Wellness. Man, when did that word become so loaded? As a veteran of women’s media, I’ve had a front row seat to the wellness evolution. But as a woman who lives in a larger body, I’ve also been relegated to the sidelines.
The ubiquitous criticism of the movement—especially the pervasive face on social media—is that it’s only for rich, thin, white women. And that is incredibly valid. But there is another glaring hypocrisy: while one of the biggest tenets of wellness is self-care and self-acceptance, so many aspects of it aim to try and change us. The rigid extremes can make most women feel like they’re failing. Especially those of us that don’t fit into the mold.
Recently a wellness feed for teens (for teens!) did a post called “eat this/not that.” The not-eat category included ice cream and nachos. If teenagers can’t enjoy ice cream and nachos in peace, what chance do the rest of us have for happiness? When the brand was accused, rightfully so, of giving young girls a complex about eating, they shook it off. Their stance was that nowhere did they mention weight. It was all in the name of (you guessed it!) health and wellness.
Diet has become the latest 4 letter word. But there are still a million new cures for being fat that pop up every day. But don’t call them diets – they’re lifestyle changes. Breaking news: If you are counting every calorie, weighing what you eat and eliminating huge categories of food or only eating them at certain times of the day—that’s a diet. Still, you can’t manage a 5-minute scroll through Instagram without seeing a post about loving yourself and loving your body. But if you’re constantly, incessantly trying to change your body, do you really love it?
I understand the roaring criticism in the other direction. Everyone is fat, everyone is obese, people are unhealthy, women should care more. More? God, how much more can we possibly care? Gluten, dairy, sugar, carbs, keto, paleo, Whole30… we’re left with our heads spinning and our bodies starving. You know what’s more toxic than processed foods? Self-loathing. Having your self-worth so contingent on the size and shape of your body, that you’re robbed of the very joy this this whole revolution claims to promote.
If you want to change your body, go for it. No judgement at all. I spent half my life trying to change my body and I don’t think everyone who tries to lose weight shares the issues I struggle with. But where I do take issue is the idea that getting thin will finally give your life purpose, that you will only then be able to embrace who you are.
The truth is this popular brand of self-love is conditional. Celebrate yourself, as long as you fit into a very narrow definition. You are positively not allowed to be free and happy if you are overweight. That’s dangerous. The message is clear: “Take care of yourself so you can look better and thinner. You really aren’t enough just as you are. Or you’re too much. Once you muster up the will-power to change yourself, then you will be considered worthy.”
Tune into the way women talk about the way they’ve eaten: “I was bad today, I’m going to be good tomorrow” or “I’ve been so good, I deserve a treat” or the famous “I was terrible this weekend but I will be good again on Monday.” These statements seep into our pores and become part of us. Just as if we told ourselves we were stupid or ugly, these declarations are value judgements based on the twisted relationship we’ve all developed with food.
You know what really strengthens self-worth? Eating what makes you feel good. Celebrating the journey—fuck-ups and all. Forgiving yourself. Learning what self-care means for you today—whether it’s taking a break from drinking or taking a break from your kids to drink. Breaking habits that no longer serve you. Saying no. Giving up guilt instead of gluten. Ending mindless apologizing. Allowing yourself and everyone else, no matter what they look like, what they believe, or what size they are, to just be. Loving yourself and empowering everyone around you to do the same. That’s wellness.