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Reclaiming wellness from the wellness industry

An illustration of a woman standing on a yoga mat, balancing on one foot and waving her arms around as if she is off balance and about to fall. Around her are different wellness trends in boxes: a CBD drink with a thought cloud of a person mediating coming out of the can opening, several prescriptions and supplements, a symbol for a heart rate monitoring app, a mortar and pestle and fresh fruits and vegetables.
Charnel Hunter

The rise of the wellness industry and marketing of wellness products moves us away from the individualized practices that actually make us feel healthy. How do we find our way back?

The term “wellness” is a nebulous one — encompassing everything from your rest practices and exercise regimen to stress management and eating habits. This broad scope has led to a large wellness industry, full of companies and brands selling products responding to concerns about our mental and physical health.

But what the companies sell is often a Band-Aid to greater structural and collective issues that make us feel unwell.

Host Anita Rao talks with journalist Rina Raphael, the author of “The Gospel of Wellness: Gyms, Gurus, Goop and the Promise of Self-Care,” about how the wellness industry came to be and the marketing tactics behind it.

And Kim Young, a licensed clinical social worker also known as the Dope Black Social Worker, joins to discuss incorporating our wellness into our work life.

Special thank you to Dr. Della Mosley, David Young Oh, Liza Kindred and Dr. Ellen Vora for their contributions to this episode.

What is “wellness”?

“It's all the ways we want to physically, mentally, even spiritually feel better. That could be nutrition, it could be sleep or stress management. But there is no one exact way to be well.”

-Rina Raphael @rrrins

“It can be hard to separate out true wellness from the wellness industrial complex … Real wellness is a loving, interconnected way of being with the world around us.”

-Liza Kindred @liza_k

“I know we are on the right track with wellness when our cups are so abundantly full that we work towards bringing wellness into the lives of others.”

-David Young Oh

Please note: This episode originally aired February 24, 2023.

Update: You can now sign up for a Substack newsletter from Rina Raphael called “Well To Do

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Kaia Findlay is the lead producer of Embodied, WUNC's weekly podcast and radio show about sex, relationships and health. Kaia first joined the WUNC team in 2020 as a producer for The State of Things.
Anita Rao is an award-winning journalist, host, creator, and executive editor of "Embodied," a weekly radio show and podcast about sex, relationships & health.