Thursday, March 8, 2018

Practically Healthy: some history, and a rant (from 2015)

You guys, I have something to admit:
There is a health nut lurking inside of me. A hippy. A granola-Shannon. You wouldn't know it from the massive quantities of pizza and beer I consume, but I assure you - she exists. I blame my parents, mostly. All that whole-wheat bread, chicken-focused, salad-heavy, made-at-home food just does something to a person. My dad's obsessions with olive oil and peanut butter (separately, not combined, thank goodness) are legendary. Also factoring heavily into our lives were garlic, ginger, soy sauce, sesame oil, coconut milk, and unsurprisingly frequent trips to "East Asia Market" (where everything smelled bad, but tasted good).

My parents wouldn't keep apple or orange juice in the house because it was "too sugary." We drank freshly-made carrot (and sometimes spinach-carrot) juice instead. The first time we had processed/deli meat in the fridge was after my brother graduated from high school. We never had soda available for our poor, thirsty palates - water and tea dominated my childhood (the horror!). Popcorn was the snack of choice (doused heavily with olive oil, duh) and chips and candy were something my parents almost never, ever bought, though they did make it into our pantry occasionally - blame for those appearances typically fell to the most recent youth group event that had been held at our house. The most unhealthy part of our diet was probably ice cream, which really, no one can reasonably live without.

Breakfast typically consisted of Cheerios, oatmeal, millet, or quinoa - there are fabled rumors that we had "Saturday cereal," or totally-sugary-and-bad-for-you cereal when we were little, which we could ONLY eat on the weekends, but I'm pretty sure I remember that happening approximately once when I was like 3 years old. Or maybe 4. It's one of those foggy, instagramy-looking memories in my head, which suggests to me that it probably happened before I could form proper sentences. (Not that I can do that consistently now. But.. y'know.)

It's probably safe to say that I've carried a lot of that natural-mumbo-jumbo over into my views about beauty and healthcare. And there is SO MUCH to natural and DIY beauty that I just adore. I'm a big fan of oil cleansing, and oils in general as beauty aids. I exclusively make my own salt spray (for those sexy, beachy curls, yeah baby). I used a homemade deodorant that I think changed my life. I've used beer as a hair tonic. Heck, I've put eggs, apple cider vinegar, honey, baking soda, and cornstarch in my hair. My husband's reaction these days is, "of course Shannon wants to use it as a beauty treatment; it's something you would normally eat." There is a lot to be gained from "going natural," by "doing it yourself," by knowing what goes into your products....
deep breath.

1. THERE IS NOTHING INHERENTLY WRONG WITH "CHEMICALS," aka "things that are made with science."
It really, really, really irks me that every single "healthy" beauty blogger and natural beauty aficionado spews a hateful rhetoric towards "chemicals." They promote the "natural" over and above what they consider the "unnatural." And best of all, they always say in what I can only imagine is a sing-songy voice, you're keeping all those icky chemicals and toxins out of your body! This is invariably their closing statement, which I can only assume they think will REALLY and FINALLY convince me of a products efficacy.
First of all, "toxins and chemicals" are treated as synonymous terms, when in fact, they are not. A trusty Venn diagram can help here:

All toxins are made up of chemicals.
That is not the same thing as saying that all chemicals are toxins.

Thanks Venn.

Secondly, EVERYTHING EVER is made up of chemicals!!! Your natural shea butter. Your favorite extra virgin olive oil. Your 100% organic chapstick. Everything. Everything is made up of chemicals.
Now. I think the argument that most nature-clingers would make is that synthetic chemicals are the really bad ones. However, I think this is a pretty weak argument as well.
There are synthetic (and non-synthetic) chemicals in lots of products that can keep them from going bad - your shampoo and conditioner, for example. Sure, it's a little weird that these things stay stable for a couple years - I'm totally willing to admit that. But it would be way more gross if they started growing some sort of mold or harboring nasty bacteria. I am not so much of a naturopath that I want to keep my preservative-free shampoo and conditioner in the fridge, thanks very much.
There are, of course, concerns about certain components, like parabens or alumnium, that have been linked to cancer or alzheimers. In my opinion, the studies touted by the "natural" community are so very often inconclusive and generally disregarded by the scientific community that it's hard for me to put much store in them. However, some of them are inconclusive, and I can totally understand someone wanting to hold off on using product XYZ until more research has been done. While I'm not going to stop using my shampoo, I'm totally cool with you wanting to switch your shampoo until you can find out more about whatever issue is concerning you. What I am not at ALL cool with is the frenzy these inconclusive (and sometimes downright bad) studies can whip up. Base your decisions on GOOD science, not bad science, please.

Finally, the fact that a product is "natural" doesn't automatically mean it's "better." Natural means just that - natural. For a look at how synthetic chemicals can do amazing things, go take a look at Living Proof's Website. They have amazing products that do amazing things, all with the help of science.

The fact that it's been around for thousands of years doesn't inherently make it more worthwhile than something that's been around for, say, two years. (I will admit that it's very likely to be awesome if we've used it for that long, but it simply does not get an automatic "in" in my book just because it's old.)
I call this the "nostalgia complex." They say: our grandparents ate so much better back in the olden days! They had real food, ate seasonally, etc. etc. My response: they also died from whooping cough, the measles, polio, and "consumption." There's a whole host of things that were bad for us back then, and there is a whole host of things that are bad for us now. We're slowly getting better at finding out what's bad and what's good. I'm not saying that centuries of tradition are worthless. I'm saying that's not all there is. We've kept moving forward. Use the fact that we live in the twenty-first century. It seems like such a waste to praise the past at the expense of the present.

So, so often, natural products are touted as curing everything. And I mean EVERYTHING. From pimples to cancer to headaches to toe warts to fatigue to the way that weird guy looked at you this morning. Seriously? I'm supposed to believe all of this?
Please, for me, go and Google "oil pulling" (if you don't know what it is). The list of things this method is purported to improve is, I think, supposed to convince the reader that oil pulling will basically solve every problem ever. Get whiter teeth! Better breath! Fairer skin! Be successful! Make friends! Influence people! All reasonable goals, when you use OIL PULLING for a better life!
This, I think, is a good example for how a LOT of "natural" products are marketed. Coconut oil, olive oil, apple cider vinegar, eggs, cayenne pepper, ginger, baking soda... the list goes on. Do these products have myriad uses? Yes. Can they do good things for your body? Yes. But they are not, not, NOT universal cure-alls. Can we please stop talking about and treating them as such?

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