May 1st, 2018
(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: firstname.lastname@example.org
In Ehrenreich’s hands, wellness, for example, isn’t just a trend, but a reflection of the interplay of class, power, and health (a word, she argues, that’s meaning is too class-based to be useful to wellness gurus like Gwyneth Paltrow). Wellness, she suggests, eliminates the appearance of “conflict…endemic to the human world, with all its jagged inequalities,” emphasizing instead the harmonious individual—a body and mind in complete accord. But, to what end? “To feel good, of course, which is the same as feeling powerful. Put in more mechanical terms, wellness is the means to remake oneself into an ever more perfect self-correcting machine capable of setting goals and moving toward them with smooth determination.”
Mindfulness finds similar disdain, rendered in the smart, provocative, and persuasive style that’s made Ehrenreich’s previous books (Nickled & Dimed and Bright-Sided) enduring classics. Even Ehrenreich’s own interests are subject to her critique. A self-confessed gym-rat, she explores the link between fitness and control, noting it’s logical, and sometimes ugly, consequences that can extend well beyond the gym. Conflated with morality, control over one’s body can be used to determine personal values or success. “[If you] can’t control your own body, you’re not fit, in any sense to control anyone else,” Ehrenreich writes.
Unconvinced by these practices, with their emphasis on control or the illusion that they can stave off death, Ehrenreich who has a Ph.D. in cellular immunology, offers a far more complex (if not dystopian) view of the body, centered around “intrabody conflict.” She leads us through recent research that shows that our immune systems turn on us, aiding—instead of preventing—the growth of cancer. She’s particularly interested in macrophages, a type of white blood cell that, given the opportunity, can become traitors to the very body it is supposed to protect, going over “to the other side.” The body is built for death, Ehrenreich plainly argues, it cannot be tamed by wellness or mindfulness or any other practices simply because it is a “battleground” where “cells and tissues meet in mortal combat.” Rather than toil at resistance—either by buying anti-aging products or conversion to the cult of Goop—Ehrenreich advocates “humility,” the acceptance that we “cannot control,” the body’s conflict. “And we certainly cannot forestall its inevitable outcome, which is death.”