Challenging “wellness culture”
Do you want to lose weight this January because you would feel more accepted, worthy or loved? The desire to belong is a powerful motivator. Implicitly, wellness culture promises that one will face less oppression daily if they follow their system. Often, the wellness industry places the responsibility of self-care on the person and to be resilient. All without questioning larger, systemic issues, or the psychological effects of shame-based marketing tactics.
What if we challenged those oppressive systems that exist?
The following Asian wellness books challenge myths in wellness and diet cultures. They focus on the socioeconomic factors that make us unwell or bar us from access. Wellness culture has largely been exclusive to those with an abundance of leisure time and money. A lot of wellness and health practices have also been stripped of its cultural origins, like the mythologies and spiritual practices behind yoga.
Here are some Asian wellness books that look past the clean, minimalist, and privileged veneer of wellness and diet culture.
Yoga Mythology: 64 Asanas and Their Stories
This book explores stories from Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain mythology that influenced the practice of yoga. Yoga has been sanitized of its cultural origins to be marketed towards a largely white audience. Many practitioners are unaware of yoga’s underlying philosophy because the physical is prioritized over the mental and spiritual components.
Yoga Mythology is an open text that one can read in parts. One could read the mythology of a few moves after a yoga class in contemplation, or an instructor can share its stories. The asanas can deepen your practice, like how vriksha-asana’s (tree pose) form was influenced by how trees were associated with gods. Or that bhujanga-asana (cobra pose) was inspired by subterranean, shape-shifting beings.
Who Is Wellness For?: An Examination Of Wellness Culture And Who It Leaves Behind
In her book, Fariha Róisín calls for all of us to care for ourselves, regardless of race, identity, socioeconomic status or able-bodiedness. Róisín shares her need for wellness, her troubled and abusive relationship with her mother, and how boundaries were not respected in her childhood.
Her personal healing journey highlights larger, unspoken issues with the messaging around wellness and diet culture. Exercise and diet account for a very small percentage of the control we have over our weight and health. Socioeconomic status, like the ability to access transportation or health care, and psychological factors, like childhood abuse and chronic stress, are much bigger aspects that lead to poor health and chronic conditions, including obesity. When those basic services are not accessible to many and abuse stays hidden in family units, the title of the book haunts the reader: Who is wellness for?
Essential Labor: Mothering as Social Change
During the pandemic, many mothers could not access childcare from their caregivers or nannies because of household restrictions. And mothers who did not have that privilege had little or zero support. Mothers across all income-levels suddenly saw their work and home life intersect. The pandemic put a strain on their career and personal lives. But it also shined a light on a largely-ignored truth: mothering is an essential labour. In Essential Labor: Mothering as Social Change, author Angela Garbes explores assumptions about care, work, and deservedness across our global society.
This is not a wellness book. But so many mothers do not have leisure time, the capacity to self-care and maintain a consistent wellness practice, or have resources for therapy. Mothers are juggling unpaid emotional and household labour, and they’re most likely prioritizing themselves last.
This book highlights the importance and value of motherhood, which so many mothers need to hear when they often go unrecognized for their hard work. Garbes’ words are a much needed call to make mothering seen, heard, and respected as an essential labour.
Permission to Come Home: Reclaiming Mental Health as Asian Americans
Permission to Come Home is an empowering journey that calls for Asian Americans to reclaim their mental health. They are the racial group least likely to seek out mental health services. Often, saving face to respect one’s family is a huge motivator in the silence Asians keep. Psychologist Jenny Wang discusses and explores the permission to feel, to express rage, to say no, to take up space, to choose, to fail, to play, to grieve, and to come home.
The exercises throughout the book teach the reader to move past silence, to stop minimizing emotions, and to stop acting small out of safety. The focus on Asian experiences can be helpful to those who cannot find a therapist who understands intergenerational trauma, cultural expectations, boundary setting, and language differences.
Decolonizing Wellness: A QTBIPOC-Centered Guide to Escape the Diet Trap, Heal Your Self-Image, and Achieve Body Liberation
Decolonizing Wellness is a guide to restoring our relationship with food, moving away from shame-based practices, cultivating community, and learning to trust our bodies. Dalia Kinsey reminds us that dieting erodes self-image and inhibits your ability to focus on things that are meaningful for you. It also distracts from social justice issues, and diminishes the sense of connection to your body and your ability to trust yourself.
Kinsey is a Black author amongst this list of Asian authors. In Decolonizing Wellness, she points out that there is a lack of BIPOC and LGBTQ representation in the fields of health and nutrition. And, less than 3% of registered dieticians are Black. She highlights that a lack of economic access is not the main problem, but a symptom of systemic racism and anti-Blackness. For instance, the creator of the BMI, Adolphe Quetelet, was also one of the pioneers of the racist, pseudo-science of phrenology. The BMI scale was based on the size and measurements of exclusively European male participants.
Additionally, the wellness industry often accepts and values Asian beauty ideals. It exoticizes Asian wellness practices while disregarding other races and the reality behind lived Asian experiences. Kinsey’s work is included in this list for her lens of intersectionality that is desperately needed in the wellness space.
Wellness is remembering all the parts that are invisible because of trauma, and nourishing the capacity to heal those parts from within. What would our world look like if our resolutions were being the healthiest we can be in the present moment? To show up for oneself, and help uplift those around us so they can achieve those same goals this year?
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