THIS IS PART TWo OF A SERIES OF ARTICLES PUBLISHED ON THE CURRENT WELLNESS TREND, ITS CRITICS AND ITS DOWNFALLS, BY CATHERINE RODGERS.
Artwork by Ana Ovilo
See here for part I.
People that oppose these movements for ulterior motives, like Anthony Warner, will always undermine and hold individuals up as an example of why the movement is detrimental as a whole, in order to justify their own prejudices. What I’m trying to highlight, is an insidious form of exploitation and sabotage rooted in sexism that creeps into any movement that threatens the white, cis, male-authored narrative of the world.
But let’s also not forgive the fact that, perhaps while individuals participating in the movement may be vulnerable in certain aspects, the wellness phenomenon as a whole has race, and not to mention, class issues surrounding it. Salma Haidrani calls out the culture of status oneupmanship within the movement, which is predictably dominated by middle and upper class cis white women.
That doesn’t mean the promise of living up to white beauty standards doesn’t equally seduce a wide demographic. Anyone growing up in Western society will have been subjected to the constant barrage of how we should present our bodies.
Niellah Arboine’s letter to her teenage self depicts the struggle many women of colour experience in trying to live up to a constructed ideal that is far from representative, and at its worst, incredibly damaging. The conflicting rules of Western ‘beauty’ have collectively left self-esteem and body image so malnourished, it’s difficult for most of us to shake the ideal body image we feel we must possess in order to be valued, despite how incongruous it may be with our own ideals.
In the desperate search for the alignment of this forced ideal self, many are manipulated and driven to obsession by either the exploited, vulnerable individuals themselves who perhaps genuinely believe they are helping others, or by those who perpetuate this for their own selfish gain. Figureheads such as Ella Mills AKA Deliciously Ella could well be guilty of both of these things.
It’s hard for me to separate Warner’s excessive disapproval of wellness and the way we choose to consume from masculine derision at any form of gendered movement. This is especially true now that women, and specifically women of colour, have renewed opportunities to garner success in the same male-dominated industries that made it so hard to get a foothold in through conventional routes, such as the surge of popularity for women-led make-up tutorials on YouTube and Instagram. Through the exposure social media generates, women can now forge new paths for success in industries that traditionally favoured men.
Based on his website bio, I think a lot of Warner’s anger may be founded on a feeling of injustice at having worked hard ‘like slaves [sic]’ in kitchens all of his life, only to be out-done by young twenty-something women who have no professional experience of sweaty Michelin starred kitchens, or the extensive technical knowledge of food that goes with it. This, if only partially, I can understand.
Still, in an industry that is notoriously sexist, with male head chefs the prevailing majority, I think Warner needs to remember: if he found getting to where he is now a slog, for a woman it would’ve been exponentially more difficult.
In the make-up artist industry, hairdressing and in catering, women are expected to carry out services without credit or return, while men are able to express creativity for their own personal improvement, free of the constraints of servitude. Wherever there is success to be had, it is almost guaranteed that men will dominate, which is why I can’t take Warner’s anger for anything other than what it is: a reconstitution of the same bland misogyny.