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The dirty capitalization of ‘self care and wellness’

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JUNE 01, 2023

If you identify as a member of Generation Z like me, most of you will understand the influence social media platforms such as YouTube and Tumblr had in “raising” us. These platforms cultivated many of our interests, eye for aesthetics and even professions. 

In the early 2010s, a running trend on YouTube specifically emerged, where influencers would create series of morning or night routine videos. The idea quickly gained traction on the platform, with YouTubers such as Bethany Mota and Zoella at the forefront of the trend. Mota and Zoella were two of the many video creators that picked up steam from sharing their self-care rituals in these morning and night routines. 

Slowly, platforms such as Tumblr and Instagram picked up this same type of content for their often young viewers. Influencers would share their self-care practices through pictures of bath products they enjoyed using and nutritious foods they made for themselves. These videos and posts were comforting for young people, as they allowed them to learn more about self-care and wellness through a personal lens. Through these videos and posts, influencers established rapport and relatability with their audiences on topics of good mental and physical well-being. For one, I was largely inspired to “get my life together” because of these many anecdotes from the internet. 

Slowly, however, I started to see an ongoing trend regarding how companies would take advantage of this media. The older I got, the more I began to see how my favorite YouTubers and influencers would amplify their sponsors in their videos or posts. 

Numerous content creators I followed on various platforms would encourage their audiences to buy certain products because of contracts they held with a company. Some sponsorships I’ve seen in videos to promote wellness products — from active clothing brands to food to bathroom products — seemed forced. Other brand promotions seem like they haven’t been thoroughly tried or tested with time. I began to wonder if these influencers had used the self-care products they were promoting for extended periods of time in order to justify their claims.  

A wide range of companies have taken advantage of the genuine movement for people to share their wellness stories on the internet. Gaining the trust of the consumer in reference to a particular product should be a process that takes time. There should be a mutual willingness between the buyer and seller to create a more excellent vision to promote mental and physical well-being to a larger audience. All that aside, there should also be a more objective and thorough understanding of self-care. 

As a social media consumer, I yearned for media that was not part of the mainstream circle of sponsorships and ads. I wanted to see real people share their honest and vulnerable experiences and the products that have visibly helped them improve. Until now, this has been a struggle for me as I reassessed influencers and public figures I follow. 

What I enjoy most about documentary photographs and films about overcoming mental illness is that they show the unfiltered, brutal reality of how individuals cope with these issues. When I consume these types of media, I find myself encouraged to see how real strength and character is cultivated compared to content generated by influencers. It comforts me because I see people as they are, with no mask or incentive to say a particular thing. This form of media encourages me to look more deeply within myself and truly analyze if I have been doing something wrong in my everyday routines. 

I spoke with Yehyun Kim, a journalist who uses photography to tell vulnerable stories about immigrants, women and health care. She was born and raised in South Korea and is now a visual journalist at the CT Mirror in Connecticut. She shared that as a visual journalist, she often covers articles where people become vulnerable and show their reality. I learned from Kim that photography is a tool to learn about people and issues surrounding life. Photos and videos can lead an audience to understand and care about people around us.

In our conversation, I spoke to Kim about my frustrations with the proliferation of influencer culture in mental health on social media. She shared with me that she, too, has exceptionally curated who she follows on her accounts. Kim then shared her experiences photographing specific communities while on assignment and how she approaches them with care, patience and open-mindedness. 

In this world of influence, it’s essential to choose to consume media that is authentic. Listing out the goals and values you wish to live out is a great way to start. Then, look for like-minded people who share these goals and join them on their journeys. Ultimately, the question lies in who you truly want to become and what it is you allow yourself to be influenced by in this highly capitalistic world. 

Macy Lee is a graduate of UC Davis, with a degree in psychology and international relations. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter.

JUNE 01, 2023