In Sickness and in Health: Gen Z’s health obsession      

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Words: Anna O’Brien (she/her)

The rich, the famous, the wealthy, the healthy. This is what it means to prosper in today’s society. But how does this “glowing self” that we have the power to create within ourselves relate to our identities? How can we define health? When does the healthy become the unhealthy? In recent years, the trend of persistence, resilience, rigorous exercise regimes, self-care, and diet culture has taken off within Gen Z. The “Sunday reset”, the “5-9 after the 9-5”, and the “clean girl aesthetic” are rigorously shoved in our faces in the form of quick hit dopamine releasing social media reels.They offer a thirty second glimpse of an idealised version of prosperous health, suggesting ways in which you have the potential to be the exact same.To counteract this excessive health obsession exists a cultural backlash visible in the “messy girl” and “bed rotting” trends which play on a negligence of physical health. So how do we find the balance of taking care of ourselves without the twin flames of guilt and comparison? 

Many would argue that a generation so focused on health could only be a positive thing, and I must say that in many ways it is. Recently, I found myself “making healthier choices;” picking up the fat free yoghurt sitting next to the full fat one on the shelf, listening to self-help podcasts instead of music while cooking balanced meals, investing in sportswear, good quality skin and hair care, and, like  the Nike slogan  I “Just Do It”.This sort of lifestyle can add something to your identity in a plethora of positive ways, namely in physically changing your body, which typically deems you more attractive, but can also make life easier. As someone who suffers from anxiety and low mood, outdoor exercise quietens the internal chatter that seems to be at its loudest in the four corners of a room. Exercise results in the simultaneous release of the two happy hormones: endorphins, which are released to relieve the pain of exercise, and dopamine which is released through the reward system, such as completing a personal best.The hormone release, coupled with feeling the overall effects of good self-care, makes for a very positive experience. 

Despite feeling and looking better than I ever have, I find myself questioning things I never have before. In our media saturated world, depictions of what health is are thrown in our faces in an improved but still very narrow way. Slim, toned, able bodied, Eurocentric and interestingly wealthy. I find this correlation between wealth and health brought to the forefront through the notion of the “Clean Girl”. Pretty. Healthy. Perfect. The embodiment of health and wellbeing for young women is being reduced to a beauty standard that marginalises those who don’t conform.The women depicted in these forms of media portray their elaborate self-care, exercise, and diet regimes which endorse expensive branded clothing and equipment, unattainable diet supplements, and meticulous meal plans. There are elaborate 10 step self-care routines that suggest the necessity of specific, extensive ingredients, and products that give you ‘perfect glowing skin’, ‘thicker, longer hair’, and ‘get rid of that persistent lower stomach fat’, which is there for a reason, people! These trends are unattainable for the vast majority of young people, and there’s always another video telling you what you need to be, do, or buy to achieve the optimum standard of health while balancing a clean and happy work and social life. The “clean girl” is a losing battle and a breeding ground for guilt, comparison, eating disorders, consumerism, capitalism, and essentially what I coin “health and wellbeing burnout”. 

This burnout I suggest, causes a retaliation of a new kind of “self-care” via that of “bed-rotting”. The idea of giving into the vice of laziness and staying in the comfort of your bed all day “doomscrolling” on social media. This idea of bed rotting is seen as humorous and relatable and refreshing amongst the excessiveness of self-care also present in media. However, this backlash and the very essence of the word existing normalises the equally detrimental effects that it has to the mind and body. 

The question is, where is the balance? How do we best take care of ourselves without guilt, comparison, and burnout? 

This balance starts with embracing individuality and deconstructing the preconceived stereotype of health. We have to remind ourselves that health and wellbeing has been turned into an industry that profits off of feelings of guilt, comparison and insecurities. When we separate ourselves from that, we can really look after ourselves. It starts from reminding ourselves that wellness is nuanced and looks different for everyone. Ultimately, true wellbeing encompasses both physical and mental health, and achieving this balance requires navigating societal pressures and personal expectations with kindness and understanding. By prioritising self-care practices that nourish both the body and mind, Gen Z can foster a culture of wellness that celebrates diversity and promotes genuine, lasting health.


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