, or bread, or fruit, or hell, a tub of Ben and Jerry’s once in a while. A walk through a farmer’s market in one of the happiest places on earth (Amsterdam, for example) will show you what well people do: they love their food, they build sandwiches that look and taste like masterpieces, they adore tastes and smells and the celebration that is feeding the body.
And then they bicycle and walk everywhere.
Which is a very well thing to do.