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So...The Wellness Trap

From the Internets

Christy Harrison's The Wellness Trap hit a couple of nerves for me. It's a book about the pitfalls and downsides of the Wellness Industry (Goop and the like) and how it undermines people's well-being. At least that is the thesis of this book.

She is chronically ill herself, and she is a dietician who left a lot of the more woo-ey wellness stuff behind her for evidence-based stuff. She is also of the Bread tube type, and that led to the nerve-tap that this post will describe.

A chunk of her second chapter describes cultural appropriation as a problem of the industry. I mean: she isn't wrong that white folks have a long, long (really long) history of taking some little aspect of another people's cultural tradition and slapping it on a health product as marketing. I'm married to a Tibetan, one of those groups considered 'exotic' and 'pure,' so I see it in action sometimes. Irritation pinches me and then I turn to my sister-in-law and ask for clarification.

The thing is that cultures change over time. New technology and practices develop, and part of that change comes from interacting with (and borrowing from) other cultures.

In addition, I have a lot of sympathy for Tibetans who only experience 'traditional Tibet' through visiting Dharamsala and watching '7 Years in Tibet.' I have a ton of sympathy for, say, someone from the Amazon capitalizing on the jobs the white tourists bring to an area while ignoring that the tourism is made up of visitors to fake shamans that give people drugs. Then there is the flattering aspect: being 'exotic' and 'pure,' and naturally wise is a great self-image that wouldn't stand up to any scrutiny but feels great.

I'm not sure religious leaders, who are naturally threatened by having people fake their position as it takes away their prestige, should be the most important voices here. Maybe it's because I'm an atheist myself and find some aspects of my husband's religion...not great. Now, just as there are Evangelical Christians trying to straighten out their church, there have been concerted efforts to straighten out Tibetan Buddhism. But in both cases, it's all moving spinach around the plate, still assuming the existence of a supernatural order. And, of course, the people at the top of the organization aren't going to suggest anything that would mean more competition and less resources for themselves at the expense of their followers.

But Harrison explicitly states that the people's voices that matter are the traditional spiritual teachers.

To complicate things further, it is the height of arrogance to take a bunch of Yoga classes, learn the asanas (and completely misinterpret or ignore the other Yoga spiritual tenets), and then move on to lecture people who are from India about how to do Yoga.

It leads to people sneaking in all kinds of nastiness under the guise of spirituality or culture. Too many people use 'the indigenous (blank) are pure and wise and do (blank thing that is exploitative and awful but gets me money or sex)' as an excuse, and no one in the different culture knows enough to avoid it.

I just don't know if appropriation is, void of context or use, the worst crime here.

Complicated feelings and situation, is what I'm saying.


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