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This article appears in Volume 30: The Health Issue.
As surely as the new moon will rise, intentions will be set and Gwyneth Paltrow will find some novel way of outraging public decency, the approach of spring will eternally trigger an onslaught of pills, powders, diet plans, gym memberships, workout apps and bizarre contraptions designed to suck, pull and sweat out the excesses of everything we were sold and told to do in the previous season.
While being made to feel bad about our bodies is a tale as old as time, particularly for women, recent years have seen the insidious creep of “wellness” and now “self-optimisation” into this heady mix. The former may have started with good intentions, but has slowly morphed into a prescriptive roll-call of collagen supplements, workouts in “ALL MY YOGA IS HOT YOGA” crop tops and £8 kale salads, targeted at – mainly white, wealthy and middle-class – women and not leaving much room for difference, diversity or the million nuances of our individual bodies and lifestyles.
Perhaps even more dangerous is the idea that wellness, or “self-care”, can be proffered as a solution to mental-health issues or to counterbalance the stress of living in a capitalist society that demands perfection, yet increasingly puts the burden of achieving it on the individual rather than with public healthcare or social support. Meanwhile, the concept of self-optimisation – the quest to become the best possible versions of ourselves – compounds this pressure, forcing us to monitor and upgrade every moment of our lives even as it seemingly holds out the promise of a healthier, happier existence.
However, as much as spring may herald a renewed focus on our past indulgences, it also offers a moment for pause and reflection on how we can do things differently in the future – not by enrolling in boot camp and beating ourselves up about our calorie count, but by considering how to we might disentangle ourselves from the cycle of guilt, shame and stress that such behaviour brings. And while you can’t solve the ills of society or your personal struggles with a holiday any more than you can with a bubble bath or a green juice, travel does afford us the opportunity to temporarily step outside of ourselves, examine the strains of our everyday existence and reclaim some balance in untarnished surroundings.
What this looks like will be different for each person. It could mean hiking in the foothills of the Himalayas, stargazing and horse-riding in the Spanish countryside, meditating in the temples of Japan, or kayaking through Swedish islands. Equally, it could be getting to know alternative ways of living in a city, undergoing a full reboot in a medispa, or taking a plunge in the local pond. What each experience is likely to have in common is a feeling of peace and a detachment from the structures that govern our every day, leaving us clearer, stronger and with a renewed sense of self and purpose to tackle the imbalances and injustices that threaten our individual and communal wellbeing.
While travel is of course a luxury, health shouldn’t be – so I hope that however you find solace and serenity, the personal, tongue-in-cheek and honest essays and experiences in the pages ahead will help you navigate the moral maze of our increasingly complicated relationships with our bodies and minds throughout the year ahead.
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