Creativity & Cultural Labour, Digital Culture

Investigating Cosmic Wellness

Dr Bridget Conor 

On 19th November 2017, a new Instagram post appeared on the official goop Instagram feed, a 30 second video announcing: ‘The wait is over. GOOPGLOW is here 👏. A power shot of 6 potent antioxidants in one tiny package. Simply mix the powder with water, stir and #bottomsup (it’s delicious p.s.).’ The video featured a slim blonde woman frolicking on a beach in the sun, stirring and then drinking a glass of glowy-orange ‘superpowder’ liquid. At the time, this launch was one of a flurry of new product releases for goop which included supplement protocols (March 2017), the first live goop conference #ingoophealth (June 2017), goop magazine (Autumn 2017) and goop bath soaks (January 2018). Goop, founded by Gwyneth Paltrow as a weekly email newsletter in 2008, self-describes as a ‘modern lifestyle brand’ offering ‘cutting-edge wellness advice from doctors, vetted travel recommendations and a curated shop of clean beauty, fashion and home’. It is now valued at over US$250 million and sells a range of wellness products as well as goop clothing, fragrances and cosmetics. It produces a podcast and a Netflix television show is in the works. The launch of goop glow signalled an extension of the company’s own-branded moves into the expanding ‘ingestibles’ market, a business projected to be worth US$220.3 billion by 2022. Ingestibles (supplements, vitamins, superpowders, dusts) and their contemporary popularity (senior director of goop Wellness Ashley Lewis has described ingestibles as the ‘next frontier’) represent a curious and potent (pun intended) example of a phenomenon I’m calling ‘cosmic wellness’. In the US, ingestibles are technically classed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as food and yet, in this new/expanding iteration, they are perhaps better described and understood as food- adjacent, offering much more than simple nutrition but in addition, many other intoxicating and ephemeral rewards: beauty, glow, health and ‘mighty cosmic flow’.

Cosmic wellness is a broad constellation of media, discourse, imagery and materials which speak primarily to, and are sold to white, wealthy women. On the one hand, cosmic wellness can be understood as offering healthy and potentially necessary responses to fiercely neoliberal modes of working and living; encouraging spiritual connections to the natural world and to the things people eat, drink and injest for example; or offering strategies and products for ‘digital detoxing’. But conversely, it is framed as the newest example of narcissistic self-absorption and more seriously, as unhealthy and dangerous. Goop (and Gwyneth Paltrow herself who is known simply as ‘GP’ in the wellness space) is a primary location for the production and dissemination of cosmic wellness. But this is not without controversy – goop and GP have been accused of false advertising, ‘deceptive’ health claims and of peddling new versions of snake oil or what one critic simply calls “goopshit”.

Cosmic wellness can be connected to histories that chart the incorporation of new-age health and wellbeing practices into ‘mainstream’ forms of lifestyle production and consumption and the simultaneous derision of these practices, especially when used and promoted by women. And there is also something new about cosmic wellness, especially as it is visible online on platforms such as Instagram. It is both of these trajectories of cosmic wellness (past and future) that I’ll be investigating in my new work on the topic.

I’m interested in what cosmic wellness is, who it appeals to and why it has such contemporary cultural purchase and to do this, I’m using theories of postfeminism, spiritual production and consumption, digital food cultures and critical whiteness studies. I argue that, whilst seemingly vague, unserious, even laughable, cosmic wellness and its various manifestations deserve serious scholarly attention. Not only is this an incredibly lucrative set of business practices (what Kathryn Lofton calls the ‘spiritual practice of capitalism’) but cosmic wellness also powerfully illuminates the contemporary and sometimes contradictory connections (political, cultural, spiritual, digital) between women, whiteness and wellness.