I spotted the dog first – tiny, perfectly groomed and so pristine white it was like it had been bleached in the washing machine (and so very almost drenched burgundy, after it darted in between my legs at my local pub and I nearly spilled my large glass of Pinot over it). Its owner stood up to beckon it back over. The pub drinkers froze. She was even more luminous, with her flawless milky-white skin and mesmerising perfect figure, honed by hours and hours each day of the Tracey Anderson method.
Yes, I had almost ruined Gwyneth Paltrow’s dog (gulp), but there was a part of me that regretted I had swerved disaster – because even if she’d been angry, I’d have had an opportunity to inspect even more closely this specimen of perfection.
The year was 2009, and Gwyneth had become a figure of fascination and ridicule in equal measure, thanks to her newly-launched Goop newsletter (yep, back then it was only that, not the $250m global empire it is today), in which she espoused the benefits of cupping, vaginal steaming and $1000 jade eggs. It was also thanks to her, frankly, bonkers, utterly joyless yet obsessively-followed macrobiotic diet plan, inspired by Yin and Yang, that even went as far as to recommend the types of kitchen utensils you should use – wood or glass, FYI, with plastic and copper to be avoided.
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She championed the virtually grain-only food plan (even tomatoes, potatoes, beetroots and avocados were banned), crediting her good health with it – despite the fact that it was slammed by nutritionists and doctors. So famous was her adherence to the diet that I remember texting a friend when I spotted her taking a bite out of her then-husband Chris Martin’s pizza – ‘Gwyneth’s eating CARBS. CARBS!’ went my message.
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The term ‘haters’ could have been coined for Gwyneth’s critics. But did she care? Not a jot. Because G.P., as she is apparently known by her staff at Goop HQ, had stumbled upon a goldmine – wellness. And she was not to be deterred by anything, or anybody – not even cold, hard, facts.
Back then it was really only Gwyneth, Madonna and Tracey Anderson (in whose fitness business G.P. still holds a stake today) who were prepared to speak up for the controversial health movement. They had the money and pre-existing status not to care about the backlash. And there was a lot. One notable objector, respected doctor, Jen Gunter, has devoted an entire website to debunking virtually every health claim that Goop has ever made.
Gwyneth shrugged her shoulders and continued, while watching her own site’s traffic soar every time someone hit out at her.
Besides, she acknowledged, perhaps it wasn’t for everybody. Being A-list healthy cost A-list prices (The Anderson method wasn’t cheap for a reason, went the reasoning). So Gwyneth perservered, unphased – and Goop constantly hit the headlines for its gift lists and lifestyle recommendations that included $330 crystal fireplace logs, a $46,000 custom-made games set, $125,000 18-carat gold dumbbells and a $244 toothpaste squeezer.
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But as Goop’s army of followers grew, and the global economy took a downturn, it wasn’t the lipstick index (where you typically see sales of high-heels and lipstick rise as hard times hit, in a bid to pep up our lives) that experts suddenly started observing. It was the wellness and experience index that exploded. In a bid to distract ourselves from the recession and the government’s austerity drive, we stopped buying clothes and ‘stuff’ and tried to fill our lives with ‘moments’ and ‘enhancers’.
The savviest social observers spotted this and jumped on the bandwagon. In 2010, the New York Times noted that ‘wellness’ was now a term that Americans were likely to hear every day – and it no longer just meant bizarre diets or alternative therapies. Wellness was now doing yoga, going for a walk, eating better, having a good facial. The life-boosts that Gwyneth and Goop were selling at eye-watering prices didn’t just have to be for the elite. Nor did they have to be so niche.
Food bloggers like the Hemsley sisters and Ella Woodward (Deliciously Ella) took to the newly-launched Instagram to share their ideas and recipes with millions of followers. ‘Clean eating’ became a buzzword. And beauty brands and spas realised that they could affordably democratise ‘luxury wellness’: a reiki healing session with your facial? Why not. Supplements (an industry valued globally at nearly $50bn according to recent figures) to boost hair growth, gut health, skin texture and even learning and focus? Yours for just £9.99.
But not everyone has had long term success. After accusations that the ‘clean eating’ movement was promoting anorexia and other eating disorders, wellness blogger Ella Woodward tried to distance herself from it, saying the movement was now ‘too complicated, too loaded.’ And in March this year she announced the closure of two of her cafés, after posting a £720,000 loss.
Similarly, Holly Willoughby announced just last month that she had pulled out of her about to launch lifestyle brand Truly, for unclear reasons.
But perhaps that’s because you no longer have to spend huge amounts of money to be ‘wellness woke’. We are, even if we aren’t 100 per cent conscious of it, part of the wellness brigade.
Taking ten minutes at lunch to enjoy the fresh air (which back in the day would just have meant your lunch break) – that’s self-care, didn’t you know? Like a bit of yoga? You’re part of the crew. And the #zerowaste, #noplastic movement – well, that’s wellness too. Because wellness doesn’t just care about you – it cares about its surroundings.
We’re all finally on the bandwagon. But it’s taken us decades. The woman who always knew, and turned her back on the haters? Well, she’s having the quarter of a billion-dollar last laugh.
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Self-care: otherwise known as having a bath or washing your hair. You know, basic hygiene.
Suuuup: No, not the Budweiser ad of old. Supplements, durr. You need to stock up.
#zerowaste: if you’re not on the sustainable bandwagon, you’re no one.
Go #NED: that’s a No Electronic Device detox, the influencer world’s version of a silent retreat. N.B: not to be confused with Soho House’s super-hotel.
Go Pro: Not the camera. Get down with the pro (and pre) biotics.
Bone broth: the wellness brigade’s food of choice. Translation: soup stock, without the really tasty bits that turn it into soup.
Fasting: are you a 5:2 or 16:8? If you have to look it up, you clearly don’t know how many hours are in a day, or how many days are in a week.
Breathwork: apparently, errrr, breathing is the new meditation? Will this really take off? Don’t hold your breath.
Sugar-free: EVERYTHING. Do not even look at the chocolate bar.
Veganism: Speaking of which, do not ever look at anything tasty again. Veganuary-ism just doesn’t cut it any more.