This week: The wellness industry reckons with the rise of self-improvement fatigue.
STRONGER, BETTER, FASTER
After a decadent holiday season, January hurtles ahead, offering promises. This will be the year of drinking less, exercising more, sleeping deeply, journaling regularly, meditating mindfully, and saving wisely.
• But faster than you can say green juice, the good habits fade to black, leaving frustration and fatigue in their wake. The post-2020 vibe shift prompted us to consider what cultural messages feel outdated. And let’s be honest, the idea that any of us could of optimize ourselves out of an unpredictable world through skincare, nutrition, or exercise was always a bit of an illusion. And yet, the underlying feeling of wanting to better ourselves persists. “Societies are more polarized and more fragmented than ever,” Helen Jambunathan, Associate Insight Director at Canvas8 told Courier. “And anything that provides a vision of order in the everyday is really, really attractive.”
• Wellness brands must walk a fine line between meeting that need while not exploiting it. So far this January has been the most observably anti-resolution, and fitness brands are shifting away from the New Year, New Me messaging. Luxe gym chain Equinox spoke specifically to the sentiment in its New Year campaign, announcing: “We don’t speak January. January promises and doesn’t deliver.” For the full day of January 1st, the gym brand said it wouldn’t accept new member sign-ups. Not everyone was a fan of the splashy approach — some called it exclusionary, while others wrung their hands over ‘gym-shaming’ (sounds…dubious TBH). Regardless, the campaign highlighted just how complex our feelings over selling self-improvement can be.
• Ella Mills of the plant-based food company Deliciously Ella penned an open letter on the topic, writing, “For almost half of us in Britain, [the New Year, New Me narrative] creates unrealistic pressure — just 6% of us stick to our January goals past the end of the month.” Mills’ approach was more wholly embraced, clarifying the need for a new type of wellness: one that’s more holistic, compassionate, and realistic. “It’s giving yourself an extra hour of sleep, making more time to be in nature…giving yourself 5 minutes of calm before the daily chaos begins,” Mills writes.
Reframing wellness as an attainable series of gradual habits may not seem like a radical act, but to an audience who is sick and tired of the aspirational hamster wheel, this shift in messaging matters.
So what would a new approach to wellness look like in 2023?
• So much of the backlash to wellness culture stemmed from an exhaustion with how social media influenced the industry. On Instagram, the calming benefits of yoga were reduced to #fitspo posts prioritizing aesthetics above all else, and the therapeutic effects of community movement became flattened by isolating digital spaces. “There is no health without mental health,” says the World Health Organization. According to a 2022 McKinsey report, “better appearance” is just one of six main reasons people spend on wellness, yet the industry has continued to contribute to worsening mental health crisis with body image issues at the center. “Unrealistic images and messaging in the media and social media continue to fuel unrealistic standards, negative self-esteem, body dysmorphia and body dissatisfaction,” Dr. Adrienne Youdim, a clinical nutrition specialist, explained to Forbes.
• A recent campaign from Perkier, a UK health food brand, explores the ways the quest for perfectionism has driven us all a bit mad. Its central message is that wellness should be accessible, intuitive, and meet people where they are. (Read: not tied to the whims of the latest TikTok trends). “With the rise of TikTok and Instagram Reels, content is shifting away from the days of a polished and perfect life to being more real, raw, and relatable,” Jessica Heitz, chief marketing officer of sleep supplement brand Olly, tells Fast Company. “With our social mission focused on mental health, we are weaving more ‘real talk’ into our content to help consumers feel seen.”
• One of the great joys of post-pandemic life has been being able to convene in third places, enjoying communal forms of wellness like running clubs, cycling studios, and meditation centers. Wellness retail vet lululemon recognized this need in their customers, and in 2022 took its community event programming to the next level. Last year, the brand launched a free membership program that offered customers special perks including free studio classes, live community events, receipt-free returns and free hemming. Nike, Outdoor Voices, and Alo also have their own version of community events and membership groups, highlighting the importance of IRL experiences for any brands hoping to join this new wave of wellness.
As we see it, personal wellness isn’t so different from community wellness. That means ample greenspace, accessible healthy food, and active, diverse high streets. Consider this our New Year’s resolution, this year— and always.
Words by Nicola Pardy, a freelance writer and producer living in New York.