In 2018, the global wellness economy was valued at 4.5 trillion dollars. Key sectors included personal care, beauty and anti aging, generating 1,083 billion dollars.
Scrolling through Instagram, there are countless influencers sporting green juice on their way to yoga class. The consumerist ideologies are what we have summed up to be “health+wellness”.
Crystal healing, burning sage and essential oils have become the trendy wellness kit for counter culture. This counter culture is perfectly showcased in the TV show drama Nine Perfect Strangers as the “strangers” all retreat to a luxury, and ever so elusive, wellness spa. Nine Perfect Strangers takes an erratic approach to showcasing the extremities of wellness culture. The series visits Nicole Kidman’s evasive character Masha, the reverend of a wellness spa. Masha, in her ways, is almost cult-like; she has a loyal following and a seductive way with words. Masha embodies the majority of what actress and businesswoman Gwyneth Paltrow stands for with her company, “Goop”. In her role as Masha, Nicole Kidman personifies the wellness culture that has become mainstream in today’s society.
SPOILER ALERT: wellness culture is toxic and has been proven to appropriate cultures – specifically Indigenous culture.
Burning sage has become a popular wellness practice to cleanse the spiritual energy in one’s home or surroundings. Sage is gathered by Indigenous women during fasting in the summer; there is a ceremony held before picking the sage with offerings of tobacco and prayers. Taking a herb from the earth should be a thoughtful exchange. The offering of tobacco and prayers is a thoughtful exchange. To be able to take from the earth, one must give to the earth––and as a ritual event, it is important for spiritual and theological beliefs. Indigenous groups such as Cree, Metis and Ojibwe participate in smudging ceremonies. With the aftermath of residential schools, loss of territories, and epidemics that have caused intergenerational trauma, smudging provides healing. Assimilative policies throughout the years have prohibited the act of smudging and other cultural practices.
Masha has no qualms appropriating rituals and creating a space that oozes with foolishness. Nine Perfect Strangers is so relevant to today’s society because Masha takes on the characteristics of a very real and very problematic celebrity: Gwyneth Paltrow. Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop has become the Mecca for wellness, with a staggering net worth of $250 million. Goop embodies colonialist ideals by taking products that Paltrow appears not to have comprehensive knowledge over. Paltrow hides this by saying that she is finding what the alternate world says about feeling good in the modern world. “The alternate world” that she appears to be referring to is the antithesis of the caucasian North American world. The Goop Lab is Paltrow’s show and she has one episode titled, “The Healing Trip”. In this episode, Paltrow and her team dive into psychedelics as a means to emotional wellness…sound similar?
The topic of psychedelics in relation to wellness isn’t new – it is just popular. Goop thrives off of taking concepts and exploiting them for their own gain while causing harm – harm to the communities and potential harm to the Goop consumer. Indigenous communities have long been pursuers of “psychedelic science”. We are in a critical psychedelic renaissance as we see in major corporations such as Goop who ride the money trail.
The journal article “The Role of Indigenous Knowledges in Psychedelic Science” states that “decolonizing psychedelic science will require allowing multiple perspectives to coexist and contribute equally to our efforts going forward.” Psychedelic assisted therapy has been a new wave of research for the past two decades; it has been studied by scientists and psychotherapists. On Paltrow’s episode, “The Healing Trip”, she flies to Jamaica and gets high. Personal experience does not make you an expert.
Nine Perfect Strangers showcases the modern ideologies of psychedelics and showcases how wellness culture takes well-established rituals and exploits them. Masha in Nine Perfect Strangers could be a Gwyneth clone since her mannerisms and overall beliefs seem to correlate to that of Miss Paltrow and her monopoly we call “Goop”.