How Wellness Finally Found A Sense Of Humor
“Anti-aesthetic” wellness is self-improvement, minus the self-seriousness.
The other day, I set out for what I thought was your routine hot girl walk: I put on my gold hoops, my Supergoop sunscreen, and my Lululemon belt bag, and headed out the door with my dog. I was of course also wearing the HGW uniform — a matching set — although I’d layered on an oversize T-shirt on top of it.
I didn’t see the green smoothie stain until several hours later. It must have dribbled onto my shirt many hours before because by the time I saw it, it had crusted over; I had to use my fingernail to scratch it off.
It turns out I hadn’t taken a hot girl walk, after all. I’d gone for my first fugly hag stroll.
The term “fugly hag stroll” was coined by Gen Z influencer Kate Glavan, and it’s arguably the bedrock of her “anti-aesthetic” approach to wellness content. You know the way Gen Z tends to post on Instagram? They haven’t abandoned the app entirely, but instead of posting flattering selfies or perfectly lit photos of #brunch, they’ll post blurry, badly framed shots of something inexplicable, like an unappetizing plate of homemade pasta, or something weirder, like a random patch of pavement. This is kind of like that, but for wellness.
It’s hardly surprising to think that “wellness” might be getting some Gen Z pushback. It’s all quite expensive — have you heard? Of course you’ve heard, and while you don’t need me to point out as examples this $216 Alo Yoga matching set and this New York Times trend piece about a $75 Pilates class, it’s always fun to roll your eyes at Goop (and, more recently, “that girl”) acolytes. Earlier this year, more than a few eager journalists have written trend pieces declaring the end of wellness: now we’re into “goblin mode,” or perhaps “party girl beauty.” Either way, these stories claim, the idea of self-improvement has become passé.
Maybe. But maybe not. “Anti-aesthetic wellness” may not exactly be a trend that is sweeping the nation — Glavan has a growing, if still modest, social audience: 100,000 followers on TikTok and just under 30,000 on Instagram, plus another 30,000 to the meme account seamossgirlies, which she runs with her friend Emma Roepke. Still, it’s a mini-trend worth noting, if only to acknowledge those of us who both loathe the image-conscious 2010s version of “wellness” and sincerely love our magnesium supplements (we exist!). It’s self-improvement without self-seriousness. It’s wellness with a sense of humor.
Fine, it’s a rather niche (sometimes outright bizarre) sense of humor, but as they say on TikTok, the girls that get it, get it. I loved this stupid post about hoarding dark chocolate. I nodded sagely at the wisdom in this post, a SpongeBob meme admonishing me about the importance of taking a rest day. I laughed at this one — about steaming one’s vegetables, no matter how hot it gets this summer — and showed my fiance, who said, “I don’t get it.”
So for him, and the girls that don’t get it, let’s return to the fugly hag stroll.
In an interview with Bustle earlier this year, Glavan recalled how she came up with the term. “I appreciate the hot girl walk if it’s something you’re doing for your health, but my problem with it is that it’s turned into showing off your personal wealth and consumer habits,” she said. On a fugly hag stroll, Glavan will wear the hot girl sneaker of the moment (HOKAs), “and then I’ll absolutely have to wear an article of clothing that has a stain on it,” she told Bustle in May. “I’m always getting a mustard stain, turmeric stain, chlorella stain — something odd like that on my clothing.”
On the one hand, I love my matching sets and therefore I hate this. On the other — it’s cool that my stained T-shirt the other day made me cool.
You could say that “anti-aesthetic wellness” is about not trying so freaking hard, which is and always will be cooler than trying. Though there is always an element of try even in those who insist they don’t: When I text friends who only communicate in lowercase, I like to imagine all the fiddling they had to do with their iPhone settings, all the effort sunk into appearing nonchalant.
To be fair, Glavan acknowledges that. “Everything is a performance on social media,” she acknowledged in the earlier Bustle interview. “Me going on a fugly hag stroll, is that a little bit planned and curated? Yeah, I’m doing it to stick it to the system. To go against this ‘sporty and rich’ ethos.”
The comedian hosts of the wellness podcast Poog, incidentally, also frequently use the word “hag” — it’s what they call themselves and their listeners. (It’s easier on the ear, they agreed in an early episode, than “ladies” or, worse, “gals.”) Kate Berlant and Jacqueline Novak launched their podcast in 2020, when the 2010s version of wellness felt especially pointless.
On their podcast, Berlant and Novak strike a similar balance to the one Glavan and Roepke are hitting on their seamossgirlies meme account: Neither duo believes that wellness is bullsh*t. But they wouldn’t argue that wellness will save you, either. Both sets of hags seem to agree that there is joy to be found in the pursuit of self-improvement — or maybe, more simply, that the pursuit itself, and not the end goal, is more often than not the entire point.