For lack of better words, self-care is my jam. To that same point, it’s a concept that’s also been force-fed to everyone and become a pillar of the wellness industry, which includes everything from fitness to food. So much so, that even I sometimes step back and ponder a couple of things. Am I doing this right? Is it something I do or something I think? Will a face mask or home-cooked meal actually help cure whatever heartbreak I’m recovering from?
In its purest and truest state, I do see wellness as a nice blend of self-care and self-maintenance, where certain activities or objects (like crystals or food) have this ability to make you feel like you’re doing something worthwhile for your psyche. At the same time–because I revel in playing the devil’s advocate–I’ve also worried that the wellness industry is turning into this huge gimmick.
In other words, it completely revolves around influencers promoting questionable products, “Instagrammable” food pictures, anything labeled “organic,” and expensive treatments that aren’t inclusive of anyone who isn’t white with a disposable income. It lacks a bit of soul. And if we want to go beyond this surface-level observation, there’s also rules or lifestyle choices that have been accepted as the norm, but are potentially damaging. In the case of someone who is, for example, living with an eating disorder, I learned it can be especially dangerous.
“To be honest I’m not super engaged in that kind of community, though I will say that the whole focus on wellness now can be really toxic. Wellness, in its traditional sense, isn’t a bad thing but I think it’s the way our culture has interpreted it and modified it that becomes an issue,” said Christina Grasso at the 2019 BlogHer Food summit. As co-founder of The Chain and someone in recovery, she’s privy to the ways in which seemingly harmless trends can relay messages that are unhealthy and fly under the radar for most.
For instance, in food culture where words like “fasting,” “clean eating,” and the classic “diet” are thrown around with reckless abandon, Grasso reminded me that some, not all, experts/brands are in the habit of declaring something as “this is the right way” or “this is the wrong way,” even though most of our lifestyle choices naturally exist within gray areas. This black and white approach to how we eat and live ultimately begs the question: if you’re not subscribing to either way, then what do you do? As a beauty editor who has regrettably endorsed some of it, her words were a much-needed reality check and reminder that it’s time to reject some of these “rules” and make choices that feel fluid instead of consequential. And ultimately, it starts with the brands and people who influence most of what we do.
Because again, this “harmless” cut-and-dry approach could be triggering for someone who is trying to get a handle on their eating habits without it snowballing into potentially harmful. Beyond that, it can make recovery feel downright impossible for a person who is already in the deep end of a debilitating disorder like anorexia and bulimia. I can’t speak for someone who is potentially suffering, but if I’m a friend who wants to help, but is also scared of offering wellness advice that ends up hurting the person even more: what. is. the. fix?
That question immediately made me think of an Alice Walker quote that not only helps answer it, but also expands the definition of wellness beyond our own needs: “I practice self-care by taking care of others because when I see the people around me feeling cared for, I feel so loved. I feel my own ability to love and care so powerfully inside.” Sometimes we tend to view wellness through this self-absorbed lense without realizing that wellness can (and honestly should) include a commitment to making choices that will hopefully have a positive impact on the people and places around us too.
In the context of supporting someone through eating disorder recovery, that’s a biggie. Besides the help of actual professionals, Grasso told me it really just boils down to open communication. “I think that if a friend comes to you, that’s really big. So I think having that conversation with them up front, like what can you do as a friend or how you can help support them through situations.” Again, there are no black and white solutions, but you can talk through the gray areas.
For instance, “if it’s a situation where you’re going to dinner, then definitely have that conversation beforehand like, ‘Do you need to blink twice that you need a break?,’ to know that they’re not okay and that they need support. I think that can be really helpful.” That small, but effective shift combined with calling out unrealistic wellness trends and confronting your own behaviors can make all the difference.
So next time you post an Instagram photo and someone comments “you look so skinny!,” or asks, “have you lost weight?,” maybe you forfeit a reply or think of something more clever instead of perpetuating the idea that “skinny” equates to “good” or “right.” Though I wouldn’t necessarily bet on it, I also realize that there could be a counter-argument to this depending on the person’s situation. But in the context of someone facing body image challenges, or having someone in your circle who is and pays attention to your interactions, it may be best.
“I personally don’t engage with that kind of commentary in life, because if it’s somebody that knows me, well, they’ll just ask me. They don’t need to comment on my Instagram. But if it’s just some random person, I don’t feel beholden to responding and whatever,” Grasso added. “I don’t entertain them. I don’t want to reinforce people’s needs to say those things. So I just don’t engage.”
That’s just a starting point, but moving forward, remember that wellness is more than a well-lit picture of your salad or mid-riff after a yoga class. It’s also about making healthy choices that may influence someone who is on the mend or more importantly, suffering in silence. Click here to learn more about Christina Grasso and The Chain.