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That Pure Marketing Scam We Call Detox

A detox smoothie
A detox smoothie
Julie Rambal

Every November, the erudite British council behind Oxford Dictionaries picks a word of the year to signify the term that most influenced society in the previous 12 months. They picked the word "selfie" in 2013. "Vape" was the winner in 2014. Last year, it wasn't even a word. It was an emoji (the one with the tears of joy). This year, if current trends are anything to go by, it would be "detox."

What is "detox"? It's an increasingly popular therapy that originated in the self-care industry to get rid of imaginary toxins. Detox treatments are varied: from diets of broccoli smoothies to fennel tea. The promise remains the same — to give people a "cleansed" body, as fresh as a baby's.

Retreats based on detox are now a vacationing option, provided you can afford to pay between $2,000 and $5,000 for a single week. And are willing to hear your stomach growl in your five-star hotel room.

You can find detox syrups, capsules and other powders in organic, health and beauty stores. Online, the word demonstrates magical properties in attracting readers with such headlines as: "10 Delicious Detox Water Recipes To Cleanse Your Body", "Top detox diets", "Cleanse Your Body With These Detox Teas", and "Want To Lose Weight & Cleanse Your System? Try A Birch Sap Detox".

Women's magazines have even started talking about a jet black "detox ice cream" made out of "black coconut ash" and set to become the latest summer trend in New York.

Gian Dorta, a doctor at Lausanne University Hospital, is annoyed by the detox trend.

"These detox things mark the return of charlatanism," she says. "We have absolutely no need for detoxification since the human body does it itself with the liver and the kidneys, which are dedicated elimination organs."

French playwright Molière wrote about an imaginary invalid who was fond of bleeding and enemas. Almost 350 years later, some people discreetly indulge in "colon hydrotherapy" — a technique that consists of cleansing the colon with liters of water injected through the rectum. Self-proclaimed "hygienists" claim this method removes toxins that have accumulated in the intestines, and promise countless more benefits such as beautiful skin and the energy levels of a Marvel comic superhero.

Dorta is appalled by these claims, which she says are false.

What could have led us to this desire to have an internal body as shiny as a floor cleaned with bleach?

"As French philosopher Baudrillard would say, we're trying to "whiten" the body, that is, to conceal its natural state, which we see as flawed. Total purification is the sign of a persistent unease in the Western world regarding the natural and imperfect body that releases smells, and which, we think, we're improving through cleansing," says Yannis Constantinidès, a philosopher and author of the book Le Nouveau Culte du Corps ("The New Cult Of The Body")

"This is a metaphysical guilt. The disappearance of religion left a void that's filled by this second religiosity, a sum of vague and confused beliefs, without any form of transcendence. We thus maintain old rituals, even modernize them, but their deeper significance is lost," says Constantinidès.

The longing for purification exists due to the surfeit of material things in society. Consumerist urges, too often out of control, are now believed to affect our serenity and our productivity. "Detox therapies and their emotional asceticism mumbo jumbo lead people to think that there's an existential Eden somewhere, accessible only through exercises prescribed by self-esteem dealers. And the message is always the same: You're only using 10% of your capabilities but you could soon be at 90% if you follow these new dogmas everyday," says philosopher Vincent Cespedès.

Cespedès says that these beliefs have taken hold as we've become more addicted to brands, TV shows and high-technology gadgets in an age where we're always surrounded by new time-consuming distractions that alienate us.

There's even a detox in case you fail in your detox plan and are feeling guilty. The "sorry detox," is a therapy to quickly learn how to stop apologizing.

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Image of Colombian President Gustavo Petro speaking during a press conference in Buenos Aires on Jan 14, 2023

Colombian President Gustavo Petro, speaks during a press conference in the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) Summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on January 24, 2023.

Manuel Cortina/ZUMA
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