What Does Wellness Mean Now?

What Does Wellness Mean Now?


We spend a lot of our days chatting with each other about things we see online, trying to make sense of it all. This week in the Styles newsletter, Wait …, Amanda Hess, a critic-at-large, and Jenna Wortham, a staff writer for the Magazine and a host of the podcast “Still Processing,” discuss the wellness industry and their self-care routines.

Speaking of podcasts, we have a new one: “Together Apart.” How do we make gatherings meaningful when we can’t be physically together? Our host, Priya Parker, a professional conflict facilitator and the author of “The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters,” shares her advice. You can subscribe on Apple or Spotify.

Take it away, Amanda and Jenna!

Amanda: Hi, Jenna. How are you doing? Are you well?

Jenna: Ugh, Amanda, what a question. I have my health, a safe place to sleep, my pantry is full, my loved ones are OK, but I feel like absolute garbage. Heavy. You know what I mean?

Amanda: Yes. I always feel lucky, and I feel especially lucky now, but I also am just consumed by this greater loss, and by how many people are dying and are going to die.

Jenna: Grief! We’re grieving the loss of life, of normalcy, of connection, and it’s so painful. I’m struggling to process it all. I oscillate between reading absolutely nothing and bingeing on my favorite comfort shows, like “Survivor” and the so-silly-its-charming sci-fi show “The Magicians,” or staying up until 3 a.m. staring into the feeds/void.

Amanda: I watch all the Andrew Cuomo briefings — I would like to tell that to “two months ago me” and see what she thinks of that — and I find the clichés about love and human connection spelled out in the PowerPoints oddly soothing. I’m also doing yoga for the first time ever, and half of my motivation to do that is that the YouTube channel I watch, Yoga With Adriene, has a really sweet dog loping around in the background.

Jenna: Amanda, don’t take this the wrong way but … yoga! That seems like such a big shift for you. I’m so happy for you (also this is me during this outbreak — deeply emotional and on the verge of tears, literally, all the time.) Tell me everything! Are you going to start Hoop, your version of Goop?

Amanda: Ha-ha, I know, yoga is like the most basic wellness move possible — even my dad does yoga — but it took an actual pandemic for me to try it. I love it! It’s very relaxing, and it is making me move my body when I otherwise have zero incentive to.

I think if I started a wellness brand it would be more like my spin on “Girl, Wash Your Face” because that is the level of self-maintenance I feel comfortable imparting to others. Washing your face: I know that’s good, or at least not that bad!

Jenna: I would actually be so into that brand. I’m happy to say I am washing my face regularly, at the very least. And moisturizing! For better and worse, this pandemic is definitely getting us to rethink so many of our habits and behavioral patterns.

Amanda: We’re in such a paradoxical moment, where people need self-care more than ever, but also the wellness industry has never felt more cynical and beside the point. We have this bustling luxury wellness economy, but we don’t have public health.

Jenna: Over the last few years, my relationship to wellness has totally shifted. I’ve divested from wellness-oriented consumerism — I’ve realized I don’t need to buy a “magic” “tonic” (not that one even exists!) to be healthy. I have to organize my life around the core tenets of being well: getting good rest, lowering my stressors and sources of anxiety, and thinking about how diet impacts mental health.

Right now, I’m really prioritizing my sleep. I’ve realized I am someone who really needs a solid eight hours, which is a new revelation for me. But that’s totally not happening right now. I’m having a hard time falling asleep, and having the wildest dreams.

Amanda: I feel like all of my dreams are about Slack? It’s terrible.

Jenna: NOOOOO. But I do think there’s an interesting dynamic playing out right now in how wellness is being marketed to us and the impromptu, ad hoc ways we’re figuring out how to care for each other.

There are long traditions of radical activists (Audre Lorde, the Young Lords, the Black Panther Party) encouraging their communities to turn inward to figure out how to provide and care for themselves in light of overtaxed medical systems, government missteps and negligence.

When we talk about wellness, there’s Big Wellness, which you brilliantly dismember in a lot of your pieces. Then there’s a gentler, more collaborative understanding of taking care that is impossible to buy, because it involves tapping into indigenous and ancestral knowledge about how to eat and live in more harmonious ways with the earth and nourish the body.

Those practices are being shared right now via nearly every social media platform, which is truly incredible. Normally that information is passed down through a lineage, not dumped into a Google Doc.

Amanda: I totally agree. It may be wishful thinking to try to see any kind of silver lining in this, but at least for now, the virus has generated this way of living on the internet that does feel legitimately grass roots and community-oriented, as opposed to being organized around some cult of personality or company. There’s a real move for everyone to look out for each other’s health and wellness that I hope can survive this.

Jenna: Yes! I actually just wrote about that, because seeing people scramble to organize online has been the only light in this hellmouth for me. And there’s also a cataclysmic awakening (or at least I hope there is) about all the ways we are chronically unwell as a society.

I’m really struggling with the ways the face of Covid-19 has largely been white, but all the data emerging shows that it’s impacting lower-income, black and brown communities the hardest. And that’s because of years of disenfranchisement, poor access to health care, overcrowded public housing — so many reasons that are deeply upsetting to consider. We have to really reckon with the reality that wellness is a luxury for so many people whose day-to-day existence revolves around basic needs and survival. I’m really sitting with that right now.

(This conversation has been edited.)



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