She is everywhere. The glowing mid-twenties Yogi, with a bottle of Vita Coco in hand and a decent collection of Lululemon in her wardrobe; the poster woman for health in today's age. Mental health, physical health, just health. I, like many others, wanted to be her. All it would take was an Instagram picture or a loaded brag on social media to unleash the 'I'm going to better myself' and 'I need to boost my wellbeing' promises, usually broken before they could ever begin to flourish. It was a cycle I happily indulged in: envy, failure, guilt, repeat.
And then I read The Wellness Syndrome - a book by professors Carl Cederström and André Spicer - and came to realise: trying to be 'better' wasn't actually better for me at all.
Sure, in basic terms, doing more exercise and eating more vegetables is good for anyone. And opening up the discussion about eating healthily and getting active is great, too. But the pressure to do these things, or as the authors put it, the obsession with our wellbeing, is actually pretty damaging. The culture of taking care of ourselves has turned into a seemingly unavoidable inner demon that's sucking the fun out of everything, as well as constantly bashing our self-esteem. For many of us, the aim to 'detox' is backwards, considering the effects our actions are having on our mental health.
The other day, I admitted to my colleague that I don't often drink fizzy drinks. Her response was one I'd found myself thinking about other friends.
'Oh my god, you don't drink fizzy drinks and you went to the gym last night. You're the person I want to be!' she faux-moaned.
Even though her idea of me was wrong (I'm a phoney - the gym was a one-off and being uninterested in Pepsi doesn't mean I drink my own homemade organic juices), I totally understood what she was saying. That person she referred to, the disciplined, healthy, consistent woman, was who I longed to be, too.
I wished I could jump happily out of bed at 7am for a run, or cared about the importance of tracking my sleep cycle, or wanted to spend my disposable income on expensive cooking ingredients.
Yet none of those things applied. And even though that's more than OK, underneath my breezy façade my brain was secretly harbouring an envious, self-loathing ache that wouldn't go away, slowly chipping away at my wellbeing.
I'm not bitter about those who choose to live by these new 'rules'. But I am cynical. Somewhere, behind the kale and the Jawbone, surely they were just like me at one point in their trajectory to 'perfection'; eager to be something they didn't need to be, succumbing to an internal pressure of their own design, forcing themselves to rearrange their likes and dislikes for the sake of being 'healthy'.
The thoughts we have are ours alone, and we have to take responsibility for them. After all, a photo of someone at a new raw food cafe could be just a photo. The disappointed, jealous feeling I'd get when I saw it was entirely on me. Even when these things were never part of my life, I felt guilty that I was 'too lazy' or 'not good enough' to make them part of my life.
My whole outlook didn't change after reading one book, nor did I give up the new things introduced into my life that I came to love (yoga, coconut oil). But I have come to see the danger of taking things at face value, letting yourself get swept up in the filters and the hype of a better way so wholeheartedly that you begin to punish yourself.
Really, there's nothing better about that.