When did #cleanliving become the new luxury?
In our activewear
Ask anyone you like - Givenchy's Riccardo Tisci, who's recently collaborated with Nike, Charlotte Olympia (Bodyism), Rihanna (Puma) or Beyoncé - fit is the new fashion. We wear our Stan Smiths more than stilettos (even to the office!), we book five-star yoga retreats instead of flights to New York and we're more likely to be snapped toting a fresh coconut than a Chloe 'Drew' number - surely the ultimate sign of a game-changing cultural shift.
As a society, the West has become obsessed with 'clean living,' fixated on fitness and health - or at least, on projecting an image in line with those ideals. We've quit sugar and discovered quinoa, Kayla Itsines is our god and compression tights our uniform. We're more likely to follow yogis and nutritionists than street style stars on Instagram - and we're not alone. High fashion houses, which once turned up their noses at the very notion of streetwear, have embraced the athleisure aesthetic - even Karl Lagerfeld is getting in on the action.
"We have moved into a time when looking effortless and comfortable is a way of life," says Deborah Symond, founder and director of modesportif.com. "Less is more; people dress down to feel dressed up and stand out from the crowd. Activewear, styled the right way, is the ultimate solution to this lifestyle need."
But what's driving our collective obsession with working out - or at least looking like we do? For Bianca Cheah, founder of sporteluxe.com, the answer is simple: "I think social media has a massive part to play in it. It's a constant reminder that a healthy lifestyle can be so rewarding in so many ways," she says. For many, including psychologist and author Meredith Fuller, the impact of Instagram runs deeper: "One of the things social media does is make you the product - it's what you look like, what's your body like, show us your holiday - it's all about you, it's not about your possessions anymore."
Instagram's far-reaching influence (there are more than 400 million users globally), combined with a rising dissatisfaction with our sedentary lives and increased knowledge about health (thanks, the internet), makes for a potent combination. In 2016, we're more interested in investing in ourselves than our clothes - and that's created an environment ripe for the rise of #cleaneating, #fitspo and a willingness to spend $14 daily on an alkaline #greenjuice - not to mention the growing list of gym memberships, mindfulness retreats and celebrity-endorsed workout plans we feel compelled to subscribe to.
"There is a growing global awareness around healthy living and when you look at the increase of stress in our everyday lives - everyone has an attachment to technology and the need to be constantly plugged in - it's no wonder we look towards exercise and wellbeing as a way to restore the balance," says Georgia van Tiel, exercise scientist and co-founder of fitness class membership program Body Pass.
Is clean living simply the new alternative to a fashion trend - move over, lace, and come on in, moisture-wicking Lycra? Isn't it, all in all, a healthier pursuit than simply spending all our hard-earned cash on clothes? The new luxury has championed a healthier body type - 10 years ago, someone with Gigi Hadid's curves would have struggled to make it onto the Chanel runway. Designers are realising that women want to look like their fitspo stars, not scarily svelte catwalk models.
You could argue that the clean living phenomenon is nothing new - we've always wanted what we can't have, or at least, what's hard to get: being skinny has always been sought after in the West while being fat is associated with wealth in many African nations; Caucasians will do anything for a tan, while Asian women spend a fortune on porcelain skin. We crave what's unattainable. But when the focus shifts to food and suddenly a normal diet is labeled 'dirty', we have a problem. "What we put in our mouths and how we exercise is one thing we have control over. It's really become a way of us trying to make sense of this out of control world," says Fuller. "Moderation is the key in all things, but the danger when you've got these obsessive shift swings is that you could actually be harming the very thing you're trying to help - your health."
As an exercise scientist, van Tiel is all too familiar with the 'all or nothing' approach. "People are killing themselves quite literally, with too much exercise or a sedentary lifestyle with unhealthy eating habits," she says. "Balance and moderation is needed now more than ever."
What's tipped us off the edge? Again, social media seems to be the culprit, tapping into our collective desire to keep up with the Jones (or more likely, the Jenners) and sending us on never ending expeditions for the latest and greatest superfood, smoothie and exercise fad. "One of the problems about this social media life is that we all want to be special - and to be special, we have to be more and more exotic," says Fuller. "There's nothing exotic about eating five serves of vegetables a day; it's got to be something that half the population hasn't heard of so you're demonstrating how ahead of the pack you are."
Cue kale, amaranth, kombucha, quinoa, chia - foods unheard of a decade ago and now available in your local Woolies. Obscure diets have always drifted in and out of fashion - think of the grapefruit diet in the '70s or Atkins in the '80s - but the sovereignty of superfoods is unprecedented. For every new Fitspo star, it seems there's a new essential ingredient we all clamour to try - and are happy to spend a small fortune on. Which is fine - they're health foods, after all - provided your motivation is your wellbeing, not your Insta-following. It's the sense of moral superiority that's spruiked with every snap of a morning matcha that's starting to feel stale.
"Living a healthy lifestyle is not something that will go out of fashion," asserts Symond. Now that we're all super-informed, there's no going back. It's what you do with that overload of information that's up to you - do you let it rule your life to the point of obsession, or control your intake - and curate your Instagram feed - so that you can stay up to date but not enslaved to the #cleanliving brigade. How to know you're striking the right balance? Just make sure there's still room in the budget for some Burberry.
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