15 Feb 2023

Gyms, Gurus, Goop: The wellness industry in the spotlight

From Afternoons, 3:10 pm on 15 February 2023

Rina Raphael spent hundreds of dollars a month on boutique fitness classes and 'natural medications' to escape stress and to release stress. She fully drank the kombucha. 

At one point she was even doing underwater cycling, she told Jesse Mulligan. Then she started reporting on the industry to which she was a devotee.

Her new book looks at why women buy into the multi-billion-dollar industry and why the cure has in many ways become as bad as the disease. It's called The Gospel of Wellness: Gyms, Gurus, Goop, and the False Promise of Self-Care.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 21: Gwyneth Paltrow attends the goop lab Special Screening in Los Angeles, California on January 21, 2020.   Rachel Murray/Getty Images/AFP

Photo: AFP

“I interviewed everyone from Gwyneth Paltrow to bio-hacking icon Dave Asprey to the head of Peloton. I got to not only get a glimpse into their psyche but also into their marketing plans, into their business plans.”

She came to realise that, “the wellness industry isn't well.”

It is also an industry that pushes a hyper-consumerist, individual ethos, she says.

“I take issue with the messaging of this industry, which constantly tells us we have to be working so hard, you have to buy all this stuff.

“And not just all this stuff, it’s very expensive stuff and very specific stuff.”

There's nothing wrong with self-care, she says.

“But what we're being marketed today is not actual self-care.

“If you think that you are stressed because you don't prioritise bubble baths, you're kidding yourself, you're absolutely kidding yourself.”

This relentless consumerism merely masks the causes of why so many women feel unwell, she says.

“Maybe it's because your boss emails you after 6pm, maybe it's because you don't have enough time off.

“Maybe it's because we don't have enough research or funding for women's health conditions, there are so many issues of why women feel unwell.

"And instead, we're just telling them to buy all these spa goodies, it's ridiculous. And it's actually I think offensive.”

People may have legitimate concerns with some conventional medical approaches, she says, but that does not make alternative medicines legitimate by default.

The Gossip of Wellness bookcover

The Gossip of Wellness bookcover Photo: supplied

 “There's a lot of alluring marketing going on. And I understand why women fall for it, I fell for a lot of it too.

“I don't think that the consumer is to blame here. A lot of my book gets into the very sort of predatory marketing that is selling these things to women that can sometimes fool them in the linguistic tricks that they use.”

Words such as 'natural' for example.

“This idea of calling certain products natural is just ludicrous because there are no lipstick trees, there are no facial cleanser bushes, none of this stuff is natural.

“And you know, even your fruits and vegetables are made out of complex chemicals.”

She believes that the “Goopification of wellness” is on the wane, however.

“We don't see as many ridiculous products anymore. There used to be a time where every week we were introduced to a product like CBD toilet paper, we just don't see that as much anymore.”

She believes consumers are savvier about exaggerated claims these days, and also detects a generational shift in thinking.

“Gen Z is really rebelling against this hyper-consumerist, productivity-pressured wellness regime.

“They associate it with the millennial perfect girl boss era.

“And so, when I speak to college students, they'll say things to me, like, I can have an Oreo, and I'm not going to drop dead.

“And they're not impressed by the influencers, are not impressed by the celebrity spokespeople.

“They're really putting their own spin on what wellness is, prioritising things like being with friends, or I hear from a lot of Gen Zers who will say things like, maybe it's listening to Taylor Swift, maybe that's wellness, maybe I don't have to spend money on it.”

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