Sunday, April 14, 2024

The Capsule Collective: Self-Help ‘Gurus’ – Actually Helpful or Harmful?

The Capsule Collective: (Clockwise) Kelly Bertrand, Emma Clifton, Nicky Dewe and Alice O’Connell

The Capsule Collective: (Clockwise) Kelly Bertrand, Emma Clifton, Nicky Dewe and Alice O’Connell

When the world feels like it’s going to hell in a hand basket, to quote every mother we know, it’s natural to want to turn to someone who can make it ‘better’. But as the influence of celebrities wane and self-help and wellness ‘experts’ take their place, do we need to reassess our blind loyalty and trust in those individuals flogging the Next Big product, diet or idea? The Capsule Collective has some thoughts.

Nicky Dewe: Time to Stop and Think

To be honest, I have no idea what to think about anything at the moment which makes me a sitting duck for the self-help movement. I’m looking for a way to make sense of the world and anyone who appears to have some useful advice has got me interested. I mean I’m not a total sucker – only those with PhDs and proof of overcoming personal adversity need apply. But if you do fit this bill, chances are I’m already plugged into your weekly podcast. These people are my new heroes and I feel much happier after listening to them. (To be clear, celebrities ‘going live’ from their luxurious homes I do not consider helpful. Thanks guys but since the world turned batshit I no longer find it soothing to see you ‘serving up lewks’.)

Even before the pandemic I was no stranger to Brene Brown or Glennon Doyle – my tolerance for stories of ‘self-actualisation’’ or ‘spiritual journeys’ was already bordering on American. (If the Texan twang gets too much try switching over to Russell Brand – or better still listen to them both together Some people don’t care for lengthy discussions on emotional matters but I’ve always believed that it’s better out than in. And perhaps now more than ever. There’s a lot of processing that needs to be done. Anyone who feels unaffected needs to consider just how far removed from their fellow (wo)man they’ve become.. And whether that’s a good thing?

I’m not saying we should start verbalising every passing feeling but I think this is our moment to open up a little, get real about what we’re going through, and let both the experts and the poets guide us on where to from here. If Graham Henry’s now talking about the importance of vulnerability then there’s no excuse for the rest of us not to drop the act and start analysing our souls. The global situation may be a pile of shit on many levels but it is an important chance for change and it’s a great time to talk and think and listen.

Alice O’Connell: Needs Must

If you’d asked me five years ago about self-help, wellness and gurus, I likely would have rolled my eyes and found a way to change the subject. I always figured that if you got run down or fell ill, you just trotted yourself off to the doctor, maybe had your blood tested and then they’d tell you what was wrong and how to fix it – you’d just pop a few pills, and, hey presto, you’re good as new!

But then I got really run down and tired and ill and no one really seemed to know what was going on or really be too bothered about it. I saw every professional possible with ‘ologist’ at the end of their title and was just left with vague possibilities and more questions. Friends, and friends of friends started gently nudging me towards herbalists, naturopaths, holistic healers, and, rather reluctantly, I booked in for appointments. As it turned out, it was one of those folks who gave me a medical diagnosis of Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. So, blood test in hand, I took it to my trusty GP, who confirmed it – “Yes! Now give me the pills!” I practically yelled at her. And she did. But months later, they weren’t fixing me – in fact, I was getting worse.

After researching it on the internet, it seemed that lots of fellow sufferers were doing all kinds of wackadoo things to feel better – yes, the pills could help, but weren’t a cure. Did these loons have a point? Or did I just have a dud batch of pills? I went back to the GP to ask why the drugs weren’t working for me, and – big gulp – should I maybe listen to the internet? Should I go gluten-free? Paleo? No sugar? Take up yoga? Do acupuncture? Fast? Meditate? Cut out all chemicals? Could Gwyneth Paltrow be right about a few things???? She stifled a laugh. And, quite exasperated, told me there was no scientific evidence that diet or lifestyle changes would improve my condition.

Now, I still absolutely love doctors and medicine and thank god they exist – not even just for those two little thyroid pills each morning – but these days, besides just relying on a very serious doctor (who is certainly someone different to that narrow-minded GP!) I see a team of people to keep me healthy. I regularly visit naturopaths and acupuncturists – and I tap into so many resources online, from meditation apps, to Brene Brown podcasts to Deepak Chopra books. I’ve been inspired to try dozens of treatments, from celery juicing (it was a game changer) to decompression chambers (it wasn’t for me). What works for celebrities or self-help gurus, might not work for me, but I won’t find that out unless I do my research and give it a go if the info stacks up – and sometimes it’s well worth the shot.

I’m certainly not going about taking the advice of influencers whose only credentials are that they take moody bathroom selfies in their bikinis and caption them with a Ghandi quote. But, opening my mind up to trying new things certainly saved my health. I’ll never thank Gwyneth Paltrow for making Shallow Hal or View From the Top, but I’m glad I was silly enough to follow her links about celery juice and infrared saunas.

Kelly Bertrand: Needs Should

I have a very simple philosophy when it comes to wellness.

She’ll be right.

I am that Kiwi when it comes to health – if it can’t be fixed with ibuprofen or a glass of red wine, then I just tend to shrug and ride it out until I’m better.

The stupid thing is that I really can’t afford to have such a laissez-faire attitude towards health. I have a thing called fibromyalgia, a condition which affects my muscles and bones and which can leave me in chronic pain.

So, you’d think I’d be all up in the self-help guru space. I should be following every Tina, Denise and Sally who claim they’ve cracked the code on some of my more niche symptoms, but I just can’t.

I barely listen to my doctor – and I managed to find a fabulously French man who told me that if I must drink, “at least make it French Champagne, cherie” (he’s very much my people, but I will be honest: he only told me that because when my liver test came back with flying colours, I cheered. I’m a journalist, remember).

I think there are some amazing people on platforms such as Instagram who have been through hell, have come out the other side, and genuinely offer some great advice to people. But there are also others on there who spout dangerous rhetoric that can seriously harm people’s health, and I am so not here for it.

Take former My Kitchen Rules judge Pete Evans – now free from his contractual shackles, he’s taken to social media to harp on about nonsense such as virus conspiracies, his love of a $15,000 ‘BioCharger’ device that he claimed would help combat Covid-19 through “hybrid subtle energy”, and that bloody bone broth that he tried to give to kids, which had potentially fatal levels of vitamin A in it.

Or Belle Gibson. Remember her? She was the one who told everyone she’d beaten cancer through alternative treatments, when in reality the entire damn thing was a con.

Don’t get me started on Gwyneth and her vagina.

My faith – what little there was – has been dented by these types of ‘self-help gurus’ and I have no patience about getting on board with any others.

Every time I go on Instagram, I see someone with a perfect manicure thrusting some new product or another toward the screen that’s touted as the Next Big Thing for health, and my own unpolished, unfiled fingers inch closer towards unfollow.

I have no idea who people like Brene Brown are. The only time I visit Goop is to mock Gwyneth’s candle that smells like her lady bits. I don’t even listen to Oprah’s Soul Sundays. Maybe it’s arrogance, but I just don’t care enough and I’d rather watch an episode of Brooklyn Nine Nine (at least I’ll laugh).

I want to care more – I need to care more. Hands up who doesn’t have health insurance anymore! Wooo! And of course, there’s the mental health aspect. We’re in a pandemic, and I’d be lying, as I reckon anyone would be, if I said my headspace hasn’t been affected over the last few months. I know I’d probably love Brene Brown if I gave it a go. I just… meh. I just hate, hate, being preached to.

I’m yet to find someone with a well-rounded, un-wanky, unperfected view of wellness. I want someone who can relate to Hauora – someone who speaks on physical, mental, social and spiritual health in a way that’s real, and achievable, and relatable – and crucially, not sponsored.

And please, if you know of someone like that, let me know. But until then, a bottle of Central Otago pinot noir awaits – sorry Doc, I’m out of French bubbles.

Emma Clifton: Think Outside the ‘Box’

Like many things that have ended up in the mainstream, the roots of self-care started a hell of a long way from where we are now. The African-American activist Audre Lorde, back in the 1980s, wrote about caring for herself after she was diagnosed with cancer for the second time.  As a self-described “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” she was fighting for her life in a world that didn’t want her to survive, let alone thrive. “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

This statement has slowly worked its way through activist spheres, into the consciousness of (white) women everywhere, until now we see self-care given the 21st century popularity treatment: memes, slogan t-shirts, advertising and hashtags. I hold absolutely no judgement here – I follow an absolute slew of wellness gurus on Instagram, weeding them out every once in a while when one of them starts ranting about how vaccines are a weapon from the government or some sort of privileged nonsense. There’s self-care, and then there’s just absolute stupidity.

But for the most part, I am into it. You are reading the words from someone who has had not one, not two, but four yoni steams. Yes, that’s when you steam your vagina. No, Gwyneth Paltrow didn’t invent it. It’s actually a practice that has been used for hundreds of years around the world. It’s just that these days, you’re more likely to read about it on websites called or something. (It’s imperative to point out here that I a) went to a professional and b) do not recommend you try a DIY. Don’t… sit on your kettle, or similar.)

Basically when it comes to wellness, I am absolutely willing to think outside the box (hehe). It’s extremely easy to be cynical about wellness because it sits right square in the middle of the Venn diagram of Women and Commercialisation. But just because it’s aimed mostly at women, doesn’t mean it’s not worth investigating. Women’s bodies and minds are complicated – our hormones run a bloody riot on us, and we are more prone to anxiety disorders. We do most of the household chores, we carry the mental load of keeping shit together and we have far higher expectations placed on us when it comes to physical appearance.

If doing a face mask, or a yoga class, or seeing a therapist is something that is going to help you, then yes, you should do it. If you’re confused about whether a wellness guru/expert/teacher is legit, consider what their experience is, and what they are trying to sell you.

Line drawing by Candice Breeze

Line drawing by Candice Breeze

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