Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the collective response of hysteria whenever people find out a product they’ve been consuming or buying is subsequently labeled “toxic”.
In the last year alone, we’ve had two high-profile cases which have made me feel like we are overreacting and displacing a general feeling of not being in control, taking it out on anyone or anything we can.
Here are the two cases I’m thinking about:
Recently, the period underwear brand Thinx settled a 3-year-long class action lawsuit that claimed its underwear contained harmful chemicals embedded in the crotch area of its underwear.
And the upscale laundry detergent brand The Laundress recalled their products due to a bacteria contamination that causes a small percentage of people to become seriously infected.
These cases got big-time news coverage, and, of course, their social media pages were flooded with comments from customers saying “How could you?” and “ADDRESS THIS NOW!”
And what I’m about to say may confuse or enrage some people, but I don’t think we should be “freaking out” to the point of boycotting, surprised, or even worried when this happens.
Yes, I have health privilege, it is true: I don’t have a chronic illness that would jeopardize my health if I used either of the products I listed above.
With that said, as someone who used to live by a very strict set of rules when it came to which products I used and consumed, I don’t fall for this type of hysteria/panic anymore whenever something is revealed to have toxins in it. If you followed Lee From America, you know I used to only buy organic and would avoid toxins at any cost. It was my passion and my job to be as “clean” as possible.
But on the other side of the health privilege coin, we have another sort of privilege when it comes to toxins. The “Almond Mom”, or those who don’t have a chronic illness but have the income to use clean products, therefore ostracize a large portion of the population who cannot afford clean, organic products and, for example, say, use Tampax instead of organic cotton tampons because the former is cheaper.
“But Lee, why would you willingly use products that might hurt you?”
I mean, I wouldn’t, but I just don’t believe the hype that period underwear is going to give me cancer.
Basically, I believe our quest to avoid toxins and harmful products has gone too far.
I’m aware that many of the products and habits of our daily lives are adding to the toxicity of our bodies and our planet. I also believe that it is not in my best interest to panic about these things, fear them daily, and get so anxious about them that I end up with orthorexia again.
This is a moral superiority problem.
Nobody on planet Earth can be 100% clean. I can guarantee that many of the people who were commenting on the Instagram pages of these companies after the settlements went public are people who drink alcohol, drive cars, and do other harmful things daily that also may cause death. But blaming it on a laundry detergent company is all too easy and desirable rather than making other big changes in our lives that we are unwilling to make.
We love to place blame on one thing, one person, or one company. We love to take down a powerful system, and sometimes a company is as close as we can get to one. We love to feel morally superior, and a public class action lawsuit is the perfect way to do so.
Our desire to feel morally superior stems from our want to try to control and manage the uncontrollable: our bodies, health, and death. Death is unavoidable, and we fear it, greatly, so we want to try to control it. I’m not saying go out and start smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. But I am in favor of relaxing our fears of toxins.
If we want to avoid toxic chemicals, we all need to leave the cities immediately, stop driving cars, wear a hazmat suit, avoid fragrances, stop shopping at all major retailers, limit our exposure to each other, stop overheating oils, know which oils we are eating, stop using plastic—the list goes on and on.
And, by the way, this list is non-exhaustive. It’s only based on what we’ve discovered so far based on our research (which ends up being wrong much of the time, anyway). (Remember when we fear eggs and fat?)
From 2014-2019, I only shopped at Erewhon, the LA farmers market, and Whole Foods. I feared plastic. I feared food. I feared chemicals. I stopped using tampons and drinking tap water. I adopted a “clean beauty regime”. I did all the things “clean living” tells you to do, but where did that leave me?
Spending every waking moment of my life trying to avoid chemicals left me alone, isolated, fearful, anxiety-ridden, and paranoid as hell.
If the Thinx settlement had come out in 2017, I’d have had a very different response at the time. But today, I simply shrugged it off and continue to use my Thinx.
Toxins are not something I am spending my day worrying about, and they don’t define my purchases. I don’t buy products anymore because they are “free from toxins”: I buy them for other reasons. Do the products work? Do I like the smell? Do I have brand loyalty or brand nostalgia? Has a friend used this product and recommended it to me? Is there a more eco-friendly option I am willing to buy, or do I want this one?
As you can see here, none of the questions I ask myself before buying a product are tied to the question “is this product 100% good for me?”
So, next time you start reading sensationalized news that’s built on a toxic, moral panic, just remember that the EWG’s list of the Dirty Dozen has even been debunked.
Just as an FYI, users who comment under anonymous usernames will be blocked. Everyone else is putting themselves out there with real names and faces, so I expect the same from this community.
As someone who works in the toxicology field, this essay really resonates! It's my biggest pet peeve when an influencer talks about "toxic" products with zero scientific background. Let me get on my podium to repeat the words of the father of toxicology, Paracelsus: THE DOSE MAKES THE POISON!! Sure, PFAS is a harmful group of chemicals found in Thinx, but will the dose of PFAS in a pair of period panties that you wear a few times a month create a blood level that will cause harm? In my unofficial opinion, it seems highly unlikely. I just wish folks would actually do their research and talk to a tox before publishing the sensationalist headlines we see in the media.