We are in celebrity wellness hell. The other week, Gwyneth Paltrow, actress and founder of wellness brand Goop, made headlines after sharing her worryingly empty diet of coffee, bone broth and vegetables "to support [her] detox". In response, people alleged she was glorifying eating disorders. A few weeks before that, Kourtney Kardashian made headlines for launching her antioxidant vagina gummies, 'Purr', on her wellness website, Lemme.
I find the way celebrities latch on to wellness trends and dish out dubious advice nauseating; it exacerbates the deep fears I have around health post-pandemic. Then I get curious about their musings, search online for problems I don’t really have, then find hard-to-pronounce supplements to fix these imagined problems.
Take Kourtney Kardashian. She has got me overthinking about my very normal vagina. Lemme’s Purr supplements promise to "keep it balanced" with "probiotics [that] specifically target vaginal health and pH levels to support freshness and odor". Though she faced backlash about the supplement's name and its 'subtle' reference to a slang term for the vagina, the controversy surrounding the launch is part of a bigger issue. It shows how celebrities are continuing to capitalise on questionable health concerns by selling us products under increasingly creative aesthetics – see Lemme’s Gen Z-ready site and try-hard copy.
It feels like the wellness era of the 2020s is full of strange new devices, treatments, sweets and pills. Celebrities and influencers often promote detox methods and lifestyles built on seemingly shaky claims. 'Wonder' products do receive backlash, but the products and their promoters evolve and rebrand themselves. It seems every new issue requires a new, unnecessary, edible supplement.
"The global supplement market was worth 151.9 billion US dollars in 2021 and is set to grow at a rapid rate still," says nutritionist Eva Humphries. "The popularity of detoxing never really went away; it just periodically takes on different forms. Thanks to modern tech, synthesising chemicals and manufacturing supplements has become cheaper and thus more profitable."
The idea that our body simply isn’t doing enough and we must aid it in furiously cleansing and detoxing is not new. "Detoxing has been around for a long time, with many historical references of 'purifying the body' for religious or similar rituals," Humphries says. In our exchange, she references the 1930s trend of "purifying bile beans" and the 1970s trend of the "master cleanse" as examples of our long-term obsession. Skipping forward to the 2010s, there was the Flat Tummy Tea epidemic and appetite-suppression lollipops: sugary, fruit-flavoured supplements that promised excessive weight loss with a notable laxative effect. It was a widely accepted form of dieting that feels out of step with contemporary culture.
"Supplements can be a nice way to support our wellbeing if there is a need for them but I feel we got a tad carried away by expecting miracles from a pill or powder," Humphries says. "In reality, we should focus on the quality of the food we eat instead of allowing ourselves to be sidelined by supplements."
Humphries' comments are deeply reassuring to me. I'm sure I'm consuming an unhealthy concoction of supplements because I aspire to an unrealistic vision of health. There is something relaxing about reminding myself that my body knows what it is doing and it is only fear that leads me to consume things my body doesn't need. But when it comes to the concept of detoxing, Humphries reminds me that it’s not about supplements and that "our liver does a good job of taking care of our detox needs".
Nevertheless, the wellness sweets industry has gone from strength to strength. Business Wire has reported that the gummy supplements market will be worth USD $37.1 billion by 2027, crediting part of this astronomical number to "high awareness related to preventive healthcare measures". Inês Teixeira-Dias, a nutrition coach and author, echoes this idea: "The growing trend of detoxing and supplementation, in mainstream culture and not clinical or medicinal settings, preys on the fact that there are many things in our environments that don't favour our health, and in the desperate need for a quick fix we've turned to all sorts of capsules and 'wellness trends' as the solution."
Post-pandemic health consciousness has, for some people, turned into straight-up health anxiety. The phenomenon of cyberchondria is defined as "a pattern of behaviour in which people with health-related distress will seek out health-related information", following an increase in available information during the pandemic.
Teixeira-Dias understands people's concerns and why they are taking their health into their own hands but worries about who they are seeking advice from. "We now often conflate the idea that celebrities with a strong social media presence and following automatically also have credible expertise and knowledge as an extension of that following. This is particularly prevalent in certain areas like nutrition and vaginal health," she says.
Kourtney Kardashian's business caught my eye because of the shame and stigma that's still attached to vaginal health. Shame often prevents people from seeking out a medical diagnosis and so gummies marketed by celebrities are seen as a shame-free fix. But do we need vagina gummies anyway?
"If you're concerned about your vaginal health, you shouldn't be putting your trust in a celebrity to help with that, much less through the means of an industry as highly unregulated as supplements and gummies," Teixeira-Dias says. I also put the idea of needing to take vagina gummies to Humphries. "Honestly, mostly we really don't," she says. It is important to remember that the vagina is a self-cleaning organ so we needn’t do too much extra faffing around down there. Although if you do notice something strange, always try to see your GP.