After a trend of magical thinking and quick fixes, science-based solutions may not be so dull, says Eva Wiseman
Like a worm cut in half, its head regenerating into a new, even angrier worm, the wellness trend is one that refuses to die. But this week, its wiggle appeared to wane. A certain weariness had set in. Is this the end of wellness?
The evidence: I was a huge fan of Gwyneth, one attendee of Goops recent wellness summit in London told website Page Six, Now I feel like I have lost my faith in God. GP [Paltrow], said another, is a fucking extortionist. These were people who had spent up to 4,500 on weekend tickets, getting off the tube in Hammersmith as if landing in Lourdes, expecting to leave healed. What do they need healing from, you ask? Well, what have you got? Creepy energy, deep thirst, smell of cardboard, troubled pits, babyish sleeping, bad vagina the beauty of the term wellness is that it encompasses almost everything, and can cost almost anything. Which is why I was excited to see the attendees rebel a tipping point has been reached. Somewhere among the self-care stations and lavender lattes, a healthless revolution.
The same day that Goop fans revolted, a wellness company called Get a Drip withdrew a 250 fertility drip from sale after experts accused them of exploiting vulnerable women. They specialise in intravenous drips of vitamins, with customers reportedly feeling more alive when they leave, despite doctors pointing out theres no scientific evidence they have meaningful impact, that the risks outweigh the benefits, and that they should be used only for people unable to absorb nutrients through their gastrointestinal tract saying that any positive reaction is due to a placebo effect.
Its one thing to market IV drips that claim to brighten your skin or make your hair look glossier. Its quite another, argued Katherine OBrien at the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, to tell the one in seven couples in the UK that have trouble conceiving, that there is a quick fix at an extortionate cost. There is no evidence that an IV drip of any combination of vitamins can improve a womans fertility, she said. In promising hope to women at a very desperate time, we are concerned that, aside from providing no real benefit, these drips may be causing real damage to womens emotional wellbeing.
Wellness has traditionally been a womens issue, much like bloating and white jeans, but last year a mens movement began, only to be tripped up this week for violating Facebook policies. Mens wellness brand Hims has had online ads for erectile dysfunction medications removed, with Arthur Caplan, director of NYU Langone Medical Centers Division of Medical Ethics, telling Wired they were dangerous [and] irresponsible. A lot of people are looking for a quick fix. These direct-to-consumer ads are undercutting the idea that you should be seeing a doctor which is the wrong attitude. This came soon after Britt Hermes, a former naturopath turned whistleblower on the alternative therapy industry, was awarded the prestigious John Maddox prize for championing science in the face of hostility and legal threats. Some superheroes dont wear capes. Instead, natty little white coats, with space for a Biro.
The wellness industry thrives due to a collection of complementary ideas, blended hard into a thick juice. One is the alluring mystique of nature, compared with the cold arrogance of Western medicine and its relentless evidence; wellness cures are rarely proven to fail because they can rarely be proven to work. Another is the new idea that health, a place of painless calm and joy, a sort of inner Center Parcs, is the bodys natural state, with any diversion from this an aberration that must be corrected. There is the celebration of wellness in glossy media, with its celebrities and plentiful lifestyle accessories, from crystals to large jade eggs. And there is a gendered claw, with a combination of feminist tropes the idea that womens health is misunderstood and the medical establishment ignorant about our bodies and a sly regifting of the diet industry, this time with detox plans and slimming drips.
Its hard to fight miraculous cures to nebulous problems with dull, unphotogenic but science-based solutions. But for every new wellness fad activated charcoal, pink salt, placenta smoothies there is a noisy, science-based argument debunking it, and increased responsibility from trusted institutions who understand more care is required when representing magical thinking and its premier philosophers. And too, growing acknowledgement of the reasons these quick fixes appeal to so many people, especially those with busy lives and limited healthcare, especially those who have grown up being told that life can be perfected. The worm turns, slowly.