Does the Wellness Industry need a detox?
Every year, actress Gwyneth Paltrow and her lifestyle blog cum business empire, Goop, host the wellness summit “In Goop Health.” The tickets for the 2019 event started at 1,000 USD each and go up to 2,500 USD. As of November 1, every $2500 ticket had been purchased. The Goop summit promises attendees “panels and chats with cutting-edge doctors and scientists [and] thought leaders,” as well as a curated schedule of workshops to restore the spirit, body, mind, and beauty. Despite the exorbitant price tag, what Goop is selling seems pretty attractive, and plenty of us have drunk the Kool-Aid (sugar and gluten-free, of course).
Goop is part of the larger “wellness industry,” which, according to The Global Wellness Institute, is valued at $4.2 trillion as of 2017. The wellness market has been growing rapidly. In just two years, from 2015 to 2017, the industry saw a jump in profits of 6.4%. The wellness industry includes a massive range of goods and services, from facials to yoga.
During the pandemic, the industry has boomed, with stock from companies such Peloton growing at astounding rates. Meditation apps have similarly surged by generating two million more downloads in April 2020 than in January 2020.
However, many wellness businesses, such as Goop, peddle wellness items of a more bizarre variety: psychic vampire repellent spray, jade eggs for your vagina, and annual detox diets. While many wellness products such as the vampire repellent spray have no adverse effects other than lightening your wallet, others can cause real problems. The infamous jade egg (which, while no longer available on the Goop website, retailed for $66), for instance, could cause real health complications rather than benefits.
Though Goop promotes the idea that inserting these eggs into your vagina will help strengthen your pelvic floor muscles and improve orgasm, gynecologists say that this practice causes more harm than good. San Francisco based OB/GYN Dr. Jen Gunter says,“The stones are really porous, so I’m not sure how it could be cleaned or sterilized between uses.” In addition to trapping harmful bacteria, jade may also scratch the vaginal walls, causing more irritation and an opportunity for infection.
Despite the legitimate critique of wellness industry outlets such as Goop, the popularity of the wellness industry reveals a much more important issue: that people are not feeling well. This speaks to a larger problem that our needs are not being met by our current healthcare system. Women in particular, whose health has long been neglected by the medical community, often turn to the wellness industry in search of solutions to problems such as infertility, pcos, or endometriosis. Looking for ways to make yourself feel better is not wrong. But problems arise when reliable health sources are passed over in favor of speculative treatments.
When you dive deeper into the wellness world, you run into “wellness influencers,” a category of social media personalities promoting various facets of the wellness industry. In the wake of the pandemic, many of these influencers have been responsible for spreading a wealth of misinformation on Covid-19. Some have touted forsythia as a natural treatment to the disease, while others have cited the use of ventilators as the cause of death in coronavirus patients.
Many are, predictably, virulently against future vaccination. More troubling, however, is the way far-right conspiracies have latched onto wellness influencer platforms. Influencers such as chiropractor Joseph Arena, an Instagram personality with a following of over fifty thousand, has been pushing QAnon theories about deep state run pedophile rings and has directed his followers to follow pro-QAnon pages. Another wellness influencer and known anti-vaxxer, Dr. Shiva Ayyadurai, has been pushing similar QAnon theory related content to his one-hundred thousand Instagram followers.
Even holistic living mommy bloggers, such as Rose Henges (with one hundred and twenty-three thousand Instagram followers), have been posting theories about underground child trafficking rings run by the deep state. The problem is so pervasive, that the wellness-focused podcast, Conspirituality, has compiled a database of wellness influencers known for promoting QAnon.
Troublingly, many of these wellness influencers have close ties to major wellness outlets, such as Goop. Holistic psychiatrist and Goop contributor Kelly Brogan recently came under fire for telling her one hundred and seventeen thousand Instagram followers via live video that coronavirus doesn’t exist. Brogan stated that she “personally [doesn’t] believe in germ-based contagion” and followed by saying, “Could this contagion be a reality for others? Absolutely,” she says in the video. “It’s not for me.”
She continued by voicing her fears around future vaccination, saying that she believed that the United States would “link our passports with our vaccination records” so as to gain “totalitarian governmental control not unlike the divide-and-conquer dehumanization agendas that preceded the Holocaust.” While the video has since been removed, its message remains, and Brogan’s association with Goop only further solidifies her assumed credibility within the wellness community.
Wellness influencers are known for challenging mainstream narratives about health and medicine, and generally distrust figures or structures of authority. This, coupled with the politicization of the pandemic in the United States, has united these influencers’ critiques of the medical community with far-right conspiracy theories. This is not without dangerous consequences. Though the wellness industry is not inherently a fear-mongering platform, many of its key voices are spreading misinformation that could have real consequences for global health. Whether those consequences be for the spread of the pandemic, QAnon rhetoric, or anti-vaccination propaganda, parts of the wellness industry are doing more harm than good.
This is not to say that the wellness industry as a whole should be dismissed. After all, meditation tools and online spiritual services have been of incredible help to many people during the quarantine. However, now more than ever, wellness content must be viewed with a critical eye.