Toddler Pelotons, tween crystal healing sets, calorie-tracking apps, and more.
Cheryl wasn’t too happy about a proposed wellness elective course at her daughter’s high school.
She was surprised to discover that the 10th-grade wellness course was only available to girls. In it, students would learn yoga, nutrition, Pilates, and sedentary spa activities that required many “sparkly” personal care products. “It might as well have been a class on reading Seventeen magazine,” Cheryl told me.
The boys, however, had the option of signing up for sports.
Cheryl is one of several parents I interviewed for my latest LA Times feature about how wellness culture can be rather complicated when it comes to a younger age set. It’s an interesting debate: Should we teach yoga to preschoolers and spa rituals to teens? Is it a good idea to assign calorie-tracking in wellness classes? Are we oversimplifying mindfulness in schools by framing it as a relaxation technique? What about all those wellness toys like light-up meditation Barbie?
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. As I explain in the piece, we now have tween crystal healing kits, toddler-sized Pelotons, and much more.
Wellness—real wellness—is good. No one will argue that proper nutrition, fitness, and emotional management are bad. But health education is delicate. And we can accidentally equate these categories with controversial values or reduce health to its most stereotypical trends. Sometimes, we exclude bigger pieces of the wellness puzzle, like, say, communal support.
Grading kids on their wellness, not to mention defining health—when there is no agreed-upon definition—are other issues infiltrating this well-intentioned space. We might also be introducing kids to self-improvement culture at an impressionable age—a culture infused with healthism, consumerism, productivity pressures, and hyper-vigilance.
As Dr. Tina Bryson, founder and executive director of The Play Strong Institute, told me: “We absolutely can make kids stressed about stress.”
All this is a departure from earlier eras. In the ‘70s, for example, unstructured play was better baked into childhood. If kids were anxious, they either played on their own or went out and sought neighborhood friends. “That doesn't happen anymore,” says child and adolescent psychotherapist Katie Hurley, the author of No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls. Today we’re far more reliant on team sports and fitness classes, which have become “full-time jobs with very stressful messages underneath, which is the irony of the whole thing.”
Childhood experts are split on wellness modalities customized for children. Many applaud teaching meditation, yoga, and self-care to kids, especially as mental health issues have skyrocketed. But other experts express concern that it’s yet another example of parents intervening too much, believing it erodes children’s creative play and undermines constructive problem-solving. “They never get a chance to grow organically on their own,” says Nancy McDermott, the author of The Problem with Parenting: How Raising Children Is Changing Across America. “They might miss out on the kind of experimentation and authentic discovery that comes with being able to figure out things for themselves. It’s through play that kids learn to manage their emotions.”
More than that, says McDermott, by mediating every mental and physical health need, “we run the risk of fetishizing health and making it something that's not just a normal part of life.”
Lenore Skenazy is the president of Let Grow, a nonprofit that promotes childhood independence and resilience. She worries we’re often inserting adult parameters on children with activities like preschool yoga—no different than swapping their peanut butter jelly sandwich with a filet mignon.
But perhaps that’s to be expected in this age of parenting, in which no one wants to feel like they’re falling short. Parents may believe “we have to do everything and be everything to our children and provide them with every possible potential resource,” notes Dr. Bryson.
Cheryl took a nuanced approach with her daughter, putting wellness within context and even using it as a way to engage in important conversations. Cheryl says that when she expressed concern about the wellness course, her daughter responded, “What do you have against Pilates?”
“I said, I have nothing against Pilates. I have an issue with the class trying to teach you wellness,” Cheryl explained. “So we went out for a walk and we had a really interesting conversation about wellness and commodification.” She paused, hitting home her concern: “I guess it’s how it's presented ... I want it to be about that specific activity, not about some marketing lesson that comes with it.”
—Rina Raphael, author of the upcoming book The Gospel of Wellness
News & Trends:
Credit cards offer rewards for pursuing wellness: Earn extra cash back or points “for spending on something like a salad, a meditation app, or a pair of running shoes.” (Well+Good)
Men work out on time borrowed from women, says study: Men apparently "borrow" free time from their female partners but women don't get the same time in return. (ANU).
Dispute erupts over high-profile psychedelic study: A paper on treating depression with psilocybin was published in Nature Medicine. Then other scientists began responding to the study and asking deeper questions. (Vice)
One step closer to in-home psychedelic treatments: Ketamine therapy pioneer Field Trip is partnering with telehealth company Nue Life to bring psychedelic therapy to your living room. (FastCo)
Meanwhile, psychedelic shamans headed to Davos: Of course. (Bloomberg)
Zocdoc shares women’s healthcare booking trends: Some highlights include that “across the board, women are increasingly seeking preventive care” and that egg freezing/fertility preservation appointments increased by 78%. (Femtech Insider)
“That girl” viral TikTok trend leaves some worried: The hashtag #thatgirl (with over 2 billion views) has come to symbolize women who prioritize self-care routines, but some might see more perfection than inspiration. (Daily Bruin)
Ulta stocks menopause brand Womanness: The largest beauty retailer is expanding its offerings to better include this often overlooked segment. (Femtech Insider)
An unintended consequence of mindfulness? Researchers found that those who meditated “reduced their self-reported levels of guilt (about incidents warranting guilt). It also reduced their willingness to take ‘prosocial’ steps to remedy harms they’d done.” (WashPo)
Sperm-fertility company Legacy raises $25M Series B: I covered Legacy in the context of male fertility startups for FastCo. Now the “Swiss bank for sperm freezing” just got a series B funding round led by Bain Capital Ventures, bringing total funding to $45M. (Axios)
Peloton plummets while Planet Fitness cruises: Peloton announced another quarter of dismal financial results. (Front Office Sports)
Alternative milk invades the snack aisle: Swiss chocolate brand Lindt announces vegan oat milk chocolate bars. (VegNews)
Step aerobics is reportedly making a comeback: But with a few tweaks here and there: “This isn’t Aunt Viv’s leotard workout anymore.” (Well+Good)
Relationship counseling sees funding: OURS, a new platform offering virtual sessions to strengthen relationships, receives seed financing from investors such as Serena Ventures. (OURS)
F45 snags $145 million in funding to double down on U.S. growth: The fastest-growing fitness franchise—which I profiled for its mix of novelty, community, and experience—is optimistic about a post-pandemic return to the gym. (Global Wellness Summit)
The Sit-Up Is Over
“By the time I aged out of gym class, in the mid-2000s, the sit-up had already begun its quiet disappearance from American fitness,” writes Amanda Mull. “In the years that followed, this iconic exercise would yield its status further. Old-school exercisers may be surprised to hear that this fall from grace is now complete.” An explanation as to why educators, fitness classes, and even the U.S military have phased out sit-ups and crunches. (The Atlantic)
Can “Anti-Instagram” Social Media Apps Help Us Be More Authentic?
BeReal (now the second most-downloaded social networking app) professes to help users “be real” through unfiltered snaps. But just how real can you be through yet another social media platform? As Terry Nguyen writes, “authenticity is as much of a marketing buzzword as it is an on-screen value, touted by people, brands, and, of course, apps. BeReal assumes that the authentic self can be divulged under the right conditions—that catching users off-guard will lead them to abandon all pretense. And so far, users seem to be buying into its pitch.” (The Goods)
On My Reading List:
Sickening: How Big Pharma Broke American Health Care and How We Can Repair It: In this no-holds-barred exposé, Dr. John Abramson, a health care policy lecturer at Harvard Medical School, explains “how doctors are regularly duped into prescribing expensive drugs with extreme side effects while major pharmaceutical companies rake in record profits.” (Undark)
The Invisible Kingdom: Reimagining Chronic Illness: Meghan O’Rourke details her decade-long struggle with autoimmune diseases—being disbelieved by doctors, searching for answers, and learning to live with debilitating symptoms. “Her quest is ultimately existentialist, a literalization of Sartre’s inexactitudes. ‘I’m not myself, I kept thinking,’ she writes. ‘But then who am I?’” (New York Times)