They might be proactively working on their wellness, but young people find wellness culture to be toxic in some ways…
- More than half of young people say wellness culture is toxic and harmful, and brands promote toxic practices
- Wellness culture still has messages of perfectionism, which Gen Z and Millennials are just not after
- Their new definition of non-toxic wellness culture is one that’s less strict and more inclusive
Gen Z and Millennials are generations who do not shy away from change, and in the wellness industry, they’ve helped fuel some major changes in their lifetimes. Millennials shifted the conversation from entirely weight-focused to fitness-positive, and the younger gens’ openness about mental health has made mental wellness as considered as physical—but that doesn’t mean they’re done evolving the space. Young people are looking to redefine how things are done when it comes to wellness, because as it is now, Gen Z and Millennials are on the fence about whether the wellness industry is healthy at all, and many would go so far as to call it toxic.
YPulse’s What Is Wellness? trend report asked 13-39-year-olds all about wellness; how they feel about it on social media, what it represents to them, and how they see their definition of wellness changing. We also asked about their views on the state of wellness culture today, and found that many are questioning how healthy it really is. These three stats show how the younger gens are looking critically at wellness industry, and what needs to change:
More than half of Gen Z and Millennials tell YPulse they agree that current wellness culture is toxic and harmful.
We know that young people are doing wellness their own way, and approaching it more holistically by doing whatever feels good in the moment, rather than adhering to strict routines. But, 45% of Gen Z and Millennials agree that they don’t feel included in wellness conversations, meaning their ideas of wellness are not the ones they’re seeing in the mainstream. This is especially true for young BIPOC people, as 49% feel excluded from wellness conversations, as compared to 42% of their White / non-Hispanic peers.
What they’re seeing promoted to them by brands is largely the opposite of what they’re looking for, and 62% agree that brands often promote toxic wellness practices. These young gens aren’t looking for advice on crash diets, or workout regimens for morning and night, or even 15-step skincare routines. To them, these practices promote the idea that wellness is all physical, and have an all or nothing ethos. Toxic wellness practices can also be as subtle as only using actors or models who look one way to promote wellness, showing that being “healthy” has one look, rather than that wellness is for everyone.
All that said, YPulse data shows that the majority of young people are actually more interested in brands talking to them about mental health and wellness than about physical wellness. But, that all or nothing attitude could promote toxic extremes either way, so it’s the approach to talking about wellness that is key here, and it’s about much more than just promoting the ever-ambiguous “self care”…
In the age of #aesthetics, the majority of Gen Z and Millennials agree that current wellness culture puts too much emphasis on perfection.
YPulse data shows that most young people are no longer interested in the ways of restrictive wellness practices and routines, and instead want to approach their wellness imperfectly, accepting they can have wellness without perfection. This is paramount to understanding why they deem current wellness culture toxic; Dr. Tom Curran, of London School of Economics and Political Science, tells Refinery29 current wellness culture can push perfectionism because, “The self-betterment movement puts the onus on individuals to push against things that they have no control over.”
When it comes to what they see about health and wellness on social media and the internet specifically, Yulse found that 20% of young people said that what they see online is the same as diet culture. Bon Appétit writes that diet culture is taking the joy out of eating, and “infusing food with meaning that doesn’t reach past its nutritional value”—something we know young people are ready to move on from. After all, the most popular answer when YPulse asked what is the most important part of wellness was mental wellbeing, and not physical health (which they know is about more than weight).
Brands should pay special attention to this, as Gen Z and Millennials do want brands to be teaching them about wellness. The brands who choose to lean into wellness, though, need to know that 75% say they’re interested in wellness / self-care advice and products for people who don’t have a perfect wellness routine. Brands should avoid messaging that there is a “perfect self” wellness can help them reach, and instead embrace messaging that emphasizes wellness doesn’t have to be perfect to be real.
Most want the definition of wellness to change.
When YPulse asked 13-39-year-olds how they want the definition of wellness to change, only 11% say it does not need to, while 89% choose a way they’d like to see it change. And the top way they want it to change is being less restrictive: 46% of young people say the definition of wellness should be more relaxed (i.e. less strict about diet, exercise, sleep, etc.). Their definition of wellness is expanding to include how they feel in their social lives, as well as spirituality and exercising their brain, so what they do for their wellness can be as much going out as it is working out. In fact, 72% agree somebody can work out and eat junk food in one day, both for their wellness.
Young people also say the definition of wellness should be more inclusive of different groups and appearances. Though the body positivity movement has been embraced in many ways, 61% still agree that current wellness culture is focused on being skinny—a symptom of repackaged diet culture ideas. Brands can play a big role in redefining this aspect of toxic wellness, according to young people, as 74% agree it is a brand’s responsibility to make wellness culture more inclusive. So, as Gen Z and Millennials use their voices to promote ways to end toxic wellness culture, it’s up to brands to listen to and amplify their message.
YPulse paid users can access the full What Is Wellness? report and data here.
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