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Wellness Marketing and the Commodification of Self Care

It is no secret that the media profits off the insecurities and fears that people, particularly women, have regarding their bodies, but industries also capitalize upon people’s wishes to better themselves in more holistic ways. This is typical of wellness marketing, where products are not only a means of making oneself appear more attractive, but making oneself feel good. Whether it is fast fashion stores selling incense, perhaps at the cost of communities they appropriate it from, or herbal teas, that are supposed to benefit you both mentally, companies have latched on to the demand of consumers that we are not only fixated on our physical worth but wish to enhance ourselves internally. 

This trend simultaneously aligns with the goal of many to be more ethically cautious when buying products. Sustainable brands, vegan diets and secondhand shops were once looked upon as being a “crunchy-granola”  aesthetic and undesirable, but are now embraced on a more mainstream level. The ambition to engage in the world in an environmentally fashion has arguably skyrocketed in the early COVID-19 era, where people’s access to goods decreased and were ultimately forced to eat out less, wear less makeup and make use of what they had at home.  Although this goal is not ill-intentioned –– as there are genuine perks to not consuming animal products or not buying clothes made from sweatshops –– corporations are still able to manipulate individuals into thinking that they are upholding ethical standards in their practices by “greenwashing.” Apart from this, the idea that one has to purchase certain items or products in the name of self-care can diminish the actual importance of wellness, and that it does not need to be dependent on capitalism.

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At its core, greenwashing is when companies claim that they are upholding environmentally cautious practices and production methods, but the reality being different. Instead of actually implementing ethical standards, brands spend more money to depict themselves as “green” rather than doing the work. Companies may engage in ad campaigns that seemingly push a more environmental agenda, but these acts can be scrutinized to reveal that very little is being done to lessen their carbon footprint. 

A recent example of this can be seen in H&M’s “Conscious” collection, where the company asserted that they were developing clothes through sustainable production. Many noted, however, that information about these actual methods were sparse and unreliable. While H&M stated that “every piece in the collection is made from a sustainably sourced material, such as 100 percent organic cotton, Tencel or recycled polyester,” it was not specified how these fabrics were actually sourced or how much material was used for each garment. Despite this effort seemingly abiding by green standards, H&M undoubtedly remains a fast fashion brand, but is able to attract environmentally considerate consumers through misleading advertising. Greenwashing is also toxic in that it perpetuates the idea that is up to the consumer, on an individual level, to compensate for the destruction caused on to the environment from the fast fashion industry. While there are ways in which people can reduce their carbon footprint personally and make smarter consumer choices, the quote “there is no ethical consumption under capitalism” comes to mind. In order for the environment to repair itself from the damages caused by the fashion industry, it would take a larger systemic change that has to be from the companies itself. 

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Aside from the actual physical violations that “green” companies commit, the wellness industry at-large has distorted what self-care and holistic living is. Rather, it has pushed the notion that there is a specific way to take care of oneself that has to be from buying specific products. Linking self-care with commodified goods may not seem inherently negative –– as some people genuinely enjoy items that are sold through wellness marketing –– but it asserts the idea that self-care is something that can be purchased, and is an exclusive pursuit to people who are able to afford it, whether it is a trendy spirulina supplement or candle collection. Associating self-care only with these excess goods diminishes the importance of actual self-care, and how it is a practice more intrinsic and defined by the individual rather than a commercial movement. Self care is a process that ensures one’s mental and physical health is being maintained, but it is up to the individual of what that looks like. Whether it is merely getting up to brush your teeth or waking up before noon, self care also includes seemingly small actions that might be forgotten and discarded during difficult times. When the media only connects self care with luxurious items, it isolates self care as an act reserved for those with the financial means for expensive goods. The wellness industry does not reflect on how self care is just as vital for those from marginalized communities through its excessive commodification.

Wellness marketing has also been criticized for being a predominantly white industry that profits off of cultural appropriation. Despite there being nothing wrong in gaining inspiration from the practices and traditions of different cultures, the wellness industry, often fronted by white women, usually does not give credit to the groups in which they tout in the media. Even something like yoga has lost its original meaning as a spiritual Hindu practice in mainstream media, as it is often portrayed as merely a physical, secular way to exercise. While many in the West view collecting crystals for healing, acupuncture and incense as new “gimmicks” or self-care trends, they are instead practices with a deep and thorough history that often go unacknowledged in modern-day marketing.

[bf_image id="q5ejkx-4qp280-4uoilu"] Although the rise of wellness products may initially seem like the media is recognizing the importance of self care, the commodification of wellness has given birth to a distorted view of what it actually is. It has also, on many occasions, manipulated consumers into believing their money is going to ethical resources through the act of “greenwashing.” While the media may seem like it is earnestly recognizing taking care of oneself as a vital practice, it has rather exploited the good intentions and ambitions of consumers. With the wellness industry continuing to grow and prosper, it is crucial to hold companies accountable, whether it is in “green” production methods or instances of cultural appropriation.


Rachel Riddell

Queen's U '23

Rachel Riddell is an English major and History minor at Queen's University.
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