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You 2.0: where the self-help industry succeeds, and where it misses the mark

An illustration of a woman with long, brown hair, a white shirt, blue jean and white sneakers. She has a curious expression. She is walking up steps made out of various self-help books with titles that read: “ The Four Agreements,” “ “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck,” “YOU ARE A BADASS,” "Atomic Habits,” and “The Secret.” The background is a light green color with large white and yellow flowers.
Charnel Hunter

Self-help has existed in some form since the dawn of human civilization and has grown into a robust industrial complex. But does self-help really make us better people?

New year, new you. As we ring in 2024, host Anita Rao has been thinking a lot about self-help. The genre’s cultural impact is undeniable, as more than 85 thousand self-help titles exist in the U.S. today…and that number is three times what it was a decade ago. The internet has intensified this growth, proliferating the teachings of self-help gurus to social media, podcasts, and memes. But does self-help actually improve our lives? And why do we turn to this genre time after time?

Anita poses these questions to podcaster Kristen Meinzer, who is well-versed in all things self-improvement. Kristen spent the past six years following the advice of over 50 self-help books with her co-host, Jolenta Greenberg, on their podcast “How to Be Fine” (formerly “By the Book”). Kristen shares with Anita what she’s learned about both the industry and herself.

Beth Blum, professor and author of “The Self-Help Compulsion: Searching for Advice in Modern Literature,” also joins the conversation to unpack the history of self-help literature from the Ancient Greek philosophers to the modern influencers of today.

Finally, Anita sits down with former self-help buff and writer Sondra Rose Marie. Sondra describes how the industry failed her as a woman of color and why she ultimately left the space behind.

Special thanks to Marianne Power, Rokas Leonavičius, Oludara Adeeyo, and Blake Randall for their contributions to this show.

Paige Miranda is a producer for "Embodied". Previously, she served as WUNC’s 2023 AAAS Mass Media Fellow.
Anita Rao is an award-winning journalist, host, creator, and executive editor of "Embodied," a weekly radio show and podcast about sex, relationships & health.