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9 Controversies and Scandals That Changed the Trajectory of Wellness in 2019

Erin Magner

Erin MagnerDecember 22, 2019

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Jade eggs in 2017, the great 2018 celery juice craze—every year brings a few wellness-related topics that divide the nation. But in 2019, the most buzz-worthy wellness news had a sense of gravity and urgency that sparked people to take action beyond a casual retweet. Some marched in the streets to support a strike organized by teen climate activists. Others sent donations to Planned Parenthood after the organization withdrew from the Title X grant program, or boycotted their favorite fitness studios to make a political statement. And then there were the stories that were just flat-out scandalous, like the one accusing a high-level Nike trainer of mental and physical abuse.

Here, we look back on the most controversial news items to hit the wellness scene in 2019, all of which are sure to reverberate into the new decade. One thing’s for sure: If this year were a season of The Bachelor, Chris Harrison would definitely be calling it the most dramatic one yet.

1. Celebs and influencers called for a boycott against SoulCycle and Equinox

In August, news broke that Stephen Ross, an investor in SoulCycle and Equinox, would be hosting a fundraiser for Donald Trump’s 2020 reelection bid. Although both brands issued statements saying they had no involvement with the event, celebrities like Chrissy Teigen and Billy Eichner still urged their social media followers to boycott. Equinox later responded by pledging to donate $1 million to several charities, while SoulCycle’s then-CEO, Melanie Whelan, encouraged instructors to host classes benefiting social justice organizations. Even so, it appears that the backlash had some impact on SoulCycle, at least—public data showed a dip in class attendance in the weeks following the news.

2. We learned that counterfeit beauty products are everywhere

Viewers of Netflix docu-series Broken will forever think twice before buying a discounted beauty product on the internet, as one episode cast light onto the knockoffs lurking on websites like Amazon and eBay. Not only are these items a total scam, but they may contain harmful ingredients such as super glue, heavy metals, and even fecal matter. To reduce your risk of getting sick from a poop-laced lip kit, dermatologist Whitney Bowe told Well+Good readers to avoiding buying beauty products from third-party sellers on marketplace sites, reading reviews, and spot-testing your loot before using it. 

3. Gender-neutral period products got people talking

Menstrual product brand Always made headlines in October, when it announced that it would be removing the female symbol from its pad packaging in the name of gender neutrality. While many celebrated this as a win for inclusivity, some activists pointed out that the phrase “feminine hygiene products” also needs to be re-aligned for the times. Could “products for people with periods” be next in line to take its place?

4. Experts called BS on new red-meat research 

Last October, an international commission of nutritionists and researchers gave us license to eat as much red meat as we want—and, as you can imagine, this sparked a whole lot of wellness-world resistance. As William Li, MD, told Well+Good, there were several potential flaws in the study design and it ignored the detrimental impact of red meat consumption on the environment. The takeaway? Remember that decades of research have linked high red meat consumption with adverse health impacts for both people and the planet, and make your own choices accordingly.

5. Magic mushrooms started down the path to legalization

This year,  Denver and Oakland took steps to decriminalize “magic mushrooms,” indicating that the psychedelic fungi could one day follow cannabis down the road to broader legalization. While the medical community is divided over psilocybin mushrooms’ safety, some research indicates that they could be helpful for treating anxiety, depression, and chronic pain. It’s unlikely that mushrooms will be legalized any time soon, but given that many scientists are eager to learn more—and 55 percent of Americans support more research into their potential health benefits—expect to see a growing audience lobbying on their behalf.

6. Teen activists stood up to demand climate-change solutions

On September 20, a record-breaking 4 million people attended the Global Climate Strikes, an event organized by teen environmental activists to raise awareness for the issues surrounding climate change—one of the biggest public-health issues of our time. While some world leaders, such as President Trump and Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, have publicly derided 16-year-old Climate Strike leader Greta Thunberg, many other power players—including brands such as Patagonia and Ben & Jerry’s—have showed their support for her movement. The fight didn’t stop in September: Thunberg recently sailed to Spain to attend a United Nations climate meeting.

7. A top athlete exposed the dark side of high-level training

Elite runner Mary Cain took to the New York Times’ opinion section to discuss the abuse she experienced while being coached at Nike’s Oregon Project. Not only was her mental health impacted, but overtraining led her to lose her period for three years and break five bones, which isn’t unusual for female athletes—studies estimate that 26 percent experience amenorrhea, bone density loss, and low energy due to their rigorous schedules. In response, 400 Nike employees recently staged a protest against Cain’s coach, Alberto Salazar, and Nike’s treatment of its female employees in general.

8. Planned Parenthood withdrew from Title X funding

After the Trump administration issued a gag rule prohibiting health-care providers receiving federal funds from referring patients to abortion providers, Planned Parenthood dropped the mic and withdrew from the Title X grant program. “Our patients deserve to make their own health care decisions, not to be forced to have Donald Trump or Mike Pence make those decisions for them,” said Alexis McGill Johnson, acting president and CEO of Planned Parenthood, in a statement. Since then, local governments have been stepping up to fill in the funding gaps—but it’s still not enough, and Planned Parenthood is continuing to fight to get the gag rule overturned.

9. Capri leggings sparked impassioned debate on social 

Okay, so this one’s not quite as weighty as the rest, but it was still controversial news: When Well+Good contributor Allie Flinn railed against capri leggings last spring, our readers were quick to take sides on social. Some agreed with her premise that the style is past its prime and “there is no reason not to get a pant that covers your whole leg.” Others pledged their undying love for this “limbo length” and kindly requested that capri naysayers let them live their lives. One thing’s for sure—no one seems to have lukewarm feelings about calf-length leggings. (And how boring would the world be if they did?) 

Here are all the wellness trends you’ll see everywhere in 2020. Plus, why wellness spaces have become the social hangout of choice.

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