I am very worried. I have just found a Gwyneth Paltrow recipe I like. We get so used to the wilder shores of her successfully realised snowflake/woebot/neo-vegan/professionally twee extremes, that we forget she is a well educated upper middle class survivor and this clean but not mean gurudom has got to be better than lingering around the ego-beatup that is Hollywood. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure she works, for nowadays it is axiomatic to see the hardwon pile driving effort that goes into anything that succeeds. (Good Lord, I am exhausted and I have only written six lines …) It’s wellness that does it. How I hate wellness. Boop-a-doop Goop, I can just about get on with – I know a girl has to make a living – but wellness brings me out in hives.
The concept is OK, it’s the word. I don’t like it. It’s arch, false, designed to sell something . Growling slightly, I just about got my head round wellbeing but wellness gives me the pip. A phrase like “everybody’s toolbox for optimal wellness …” and mine is instantly compromised by a combination of repressed fury and uncomfortable laughter. Irony bypass. I am so glad that I am not young any more …
In the ear or on the page, American voices were and remain a different section of the verbal life orchestra, starting with the movies. New York introduced me to all sorts of new words, some of them frankly bewildering, suspenders and fags among them. Language is always on the move, slang to start with (the vernacular) and then language proper. It is after all a scant week since I read the 400 pages plus of Becoming by Michelle Obama – and it pains me to tell you that there is a wellness in there. I am sure it is correctly used, I just don’t like it.
But I read a lot of American writing, I always have since I was introduced to Arthur Miller at 13. And I could see differences in the language, in the uses of the language and I can’t remember being troubled by it. Trouble began in would-be “take me seriously” texts, usually from law or medicine or sociology or any of them via media – the language of most US TV series based in or around the law required a working knowledge of their legal system and a very sharp ear. Same with politics. Or health. And health is politics. And all of these extensive subjects are dealt with by degree – enjoyment, information, documentary, soap … and subliminal marketing.
I hear US voices , because of the dominance of culture, especially pop culture, but also because my favourite news programme is dually anchored (mostly) Washington DC and London and it is their pride to offer speakers often unknown to me (hooray )– most of whom express themselves extremely well (often my experience with American guests when I was broadcasting.) They know (and knew well in advance of most of us this side of the pond) that to promote themselves they would have to be open to and accessible by media – and they were brilliant. Brilliant in their version of my language, not a wellness in sight.
Wellness is a cod term, a carefully composed lipstick red herring, all dressed up and only going to the bank off the back of diet books. Sure, it’s important to get people to eat more vegetables and less meat. But as importantly, we need to understand why some people eat more than others and why some find it so hard to lose weight. And for that you need a different voice – the voice of the scientist slogging through time to understand a very complex matter. Watching a friend who has just lost 70 lbs put over half of it back on, I fell on a review of geneticist Giles Yeo’s book Gene Eating (Seven Dials £14.99) – and the most important word is health – the middle of NHS which is staggering under our collective poundage and the illnesses it accrues. “Science” says Yeo “is set up to get at the truth eventually.” I’m off to the bookshop. I’ll walk.