Last Updated on April 9, 2023 by Thalia
Gen Z are redefining wellness and what it means to be healthy in a post-pandemic world
But to what extent?
Today I am taking a closer look at wellness in the online space and how it is being displayed, promoted and marketed by Gen Z.
*For context, I am a Millennial, born in 1990. The content found in this blog post is my own opinion and is for informational and educational purposes only.
I just want to begin this blog post by saying that I am in no way shaming any Gen Z wellness influencers. What they are doing is incredibly inspiring and motivational for others.
I just want to highlight my own concerns about the visually attractive, healthy lifestyle they promote on social media so you can be aware of the darker side to these ideals.
And to stop you from falling into the trap of self-comparison and unworthiness as I did.
A generation of health-conscious creators
The wellness space on Instagram and TikTok seems to be dominated by early twenty-something females who all have perky boobs, round bums and flat tummies. They don’t need to try hard as they look good in everything they wear and everything they do seems effortless.
They wake up at 5 am every morning, journal, work out, apply their skincare routine, make a green smoothie, take supplements and eat “insta-worthy” bowls of either overnights oats or yoghurt and berries.
And this entire process is documented on social media under the hashtag “that girl.”
Now I’m not necessarily saying this healthy lifestyle is a bad thing.
It’s great that so many young women want to prioritise their well-being and they are adopting certain healthy habits to hit those goals.
But wellness is being pigeon-holed into a curated, visually appealing routine that consists of yoga, meditation, skincare and juice cleanse. Rituals which are promoted as “hot girl habits.”
And I feel that this isn’t a true representation of what the health and wellness space looks like outside of social media.
I’ve focused on building this wellness blog and learning the ins and outs of SEO to get my blog ranking on the first page of Google. But yet when it comes to social media I feel completely out of my depth.
It makes me question whether I’m doing everything wrong.
I want to promote wellness. I want to promote a healthy lifestyle but when I go onto a Gen Zer’s wellness profile, all I see are green smoothies, supplements, cute athleisure wear and gym workouts.
And 8 times out of 10 that influencer is doing her yoga training.
And then there’s me.
I can’t stand green smoothies, I love yoga but I’m not an expert in it and probably would never consider yoga training. So I find it difficult to show up sometimes as I feel like an imposter because I don’t fit into that version of what wellness looks like on social media.
On Google, my blog post on how to start a wellness journey is ranking on the 1st page. Surely that has some sort of authority behind it?
But on social media, I’m nowhere near considered an expert because I haven’t hit that authoritative status yet as I don’t have anywhere near 10k followers.
As Christobel Hastings puts it, the wellness industry is one that “frequently elects leaders on the strength of a personal brand” rather than on credentials and expertise.
And we are currently putting our trust in a generation of health-conscious creators who were born between 1997 and 2012.
Millennials vs Generation Z
Whereas Millennials were born at a time when frozen, processed and microwavable foods were the norm, Generation Z grew up in a more health-conscious world.
There is now more information out there on the health risks from certain foods. We now know which habits are bad and what daily choices we can make to be healthier. There’s a big push to eat healthily, be sustainable and consider a plant-based only diet.
Gen Z are also digitally fluent.
They live online and the majority of the information they consume comes from influencers and social media platforms, mainly Youtube.
Add this awareness of knowing what’s healthy and what is not healthy to the growing demand of needing to look good on social media, and you have a generation that is constantly pressured to show up and act like they have their shit together.
They want to look desirable and be aspirational.
As WSL put it, “(Gen Z) feel more stressed than Millennials, and that may be the single greatest influence that guides their path to wellness.”
You need to remember, the majority of Gen Z have grown up during a global pandemic, global warming, political turmoil and a financial crisis.
They have literally been nicknamed the “anxiety generation.”
A report by the American Psychological Association found that Generation Z is “27% more likely than previous generations” to report poor mental health.
With so much uncertainty going on in the world, it’s no wonder that a lot of Zoomers have found stability and structure through their daily routines.
Driven by high levels of anxiety, they are controlling their every move so they can feel safe in an unstable world.
“Gen Z is in touch with their emotions. They believe that mental health is a holistic state of well-being that grows from the inside out.”Marcie Merriman | EY
Gen Z and wellness
Gen Z define wellness as “an internal state that affects your external day-to-day.” (EY 2021 Gen Z Survey)
They believe that wellness is not only about physical fitness, but is an encompassing term that includes nutrition, mental health, brand involvement, and even spirituality.
Being health and wellness conscious is integrated into their day-to-day life.
It’s not just a 1-hr, quick-fix solution, but a philosophy to live by.
My social media feed is now full of young teenagers and girls in their early twenties following a wellness lifestyle. They’re eating clean, they’re not going out every weekend drinking, they’re exercising, going on wellness-first holidays, being productive and actually taking life seriously.
This Gen Z lifestyle looks like a very different way to how I and my friends grew up.
At University, all me and my friends wanted to do was go out, get wasted and eat Nandos the next morning.
Out of the people I lived with, no one went to the gym. No one was making healthy smoothies in the kitchen. It was very much a junk-food lifestyle. Obviously, it was unhealthy, but at the time we didn’t care.
We were having fun and living recklessly.
It was also considered the norm to put on weight at University and go out nearly every night.
Social media didn’t exist then either. Facebook was on the rise but it was a place for drunken, filter-free, having-a-laugh pictures. We didn’t care what we posted as only our friends could see it.
No one took Facebook seriously, it wasn’t curated at all. There was no thought process behind it. There was no pressure to look a certain way or promote a certain lifestyle.
The influencer phenomenon didn’t exist.
Exclusiveness was reserved only for the A-listers.
But now it’s like every Zoomer is an influencer in their own right and they are creating their own personal brand online. Because it is the “in-thing” to do.
They are showing up as the best versions of themselves daily, as this is what wellness means to them.
But by putting their own aesthetic spin on wellness, are they ultimately creating a toxic culture that is both intimidating, unattainable and probably unnecessary?
“Gen Z’s overall mentality of self-care and health is: do what makes you feel like the best version of yourself.”Sophie Sureau | Medium
Let’s talk about Project 50
The latest trend I’ve seen doing the rounds on social media is Project 50.
Shared over 93.9k times on Instagram, this trend is already extremely popular and will most likely continue to grow.
Project 50 is a lifestyle challenge made for “the top 1% of tomorrow.”
Similar to the “That Girl” aesthetic, the ideology behind Project 50 is to stop depriving yourself of what you can be and start living your life to the fullest by following these set of rules:
- Wake up before 8 am
- 1 hr morning routine, zero distractions
- Exercise for 1 hr per day
- Read 10 pages a day
- Dedicate 1 hr towards a new skill
- Follow a healthy diet
- Track your progress in a journal
One of the many problems I have with it?
The challenge was created by a clothing brand.
They based the entire thing on a personal study they did on an ambitious group of people that are the most successful in their industries. They noted down the most common healthy traits and turned them into a daily lifestyle challenge for people to follow.
Not exactly backed by science.
The Rules of Project 50
Why is Project 50 problematic?
Everyone I’ve seen who takes part in Project 50 usually sticks to the original rules unless they need to adjust something to better suit their needs or add a couple of their own habits.
In my research, I saw a Gen Z wellness influencer adding “walk 10k steps per day and 10-min flexibility training” already on top of the 1-hr of exercise.
I mean doesn’t that just sound exhausting?
By setting yourself these rules and sharing your every move on social media, you are putting added pressure on yourself to succeed.
Even if you have a mindset of “oh I didn’t do that today, no worries I will do it tomorrow” you’re still showing yourself that you weren’t the best you could have been.
So you’ll try even harder tomorrow.
In fact, Project 50 actually states that “if you fail on any of the 50 days, start over at day 1. Repeat until finished.”
Which is incredibly problematic.
We are only human and we can’t expect to show up with high energy and motivation every single day.
Sometimes, life gets in the way and you might wake up feeling low and the last thing you want to do is get through a bunch of rules that were set out for you by a clothing brand.
You might even feel that this “challenge” doesn’t actually align with your personality (as it was entirely based on someone else’s version of success) and it starts to feel like a chore.
But Project 50 doesn’t seem to allow for much flexibility or space to get it wrong.
Even by using the word “fail”, they have negatively implied that if you skip a day you have already failed the challenge, and you need to start over.
And that is simply not the case.
Not being able to complete something or choosing to skip a day doesn’t mean you have failed.
It simply means you are noticing a disconnect between you and your habits and it’s completely ok to take a step back and reassess.
Not being able to complete something or choosing to skip a day doesn’t mean you have failed. It simple means you are noticing a disconnect between you and your habits and it’s completely ok to take a step back and reassess.
A hustle culture for wellness advocates
I know that everyone is in control of their choices and if they choose to take on this challenge then they know what they are getting themselves into.
However, I also understand that when you are young, you are more susceptible to idolising people on social media and following their lifestyle without worrying whether it’s right for you or not.
Especially when the lifestyle being marketed looks healthy and aspirational.
These Gen Z wellness influencers who take part in Project 50 share their progress on social media and encourage their followers to join them to “make change happen.”
They all strive to be better.
Some even create videos with original audio that says, “I wish I had started sooner.”
These girls are between 19 and 24 years old.
How young did they want to be when they started their wellness journey?
I’m 32. I didn’t start my mental health journey until 27 and I’m only just starting to prioritise my physical wellness. But I wouldn’t change my younger self for anything. I learnt a lot from her.
Not to mention it was a lot of fun! I allowed myself to be messy and make mistakes without being too hard on myself.
But now, thanks to the rise of social media, people are more conscious than ever of how they look to others. They want to have an online presence and grow an audience so they want to show up as the best possible version of themselves.
And because they follow an extremely rigid, healthy lifestyle, which is based on consistency and discipline, they aren’t allowing any room for messiness.
Everyone is looking at them to show up with glowing skin and a body which is free from bloat.
Sure, they share one or two videos of them eating pizza and drinking beer claiming that they have an 80/20 balance. But how much guilt do they feel after they have indulged?
How much pizza did they actually eat?
Also, if we were to look deeper into Project 50, you’ll see that Rule 6 is to follow a healthy diet. It states “no alcohol, no soft drinks and generally less sugar” for 50 days.
So surely that 80/20 balance that they are claiming they live by is practically non-existent.
Don’t get so caught up in self-improving that you forget to live your live and actually have fun!
A healthy lifestyle or borderline addiction?
Gen Zers believe that anyone can be addicted to anything.
Drugs, alcohol, video games, screen-time, social media, exercise or even achieving an ideal physical appearance. “Addiction is about more than just substances.” (EY Gen Z 2021 Segmentation Study)
They define addiction as something that is not only unhealthy but as something that doesn’t bring out positivity. Whether it’s mentally or physically. So surely this obsession with being healthy and in control of everything they do will, at some point, turn into an addiction.
The amount of pressure that these Gen Z wellness influencers are putting on their mind and body, following the restraints of these social media trends, just so that they can show up and look “well” for their audience, is going to start having a reverse effect.
Their bodies might look amazing and be in great condition but how will this demand affect their mental health?
Is being this wellness-conscious really the healthiest thing for these young women and teens?
Surely, they should just be focusing on being young, free and reckless?
Because personally, it sounds like a heck of a lot more fun than having to constantly fit into a beauty standard on social media in order to build a personal brand.
The pressure that comes from taking part in these extreme health challenges is distorting people’s perspective of what wellness should look like.
A lot of young girls end up becoming obsessed with how they look, what they eat and how much they exercise because they want to aspire to be like their favourite influencer(s).
And this, in turn, makes them compete and compare themselves to others.
A new “hustle culture” is being created, but this time it’s for the wellness advocate. Where the sole purpose of life is to follow a healthy daily routine, go to the gym, exercise and eat clean.
Everyone is so fixated on bettering themselves and striving to be healthier.
There’s no room for any messy moments and rarely any flexibility to indulge guilt-free.
Generation Z seem to be so obsessed with being “well” that they are allowing it to take over their lives.
And unfortunately, this will create an even more image-conscious generation. One where everyone is trying to fit into a trending ideal on social media rather than just doing what feels right for them.
But just because something is a trend on TikTok doesn’t mean it’s going to work for you.
And this is why I choose to promote a more realistic approach to wellness. Because everyone’s version of wellness will be different.
I’m a Millennial who spent the majority of her twenties blackout drunk, eating junk food and trying to please others instead of herself.
My wellness journey started because I wanted to start taking better care of my mental well-being and happiness. Not because I wanted to be physically fitter or look thinner. I also wasn’t looking to share my transformation with people online and seek validation for what I was doing.
I also don’t wish I had started sooner. Because honestly, I was still young. I didn’t know myself at all in my early twenties. I thought I did but a lot of what I was doing was to please other people.
But for the past 5 years, I have spent a lot of time with myself. Travelling solo, learning, growing and developing the self-awareness I have now. It’s not something that I claim I had when I was only 22.
And now at 32, I am only just starting to feel comfortable in my own skin.
I didn’t need “to show up and act like her in order to become her.”
I allowed myself to be imperfect, to make mistakes, to get shitfaced at weekends and to eat a whole pizza without feeling guilty about it.
Sure, my journey to wellness has been a slow-burner but I’ve turned out completely fine.
And I wouldn’t change anything for the world!
Until next week,
♡ Thalia xx
Very interesting reading…..I wonder if the younger generation has ever thought about how us oldies have navigated the enormous changes we have seen and choices we have been presented with, or rather at times, bombarded with? So many life style choices….but at the end of the day, as we grow older, as you say, it is our decisions that count and all these fads will eventually fade away as have the hundreds & thousands before them….to only be replaced by others.