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Interviews

A Q&A with Rina Raphael

Emily Porter

September 22, 2022

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Rina Raphael brings us this wonderful book that investigates and sheds light on products, fads and techniques that may have you scratching your head and reconsidering your daily wellness routines.

As a yoga teacher, someone who suffers from gluten and dairy intolerance (I miss real bread!) yogi, and an overall health advocate, I was a bit weary to venture into this text, and I can honestly say I am so glad that I did. When diving into the wellness community, just like any community that ends up becoming businesses, there are bound to be countless snake oil salesmen within the mix. As we navigate this wellness boom, it is easy to get lured into a retreat run by a twenty-one-year-old tiny blonde with no wellness background. Wellness is a word that is thrown out every which way in this current day and age. We all want to take care of ourselves and providing wellness or self-care is the way we have been told to do so. Especially as women, and female identifying individuals, we are targeted for skin care, weight loss, healthy food, fitness classes, clothing and really everything else in between. As someone who has gone through unhealthy eating, dieting habits, has played the game of following wellness trends, and overall strives to live a healthy lifestyle, this book was eye opening, and incredibly validating. 

Rina Raphael brings us this wonderful book that investigates and sheds light on products, fads and techniques that may have you scratching your head and reconsidering your daily wellness routines. From Goop, to Gurus, to medicine throughout history, to Gyms that act like religious cults, Raphael dives into the grit of what the wellness industry is providing and tricking you into wanting. 

Many of us “drink the Kool-aid" especially in these modern times where we follow put together attractive people on social media that seem to know what they are talking about. But do we ever investigate their background or do research into the wellness products or fads they are promoting? Usually no, not one bit. What is wellness? Every company will have a different motto for you and at the end of the day this book will guide you to what wellness should be and show you what it is sadly turning into. 

 

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Porchlight Book Company: As a prenatal yoga instructor, I have seen my fair share of yoga influencers guiding prenatal classes online that make me cringe, as many of the poses they are advocating are not safe for the pregnant body.  I worry that so many people, especially female identifying individuals, seek out advice and guidance on diet, “self-care,” and wellness from social media influencers—most of whom have no certification or scientific background in the very things they are promoting. Am I right to be worried, is there real danger in this trend or is it mostly harmless? And is there hope that more evidence-based and scientifically sound advice and information can break through in these spaces and become socially validated once again?  

Rina Raphael: Many wellness influencers appeal to our aspirational selves—they’re beautiful, charismatic, have a zen-like attitude, make smoothies in perfect marble-countertop kitchens… Or they dangle a solution to whatever is ailing us. It’s all very enticing.  

A lot of women build personal relationships with these influencers, and they sometimes end up relying on them for health advice despite the influencer lacking any science or medical credentials.  

Unfortunately, some wellness influencers dole out unhelpful or harmful fear-mongering advice; they push useless “detoxes” or sham supplements, terrify women of certain ingredients or products (like sunscreen), and encourage a rejection of all Western medicine. This can result in eating disorders, chemophobia, and even delayed life-saving medical treatment.  

But they have competition lately! I recently wrote a piece for the New York Times about an encouraging trend: science-based TikTok influencers, including physicians, scientists, and medical experts, who are debunking harmful health myths. They’re growing bigger and bigger audiences, pushing back against the tidal wave of misinformation. 

Porchlight Book Company: Why do you think the US is so extreme when it comes to burn out but also in taking such extreme measures when it comes to their wellness or self-care?  

Rina Raphael: Many Americans feel overwhelmed, stressed, and exhausted. The news, the political divide, tech dependence, unsustainable work hours, a frustrating healthcare system, little if any childcare policies or maternity benefits… the list goes on and on. Too many women feel that they don’t have an adequate support system, and they’re looking for help. 

The book goes into the many reasons why the wellness industry has ballooned into a $4.4 trillion industry. It can’t list all of them, but a few worth noting: our Puritan work ethic that makes us believe we can work our way to health, and that we’re a highly consumerist and optimistic society. We want to believe in a quick fix. We’re drawn to a simple solution, partly because it’s a lot less complicated than what’s actually required: systemic solutions and policies that address why we feel so unwell. 

Porchlight Book Company: Do you think these influencers, celebrities, and self-proclaimed gurus in the wellness industry believe what they are saying and doing, or just trying to make a buck using the desperation of people looking for an escape into “wellness”?  

Rina Raphael: I found both. Some influencers and gurus truly believed in their teachings, feeling it was their mission to spread their message. In cases where they were peddling pseudoscientific treatments, they were often misinformed about the science—or they over-identified with a certain value that obstructed clear thinking. 

But others are plenty aware of their sham products or harmful messaging, but they continue anyway because it pays. There’s no money to be made in telling people to go for a walk or try their best to eat a sensible diet. There’s money in supplements, “detoxes,” “cleanses,” and pricey self-care tools. 

Porchlight Book Company: You state that you yourself have been drawn to different wellness rituals and techniques, from clean beauty to wellness products and fitness studios. What originally brought you to navigating your own wellness? 

Rina Raphael: I, like many other women, was looking to feel better. I felt physically and mentally drained. But, as I detail in the book, some trends I fell for did more harm than good. 

Porchlight Book Company: Let's talk about “Gym as Church.. As a spiritual person and yoga teacher I could consider viewing my yoga practice as a religious or spiritual experience for me. But your chapter on “Gym as Church” shows the underbelly of what some businesses have done to capitalize on using this faith approach to bring followers into the “congregation.” When reading about the Peloton instructor who used verbiage that was almost identical to bible verses but merely changed the wording of a few phrases. It honestly gave me the creeps. It shows how much people are in need of—or are looking for—someone to guide them. Yet, for some, this technique seems to work for their lifestyle. What are your thoughts on this after doing the research within your own fitness studio practice? 

Rina Raphael: We are dealing with a loneliness epidemic and a meaning crisis. People are looking to connect and in some ways, wellness and gyms supply many of the things we’re missing in modern society. But in other ways, as I explain, some fitness studios struggle to deliver on their marketing promises. 

Porchlight Book Company: Why do you think influencers, including the mega business of Goop, continue to find success despite the obvious fabrication of some of their promises? 

Rina Raphael: The Goops of the world will continue to flourish because they promise solutions, and peopleespecially those desperate for a curewant to believe in them. I have a lot of empathy for women who feel ignored or mistreated by doctors, or who find no answers for chronic conditions in mainstream medicine. Many of these gurus offer a glimmer of hopeor, at the very least, a community. 

That being said, just because mainstream medicine doesn’t have all the answers doesn’t mean alternative medicine does. Too many wellness “remedies” have little, if any, scientific evidence.  

Porchlight Book Company: This book documents many negative aspects of the wellness industry but also shines light on several things that are improving. For example, women are taking it upon themselves to collect data from other women on several health issues that have not been studied as much as they should. Do you think these studies will eventually improve the knowledge we have on women's bodies and health? 

Rina Raphael: Women’s health conditions have historically been under-researched and underfunded, but there are encouraging signs of progress. Today there’s far more recognition that we need to prioritize women’s health and organizations such as the Society for Women’s Health Research are fighting for better representation in clinical research and within various industries like pharmaceuticals.  

We’re also seeing far more innovative tech (apps, wearables, virtual trials) attempting to close the gender gap in medical research. Collecting data isn’t enough, but it’s a start. 

You can’t treat what you don’t know. So while I don’t have a crystal ball, many experts I interviewed are optimistic that we’re taking women’s health research more seriously.  

Porchlight Book Company: What inspires you as a journalist?  

Rina Raphael: I love figuring out: What does it all mean? Why are we drawn to certain wellness rituals and ideas? Why do some trends take off but not others? Health does not happen in a vacuum. There's a social angle to all of this. Our health anxieties and wellness rituals say a lot about ourselves, our communities, and America. 

Porchlight Book Company: What are the best wellness options for you? How do you now view the idea of “wellness” after writing this book? 

Rina Raphael: I’m a lot more relaxed about it all! I definitely don’t fetishize health or wellness practices like I used to. And I’m not scared to eat conventional, non-organic produce! That’s quite freeing. 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rina Raphael is a journalist who specializes in health, wellness, tech, and women’s issues. She was a features contributor for Fast Company magazine and has also written for the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, CBS, NBC News, and Medium’s Elemental, among other publications. Her wellness industry newsletter, Well To Do, covers trends and news and offers market analysis. Raphael has spoken on the wellness industry at national conferences such as the Global Wellness Summit and the Fast Company Innovation Festival. Previously, she served as a senior producer and lifestyle editor at TODAY.com and NBCNews.com.

 

 

 

 

 

ABOUT THE BOOK

Women are pursuing their health like never before. Whether it’s juicing, biohacking, clutching crystals, or sipping collagen, today there is something for everyone, as the wellness industry has grown from modest roots into a $4.4 trillion entity and a full-blown movement promising health and vitality in the most fashionable package. But why suddenly are we all feeling so unwell?

The truth is that deep within the underbelly of self-care—hidden beneath layers of clever marketing—wellness beckons with a far stronger, more seductive message than health alone. It promises women the one thing they desperately desire: control.

Vividly told and deeply reported, The Gospel of Wellness reveals how this obsession is a direct result of women feeling dismissed, mistreated, and overburdened. Women are told they can manage the chaos ruling their life by following a laid-out plan: eat right, exercise, meditate, then buy or do all this stuff. And while wellness may have sprung from good intentions, we are now relentlessly flooded with exploitative offerings, questionable ideas, and a mounting pressure to stay devoted to the divine doctrine of wellness. What happens when the cure becomes as bad as the disease?

With a critical eye, humor, and empathy, wellness industry journalist Rina Raphael examines how women have been led down a kale-covered path promising nothing short of salvation. She knows: Raphael was once a disciple herself—trying everything from “clean eating” to electric shock workouts—until her own awakening to the troubling consequences. Balancing the good with the bad, The Gospel of Wellness is a clear-eyed exploration of what wellness can actually offer us, knocking down the false idols and commandments that have taken hold and ultimately showing how we might shape a better future for the movement—and for our well-being. 

About The Author

Emily Porter is our Community & Publicity Manager who loves conversing with the wonderful authors we work with. A film photographer and long-time film industry nomad, she has had a constant love for books throughout her life. When not at work she enjoys curling up with her cats, adding to her bookshelves, practicing yoga, and photographing new landscapes. Travel. Cats. Coffee. Tea. Film. Books. RadioLab. National Geographic. Patti Smith. Dinosaurs.

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