Fariha Rosen’s new book, Who is Wellness? An Examination of Wellness Culture and Who Leaves It Behind, traces the author’s “personal experience of the need for wellness,” while simultaneously examining the health industrial complex and its failures. Róisín, author of the poetry collection “How to Cure a Ghost” (2019) and the novel Like a Bird (2020), identified as a gay Bangladeshi Muslim, is part of a new generation of black and brown women of color writers who—following the tradition of black activists, scholars, and researchers, such as: Audrey Lorde and John Jordan and Bill Hawkes (all of whom Rosen called heroes)—take on themes of trauma and identity through the lens of social justice. For Roizen, healing and self-discovery are closely linked to collective accounts with the living legacies of racism and colonialism, as well as sexism and homophobia. as “for whom is wellness?” He argues that healing is an integral – if not the most important – step towards liberation from such legacies.
Róisín’s journey begins with her desire to recover from the psychological, physical, and sexual abuse of her mentally ill mother, whom she describes in the book’s opening as leaving her body “forever in a state of distress.” The abuse is compounded by the author’s ever-growing awareness of being a gay Muslim woman in a white, settler-colonial world. Rosen, who grew up in Australia, and later moved to Montreal and New York City, writes harrowingly about her inability to escape—as she quotes psychiatrist Bisel van der Kolk’s bestselling title, “The Body Keeps Score.”
She soon experienced her trauma not only in her thoughts, but in her body – as she struggles with a severe body disorder and irritable bowel syndrome – and her fraught relationships with manipulation and hurt. However, the search for “wellness” constantly brings Róisín to spaces that heighten her shock – an all-white yoga studio in Montreal, a massage therapist who talks lightly about allegations of abuse by Dylan Farrow, and toxic female friendships.
The book takes readers through what Róisín describes as the four aspects of wellness – mind, body, self-care, and justice. Through each department, she works as a subject and researcher simultaneously, sharing her own stories of struggle and healing, which are peppered with academic and scholarly references. This works well at times, for example when Róisín describes how she encountered yoga early in her healing journey, and believes she was drawn to it at age 13 because “it was the closest concrete understanding that I was from South Asia.” While there were many A critique of the cultural appropriation of yoga (And the corruption) by White Practitioners in the West, “Who is the wellness for?” This critique cleverly takes it a step further, highlighting how British colonialists approved certain forms of yoga as practiced by upper-class Indians, while displacing the homeless and the poor.
However, at other times, Roisen’s narrative shifts can be contradictory, suddenly moving between her personal experience and academic analysis. While the book criticizes the wellness industry’s decontextualization of the cultural, racial, and spiritual origins of its practices, Rosen herself often cites black and indigenous women scholars and writers (such as Lorde, Jordan, and Hicks, as well as Robin Wall Kemerer, Winona LaDuke and Leanne Betasamosake Simpson) with little involvement in A history of the violence and conflict that produced their desire to heal. Furthermore, while being a Muslim is an essential part of Rosen’s identity, the book gives short attention to Islam, in particular its extensive teachings about holistic health and healing, as well as its rich history of liberation for black Americans.
So, for whom is wellness? Rosen’s poignant response to her question was that our healing should be collective, accessible, and accessible to all: “Wellness is not for anyone if it isn’t for everyone. Otherwise, it’s a paradox.” This may be the book’s most important conclusion – that what we need is not “wellness”, but a spirit of reciprocity, empathy, and care based on justice.
Sylvia Chan Malik is Associate Professor of American Studies and Women’s and Gender Studies at Rutgers University and author of Being a Muslim: A Cultural History of Women of Color and American Islam.
An examination of the wellness culture and who is leaving it behind
Harper Wave. 320 pages $26.99
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