“It’s undeniable that the our strive for wellbeing and happiness has been both commodified and over-complicated, like a riddle put forth as a puzzle to be solved.”
The wellness industry has proliferated into anything from yoga, meditation, spa retreats, nutrition, bath bombs, face masks and so on. It is estimated to be worth almost £2.8 million across the globe with the average person spending on average £487 on their wellbeing a year. As I scroll through and explore the options of a ‘staycation’, I am being swarmed with ads for a spa retreat in places like Bath and Oxford. Wellness tourism has itself become a market for millennial professionals, wanting to escape workplace stress and swallow a ‘chill pill’ of overly priced massage treatments, a complementary robe, pair of slippers and if you’re lucky, they might even chuck in a bottle of prosecco too. Most of us can relate to forking out money on a new haircut, buying candles you never end up lighting – I even just purchased a yoga mat for 35 quid!
Celebrities and influencers are a catalyst for this commodification of wellbeing. As I have my evening Instagram story viewing, I can almost guarantee that I’ll land on some reality TV star taking me through her morning skin care routine. And there she is, advocating for, and providing me with her discount code for the extortionately priced skin cream she claims in that moment “is the only cream I’ll ever use”. I think she forgot that she was telling me a month ago that the ethically sourced skin cream from an entirely different (yet equally expensive) brand is “the best on the market”. Swipe up for details! Similarly, Vogue has A-list celebrities such as Rihanna, Kylie Jenner and Em Ratajkowski taking us through their morning routines as they subtly (or not so subtly) promote some inaccessible makeup brand, describing it as "self-care" just so we rush to the stores and buy it in the name of our wellbeing.
We are therefore bombarded with narratives that wellbeing is not something we can achieve on our own, but instead something we must invest in. The wellness industry packages our desire for joy and happiness through a candle tied up with a pretty bow and a himalayan salt lamp which is marketed as boosting our moods, both of which (by the way) occupy space in my own bedroom. I sometimes wonder how a brand like ‘Lush’ continues to exist which consists of brightly coloured bath bombs that disperse out itchy glitter that sticks to and irritates my skin. You can dump a £4 bath bomb into your bath that will last up to 30 minutes, only for it to be sucked back into the drainage system, never to be seen again. That identically mirrors throwing hard earned money down the drain don’t you think? I once purchased a £5 face mask, only to put it on and flare up in an alarming allergic reaction which spread across my entire face – all in the name of my wellbeing. As you can imagine, I had to work from home the very next day.
It’s undeniable that our striving for wellbeing and happiness has been both commodified and over-complicated, like a riddle put forth as a puzzle to be solved. To solve the riddle, you must pursue a relentless quest as you meander from one shop to another. As you use the key and enter one shop you are given the clue to your next purchasing decision – “drink me!” screams the turmeric ‘Pret-a-Manger’ shot. Then off you pop to the next pursuit for wellbeing, reaching down for the Bodyshop’s coconut body butter which reads “buy me!”. You think you’re done when you round off the trip with a quick browse around ‘Sweaty Betty’, which ends in you buying a £50 pair of yoga leggings that read “wear me!”, as you envisage the endorphin hit after your next pilates session. Wellbeing is not simply obtained, but like a puzzle made up of thousands of pieces over the course of our lifetime, something brands tell us cannot be achieved in one sitting, or even one consumer choice. Like the unfinished puzzle you started last Christmas, your wellbeing is left incomplete until the end of one’s time…supposedly.
So, do we need to buy our wellbeing in order to have it? The consumer landscape and marketing campaigns would bear testament to this point. But remember, this is an idea simply sold to us, it doesn’t mean it’s true. Wellbeing is marketed as something we are not capable of achieving ourselves.
I call total BS on this narrative. To say that through the tap of your debit card you can achieve temporary wellbeing, creates an illusion that a self care-filled life is exclusionary and only something those with money can achieve. But what about all the studies which indicate that third world, poorer countries are happier than us Westernised cultures? An Ipsos poll measuring the degree of happiness in 24 countries found, for example, that self-reported levels of happiness were higher in poor and middle-income countries.
I am not doing away with the concept of self-care – I have no doubt I will continue to fall prey to the narratives sold to me as I zombie round the shops wondering which object to purchase next in my own pursuit for ‘got my sh** together’ mindset. I am aware, however, that I am more happier indulging in birthday cake with my family, singing old school bangers with my friends and supporting loved ones when they need it. I’m sure most of you can relate when you really think about when you’re the happiest. Ultimately, wellbeing is down to relationships, sense of community and relationship with yourself. It is something completely obtainable without all the external objects and ‘things’. A doctor wouldn’t prescribe you with a dose of meaningless objects to increase your levels of wellbeing. Since when were brands and businesses qualified doctors anyway?