& the problem with the "wellness girl" archetype
Hi! Welcome to “good mood food” from Kale Me Maybe’s Carina Wolff. If you’ve made it here and aren’t yet a subscriber, come join! You can expect recipes, musings, and faves in your inbox every Wednesday! Paid subscribers get even more! Learn more about my paid membership here. You can also try a week for free!
I’ve been on Instagram as Kale Me Maybe since 2013. That’s a decade of existing in the food and wellness space, and I’ve seen a lot. I’ve watched trends come and go, and then cycle back again, but one part of social media that has always remained consistent is that people seem to idolize a specific lifestyle and the people who appear to represent it.
If you were on food and wellness Instagram around 2014-2018, you no doubt remember Lee From America. She was the “it-girl” of wellness, with her plant-filled apartment, her frequent yoga and meditation practices, and her gorgeous vegetable-rich dishes. One day, Lee just disappeared from the internet, and never returned to her status as a wellness instastar.
I recently discovered Lee’s newsletter where she deep dives into how contrived that era was and how miserable she felt during most of it. While we were watching her life, romantcizing it as an idealistic lifestyle, she felt trapped and controlled by expectations. Reading her essays gives us a peek into what it’s like to be a wellness personality online, and honestly, it does not look good. Although this was years ago, I suspect many other women are going through this same phenomenon now, especially with the rise of TikTok and a new generation.
As someone who does social media for a living, I know how much goes into each post, each story, each caption. Everything is curated, even if it’s authentic. You’re still choosing what to share, when to share it, what to say, making it look good as “aesthetic” as possible when you do it. It takes effort to look effortless.
There were a lot of valid critiques surrounding Lee and her place online: the cultural appropriation surrounding her matcha workshops, her doling out of medical advice without any credentials to back it up, her perpetuating the cycle of an unattainable yet desirable lifestyle. These points are valid and still hold true, and by pointing you to her newsletter, I’m not trying to absolve her of her role in toxic diet and wellness culture. But reading her words pulls back the curtain and shows us that this is not the lifestyle we should aspire towards. It’s a stark reminder to stop idolizing people on the internet when we don’t know the full picture.
I bring this up now because I see the cycle repeating itself all over again. In 2015 we may have been unnecessarily afraid of gluten and dairy, but in 2023, we are unnecessarily afraid of seed oils and oats, despite plenty of evidence to prove otherwise. I see well-intentioned people trying to improve their health and wellbeing fall into a rabbit hole and become fearful of an abundance of unnecessary things just because someone with followers told them to be, even if it has been debunked by dietitians, doctors, and scientists.
I’ve always been interested in why this happens (see my previous essay “Influencers as Wellness Gurus”), but what’s most fascinating to me these days is how tightly people hold onto these previously held beliefs, even if this new information can help them relax and not worry so much. Why would you want to insist that canola oil is going to kill you if you can breath easy knowing it’s okay after reading a well-referenced article by an actual registered dietitian?
Wellness has become an identity, and people’s self worth and personalities are becoming way too tied up in being “healthy” and therefore, in their minds, superior, even if this is a subconscious thought. Habits, diets and mantras have become memes, so much so that everyone is trying to live the same life. The wellness girl itself has become a meme, but what if that meme is just a game of telephone, the same message getting repeated but distorted along the way? The wellness archetype is no longer based on scientific information — it’s instead about emulating the life of people around you. People are having a hard time letting go of their previously held beliefs because it has now become too threatening to their identity of a healthy person.
It’s okay to want to maintain a certain standard of wellbeing for yourself. I definitely care about what I eat, the habits I practice, and my mental health. I believe we all want to live the best life we can, and within that means making healthy choices and trying our best. But at a certain point, we have to check in and ask: at what cost? Is this even serving me anymore or is it making my life miserable? Do I really believe in this, or did the internet convince me I need it? Am I just doing this because everyone else is?
The tricky thing about nutrition is that it’s ever-changing, and that’s because it’s extremely difficult to conduct studies where you can isolate one ingredient and correlate it confidently with a health outcome. If someone’s trying to convince you otherwise, then that’s a red flag. It’s tempting to want to follow someone because they have a beautiful life and a beautiful face and a beautiful body and eat beautiful food. But that doesn’t give them authority. And just because it looks beautiful, doesn’t mean it is beautiful. Just ask Lee From America.
THINGS I’M LOVING!
Cocokind recently sent me a few of their new products, and my favorite has to be the Tinted Lip Shield! I’m an SPF girlie through and through, and one place we all forget to protect is our lips! I love how this one has a very subtle color and gloss, and I loved how it provides SPF protection and a little bit of glam.
I just finished reading Animal by Lisa Taddeo thanks to a recommendation from a friend, and I sped through it. I loved the writing, the characters, and the fact that it takes place in LA, but I do warn everyone that it’s a little bit dark. I’m back to my rule of no Netflix at night and only reading, and it’s so nice to be flying through books again (you can find more recs here).
Just because I said no Netflix at night doesn’t mean I said no Netflix ever ;). I like to put on easy shows while I edit my videos, and recently, I’ve been watching Never Have I Ever. It’s a cute teen show that’s funny and smart, and it has really been making me miss being young!!
I’m back with another bean recipe, which was actually unintentional, but it was brought to my attention this week that I have a “bean obsession” which honestly is 100 percent accurate. Actually, the attention was in a form of a question, the question being “What’s with the bean obsession?”
Psh, boy, do I have an answer for that! First, they taste amazing. Second, they’re a great source of plant-based protein, and as someone who doesn’t eat a lot of meat, beans are my best friends. Third, they’re also a great source of fiber, and while we’re at it, a ton of other nutrients. So in conclusion, they’re delicious and nutritious, so enough said. Take that, bean hater!
I’ll make sure next week’s recipe is bean free though, but in the meantime, I’m convinced this recipe can turn even the staunchest bean hater into the greatest bean lover. You may have heard of pizza beans before: I made a similar, pressure-cooker version a few years ago, and Smitten Kitchen has a popular pizza bean recipe. I made mine a little different this time by using red onion, spinach, and fennel, and I am obsessed with how it turned out. I especially the broiled mozarrella top, which really gives these beans its pizza-like flavor.
You can eat these beans alone (straight from the dish, if you want to), or you can spoon them onto some toasted bread.
Ingredients (serves 2-3)
2 tbsp olive oil, plus more if needed
1/2 large red onion, sliced and roughly chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped fennel
1/2 tsp oregano
Pinch of crushed red pepper
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups baby spinach
1 3/4 cups crushed tomatoes
2 cups white bean of choice (I used Alubia Blanca, but cannellini or gigante beans work well)
5-6 basil leaves, thinly sliced, plus more for garnish
1/2 cup grated mozzarella
Salt & pepper
1. Preheat oven to 400 F. In a medium/large pot or Dutch oven, heat olive oil on medium-low heat. Add the onion, fennel, oregano, and crushed red pepper, and season with salt and pepper. Mix together, and sauté for 7-8 minutes or until onions and fennel are soft.
2. Mix in the garlic, and cook for another minute or until fragrant. Add in the spinach and extra oil if it seems dry. Sauté until the spinach has cooked down, and then add in the crushed tomatoes. Season with more salt and pepper, and then add in the white beans and basil. Mix together, and then transfer to a baking dish.
3. Cover the mixture with the mozzarella, and then bake for 10-15 minutes until cheese just begins to turn golden. Then broil on high for 2-4 minutes to get a crispy top. Remove from oven, and finish off with some fresh basil on top.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT!
Last week, paid subscribers received their January Check-In, which included an “In-Season Produce Guide” with recipes, an Ingredient Spotlight (spoiler alert: it was Heirloom Beans), and the opportunity to send special requests for recipes this month! You can join at any time and still access to past newsletter posts in the archives!