Somewhere in Greenwich Village, it’s reported that Leonardo Di Caprio’s apartment lighting is synching up with his circadian rhythms. At least that’s one of the features his health-centric building advertises. On a recent visit to the Delos Living loft-style apartments in New York City, which are designed with posture-supportive flooring and ultraviolet lights to sterilize airborne microbes, I got a sneak peak into the lifestyles of the rich and health conscious. As the elevator doors opened, Deepak Chopra, prominent alternative medicine practitioner, stepped out in a t-shirt. He too, lives in the building currently offering a penthouse for $50 million.
If you’re willing to pay the price, you can not only afford a luxury apartment with cleaner air, but a yoga teacher who makes house calls, a fitness concierge who makes sure you get to workouts on time, healthy meals delivered to your doorstep. Is the good life still getting you down? If you can foot a $1818 bill, you can escape to Sri Lanka for a two-week wellness vacation.
Gone are the days of flaunting lavish apartments and cars for the MTV “Cribs” camera crews, instead, we see Instagram posts of up to $235 rejuvenating skin care products and celebrity trainers. Exit opulent mansions, enter evidence of impeccable physical health.
Wellness is the new wealth. And we all want some of that glow. Steady growth of 7.2% per year for the health and wellness market is expected to continue, with global sales hitting a record high of $1 trillion by 2017. Wellness tourism—travel that promotes health through physical and spiritual activities from meditation retreats to weight loss spas--is a $439 billion industry worldwide.
And who better to pander to our desires for the latest and greatest in self improvement than today’s batch of celebrities who no longer simply sell us a new vodka, perfume, or eye shadow, but instead offer how-to guides using their own lives displayed via perfectly curated lifestyle blogs.
The queen of selling us the good life is of course, actress Gwyneth Paltrow, whose personal blog, Goop, provides recipes for her white pear kimchi, or the chai gingerbread shake in her winter cleanse. She's even pushing the trendy new way to end a marriage.
Talk show host Ellen DeGeneres recently announced that she will be launching, E.D., her new lifestyle brand in late October/early November. Though she remained tight lipped about the details to WWD, she will reportedly offer everything from home décor to fashion. Jessica Alba even has her own brand of organic baby products. And this week, actress Blake Lively joined the crowd with the launch of her lifestyle brand, Preserve. The site, which highlights trends in food, style and wellness, sells everything from curry ketchup to earrings. In her editor’s letter Lively writes: “I’m no editor, no artisan, no expert. And certainly no arbiter of what you should buy, wear. Eat.” And yet…
This new wave of celebrities are no longer just actresses and performers, they’re brands, and they're selling us a blueprint for the most intimate aspects of life. Martha Stewart built her empire by showing women how to create cute crafts and put together the perfect 4th of July spread, but she never provided a detailed outline of her own day-to-day activities, like what products she uses and her latest workout. Oprah got a lot closer, with her former TV show and O magazine, flagging inspiring stories and offering recommendations on what women should read how to get their to do lists done.
And in 2014, it’s clear that wellness is becoming something worth lusting over as much as the perfect table setting, and in many cases, it's a luxury item. Arianna Huffington’s book Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder has sold about 1.6 million copies promoting the idea that true success means paying heed to well being, taking meditation breaks at work and getting more sleep.
Hotels like the W and Westin are catering to the growing interest among guests to be healthy. Westin hotel rooms are part hotel room, part mini-gym with a treadmill or stationary bike, dumbbells, fitness DVDs, resistance bands and stability balls built into individual rooms. In May, the W launched a fitness program with in-room exercise videos. Renowned hospital, the Cleveland Clinic, even has a clinic that specifically treats big-name business executives (Oprah is a patient).
But how easy is it to adopt the lifestyles of the rich and extremely well? Just ask Rachel Bertsche, author of the new book, “Jennifer, Gwyneth, & Me.” She spent eight months trying to imitate the lives of celebrities like Jennifer Aniston, Jessica Alba and Gwyneth Paltrow following their eating, exercise and marriage philosophies for a month each. “There is absolutely a rush when you’re feeling like you’re living that glamorous lifestyle,” she says. “I think Gwyneth Paltrow has made a business of saying ‘here is my fabulous life’ and suggesting things that are attainable. But stars are not just like us, and we are not just like them.” By the end of Bertsche’s chapter on Gwyneth she sounds like she's close to tears and starvation.
Meanwhile, one third of the general populace is still obese, and the majority of us are not getting adequate exercise nor do enough of us have regular access to fresh food, raw, macrobiotic or otherwise. Americans work long hours—among the longest in the industrailized world—and we’re stressed out. Forty-three percent of U,S. adults report stress has kept them awake at night. But often times it’s easier to simply click through Gwyneth’s recipes for appetizers like beet-cured gravlax than take that time and money to make ourselves better based on her recommendations. It's sort of like window shopping high-luxury stores. The reality is that look and admire is all many of us can do.
Making health and wellness a luxury that only a select few can afford isn’t helpful, especially since there are so many simple ways to achieve better health by opting for healthier food (even in the frozen aisle) and being more physically active (even just a walk can help). If a juice cleanse is really part of a simple healthy lifestyle (which I will argue until I am blue in the face that it’s not) then why does a one-day package cost $65? Making health “trendy” has its benefits, surely we've seen enough of celebrities touting late night boozing and drug use. But when a market emerges that transforms wellness into something only attainable for the 1%, health disparities become ever more visible, and we lose sight of what it means to really be “well.”