Historically, the wellness space has not been the most ethical or inclusive. But in the last decade, there’s been a much-needed push from consumers and thought leaders alike for the wellness industry to be revolutionized. Author Fariha Róisín has made it her life’s work to explore our relationship to our bodies, our traumas, and our potential. As a queer, Muslim wellness practitioner (she is also a death doula), Róisín has firsthand witnessed the toxicity of the wellness space—and has ideas on how we can do better. In Róisín’s new book, Who Is Wellness For?: An Examination of Wellness Culture and Who It Leaves Behind, she explores the necessary question of how can we make self-care attainable and fair for everyone.
I love how poignantly you talk about our relationship to our bodies to wellness at large, especially around how trauma is stored. What was your entryway into wellness, and then the industry?
My entry point to wellness was my own illness. Even though I didn’t have language for what was happening to my body when I was young, I knew something was off. I couldn’t eat like other children or be what I assumed was “normal” because I had extreme food sensitivities. This was 20 years ago, when we didn’t have awareness around celiac or lactose the way we do now. Fortunately, the kind of isolation I felt when I was young I no longer feel today. I gravitated towards wellness to find ways to be at peace with my body.
What disturbs you most about the modern-day wellness industrial complex?
I think the most disturbing part is the gross exploitation of other people’s labor and culture that is then coded as “wellness”—how can someone’s wellness impede on another’s? It doesn’t actually make any sense. The mining of wellness practices from the East only to be repackaged and repurposed for the West is as unethical as it is counterintuitive to healing. We should want to heal communally; we should want to heal with each other.
In what ways does the wellness industry do more harm than good?
We need to understand things energetically. When something is built on extraction and unfairness and is then being sold as something else—without cultural context or care—then energetically that whole thing is off. Capitalism is the antithesis of fairness or equality…and dare I say, wellness! I wish we thought more deeply about the energy of things, like ying and yang and the eternal balance.
What did you discover between capitalism and wellness that was most shocking to you?
The lengths that people will do to make more money. Material gain doesn’t really feed you as a human being. No matter how much we hoard or keep for ourselves, no matter how much money we make in our lives, when we die, we will not take it with us. There’s a remembrance in every scripture on Earth that there is something more fulfilling than greed. There’s connection, there’s humanity, there’s evolution.
In what ways can the average consumer move away from the capitalistic jaws of “self-care” and actually practice self-care?
I think real safe care comes from really witnessing yourself and loving everything. It’s a long journey; that’s why it’s an actionable daily anthem one should embody. No one single act of self care is enough, is requires a consistent desire to want to look at yourself and really love what’s there. We do this work so we don’t perpetuate and continue harm, so we can take accountability over our own lives.Fariha Róisín
Is it possible to have a radicalized and accessible relationship to wellness?
Yes! A lot of the responsibility is on white-owned spaces (that are profiting off of the knowledge of the East) to trade fairly and humanize their relationships with the Indian farmers that are toiling for their turmeric, as just an example. It means being aware that the unfair trade practices of the West have created corrupt practices in where we consider countries “poor” or “developing” while never acknowledging we stole their resources. Former colonies—countries like Jamaica and India—have to use their labor to farm or the greed of the West so we can have bananas, avocados and palo santo. There’s a way for us to shift this completely, but it also means challenging the status quo to make more human trade practices. All of it is about fairness. And we need people with power to speak out.