Before I get too deep into my Wellness Spells series, I would like to address something that has been on my mind. Lately, I have seen a lot of very thoughtful posts that are critical of wellness or lifestyle trends. The particular ones I am seeing getting a lot of flak lately: minimalism, veganism/plant-based living, yoga, and the tiny house movement. There have been others, but those I have seen the most. The general critique is that such practices make a lifestyle that is common or compulsory for some into something glamorized, expensive, and/or culturally insensitive and accessible only by the elite.
Let’s take minimalism as an example. Criticisms of the minimalist movement are that it glamorizes a lifestyle that is compulsory for many (by limiting spending), that it simultaneously is inaccessible for persons living month-to-month due to an emphasis on making expensive, quality purchases rather than smaller, more frequent purchases, and that it is mostly taken up by people of a certain status.
I think these criticisms are definitely worth addressing and am grateful that someone has done so, but as someone who spends a lot of time promoting wellness, I would like to take a closer look at them and address a few issues with the criticisms. First, I do think that these criticisms tend to come about in the height of these trends, after they have, essentially, been turned into commercial commodities, marketed, and after the most extremist forms of these lifestyles have been highlighted:
- A critic of the tiny house movement is rarely looking at the baby boomer unemployed during the recession who lost his home, had no money left for retirement, and hoped that downsizing and turning away from conventional ideas of “more square footage is better” would allow him to live peacefully; they are looking at the 100K deluxe mobile tiny home with the sauna and the heated floor they see on TV or on Pinterest.
- A critic of yoga isn’t looking at the early Eastern yogis who sought to spread their practices to the West when they felt that people here were lacking wellness practices and spiritual connection; they are looking at the expensive classes, pricey workout clothes, and an emphasis on appearance with no spiritual, cultural, or historical understanding.
- A critic of minimalism isn’t looking at a young graduate who is loaded with student loan debt and is trying to simplify and prioritize her spending habits to save money and invest in what she truly wants out of life; they are looking at the glossy minimalist loft apartments in magazines and the corporate executives who chose to ascribe to a simpler lifestyle after becoming highly successful and who only own 100 things.
It should be said: to be able to focus on our self-actualization is a privilege in and of itself. In Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, it falls at the top of the pyramid. When we are concerned for our safety or we have nothing to eat, we will not be able to prioritize nourishing our own potential. Even wellness in and of itself is hard to focus on if illness is an issue. So, in that way alone, I can’t in good conscience say that there isn’t an aspect of elitism in wellness trends that we should be aware of.
We are all in different places in terms of what we need in life. That doesn’t mean, though, that taking the time to address self-actualization if we are fortunate enough to be able to do so is a bad thing; in fact, I would argue that it is the responsible choice to make. This kind of emotional growth can and should come with an awareness of the disparities in the world and a drive to help rectify that.
Along that line, I also think that people are realizing that even the most privileged lifestyles have their downsides. I once heard an explanation to justify minimalism that went something like, “Excessive consumerism is a first-world problem, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a problem.”** I truly believe that living an overly-consumerist lifestyle is toxic, both to our own well-being and to the world at large. We are consuming too many products, too much meat and junk food, too much television, too much plastic, too much of our own time and money, just too much of everything. All of this distracts from focusing on our well-being and having a deeper awareness of the world around us. Taking the time to re-assess and prioritize what we really want and need to let into our lives and what kind of person we want to be is necessary.
I have two suggestions:
First, if you yourself follow any kind of trend, be it a wellness trend or something else, consider looking a bit more into its foundations and stripping it down to the essentials. Does this trend have an important cultural history and are you aware of what that is? Have you given thought to what this trend means to you, personally, and how it has changed your life? Are you caught up in the pricey goods, the bells and whistles, because you feel that you need those things in order to follow this trend? Does the reality of the trend truly match the fantasy that is being sold? Does the trend have scientific validity? Have you thought about where you purchase the products for your trend and if they are made ethically? Have you thought about if the way you talk about the trend is sensitive to others?
And secondly, for the critics, I would also suggest stripping these trends down to their essentials. Pay less attention to the designer stores, TV shows, and extremists and more to the everyday, heartfelt stories found online, the people trying to make the best out of bad situations, working with what they have, and finding hope in small changes that bring them joy. Research where the trends started and why. Ask yourself why the trend bothers you; is it because the trend is inherently insensitive, because you just don’t like it, or maybe even because you feel uncomfortable with the idea of personal growth? Whatever you do, by all means don’t stop bringing up valid criticisms, just please do so respectfully and with a comprehensive understanding of the trend itself.
So, today’s Wellness Spell is:
A critical eye with a joyful heart.
To me this phrase means to examine our passions in life to really get to the root of them, but to also take note of what makes us happy. We shouldn’t ignore the things that truly tickle our heart; in one way or another they are trying to tell us something. At times, though, this may mean finding a different method to reach that same feeling or digging a little deeper into just what it means to us and why.
I hope this has been helpful; I really value wellness myself and wish to continue promoting it in a respectful way. It is very exciting to me that so many wellness practices are coming to the forefront right now and I think that is great. If you have any additional thoughts on the matter that I didn’t cover, please let me know.
**If anyone can help me find this quote and credit it, please let me know! I think it may have been from a documentary but can’t find it.