Wellness culture is destroying our bodies and the planet

Despite what Instagram would have you believe, our dietary choices are not the leading cause of the climate crisis.

by Scarlett Westbrook
|
17 February 2022, 8:00am

Over the last few months, I have been inundated with requests from various wellness and 'healthy eating' organisations to promote their products or schemes, usually centred around their 'climate friendliness'. After an endless stream of messages from CEOs trying to get me to help them cash in on the climate guilt felt by many in our generation, I'm here to debunk the myths they are peddling.

Message after message tells us that buying ‘climate friendly' protein shakes or supporting various healthy eating campaigns will help save the planet and my body. Factitious links are created between our own thinness and dedication to climate justice, as wellness companies pitch marketing narratives to consumers that cling onto the lie that, somehow, the gimmicky yet ‘sustainable’ things we purchase can change the direction of the climate crisis.

Operating via classist and reductionist approaches to healthy eating, these sorts of campaigns usually fixate on the carbon footprint of processed foods and the subsequent demonisation of those who consume them. Structural issues — like poverty, food waste, and living in food deserts — are completely erased, as those who consume cheaper, more calorie-intensive foods are painted out to be the initiators of the climate crisis. In actuality, they're the victims, as they are forced into a diet limited in nutrients and variety due to price hikes and regional disparities. The struggles of living in poverty, or in areas geographically vulnerable to the impacts of the climate crisis, are glossed over in favour of soundbites that drone on about individual responsibility and making better choices — fronted by glossy pictures of influencers.

Rather than being indoctrinated by wellness marketing, we should object to our faces being used to prop up the game of scapegoating individuals for the climate catastrophe. Make no mistake — the climate crisis is not a coincidence, nor is it our fault (unless you're a billionaire…). It is the product of centuries of extractive and exploitative systems of capitalism and colonialism, spearheaded by elites with no incentive to stop their destruction and every incentive to continue it. 

Yet, as the climate movement has picked up attention in recent years, big corporations have doubled down on their efforts to deflect the blame from themselves and onto consumers, in a pathetic attempt to keep on cashing in on the destruction of our planet. After all, if we believe that the climate emergency is our fault and that we can solve it by purchasing products from the very same people who have caused it, we won't take action against the actual perpetrators, and at the same time they won't miss out on money — a win-win for both capitalism and the climate emergency.

This commercialisation of climate action, and how it’s carried over into the weaponisation of wellness culture, helps push individualist narratives that actually only serve the interests of big companies and the ruling classes. By shifting the blame onto consumers and our own bodies, corporations are getting away with defacing the planet. We shouldn’t face inwards when placing blame. Rather, we should look outwards, at the 100 companies responsible for 71% of global emissions

We mustn’t let young people over-focus on ourselves and the products we consume at the expense of building a collective movement. Whether that's encouraging disordered and restrictive eating through excessive and unhealthy orthorexic narratives or weird wellness companies asking young climate activists (including myself) to advertise their slimming products because of their 'environmental benefits'. This can not go on — we need to take a stand against the internet culture that is trying to ruin our bodies and the planet; despite pretending to do otherwise. 

It is time for these toxic companies to stop targeting young eco-conscious girls and start tackling their own carbon footprint. It's also time for us to stop perpetuating the myth that our bodies are a reflection of how much we care about the planet. We must confront the aggressive reality that our food consumption doesn't determine Earth's planetary health — and being shamed into restricting food or adopting a diet that we can't healthily sustain harms both us as individuals as a collective with the power to take real action on the climate emergency. Equally, we mustn't be shamed into guilt for our material conditions: the converging crises of food instability, poverty and the climate emergency share the common root of capitalism, and to solve them both, we must fight inequality at every opportunity. Engaging in the same systems that caused these crises by buying these products will only exacerbate the problem.

It is time for us to think critically about how we view the climate crisis and our bodies and stop relying on the awful individualist narratives pushed by corporations that are designed to profit off insecurity and distress and profit from the destruction of the planet. You can't single-handedly combat climate change by solely consuming Instagram boutique wellness products. But you can take climate action by resisting these notions and taking action against the companies responsible for our present situation.

Whether that is by boycotting the corporations behind the climate crisis, attending protests, writing to your MP, learning more about climate justice, donating to frontline groups or simply blocking any accounts that place the burden of climate action onto your diet, there is no shortage of action you can take that actually fights back against the root of the problem.

Tagged:
Beauty
wellness
climate crisis