By Dean Stattmann
Jade rolling. Body brushing. Mercury retrograde. Palo Santo.
If you’re like most men, you might not have heard these terms before—and that’s understandable. Much of today’s wellness movements seem to completely miss the mark with guys, and as a result, we end up stuck in our tired routines.
The problem is that the brands promoting wellness generally treat men as simple dullards who are incapable of self-improvement. That’s a missed market opportunity, sure. But it’s also a huge disservice to men.
At its core, wellness the simple belief that health is broader than the problems you discuss with your doctor. It’s a big umbrella, with emotional, spiritual, and mental wellbeing all fitting underneath.
There are tools available to help you align your body and mind—jade rolling and Palo Santo among them, if those are your things. But by and large, wellness is something you create for yourself. More than what you buy, it’s what you do. So let’s lay out a framework for moving forward. This is how we, as part of the wellness industry, can serve today’s man better.
Wellness Opportunity #1: Understand that men are complex
Much of male-focused marketing seems to work under the assumption that men are all characters from a 1980’s high-school movie, with ambitions that end at sex. And yeah, sex is part of our lives. But so are our careers, families, friendships, and hobbies. We want to make improvements in all arenas.
Consider one overused advertising trope, which features a lusty woman physically clinging to some dude with swollen abs. The implication is that she can’t let go, and that whatever pill, cream, or lotion the company is selling will give you power over women. This kind of marketing is problematic for many reasons, but one is that it contributes to a cultural problem of toxic masculinity.
To gauge the effects of hyper-macho advertising, a study published in Health Psychology surveyed 500 men on their beliefs about masculinity and their beliefs about energy drinks, which tend to build campaigns around extreme sports, loud cars, and babes in bikinis. The research revealed that the more men bought into the masculine images promoted by the energy drinks, the more they believed that drinking those fizzy products would make them manlier. (They also consumed more, and as a result, experienced more sleep issues.)
No part of wellness should involve feeling pressure to be more masculine—whatever that means, anyway. “Wellness brands should encourage men to be the best version of themselves,” says Eric Hinman, an elite CrossFit and endurance athlete and consultant who works with health and wellness brands. "Too many masculine brands promote competition and comparison—and comparison is the thief of joy.”
In other words, brands should be empowering us to reach our highest potential, not somebody else’s.
Wellness opportunity #2: Promote a positive mindset
A related issue in the world of wellness is the marketing approach that aims to make men feel emasculated, and then sell them an ultra-manly cure.
“Traditionally, male-focused wellness messages have played to men’s insecurities,” says Michele Promaulayko, editorial director at large at New York City’s The Well and former editor-in-chief of Women’s Health and Yahoo Health. Intentional or not, brands often rip holes in their customers psyches, and then charge money for the patches. The knock-down, build-up strategy ultimately helps the brands more than the men they claim to serve.
The better approach is to lead with a positive outlook. Ever man is already whole. Self-improvement isn’t about fixing some personal deficiency; it’s about using the tools you have—your brain, muscle, and heart—in the best ways possible.
The other thing to acknowledge is that every man is on a different journey. Some are working toward promotions, and some are working toward gains in the gym. Some are trying to end a video-game addiction, or sleep better, or find more energy to spend time with family and friends. And all those journeys are valuable. So long as there’s a goal, there’s something to build on.
“Men want to be communicated to in a more encouraging and achievable way,” Promaulayko says. So instead of exploiting men’s weaknesses and pointing out shortfalls, wellness brands should celebrate opportunities and growth. After all, we’re all just out here trying to get better.
Wellness Opportunity #3: Provide clear benefits
What does wellness look like? It looks like a woman doing tree pose while looking off into the sunset. Now she’s lounging in bubble bath, or rubbing cream on her face, or lying on a massage table with hot stones tracing a garden path up her spine. For men, the question is often: What’s the point?
“The brands that do the best job targeting men are selling a lifestyle and a mission,” says Hinman. “They’re selling a feeling of accomplishment when you buy in.” Which is to say that men are best motivated by a clear explanation of results. We care less about the regimen than we do about the return on investment.
“Traditionally, getting ‘well’ has been made to seem like a lot of work,” says Promaulayko. “And perhaps women have more tolerance for putting in the effort, because we’ve been conditioned to spend time on things such as skin care and hair care.” Some might argue that women have been badgered into spending time on these routines. But either way, it’s clear that the messaging around wellness is still largely feminine.
Men want to feel in control, and we are influenced by qualified authority. We want to hear it from experts, not a glistening model daring us to take life to the next level or some shit. We want to see the facts, and we want to know where the facts came from.
To be fair, there are a handful of progressive companies doing this well. But right now, they’re the exception. We need to make them the norm.
Take WHOOP, for instance: The company makes a fitness tracker that relies on an advisory board of mathematicians, cardiologists, and engineers to refine its product and tell its story. That’s real authority. And Ten Thousand, a men’s fitness apparel company, adheres to a positive approach to wellness. In a mission statement printed on its homepage, the company states, “We believe in moving forward with a quiet dedication to constant improvement.”
That’s a refreshing revision to the macho blustering that we’re used to hearing from men’s brands. That’s what we need to nurture, support, and build on.
Despite the shortcomings of health-driven brands, the essence of wellness is simple: You commit yourself to basic practices of holistic wellbeing, and you adhere to those practices every day.
Wellness is about diet, exercise, and sleep. It’s about acknowledging your feelings and desires, spending time with your friends and family, and pursuing your interests with passion. It’s trial and error, motivated by a commitment to be the best version of yourself.
And those of us in the wellness industry should keep that in mind. We’re here to help you on your journey—not to get in your way.