by Shahad Alzaidan
Wellness, or the state of being in good health, particularly when actively sought after, has become a popular endeavor. While achieving “wellness” is a noble pursuit, it has been undermined by damaging subliminal messaging with a heavy focus on the physical. These detrimental messages dictate that you must look a certain way, whether that means wearing certain styles of clothing, possessing a particular body shape, or holding a specific socioeconomic status, in order to participate in wellness activities. By beginning to dismantle some of the dangerous hidden messages surrounding the wellness world, we can begin to discover what it means to find physical acceptance, and ultimately, truly feel well.
The Perfect Yogi
With a myriad of evidence-based benefits such as anxiety relief and increased flexibility, yoga is a wellness seeker’s dream activity. While this ancient practice combines physical, mental and spiritual disciplines, in the Western world we heavily focus on the physical practice of yogic postures.
If you don’t currently do yoga, what comes to mind when you think of it? The pervasive image is that of a slender female, often white and blonde-haired, with an extreme range of motion and flexibility. She is usually outfitted in the trendiest athletic wear, and contorted in different postures against beautiful backdrops. It is important to note that there is no shame in fitting these parameters. However, it is even more important to point out that these parameters should not be used as the measure of achievement we must aim for in order to obtain wellness. The way we approach yoga is a prime illustration of how an activity intended to increase holistic wellness, can be twisted to fulfill a harmful societal narrative focused on the physical.
Strong is Not the New Skinny
One of the most popular wellness campaigns that have recently emerged is the quest for strength. This stemmed as a rebuttal to the “skinny above all else” epidemic. While upon first glance this saying might seem positive- after all, strength is an admirable trait- upon examination, we can see why this type of messaging is problematic and still rooted in diet culture. This saying is nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt at creating yet another construct for our bodies to fit into. It still works by objectifying our bodies and loses sight of the fact that our physical strength is not a determinant of our worth.
“When we move beyond the physical expression of wellness, we can dig into the practices that serve us most.
Furthermore, it continues the focus on the external, forgetting the fact that people can possess formidable strength and not look a specific way. Aside from the fact that strength is a relative measure, when we focus on the external, we put conditions on our self-love and acceptance. Now, instead of being skinny enough to be worthy, we must be strong enough to be worthy. Same story, different characters.
There is nothing wrong with having physical goals and pursuing them. It is admirable to challenge yourself, to be dedicated to a physical practice, reaching further than what your perceived limits led you to believe you could reach. However, the intentionality behind these actions is crucial. An act motivated by self-love affects our overall well-being much differently than one carried out of shame. To buy into the “strong is the new skinny” fad means we must be strong enough to be acceptable, which is simply false. Your body’s strength will ebb and flow with life’s cycles, and you are complete and whole no matter how physically strong you are.
Wellness That Serves Us
Your physicality is not the price you must pay to participate in pursuing holistic health. When we move beyond the physical expression of wellness, we can dig into the practices that serve us most. Instead of self-care being heavily focused on the external, it can venture into the shadow side of ourselves, into the spaces that need healing the most. Self-care can look messy and not feel so great. It can mean poking at our wounds in an attempt to awaken parts of us that have not been tended to in a long time. Self-care can happen in the quiet moments, in the spaces of grief, trauma, and pain. To search beyond the physical will lead us much further into the wellness world than focusing on the external ever could.
The next time you pursue an activity to get you closer to your wellness goals, pause for a moment and check in. Where is the motivation coming from? When it comes from a place of love, compassion and acceptance, then you can be assured that you are honoring yourself. The more we begin to recognize these messages, no matter how camouflaged they are, the more empowered we will be to participate in activities that are for our highest good.
An immigrant living in the heart of Grand Rapids, “Shoosh” is a practitioner of mindful living and a believer in the healing and transformative powers of love, kindness and dance.