Wellness and privilege go hand in hand these days. How has it gotten this way, what issues are we dealing with, and what can we do to make wellness more accessible?
A few years ago, I decided to adopt a new lifestyle. I was a junior in college, and I was feeling stuck. One night, I was at my favorite pizza restaurant in Bloomington, Indiana (shout-out to Mother Bear’s, the real MVP) with my group of friends. What was just a normal pizza outing turned into an eye-opening conversation. It was a conversation about life as a fat person with one of my other fat friends.
We talked about what we had in common. All of these were things that people who aren’t fat literally never think about. They include: not wanting to eat in front of people, shoving fat rolls into our pants when we sit down, being anxious about people not wanting to sit next to us on the bus (but being happy about it at the same time). We talked about society and how no one, in their perfect world, wants fat people to exist. Incorrect assumptions, people saying they’re just “worried about our health”. So many topics like this were included in the discussion. However, it was in this talk that I realized I was unhappy with who I was and what I looked like. I was unhappy with my life. And so, I decided to start losing weight.
Changing My Life
I downloaded My Fitness Pal. I started working out. And I made an Instagram account that I used to hold myself accountable and follow other people for inspiration. I lost 45 pounds, gained 30 pounds, lost 20 pounds, and gained 15 again. Throughout this weird journey that I never expected to go on a couple years ago, I started to value holistic wellness more than pure weight loss. Self-love, self-care, and mental health became my focus. Because of this, I decided I wanted to share this whole thing with the world via my blog, Meg in the Midwest. And here we are.
Wellness and Social Media
The buzz word in that last paragraph is “wellness”. I’m not here to add to the existing echo-chamber of what people think wellness and self-care is, but it’s important for me to define it. What I believe “wellness” is, is listening to your body and making choices that are best for you, whatever those choices may be. For me, wellness takes its form in going to spin class, doing morning yoga, going to bed early, drinking only one coffee instead of three. Wellness can even be deciding to order pizza on a Tuesday night, because that’s when Bachelor in Paradise is on (duh). Sometimes wellness is a green smoothie. But sometimes it’s an ice cream cone- or a whole pint of ice cream because, you know, life happens.
Social media, however, portrays wellness as an entirely different thing. Wellness and privilege appear to fit together perfectly. If you look at most wellness bloggers and Instagrammers, most of them are white, educated, and wealthy women. Most of them live in big cities like Chicago or New York, where the newest “clean” and trendy foods are readily available. Lululemon is all around, and so are $40 containers of collagen and the hashtag #soulgifted. Don’t get me wrong, most influencers use their platform to promote positivity and an all-around balanced and healthy lifestyle. But at the same time, what we see on social media can influence (lol) us to think that this lifestyle is financially unattainable. And in many ways, it is.
This leads me to the most recent issue within the wellness space. It shows how wellness, privilege, and elitism coexist. This is kind of old news now, but I still want to discuss it.
This issue involves the luxury gym, Equinox. Equinox is a luxury fitness company that also operates Blink Fitness, PURE Yoga, and SoulCycle. The company also has a minority stake in Rumble Boxing. The issue surrounding this company is that one of their investors and chairman of their parent company (The Related Companies), Stephen Ross, was holding a fundraiser to support Donald Trump. That’s a very brief summary, but it’ll do to get my point across! The response to this was people, including celebrities like Chrissy Teigen and Billy Eichner, cancelling Equinox memberships and boycotting the gym and its related brands. SoulCycle issued a statement that was an attempt to assure members that Ross had no involvement in the decisions and ethics of their company. Equinox did a similar thing, calling Ross a “passive investor”.
Responses from members have been mixed, with people supporting the company and others claiming that both statements are forms of gaslighting, as Ross still receives an indirect pay-off through his investment in Equinox. And Equinox is a majority shareholder in SoulCycle.
I didn’t choose to write this post to provide a quick summary of the issue and then go on to bash Equinox and SoulCycle. I want to provide a perspective of a much more complicated problem with wellness and privilege.
Wellness and Privilege Perception
If you want to participate in the Instagram culture of wellness, you have to “invest”. You have to save up, unless you have the resources to do Whole Foods hauls every week. Wellness on Instagram is fun. I definitely take part in it. Like, I use CBD oil and my next blog post is literally going to be comparing leggings from different athleisure brands, ok. The problem is that wellness is being portrayed as only for the elite. It’s only for people that can afford a $200 gym membership or a $42 spin class. Those are estimates for luxury gyms in places like New York City. But for the entire United States, the average gym membership is about $40 per month. Drop-in rates for fitness classes can range from $15-$33.
It can be said that fitness has become a luxury that few can afford. But you can go on a walk, go to free community classes, and do workouts at home. And if you can’t fit being active into your day to day, that’s ok. Sometimes getting food on the table is the only priority. People in tough financial situations deserve respect, not influencers saying “you can fit some burpees in!” This is what we need to have portrayed more in the echo-chamber of wellness on social media. We need to project that wellness and a healthy lifestyle really are attainable. But at the same, we need to be mindful of our privilege because some people literally do not have the means to even think about this sphere.
The same concept goes for beauty products. You can buy a $50 “clean” face mask, or you can literally make one from things you already have stocked in your kitchen. And if you don’t have the time, it’s fine. There’s no pressure. Where there is a major disconnect in this concept is food.
Nutrition and Hypocrisy
We’re told that we need to eat “clean”, which implies that anything besides unprocessed foods are “dirty” and “bad”. This is simply untrue, as food does not hold morality. Food can be nutritious or less nutritious, and that’s that. They’re not good or bad. Even if people have the desire to eat more nutritious foods, they can cost several times more than processed foods. Throughout the years, this gap has continued to widen. It’s not feasible for most people, even though we are constantly told to eat more fruits and vegetables. The truth is that the food industry loves to create food in the cheapest way possible, and these are the foods made up of high-fructose corn syrup, flour, and preservatives. These are also the foods that are most accessible to people. It is a disappointing, hypocritical reality.
Food education is also something that is rare in under-privileged areas. People in stressful financial situations do not have the time to cook fresh meals or the money to buy more expensive foods to cater to different dietary preferences. A need, however, is different than a preference. And if people literally need to eat gluten-free so they don’t die, I believe that gluten-friendly food should be accessible to everyone. However, this isn’t how it is. And it’s unfortunate.
What We Can Do
If you can and want to indulge in your expensive smoothies and keep going to cycling classes, do it! But remember check your privilege and to be grateful. I want to remind people that what you see online isn’t the complete reality. Your life won’t be complete by joining Equinox. And chances are, you probably won’t discover your life’s purpose after a SoulCycle class. You can join Planet Fitness or exercise at home and get the same great workout as you would at a boutique gym. Juicing every morning is something you don’t have to do, and you don’t have to buy the most trendy supplement to practice wellness. You can do whatever is necessary for your mental health and your body and your bank account. That’s what matters, and there’s nothing to feel ashamed about.
Everybody should have access to whatever form of wellness they care to enjoy. Wellness and privilege should start to be separated. Influencers should open this door to people instead of pushing them out with a veil of elitism. Race, class, and accessibly must be discussed in the wellness sphere. And we should focus on other things that largely help people feel well– like sex education, access to nutritious foods, and affordable healthcare. The onus should not be placed on underprivileged people to exercise and eat “better”. While the system is flawed and quite exclusive, we can at least try to make it better. Wellness should be a warm and inviting space, inclusive and attainable for all.
Thank you so much for reading. What are your thoughts on wellness, privilege, and class? Let me know in the comments or reach out to me on social media!