Just a week after Fair & Lovely tragically changed its name to Glow & Lovely, one of India’s top influencers (let’s just call her ‘X’) posted an IGTV video where she offered a listening ear for ₹1,500 an hour. “Available to talk to you as a friend, a soul sister, a guide, someone who brings you joy,” she said; great intentions with a price tag and zero qualifications. Naturally, the said post faced backlash. To offer counselling for a fee without medical training is unethical. But though many made their distaste obvious in comments, several popular influencers reacted encouragingly. It is an accurate parody of the beauty and wellness world, where everyone is a friend of a friend.
For me, X isn’t the real problem but the lowest hanging fruit. Ever since wellness became the new luxury, the industry has given birth to several ‘experts’ who offer medical advice without a degree. I know of yoga ‘teachers’ who take classes without training, influencers who design diet charts and offer week-long cleanses. Medical training is not a prerequisite since they’re friends of friends who look great.
Taking advice from people we admire is human instinct. The best part about blogs used to be that they offered accountability as compared to magazines peppered with advertising plugs. Bloggers gave us honest feedback — until big money came into the picture. Not that there’s anything wrong in monetising some content. Still, irresponsible influencing is just the tip of the iceberg. Mental and physical wellness is now a very lucrative pie, and everyone wants a piece of it.
In the last five years we’ve been willing to pay double for ‘gluten-free’ coffee, ‘activated’ turmeric, and ‘extra-virgin’ coconut oil. All coffee is gluten-free, there’s no such thing as extra virgin coconut oil, and activated turmeric is a drink: turmeric boiled with milk and pepper over low heat. Your old haldi–doodh, but not as glamorous. The problem began when we used ‘clean’ to describe food, beauty and lifestyle. It demarcated everything into good and bad. The clean/green beauty space is the fastest sector growing within the personal care industry. Does that mean we have cleaner products? A few maybe, but most merely give the impression, catering to our need for everything to be superhumanly perfect. I’ve lost count of the number of products with a bunny photo and a cruelty-free tag without either a PETA or the international leaping bunny certification. Terms such as vegan, fair trade and organic are thrown around like candy at a child’s birthday party. How many brands actually follow these practices? There is no proof.
Personally, I’m not 100% clean in both food and beauty. I love ‘poisons’ such as dairy and bread, and I like a well-formulated product over a green one. Here’s a new word to learn: moderation. How about we don’t go on binges and not guzzle every bit of clean, chakra-balancing, fair-trade, cruelty-free, vegan, gluten-free, overpriced, organic trend or product. I choose organic when it is convenient but I also like to support the local vegetable vendor, whether he’s organic or not.
Our need for accountability, honesty and cleanliness make us targets for those who know how to turn a phrase. X understood her audience and was catering to their need for conversation and company. It was wrong and it backfired, big time. Even though she has since deleted the post and apologised, the hate still continues. That’s something else that’s wrong today — in our quest for the cleanest, rightest right, we’ve become completely unforgiving. As a crowd, we need to be more discerning but less offensive. The culture of calling out worked to a degree, but today it scares individuals and brands from revealing the truth. Influencers are regularly shamed for taking on paid work. If X had posted about hosting a paid online meet and greet, she would have still been trolled.
The need of the hour is to do your own research. No matter who recommends a person, product, lifestyle or diet, use your own judgement. Since some studies are funded, traditional practices with no scope for profit might not always be backed with research. Be discerning about your choices, ask for certifications, and learn to listen to your body. My mother always says “nobody can look after you better than you can”. Always remember that.