‘Wellness’ is not about health

The recent exposé of the so-called ‘wellness’ blogger, Belle Gibson, is nothing more than ripping the curtain back on yet another charlatan, playing on people’s hopes and fears.

She joins a long list of people that seem to think that health is something to be found in juices, enemas and pathological diet regimes. These people spruik sometimes extreme solutions to serious diseases, and peddle lies about cures, like old-fashioned shysters, hawking their wares at the market.

They fool people into thinking that they can always be in control; that they are responsible alone for their health. Their shiny good looks are sold as available to anyone who just tries harder at their particular recipe for success. Just buy the book, and the app, and the blender, and the thermomix, and the juicer, and the enema kit, and the crystal potions on special for $59.99 and everything will be ok.

Of course, that’s bullshit. And it’s bullshit for many reasons but mostly because these people are not actually interested in health at all. Well, at least not in the health of all of us.

If they cared about health, then they would care about poverty, inequality, housing or transport. The social determinants of health (SDOH) show that where people live, and what access they have to education and employment has far more to do with their health than eating pasta.

It is now well established that the most common forms of physical and mental ill-health that affect populations are strongly influenced by factors in the social environment, which exert an influence over the life course.” [From here]

But focusing solely on an individualised model of health, like this wellness woo, just means that those who can afford their so-called solutions can sneer at those who can’t. They can have their organic kale smoothies and discuss the provenance of their fish, while laughing at people who eat at fast food places. And none of this is going to stop them getting sick. None of it.

They don’t have to admit that their ability to pay for all this nonsense is directly related to how well they perform on the SDOH indicators. They have a stable home, a decent education, access to work and transport, with good healthcare on tap. Remember those old discussions about class? Yeah, this is what class looks like.

After all, it’s not like they are the ones that actually have to pay the health costs of the SDOH.

“The fact that so many disadvantaged Australians are in poor health or have long-term health conditions relative to individuals in the least socio-economically disadvantaged groups is simply unfair. So are the impacts on people’s satisfaction with their lives, missed employment opportunities, levels of income and need for health services. This study shows that major social and economic benefits are being neglected and savings to Government expenditure and the health system overlooked. ” [From here]

This idea that a single individual always has power and control over any illness is simply wrong. These fraudulent asshats, that focus on un-scientific nonsense as a cure, say to anyone that is sick that they can be fixed by things that do not work. This is revolting and cruel. Fuck you and fuck off.

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About bluntshovels

Freelance writer, with an unhealthy interest in Senate committees.
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8 Responses to ‘Wellness’ is not about health

  1. donayrec says:

    As usual, great analysis El. It’s also important to remember that these ‘superfoods’ wealthy people in western countries are eating to stave off cancer are actually the traditional foods of indigenous peoples in less than developed countries. For example, quinoa in Peru. The western habit of fetishising foreign food sources is leading to these foods being outpriced in their traditional markets thereby denying indigenous people their traditional food. Eat your own bloody food.

  2. Well said! Those of us with chronic conditions become very tired of the self-congratulatory types who use their genetically-blessed status to imply that we are simply not trying hard enough.

  3. Imogen says:

    Terrific essay El.

    I don’t agree with her much these days, but Helen Razer did make a very pertinent point recently when she remarked in an article that “wellness” was just the new way of saying “thin”.

    Unfortunately you’re link to social determinants of health is timing out for me at the mo, but I do want to pick up on the importance of access (and knowledge, and time and all the others bits) to healthy food as part of people’s health. Some of the best social justice advocates etc I know come from a background in nutrition and primary health, and are engaged directly with tackling poverty and in particular the lack of access to a healthy diet precisely because it has such a strong impact on health.

    There’s little doubt that poor diet does affect health in all stages of life, but this is why the “wellness” movement in my view does so much damage. They individuate the reasons people don’t eat healthily and ignore the raft of factors that ultimately result in poor diet, of which “choice” is only one and is always exercised in specific, not generic, contexts.

    So by making it all about choice, the wellness shills promote victim blaming, not focus on the systemic reasons that poor diet and related health happen. Like no transport or access to healthy food in affordable travel distance; or shithouse rentals with no proper cooking facilities or food storage facilities; or lack of cooking knowledge in the face of a relentless consumer culture that encourages us to either abandon (it’s “work”) it or fetishise it (think masterchef et al for the latter).

    On top of that they have done terrible damage to people’s ability to navigate what is healthy food with all the super food bullshit, false and inflated claims about benefits, and on it goes.

    But the point I do want to make is a healthy diet is really important, and everyone should have a right to sufficient, healthy food. It is a human right. Conflating it with fucking paleo etc by the wellness brigade stops us from having an incredibly important conversation about something as fundamental as what we put in our bodies every day.

    • bluntshovels says:

      I think that’s right, that much of the ‘wellness’ stuff is code for don’t be fat (which has its own class stuff attached.) I’m with you on access to healthy food and the SDOH things that stop that, but I’m also saying, perhaps not clearly enough, that expecting a healthy diet fix illness is ridiculous. But yes, I don’t see Paleo Pete doing anything about the things you’ve mentioned that stop people accessing healthy food, if they want to.

      • Imogen says:

        TOTALLY agree that a healthy diet doesn’t fix the vast majority of illness, and yes the conflation of ‘poor eating’ with ‘choosing to be ill’ is well, frankly it’s disgusting when you boil it all down.

        Diet does play a big role in early childhood and determinants of stuff like diabetes 2. I think it’s really important too, to be clear that ‘diet’ for kids for eg, isn’t just about ‘did they get their fruit and veg’ it’s things like ‘did they get fruit and veg that wasn’t laced with heavy metals because of where it was grown’.

        Then there’s really compelling and scary research around micronutrient deficiency etc etc. Again, I want to be really clear this is not the same as saying ‘you ate bad food and now you have cancer’. I’m just trying to tease out the difference between starting from recognising the importance of healthy food to health and that having that must be a human right; vs starting from the pov that all diet is a choice and you are responsible for your poor health for not eating kale every day.

        I hope that makes sense!

  4. YES!! Health rhetoric is so deeply mired in privilege and bigotry and always, always comes back to moralising. Health is to the left what sex is to the right – a tool for superiority complexes.

  5. I love this post. It’s right on target. Just as all of the “you are what you think” is an absolutely privileged position. Most of it implies that the man being crushed underfoot has imagined the bullies foot on his back and thus deserves his punishment.

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