The wellness industry offers a seductive promise: If you work hard, are dedicated and buy this shiny new thing, then you, too, can have the healthy, beautiful life you’ve always dreamed of. But for journalist Rina Raphael, that dream sounds too good to be true. In her new book, The Gospel of Wellness: Gyms, Gurus, Goop, and the False Promise of Self-Care, Raphael delves into the history of the wellness industry and explores why it’s booming—and what that means for society.
With wit and a keen eye for research, Raphael explains that “the wellness industry isn’t well.” An industry that began with fad diets and exercise has morphed into a trillion-dollar behemoth that’s trying to sell health with a side of spirituality. In a world that feels totally off its axis, the wellness industry offers women (it’s almost always women) a feeling of meaning and control over their lives. Its products fill the vacuum left by a sexist medical industry that discounts and misdiagnoses women, forcing them to look elsewhere for answers. Stressed and overworked, women can’t individually fight the systemic issues facing them, but they can perhaps buy a Peloton or a jade roller. In doing so, as Raphael explains, the wellness industry convinces women that it’s possible to buy their way to a happy, stress-free life while allowing them to ignore the systemic issues that make them stressed to begin with.
But there’s more. Raphael insightfully argues that wellness and health are industry code words that cloak their real meanings: thin. The purposeful conflation of being thin with being healthy is what drives the obsession with yoga, detox teas, expensive fitness classes, “clean” eating, $135 coffee enemas and vaginal steaming kits. But as Raphael reveals, an obsession with being thin often means ignoring what’s actually healthy.
Throughout the book, Raphael attends many wellness events and speaks to industry leaders. Her descriptions of these interactions are where her writing shines most and comes alive. It’s also where the focus of the book comes into sharp view—where she shows the real human beings perpetuating the hype. All together, The Gospel of Wellness exposes the spectacle, the splendor and the emptiness behind the curtain.