For more than five decades, Ms Magazine has been on the frontlines of feminism, promoting  a host of overlooked and underrepresented viewpoints. It should come as no surprise, then, that the publication would apply a similar approach to healthcare in United Bodies, a new podcast series.

Hosted by health writer and disability advocate Kendall Ciesemier, the 11-episode series delves into the “lived experience of health” every Monday. Ciesemier adds that the first half of the season is about “addressing and navigating the world we have,” while the second half focuses on creating “the world we need.” 

Given that an estimated 42.5 million Americans live with a disability, the series has no shortage of material with which to work. Ciesemier, the American Civil Liberties Union’s senior executive producer of multimedia and the host of its At Liberty podcast, believes the audio medium allows for more intimate conversations about personal experiences with illness and disability.

She is eager to fill in the gaps that exist in media coverage of health. To that point, she notes that discussions led by the medical industry or women’s media focus on the aesthetics of health, rather than “the actual lived experience of what it means to be in your body.”

“I saw this burgeoning conversation about the shedding of stigma around our mental health,” she continues. “Going off of my lived experience as a young woman, I felt like we weren’t connecting the dots between the conversations about mental health and the realities of navigating physical health with illness or disability.”

Ciesemier adds that the politics of the moment, including the partisan nature of the COVID-19 pandemic and the curtailing of reproductive rights following the overturning of Roe v. Wade, inspired the podcast’s launch. As for its guests, Ciesemier seeks to interview people able to articulate a range of perspectives around the mental, physical and social aspects of health.

Living with a disability is far from a monolithic experience and Ciesemier wants listeners to recognize that any number of conditions fall under that umbrella.

“If you listen carefully to the episodes, many of the guests live with chronic medical conditions but have this question of whether or not they count as being a member of the disability community,” she explains. “So it was about finding folks who represented different facets of health or whose lived experience represented different facets of health and were able to cross between different subjects.”

A word for wellness marketers

While Ciesemier wants United Bodies to empower individuals living with disability, she is not shy when it comes to criticizing what she deems the “wellness industrial complex” — a nearly half-trillion-dollar industry.

In the series’ second episode, multidisciplinary artist Fariha Róisín details her childhood sexual abuse and embarking on a wellness journey in her native India. Róisín also describes the issues she had upon returning to experience America’s contemporary wellness industry.

Ciesemier notes that the wellness industry has largely “co-opted” and “whitewashed” cultural practices in the name of promoting a materialistic view of beauty. She adds that the marketing she sees around wellness products, especially on social media, typically rely on fear tactics and utilize embedded ableist language that further ostracizes consumers who live with a disability.   

“I would challenge people specifically within the wellness industrial complex to make sure that they’re not promising or marketing towards people using ableist tendencies or ableist language,” Ciesemier continues. “The ways in which the wellness industry preys on our innate, understandable fear of our own mortality can be difficult. It’s a surefire way to get people in the door.”

Ciesemier’s advice to wellness brands and the marketers that support them? That they reexamine promotion of their products and eliminate such tactics. However, she also urges wellness marketers to consider partnering with social media influencers who have lived health experience, as opposed to those who are not impacted by health challenges.  

“I feel like marketers or wellness entrepreneurs could be more critical of their own aims and goals,” she says.