The Promise of Wellness (Sociology & Social Policy seminar series)

Wednesday 13th February,  12 – 13.30pm, Rm 12.21 / 25 in School of Sociology & Social Policy, Univ. of Leeds

Over the past few years entrepreneurs such as Ella Mills (Deliciously Ella), Jasmine and Melissa Hemsley (Hemsley + Hemsley) and Madeleine Shaw (Get the Glow) have achieved extraordinary levels of cultural visibility and commercial reach in the UK. Dispensing dietary and lifestyle advice to hundreds of thousands of followers on social media and authoring best-selling cookbooks, these women are in the business of wellness. This paper examines how these entrepreneurs circulate as cultural intermediaries within the shifting landscape of postfeminism. Two key themes are of interest. The first centres on the positioning of young women as entrepreneurial subjects par excellence(Gill & Scharff, 2011). Examining the representation of wellness entrepreneurs in lifestyle magazines and the financial press, I discuss how entrepreneurship is being sold to young women. Crucial here is the revaluing of food work as a form of creative labour, a means to pursue passionate work (McRobbie, 2015) and strike a felicitous work-life balance (Rottenberg, 2017). The second theme centres on health and citizenship, as these entrepreneurs promote an understanding of wellness not simply as freedom from disease but a kind of preternatural good health. Examining the guidelines they administer, I consider how wellness functions as a kind of postfeminist coping strategy, paralleling exhortations elsewhere for women to be confident and cultivate resilience (Gill & Orgad, 2016). Situating these dynamics within the wider economic and political landscape of the UK, I consider how the rise of wellness relates to the decline of welfare.

Rachel O’Neill is LSE Fellow in the Department of Media and Communications at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Her research examines how gendered subjectivities are forged in and through wider cultural currents, using ethnographic methods to capture the discursive contours and affective textures of mediated lives. She is the author of Seduction: Men, Masculinity and Mediated Intimacy (Polity, 2018).