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Gwyneth Paltrow and the return of celebrity ‘wellness’ extremism


Gwyneth Paltrow revealing her woefully frugal daily intake of coffee and bone broth, following hours of fasting. Her ex, Coldplay frontman Chris Martin sharing that he only eats one meal a day (following the advice of Bruce Springsteen). J.Lo making it known that she gets up at 4:45am to work out. Victoria Beckham admitting she has only eaten fish and vegetables for 25 years. It feels like not a day goes by without some impeccable celebrity or other divulging details of their ‘wellness’ routines.

Victoria Beckham (Instagram)
Victoria Beckham (Instagram)

And yet, didn’t we all agree that diet discourse stank decades ago? Yet, confusingly, it is cementing a very current trend in thin ideation that includes the hunger for diabetes drugs such as Ozempic that result in dramatic weight loss and the thirst for buccal fat removal (see all the celebrities whose cheekbones suddenly look like they were created during Picasso’s Cubism era for more details).

The current spate of diet and exercise oversharing seems to go back to last summer, which saw Kim Kardashian not hold back when asked how she wedged herself into Marilyn Monroe’s dress for the 2022 Met Gala. She proudly explained how she had lost 16 lbs by wearing a sauna suit, running on a treadmill and eating the “cleanest veggies and protein”. Unsurprisingly, she added a cursory disclaimer  “I didn’t starve myself, but I was so strict.”

 (Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)
(Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

Celebrities and media outlets promoting diet culture is nothing new. There is a famous – and now meme-ified – ‘Crash Diet’ recipe published in Vogue in 1977 and taken from Helen Gurley’s 1962 New York Times bestseller ‘Sex and the Single Girl: The Unmarried Woman’s Guide To Men’. Essentially a three-day regime which involved little more than white wine at every meal (including breakfast), hard boiled eggs and coffee. It is presented as a historic document, that we all chuckle and shake our heads at, as if to prove somewhat how evolved we are now.

Problematically, Paltrow and co are repeatedly given platforms to fixedly teach the world how to restrict their calories. Why? Because it sits under the specically vague umbrella of ‘wellness’, of course.

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

To be clear, there are multitudes of ways that wellness is a force for good – no one could deny that, at face value, taking exercise and eating nourishing food is anything but positive. Though we get into thornier territory when ‘wellness’ is used as a euphemism for, say, ‘diet’ when you really scratch the surface. For starters, one of the main side effects of almost anything calling itself ‘wellness’ is weight loss. For instance, advocates of intermittent fasting, fanatical exercise, bone broth et al, will typically extol the virtues of how good it is for our mental health, skin, hair, sleep and so on. But there’s an elephant in the room. Let’s call it: Oh, And It Makes You Really Thin Too. It’s not politically correct to say that in 2023 mind you, so people tend not to draw attention to this byproduct.

Molly Forbes, a body positivity campaigner and author of Body Happy Kids believes that ultinately we need to question how we are defining health and wellness today. “Is it health and wellness or is it in fact beauty standards in disguise?” She asks. “Is it elitism? It is an obsession with how our bodies look? Those things are not to do with heath and wellness. Some of the practises [celebrities recommend] don’t actually sound healthy to me they sound more like disordered eating or orthorexia [an obsession with eating foods that one considers healthy].”

Body positivity campaigner and author Molly Forbes believes we need to be careful about how we define health and wellness (Molly Forbes)
Body positivity campaigner and author Molly Forbes believes we need to be careful about how we define health and wellness (Molly Forbes)

Supporters of Gwyneth and other celebrities who like to give us ‘health’ advice, may question why so many people get angry and upset about such revelations and theories: “You don’t need to opt into it! If it’s not for you, then move on!”

But this is to totally underestimate the pervasive power and influence of celebrity. It really is everything, everywhere, all at once.

By the same token, Forbes warns of how easily people can confuse or conflate fame with expertise. “We tend to see people with a massive platform as experts simply because millions of people follow them but they don’t have the credentials to be giving out such advice. The reality is they are celebrities with a lot of money who are often confused between appearance pressure and actual health. And they are perpetuating unhealthy messages to young people who want to emulate their lifestyles.”

This is not to say that all celebrity wellness advice is bogus - it’s just that it’s not entirely regulated.

 (Getty Images for MTV)
(Getty Images for MTV)

The other huge issue when it comes to celebrity wellness advice is one of privilege. Find me the famous person who has ever said “I’m fortunate to have a gym the size of Mars underneath my house and a team of private chefs wheeling out energy balls dusted in desiccated coconut.” Instead, it is simply implied that their lifestyle is workable for the average non-celebrity.

What would be more useful, reassuring even, would be if instead of celebrities telling us about their intense and often frankly unhinged schedules involving restrictions and unfathomable eating timetables in the name of wellness, we could hear more about how much pressure they feel under to maintain a certain beauty standard.

Taylor Swift is one such global figure who has spoken publicly about her own disordered eating as a result-of intense public scrutiny and alluded to it in her song lyrics. This feels refreshing and honest. There is nothing wrong with having agency over our own bodies: if we want to buff up or lose weight of get a snatched stomach, there is nothing to stop us.

But we do need to get to a point where we are all more honest about our individual and societal relationship to thinness. We need to start calling things which have the primary benefit of shedding pounds what they are - a weight loss technique - as opposed to framing them as a gut cleanse or detox. Most of all we need to acknowledge that celebrity health and wellness hacks are almost always about how bodies look, not feel.