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How to Avoid Health and Wellness Brand Red Flags

Updated: Dec 7, 2023

From Toxic Productivity to Fake Photos

Black man doing yoga at home

It seems bathtubs are the new nightclubs, as the health and wellness industry continues to boom. Research from McKinsey estimates that the global wellness market is worth $1.5 trillion and is growing fast, at a rate of 5-10% each year.

Whilst it's great to see an industry all about self-care and feeling good come out on top, it’s important not to gloss over the not so nice details.

Here are 5 red flags to watch out for, whether you’re building your health and wellness brand, or choosing which ones to buy from:

But first, let’s dig into what health and wellness brands are, or should be, about.

What is a health and wellness brand?

Health is a state of being free from illness or injury. It’s a baseline that most of us aim towards, although everyone’s optimum health is going to be different and fluctuate throughout their lives. The word health encompasses our mental, physical, social, and sometimes even spiritual wellbeing.

Wellness is a newer term that refers to a state of being in good health, often through the pursuit of lifestyle goals. It covers practices that enhance overall wellbeing and, again, it differs for each person, culture, and life stage.

Marry the two (ordained by marketing) and you have health and wellness brands: businesses big and small that aim to make people feel good.

What are the 7 areas of health and wellness?

Making people feel good isn’t a one way route, as there are seven key areas of health and wellness: spiritual, physical, emotional, career, intellectual, environmental, social wellbeing (which make a very satisfying SPECIES acronym).

Optimum health and wellness should really be continual growth and balance in all of these dimensions, but obviously, a brand will only fall under one or two.

For example, a soy wax candle brand with an astrology theme will want to boost environmental and spiritual wellness, and a daily planner brand might be designed to help with your career and social wellbeing.

To sum up, health and wellness brands aim to make people feel good, in the many different ways feeling good can manifest.

5 Health and Wellness brand red flags

Now it’s time to take off the rose-tinted glasses and consider when wellness brands make you feel far from good, and how to avoid these things.

1. Toxic productivity

I don’t know who needs to hear this, but you don’t have to wake up at 6 am, have an 8-step skincare routine, and girl boss at ridiculous hours to be worthy.

If a health and wellness brand create the impression that you have to do it all and do it flawlessly, then I’m sorry but that’s a huge red flag. It’s not motivation or inspiration when it’s preaching the impossible.

Toxic productivity serves no one but capitalism. I tell myself that so often I might as well get it tattooed across my face. Brands should create an atmosphere of self-compassion through their content, and an encouraging, rather than preachy, tone.

2. Diet culture

Oh man, it’s my biggest brand ick.

You know you, and your body, better than anything you read on the internet does. If a stranger came up to you on the street and told you exactly what to put in your mouth, you wouldn’t do it, so a stranger online shouldn’t either.

Obviously, tips and tricks and ‘try this’ can be helpful, taken with a pinch of salt (an expression, not diet advice I promise!), but if it makes you feel any sort of shame around the food you eat and the way you talk to yourself then leave. That. Space.

Bye-bye brands that label foods ‘good’ and ‘bad’, and hello to businesses that bring the fun back into food and exercise.

3. Fake photos

Photoshop is SO last year. Actually, it’s so ten years ago and should have gone when we're still singing Justin Bieber Baby.

If a brand is heavily editing photos teamed with text that suggests it’s the product, and product alone, that will make you like that then it's just plain old lying.

If you start to get suspicious that you’re being sold the unattainable then it's time to get out there. If a brand genuinely cares about your wellness, then they should be transparent with you and show you real people, really feeling good.

4. Inaccessibility

Holistic wellness brands are notoriously luxurious and I’ll be the first to put my hand straight up and say I love to use products that make me feel like fancy.

For me, the vision of a classy gal who is uber zen and lies in the bath all day drinking champers is part of the appeal of the world of wellness. Let’s be real, who doesn’t want to be made to feel like that?

But I’m of the belief it should exercise some self-awareness. Most people don’t have bags of time and an endless supply of money. Not everyone is neurotypical, cisgender, and straight. There’s a myriad of mental and physical disabilities out there. And EVERYONE should be invited to feel good!

Yes yes, I know target audiences are a thing, but tweaking content here and there to make sure it’s accessible to marginalised people can only be a good thing.

5. Exclusivity

How many posts do you have to scroll past on your Instagram feed until you see someone of colour?

This is a question Sarah Nicole, of The Birds Papaya, asked her Instagram followers in the midst of the Black Power movement in 2020. And the response was pretty shocking.

Few (possibly even none) of the practices that are associated with wellness today come from white people; they have a rich cultural history that belongs to people of colour. Yoga is a prime example. The origins of yoga can be traced back to over 5,000 years ago in Northern India.

It developed as a collection of teachings, philosophies, movements, and ideas aiming to rejuvenate the body and prolong life. It was and still is, a way of life in many cultures.

CBD, like most herbal medicine, has its origins in China as a part of ancient teaching and way of life. Acupuncture and Matcha lattes come from China. Incense and essential oils became a thing in Ancient Egypt. Thai massages originate from, well, Thailand.

These diverse cultural practices have been handed over to a group of privileged people, who have in turn become the poster people for something that should be available to everyone. Being healthy and happy — what the industry is all about — shouldn’t be a thing only white people get.

And more than just being ignored or left out of the picture, black people are being blocked out of the industry. In a fantastic article Maryam Ajayi, a healer and person of colour, talks about the damaging ‘tone policing’ of white wellness influencers. If your brand is about thriving and positive energy but involves silencing the voices of others, then it’s time to practice what we preach — strength, compassion, respect — and use it as fuel allyship.

Where I stand in the world of wellness

My little promise to you (and myself), whenever I pitch article ideas or create blog content, is to avoid these wellness brand red flags. I aim to write accessible, sisterly, and supportive pieces, covering topics such as:

  • Balanced lifestyles

  • Flexible habits and routines

  • Esoteric beliefs

  • Sustainability

  • Alternative practices

  • Trends from a curiosity angle (e.g. not selling fads)

  • Eating more plant-based/ seasonally/ sustainably

  • Mindset

  • Philosophies

  • Self-development

  • Yoga and meditation

  • Mindful movement

  • Inclusive self-care

… to name a few.

Do my values align with yours?

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