*** DEBUG END ***

Radio review: Analysis: Radical self-care, and Rethink: The long view

03 July 2020


Gwyneth Paltrow’s wellness brand was a distraction from the history of self-care, Shahidha Bari argued in Analysis: Radical self-care (Radio 4, Monday of last week)

Gwyneth Paltrow’s wellness brand was a distraction from the history of self-care, Shahidha Bari argued in Analysis: Radical self-care (Radio 4, Monday...

WHAT is your personal recipe for well-being? Frozen pizza and whisky or yoga and kale smoothies? The wellness industry needs no more mock­ery: it is quite capable of look­ing ridiculous without the satirical gaze of commentators such as Simon Critchley, who was featured on Analysis: Radical self-care (Radio 4, Monday of last week), taking a savage swipe at the excesses of this $4.2-trillion business. But, as Sha­hidha Bari argued, the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow and her wellness brand Goop distract us from the history of self-care, and its origins in the radical politics of the 1960s and ’70s.

Running alongside the counter-cultural approach to health taken by, for instance, the California-based Esalen Institute — hub of hippy self-realisation — was the feminist ambi­tion to empower women in taking control of their own health and life­style choices. The Black Panthers put bodily well-being at the heart of the movement, establishing a national network of free health clinics, tar­geted specifically at condi­tions that disproportionately affect the black community, such as sickle-cell an­­aemia.

The Happiness Agenda became a popular talking-point in the post-crash years of austerity, and, after a temporary lull, has enjoyed a resur­gence. But the research is con­sistent: what keeps us happy is having enough money, and being in reason­able physical health. In as much as these programmes of “radical self-care” promote these two ambitions, they might be regarded as effective.

And yet it seems to be a charac­teristic of our species that we assign moral significance to ill-health and disease. From a quite reasonable discussion of the lessons to be learned from the pandemic, we might shift all too easily to our moral failings before the pandemic, and even to the notion of the plague as judgement on those failings. As Jonathan Freedland revealed, in Rethink: The long view (Radio 4, weekdays last week), this declension is trans-historical.

In 1551, for instance, England was visited by “the Sweat”, which saw off its victims in a matter of hours. Sufferers were rarely around long enough to appreciate their condi­tion. Since this was at the highpoint of Protestant reform, the affliction was naturally identified as a curse on Roman Catholics and Reformers alike.

From a numerical perspective, at least, the 1558 flu epidemic — one of the worst in British history, Freed­land’s guest expert, the Revd Pro­fessor Diarmaid MacCulloch, sug­gested — might be regarded as a curse visited on the Roman Catholic population; for it dispro­portionately affected the ruling class and clergy in Mary Tudor’s Counter-Reformation regime. The death, for instance, of Archbishop Reginald Pole enabled Elizabeth, at the outset of her reign, to fill with her supporters many posi­­­­tions vacated by flu victims. Plagues may not have a purpose, but they sure as hell have consequences.

Church Times Bookshop

Save money on books reviewed or featured in the Church Times. To get your reader discount:

> Click on the “Church Times Bookshop” link at the end of the review.

> Call 0845 017 6965 (Mon-Fri, 9.30am-5pm).

The reader discount is valid for two months after the review publication date. E&OE

Forthcoming Events

6-7 September 2022
Preaching as Pilgrimage conference
From the College of Preachers.

8 September 2022
Church Times Cricket Cup: North v. South
Join us to watch the match at the Walker Cricket Ground, in Southgate, north London.

26 September 2022
What am I living for? God
Sam Wells and Lucy Winkett begin the St Martin-in-the-Fields autumn lecture series in partnership with Church Times.

More events


The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times

​To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)