Eat, Pray, Spend

Eat, Pray, Spend
Article by Joshunda Sanders and Diana Barnes-Brown, Illustrated by Ana Mouyis, appeared in issue Action; published in 2010; filed under Consumer culture; tagged Eat Pray Love, Elizabeth Gilbert, Oprah, priv-lit, privilege.
Priv-lit and the new, enlightened American dream

For decades, self-help literature and an obsession with wellness have captivated the imaginations of countless liberal Americans. Even now, as some of the hardest economic times in decades pinch our budgets, our spirits, we're told, can still be rich. Books, blogs, and articles saturated with fantastical wellness schemes for women seem to have multiplied, in fact, featuring journeys (existential or geographical) that offer the sacred for a hefty investment of time, money, or both. There's no end to the luxurious options a woman has these days—if she's willing to risk everything for enlightenment. And from Oprah Winfrey and Elizabeth Gilbert to everyday women siphoning their savings to downward dog in Bali, the enlightenment industry has taken on a decidedly feminine sheen.

It will probably take years before the implications for women of the United States' newfound economic vulnerability are fully understood. Present reports yield a mix of auspicious and depressing stats: The New York Times, for example, reports that more than 80 percent of the jobs that have evaporated were held by men, and the proportion of married women who made more than their husbands rose from 4 percent in 1970 to 22 percent in 2007. That's not much of a gain, though, considering that U.S. Department of Labor statistics from 2008 show women still only making roughly 75 cents for every dollar made by men. Yet even as reports on joblessness, economic recovery, and home foreclosures suggest that no one is immune to risk during this recession, the popularity of women's wellness media has persisted and, indeed, grown stronger.

"Live your best life!" Oprah Winfrey intones on her show, on her website, and in her magazine, with exhausting tenacity. Eat kale. Lose weight. Invest in timeless cashmere. Find the perfect little black dress. But though Oprahspeak pays regular lip service to empowerment, much of Winfrey's advice actually moves women away from political, economic, and emotional agency by promoting materialism and dependency masked as empowerment, with evangelical zeal.

As Karlyn Crowley writes in the recent anthology Stories of Oprah: The Oprahfication of American Culture, Winfrey has become the mainstream spokesperson for New Age spirituality because "she marries the intimacy and individuality of the New Age movement with the adulation and power of a 700 Club–like ministry." And not surprisingly, it was the imprimatur of Oprah's Book Club that made Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia the publishing phenomenon it now is. More than 5 million paperback copies of the book are currently in print, though the first printing of the book, in 2006, was a modest 30,000 hardcover copies. The Wall Street Journal estimated that the book would make more than $15 million in sales by the end of 2007, and the book stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for more than 155 weeks.

Eat, Pray, Love detailed Gilbert's decision to leave an unsatisfying marriage and embark on an international safari of self-actualization. (Publisher Viking subsidized the "unscripted" yearlong vacation.) Gilbert ate exotic food, meditated in exotic places, and had exotic romantic interludes; both culture clashes and enlightenment ensued, as did Gilbert's ham-fistedly paternalistic attempt to buy an impoverished Indonesian woman a house. The book could easily have been called Wealthy, Whiny, White.

It's hardly reasonable to demand that every woman who wishes to better her life be poor, or nonwhite, or in some other way representative of diversity in order to be taken seriously. But Eat, Pray, Love and its positioning as an Everywoman's guide to whole, empowered living embody a literature of privilege and typify the genre's destructive cacophony of insecurity, spending, and false wellness.

Let Them Eat Kale

Eat, Pray, Love is not the first book of its kind, but it is a perfect example of the genre of priv-lit: literature or media whose expressed goal is one of spiritual, existential, or philosophical enlightenment contingent upon women's hard work, commitment, and patience, but whose actual barriers to entry are primarily financial. Should its consumers fail, the genre holds them accountable for not being ready to get serious, not "wanting it" enough, or not putting themselves first, while offering no real solutions for the astronomically high tariffs—both financial and social—that exclude all but the most fortunate among us from participating.

The spending itself is justified by its supposedly healthy goals—acceptance, self-love, the ability to heal past psychic wounds and break destructive patterns. Yet often the buzz over secondary perks (weight loss, say, or perfect skin) drowns out less superficial discussion. Winfrey, again, is a chief arbiter of this behavior: As Stories of Oprah contributor Jennifer L. Rexroat points out, Winfrey presents herself as a "de facto feminist" with a traditional American Dream background who refuses to succumb to wifedom and enjoys pampering herself. Sometimes that involves espousing the works of spirituality writers Gary Zukav or Eckhart Tolle, who both appear regularly on her show. Sometimes it means talking about weight gain and self-loathing. Sometimes it necessitates buying a diamond friendship pinkie ring.

It's no secret that, according to America's marketing machine, we're living in a "postfeminist" world where what many people mean by "empowerment" is the power to spend their own money. Twenty- and thirtysomething women seem more eager than ever to embrace their "right" to participate in crash diets and their "choice" to get breast implants, obsess about their age, and apply the Sex and the City personality metric to their friends (Are you a Miranda or a Samantha? Did you get your Brazilian and your Botox?). Such marketing, and the women who buy into it, assumes the work of feminism is largely done. Perhaps it's because, unlike American women before them, few of the people either making or consuming these cultural products and messages have been pushed to pursue secretarial school instead of medical school, been accused of "asking for" sexual assault, or been told driving and voting were intellectually beyond them. This perspective makes it easy for the antifeminism embedded in the wellness jargon of priv-lit to gain momentum.

And an ailing economy makes this thinking all the more problematic. "Splurging on luxury is a real no-no in this crap economy," a blogger at YogaDork wrote in a post titled "The All-Inclusive Vacation for the Recession Torn (The Acceptable Splurge)." "But what if it's for a self-helpy learning experience?" Pondering the importance of health over penny-pinching, the blogger suggested that if "yogis and non alike" thought a retreat worth scrounging for, they should get on it. And indeed, if self-helpy is on the menu, people seem to be buying it, or at least buying into it.

In fall 2009, the Los Angeles Times ran a piece about well-off women (and some men) leaving their full-time jobs to meditate in seclusion for three years, to the tune of $60,000 a year. Another feature on young, female self-help gurus (their exact qualifications for guruhood remain murky) charging hundreds of dollars an hour to advise other women on spirituality and eating well was granted prime real estate on the front page of the New York Times' Style section.

Sarma Melngailis, a New York restaurant owner who writes about eating raw and organic food on the blogs welikeitraw.com and oneluckyduck.com, promises her readers—most of them women—that if they can just give up their Dunkin' Donuts coffee and replace it with her $9 coconut water and $12 nut-milk shakes they, too, can be happy and healthy. (She's very consistent about plugging her products' ability to combat hangovers and sexify one's appearance, too.) The now-famous Skinny Bitch cookbook franchise plumbs even more sinister depths in its insistence that women can stop nighttime snacking with the oh-so-simple fix of hiring a personal chef with vegan culinary training. Actor Gwyneth Paltrow's web venture, GOOP, uses catchy, imperative section headings ("Get," "Do," "Be") and the nonsensical tagline "Nourish the inner aspect" to neatly establish a rhetorical link between action, spending, and the whole of existence. Even Julie and Julia, the blog that became a book that became a hit movie, is complicit in spreading the trend. Julie Powell's story—that of an ennui-ridden professional whose journey of self-discovery involves cooking her way through Julia Child—features one-meal shopping lists whose cost rivals standard monthly food-stamp allotments for many American families.

Priv-lit perpetuates several negative assumptions about women and their relationship to money and responsibility. The first is that women can or should be willing to spend extravagantly, leave our families, or abandon our jobs in order to fit ill-defined notions of what it is to be "whole." Another is the infantilizing notion that we need guides—often strangers who don't know the specifics of our financial, spiritual, or emotional histories—to tell us the best way forward. The most problematic assumption, and the one that ties it most closely to current, mainstream forms of misogyny, is that women are inherently and deeply flawed, in need of consistent improvement throughout their lives, and those who don't invest in addressing those flaws are ultimately doomed to making themselves, if not others, miserable.

While priv-lit predates the current recession by at least a few years, the genre's potential for negative impact is greater these days than ever before. Today's "recessionista" mind-set promotes spending quietly over spending less. Priv-lit takes a similar approach: Hiding familiar motives behind ambient lighting and organic scented candles, the genre at once masks and promotes the destructive expectations of traditional femininity and consumer culture, making them that much harder to fight.

As Jezebel.com blogger Sadie Stein noted in September 2009, "nueva-Bradshaws have hung up their Manohlos [sic] and retired their Cosmos...and are pursuing banality differently...it's pink-hued, candy-coated girly spirituality." The blog entry, which mentions Eat, Pray, Love; Skinny Bitch; and The Secret, is a response specifically to the odious "new gurus" article from the New York Times, but the point can also be seen as a cutting and accurate criticism of priv-lit as a genre.

In Dreams Begin Responsibilities?

Perhaps priv-lit is a manifestation of how we love to fantasize about things we don't—or can't—have. In the case of priv-lit, the fantasy has turned on its makers. Rather than offering a model to aspire to through consistent attainment of progressive, realistic goals, priv-lit terrorizes its consumers with worst-case scenarios and the implication that self-improvement is demonstrated by "works" of spending.

Of course, it is the right of any woman who works hard for what she has to spend her money to make her life better. But the pressure to obtain happiness by buying a certain book (like Eat, Pray, Love or, more recently, Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project), attending a yoga retreat, or hiring a guru moves women further away from themselves, the simplicity espoused in positive psychology literature, and the type of careful reflection necessary to maintain inner peace in the long term.

The story priv-lit tells is that true wellness requires extreme sacrifices along economic, family, and professional lines, but those who make them will be rewarded and attain permanent enlightenment of one kind or another. (The best recent example is Gilbert herself, since she was rewarded twice over for her globe-trotting victories in her spiritual memoir—she married a hot Brazilian man and landed another bestselling book, 2010's Committed, as a result.)

Unfortunately, that story is a lie: As one purveyor of high-end life-coaching services (who, for obvious reasons, wishes to remain anonymous) comments, "In our line of business, we have a saying: 'Don't fix the client.'" Once mentors teach clients to attain freedom and enlightenment, they can say goodbye to the high premiums they earn by telling clients they need more help.

"One of the brilliant parts of the self-help genre as a whole is that there are these various contradicting threads or themes, all woven together, and emphasized differently at different times," says Dr. Micki McGee, a sociologist and cultural critic at Fordham University and the author of Self-Help, Inc: Makeover Culture in American Life. "Self-improvement culture in general has the contradictory effect of undermining self-assurance by suggesting that all of us are in need of constant, effortful (and often expensive) improvement. There is the danger of over-investing in this literature not only financially, but also psychologically."

McGee, who in researching her own book spent five years immersed in self-help literature, is quick to point out that this tendency toward spending for self-improvement is long-standing. But in the current economic climate, the real financial implications for those who do, or try to, invest in these ways may be worse than in healthier economic times, while the spending itself may be growing all the more fetishized. Since the late 1960s, economic phenomena such as wage stagnation combined with the increasing costs of housing, medical care, and other basic necessities have meant that, for most Americans, time really does equal money. "Increasingly, people who actually have the money to take a year off and travel in India or go to a thousand-dollar yoga retreat are in short supply," notes McGee. "In the context of the recession, we're seeing an emphasis on simplicity and frugality, but embedded within that emphasis is a subtext of consuming more"—imported, she points out, from contemporary self-help literature of all kinds.

McGee links the persistence of these counterintuitive ideals to the phenomena of social stratification written about by French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu. In his landmark 1984 book Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, Bourdieu explained that cultural and aesthetic preferences both indicate and shape class stratifications, because trends in these preferences seemingly map individuals' positions in social hierarchies. As McGee puts it, within status-quo class systems, "Taste and other types of cultural capital are emblematic of both status attained and status putatively deserved." So those who pray at the altar of priv-lit operate under the false assumptions that 1) investing concretely ensures attainment of elite socioeconomic status and 2) having invested demonstrates the deserving nature of those who do. In times of financial stress—when those who want exist in even greater proportion to those who have—this feedback loop may be intensified, because the desired is that much more unattainable and the consequences of failure, namely the implication that those who do not get their lives together according to the prescribed boundaries of priv-lit will end up being so utterly screwed up that they risk losing their jobs, houses, or independence, among other things—seem that much worse.

Priv-lit has transformed Virginia Woolf's "Room of One's Own" into an existential space accessed by way of a very expensive series of actual rooms—a $120-an-hour yoga studio, a cottage in Indonesia, a hip juice bar on Manhattan's Lower East Side. The genre is unique in that it reflects an inversion of its own explicitly expressed value system: Priv-lit tells women they must do expensive things that are good for the body, mind, or soul. But the hidden subtext, and perhaps the most alluring part of the genre for its avid consumers, is the antifeminist idea that women should become healthy so that people will like them, they will find partners, they'll have money, and they'll lose weight and be hot. God forbid a dumpy, lonely, single person should actually try to achieve happiness, health, and balance for its own sake. It's the wolf of the mean-spirited makeover show or the vicious high-school clique in the sheep's clothing of wellness.

Turning the Tide

The truth is that many of us are barely holding on to the modest lives we've struggled to create, improving ourselves on a diy basis, minus the staggering premiums, with every day we get up, go to work, and take care of ourselves and our families. Priv-lit is not a viable answer to the concerns of most women's lives, and acting as though it is leads nowhere good. It's high time we demanded that truer narratives become visible—and, dare we say it, marketable.

The priv-lit tide shows few immediate signs of ebbing. The Eat, Pray, Love movie (shot partly in that most gentrified of neighborhoods, Brooklyn Heights) hits theaters this summer, and the Sex and the City film sequel and its many shoe-shopping-as-therapy metaphors will hit theaters in late spring. As for Oprah, her talk show is slated to end in 2011, but with an entire television network on the way, her empire and its anointed leaders could be with us for decades. But the future also holds brighter possibilities.

Paige Williams, whose story can, somewhat ironically, be found on Oprah.com, was depressed to the point of debilitation, clinically obese, unemployed, and broke when she began her efforts to change her life. Living with her mother and often too sick to get out of bed, she clearly was not living her "best life." Williams postponed taking a job to spend two months regaining control of her body, mind, and life via an intensive, 60-day Bikram yoga regimen.

Parts of Williams's story fall well within the range of self-help and priv-lit tropes: She waxes poetic about squeezing into a pair of skinny jeans, and many would argue that merely having the resources to get a medical diagnosis of depression and obesity (to say nothing of the Bikram regimen itself) is solid proof that our protagonist is more comfortable than the average American. But the frank admission that any such intervention is a sacrifice, and a risky one at that, is evidence of both a more genuine voice and of a protagonist who cares about being healthy overall rather than demonstrating class membership or pursuing mainstream ideals of beauty, marriageability, and general worthiness. And the fact that her story appears in such a mainstream context means that more women are being exposed to this comparatively toned-down approach. Maybe not a solution to the problem of priv-lit, but a good step toward finding one.

Even better are movements like The Great American Apparel Diet. Not to be confused with a food plan sanctioned by American Apparel ceo Dov Charney, that iconoclast of modern American misogynists, GAAD is actually a movement started by a group of American women who decided to go a full year without buying a single new garment of clothing. Since its inception in September 2009, the group has grown to represent members from 17 states and six countries. "Some are sick and tired of consumption in general while others are concerned about consumption and the environment," notes the group's web page. "We all have our reasons for embarking on this project but it all gets down to this…who are we without something hip and new in our closets? We shall see."

The admission that many of these women feel intense anxiety in the absence of the materialism that has for so long been tied to ideas of what makes women successfully feminine is a crucial and revolutionary first step that more women should feel safe taking. And not buying is, by definition, free, meaning that anyone with motivation enough and a desire to say no to the status quo can participate in this form of soul-searching. (Though, of course, the project operates under its own assumption—namely, that not spending money is a choice rather than an absolute necessity.)
Williams's tale and the clothing embargo are evidence of a progressively nontraditional movement of women committed to replacing elitist, consumption-based models of spiritual salvation and existential peace with genuine bids to do a lot with a little, and to stop listening to top-down directives for how to have good lives.

If more women become willing to put aside their fears, open their eyes to cost-free or inexpensive paths to wellness, and position themselves as essentially worthy instead of deeply flawed, priv-lit could soon migrate to a well-deserved new home: the fiction section. And once that happens, we might just succeed in showing that for every wealthy and insecure woman who can pony up to reach great heights of self and spending, there are thousands more whose lives are comparatively uncharmed, who are happier working with creative and healthy alternatives instead of spending on what they're terrorized into wanting, and whose stories will, someday, be valued for the strength they communicate, not the fantasies they sell.

Joshunda Sanders is a religion reporter in Austin, Texas. She has been obsessed with self-help literature since sixth grade. Reach her at [email protected]. Diana Barnes-Brown is a writer and sandwich enthusiast living in Brooklyn, N.Y. Her favorite self-help interventions are pit bull foster care and yelling at the television.You can contact her at [email protected]

For decades, self-help literature and an obsession with wellness have captivated the imaginations of countless liberal Americans. Even now, as some of the hardest economic times in decades pinch our budgets, our spirits, we're told, can still be rich. Books, blogs, and articles saturated with fantastical wellness schemes for women seem to have multiplied, in fact, featuring journeys (existential or geographical) that offer the sacred for a hefty investment of time, money, or both. There's no end to the luxurious options a woman has these days—if she's willing to risk everything for enlightenment. And from Oprah Winfrey and Elizabeth Gilbert to everyday women siphoning their savings to downward dog in Bali, the enlightenment industry has taken on a decidedly feminine sheen.

Comments

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So true

As someone who is (by priv-lit standards) appallingly unhip, unenlightened and unworthy, I can say this article is dead on. GOOP is just about the nauseating thing I've ever come across.

We could all use help fixing those things about ourselves that are not working for us: weight, attitude, approach to money. But priv-lit doesn't offer us a path to what we want or need. It pushes us into these idiotic molds into which no one fits.

Do you know what would happen if wandered around the world looking for enlightenment and fulfillment? I'd get bored. Because there is no meaning in searching for meaning.

There are simpler grounds on which to object

It is also possible to hate the book because it is badly written pablum, a virtual thought bomb capable of lowering all IQs within a ten meter radius by at least 35 points. It is almost a textbook that perfectly documents almost everything that there is to hate not only about Western Culture, but about world culture. If aliens ever got their tentacles on this wretched text, they would probably use anti-gravity rays to launch us into the nearest black hole. Honestly. It's only saving grace seems to be that the resulting film is much much worse. Who is actually capable of watching a serene Julia Roberts do serene yoga without wanting to commit suicide?

Eat Pray Love!

I could not have said it better myself. I read the book and couldn't understand why it was so popular. She's an AWFUL writer.

No, she isn't.

Try reading "Stern Men," her first novel. Seems to me too many people are invested in their viewpoints to look at "Eat Pray Love" without the filter of their own worldview. I've been a professional writer for 25 years, and I think Gilbert's enormously talented.

Book Review

I read Gilbert's book unknowing of Oprah, the movie or her other work. From that very neutral standpoint, I found this book to be whiny, lazy and disorganized. I got it from the library accidentally as I was simply pulling books on travel to Italy. Gilbert's comments on her sister's trip to Italy summarized my feelings about Gilbert, that she was wallowing in her own emotions and unaware of her surroundings. It was pablum. I only finished it because I read fast and I do like glimpses into other cultures through a daily life sort of view, but those glimpses were few and far between because I had to read through so much self absorption. Blech!

Fake Men

Yes, "Stern Men", the book where the protagonist goes to the shore every morning for two weeks to watch somebody dig in the mud, mud that would be underwater due to the tide for half of those days. And that's just one example.

That book has some good dialogue and scenes, but her representation of Maine is so false that it's disrespectful and trivializing; Stern Men is as elitist as her other work.

Agreed. I love great

Agreed.

I love great writing, and I thoroughly enjoy authentic stories of adventurous women. I read "Eat, Pray, Love" at the tail end of a year living in Asia (working in an Asian company with Asian colleagues, studying Mandarin, and otherwise absorbing the culture in the city I was calling home).

Having gone through a divorce in the previous year, friends recommended this book to me as one that they assumed I'd love and relate to. While I could appreciate - sort of - the journey she was on, I felt it cheapened my own. Her divorce seemed bored and her marriage ingenuine. She seemed to take her position in life (her privilege, to use the framework of this post) completely for granted, likening herself to countless other women.

Where are the countless women who can, following a bad divorce, afford to leave their life behind to vacation in three countries for a year? The Sex & the City comparison is dead-on. The real Carrie Bradshaw's of the world (i.e. young journalists) don't make the money to wear designer clothes and go out drinking at New York City night clubs several nights each week. These "empowerment" stories are sad, but what's sadder to me is that so many smart, capable women in the world are buying into the idea that Carrie Bradshaw or Elizabeth Gilbert are realistic women on which to model their own lives or measure their own successes.

Her writing struck me as that of a columnist who wasn't sure how to string short, shallow columns together into a novel; it felt disconnected and inelegant. I haven't decided yet whether I'll see the movie. I'm curious to see if the movie flows any better than the book did, but I'm not sure I'm willing to support its success in the box office.

Finally, thank you for this post. I've disliked this book since I read it in 2007, but I've never found others who share that sentiment, much less others who can articulate their position so well. Thanks for creating sharp, earnest content.

totally agree

I did not like the book either. very good comments.

I didnt understand why to go in such much pain and trouble to get back to another relationship that supposed to be true love. It seens story of a mentally ill woman.

Well said, and I couldn't

Well said, and I couldn't agree more.

I cannot believe that people find wisdom in 120 page of someone whining and stuffing their face with pasta, followed by 120 pages of whining about a Sanskrit chant and whining in general, followed by a whole lot more whining and woo woo in Bali?

Where is the wisdom? Why is this book considered spiritual at all? I've never been able to work it out.

there's meaning in finding

there's meaning in finding tho... while there are some good points here, I wonder about the value of an article that stops people looking for meaning if there is that inner desire to do so... its not for everyone... but if its not for you, why decry it as irrelevant full stop?

re: there's meaning in finding

"The answer is within," right? I think the article's point is that the idea of exchanging material wealth for spiritual enlightenment is contrary to the alleged values of those who are offering enlightenment. If the answer is really within us - and it is - then why spend the money?

Of course, personally, I find it ironic, and deliciously so - I think of Eat, Pray, Love as a comedy - but then I'm a deconstructionist.

I agree with the authors here - it is a harmful, if typical, trend in Western society to want to spend our way out of our problems. And there's also the idea that to get enlightened, you have to have access to a boatload of money, which I think is probably the most harmful idea of the entire priv-lit genre. A re-tooling of classism for the 21st century.

I don't think there's any discrediting of people looking for answers and attempting self-discovery in the article. But I do think the authors make important points that not a lot of folks are thinking about when they read the book.

I look at Eat Pray Love as a

I look at Eat Pray Love as a light read, not to be taken seriosuly as social commentary. As a writer myself,I believe Gilbert did a pretty good job of writing a character that was entertaining and descriptive. She wasn't awful- just not powerful. It was a light summer read.

Now if you are interested in a very good book about the opposite of Gilbert's experience, there is a book a woman wrote about her and her partner's year without spending. they went a year without buying anything but the necessities- that would be food, toiletries (and they were very sparse in this respect as well), work supplies as they both had home offices, and insulin for thier diabetic cat. No movies, no new books (library only)- it is amazing. I am horrible and cannot remember the author, but the title is called Not Buying it:My Year without spending, and it is witty, insightful, and a great social comemnetary without being preachy. The author teaches without trying, and her debates on whether something is necessary or not are funny funny funny. IT has made me really THINK before breaking out the wallet. I highly recommend.

irony

You must admit there is a certain irony to buying this book.

The Lie of Modern "Enlightenment"

While I agree that the search for meaning is vital (and should be the core of a life journey), what this article discusses is an industry that has absolutely nothing to do with an HONEST search for meaning. Pursuit of these silly ends is no more meaningful than the quest for the right pair of shoes or the perfect pink cosmo (which is, I think, what the writer of this article is addressing as well). I am continually offended by the bullshit "self-help" that permeates at least American culture and continually profanes what should be an intensely personal and sacred quest. The worst part of it, for me, is how this sneaky consumerism has created a false sense of enlightenment in folks who wouldn't understand true sublimity if it smacked them in the face. Enlightnment comes from pain and silence, not Gucci and psuedo-yoga.

Enlightenment doesn't have to come from pain.

Now, I know this feeling comes from an infinitely complex and powerful source, but if I may, there is no "need" in the word "enlightenment." The grandly accepted theory is that you "need" the church, or you "need" these self help books, so on and so on. Many would call this a blasphemy, but it is my truth. You require nothing to find you, BUT YOU. And you cannot gain or lose "you." You can only recognize your presence, and your power. True power is in this way, not external in the for of money, or the perfect body, but rather, infinitely internal. Amen.

I agree with you

While I won't speak for everyone, I just don't understand how pain can bring enlightment. Perhaps pain for a while; but when you live a lifetime of pain....life just seems not worth living.

Being in constant suffering has only broken my mind and my spirit. I can't say it has brought anything possitive in my life.

I haven't read any of the books in the article except "The Secret". And I totally, completely fell for it. I think it was out of desperation. But now my life is worse than ever.

I don't know how to find my inner power, or inner peace.

I

When I read this article, I was actually on the road down a self

I truly believe that admitting you don't know how to find your inner power or inner peace is probably the first step to locating it. I too have endured suffering and pain in my life. More recently, an arsonist set fire to my home. My husband and I were forced to go from a 2 bdrm, 2 story house to living with his crazy aunt who believed she had all the answers. While living there, I purchased a book about Buddhism. I guess I really needed to learn how to let go of all the material things we'd lost in the fire and to find some form of lasting peace. My husband's aunt skimmed a few pages of the book and asked if she could keep it. I gave it to her and purchased a new one for myself. The following days, I was forced to listen to her rant about how she believed she was close to enlightenment because she was already the kind of person the Buddhist text stated she should be. She truly believed she was enlightened because according to her perception of Buddhism, she needed very little improvement. Yet, she was miserable. Her forceful opinions about how everyone else should live their lives alienated her from most of her loved ones.

Finally, we moved ( I was kicked out ) and are now living in a tiny little 1bdrm apartment. I'm 31 years old and pregnant. I have no idea what will become of us. I don't believe I am enlightened. I believe I need a lot of work. After the fire, all I wanted to do was get away and travel and leave everything and everyone behind to become "enlightened" in much the same way the Gilbert does in "Eat, Pray, Love". I hated myself for not saving the money to get to that point. When the film came out, I was intimidated by it, thinking it would make me feel inadequate by today's standards of the modern woman. On one hand, I know enlightenment or rather, some form of inner peace and joy, comes from within. But on the other hand, I have a hard time accepting that this can be done without uprooting my life and traveling the world over. When I read this article, I was actually on the road down a self torturous day wherein I read all about "Eat, Pray, Love" and the many things I'd never get to do. It had occured to me that perhaps my perception was wrong. That following Gilbert's example was not necessarily the truest path to enlightenment, but I never thought that so many women would agree. I am so glad to have found this article.

I am learning that such desires for travel and a great many other things, in pursuit of fulfillment, are never truly satisfied in the long term. In part, because desire for more will always be present and in part because everything ends. We must find lasting peace from within in order to counter these desires, particularly the desire for material things. I love hearing about the books regarding not purchasing certain things for a year. Particularly, I love that these stories involve small steps towards great change. I think we must get to a point where we can say, I want that, but if I can't have it, that doesn't mean I am not going to be happy. And we must learn that what we do towards others (as opposed to only being concerned w/ ourselves) has such a great impact on us and the world around us.

Am I there yet? By no means. I am trying, but since we're about to have a baby, I have a really hard time some days, when I think about living in this small apartment w/ no fancy nursery like the one my sister has for her baby in her 5 bedroom house. I struggle with time constraints, financial constraints and most of all, attitude constraints. I try to eat right, but being pregnant now, I sometimes just eat cheeseburgers : ) I pray often, but sometimes, I don't have faith that my prayers are being heard. I love my husband and my family and my friends. But sometimes, I don't treat them that way. And I do all this from my little apartment without ever having to leave the country. Am I on the quest for self discovery, enlightenment, inner peace and happiness? Of course I am. But I have absolutely no idea if, when or how I will ever get there. And I hope someday, I can be okay w/ that. In any event, I firmly believe it's better than blindly thiking I have found the key only to find that the key doesn't open any magical door to happiness.

Thank you for this great

Thank you for this great post. You are going to be one wonderful mom! Your insight is so needed.

Heartfelt, thoughtful, well

Heartfelt, thoughtful, well written post. Thanks for sharing.

Thank you. Your post meant

Thank you. Your post meant more to me than the entire article..I agreed with the article, but I feel your exact sentiment in which you wrote your post..you are not alone..we are all out here, trying..hoping..wanting..

Self Help is incriminated.

Now, if anyone will deem fit to listen to me, I must say that we have taken these books and fit them into our own stereotypes, ironically, because these books are meant to alleviate self and societal judgments. I have read books by Eckhart Tolle, Neale Donald Walsch, Gary Zukav and the like, and to somehow pit them against someone is to deny their every teaching. Let us not look at them with immediate scorn, but hear them out for what they have to say. No, traveling to far off exotic places or getting your perfect body does not mean anything... but seeking your self means everything, and these books (indeed, everything ever written, gender being neutral) were written for the purpose of helping you seek your self, however muddled this message may come out to be. Oprah's true intentions I believe, are as such.

One of the greatest questions asked in these fields by these authors AND by their readers is this: "Should there be capitalization in self help books?" I would say there is no "should" about it... but to have it does not compromise the meaning. These books are what you make of them. It's as simple as that. If you feel the advice they have given is a hypocrysy, write something to the author: maybe he or she can clarify. Don't expect them to have every point made perfectly in their writing. I plead of you, please stop creating expectations! Ultimately they are everyone's downfall (one of them)!

Thanks!

I couldn't get past the first few pages, because it was so predictable in all the ways mentioned. Books like this are hugely annoying. I thought I was almost alone in my dislike of it, its obvious message ("Look at me! Look what I can do! You need to do what I did! But first, look at me!") and my feeling that women who jumped on the bandwagon were kind of pathetic, no matter how bright or thoughtful. Plus, the minute I understand that what the author is doing/recommending/blathering about costs the kind of money I will never have or be willing to spend on "wellness", I lose all interest. Better to read " Mindset" by Carol Dweck.

not quite on topic but . . .

i just want to add, I'm so excited to see one of my favorite one-time roomates do the illustration for one of my all time favorite magazines. and now i will actually read the article, which i'm sure is lovely as well (afterall, its in bitch).
!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Finally!

I've read a lot of Gilbert and when I started seeing previews for this, my first thought was, "How nice that she can afford to go on a year-long vacation in order to find herself." I'm not anti-vacation, but the premise simply annoys me. It's not relatable for the majority of women. The Julia Roberts interview on Oprah was even worse, I watched it to see if the topic of money would be addressed, of course it wasn't. Until a friend put a link to this article on facebook, I hadn't heard a single opinion or review even raising the question or relating the sentiments I feel about movies and books like this and, "Sex in the City". I feel so relieved to see that this annoys other people too!

Strictly Commercial Intent

I may be misremembering the book, but I was under the impression the author's year of travel was financed by her publishers, as an advance for the book she would be writing in its wake. Which would make the entire production a well-though-out and equally well-financed exercise in commercial writing. Not to say that this invalidates the writer's search for...well, whatever it was she was supposed to be searching for. I forget. She lost me at the first glimmer of me-me-me, like all of them do.

I may also be mistaken in the belief that, if you are looking for self-enlightenment and meaning in your life, you start by doing good works, and by examining your place in the whole of things, and not how the whole of things is meaningful in relation to YOU.

you think?

I read the book years ago and I found it beautifully written and pretty fun. I am not very sure what is your point, the book is not trying to say IF YOU DO NOT TRAVEL THIS 3 COUNTRIES YOU WILL NEVER BE HAPPY! It is not a Cosmo HOW TO article, It is just her personal journey, what is the big deal? She did that and then wrote it because she is a writer... it is just a funny and romantic book based on her story, she did not mean to write the New Bible for Women, please! Excuse her for traveling the world and cure herself, she must be punished because we cannot do the same!!!! I do not have the time nor the money to do what she did but I could enjoy her book, as well as I can enjoy a TV show of the best restaurants in the world though I have no money to even look at the menu...

I completely agree. I

I completely agree. I enjoyed the book and thought Gilbert was pretty self-aware and acknowledged the privilege she has. And I don't think she was selling any products or advocating materialism--pretty much the opposite.

I can totally get behind the points on Oprah here, though.

Political

Yes, I agree that this article has many points about consumption and status anxiety which ARE right. At the same time, it also sounds as having some hidden political agenda about anti-privilege. Somehow it sounds socialist, and coming from ex-Soviet space, I am still allergic to it. We want to consume and be rich. And it does not mean you cannot do self-search, inculding for cheap. Yoga class can be much cheaper tham 120 dollars, and it is practised all around the world - and you feel really wonderful after that.
Another point I disagree with, is that being healthy and skinny is always an instrument for getting better family life and success. I think you need harmony even if you have your successful relationship and children. Many women want to find harmony and health just for the sake of having it.
Anna

I disagree

Enna/Anna,
Your analysis is coming from a Soviet/Eastern European mindset. I can understand that you may condemn "Socialism" because you had to stand in line for bread and chicken (and in fact, the Russians are so used to standing in line, they still do "for the Best," even though there are perfectly acceptable options available where no lines are required.
When a group of people have suffered, wanting to "consume and be rich" as you say, pushes some women into prostitution. Russians consider prostitution totally acceptable. Something similar to modeling. This occupation is acceptable because it leads to becoming "rich"...
American women, also, can't be as thin as Russian women, because of all the genetically modified crops that are in the food system, that Americans have been raised on. From the GE Corn in the cereal at breakfast, to the milk and the beef where Bovine Growth Hormones have been used...people in America tend to be heavier.
America isn't socialist, anyway. America has become a fascist economic state. The middle class is shrinking because of the policies that have hi-jacked America. Monsanto, Du Pont, J.P. Morgan Chase...it's not by chance that Donald Rumsfeld was secretary of defense (He used to work for Monsanto, and probably still owned stock in the company.)
The odds are stacked against you, as an American. Unless you are someone like Alexandra Stoddard, or like this woman who wrote Eat, Pray, Love...you're going to have to find your enlightenment through your own arduous experiences, through the daily struggle to survive, takeing care of your children and not be homeless.

Condescending.

WHAT an unbelievably condescending reply. Let's clear some things up, because you are making misguided assumptions.
1. People in Russia do not like to stand in line, nor do they, even "for the best." And NOBODY likes standing in line, not even if it's a necessity they've somehow adapted to.
2. Prostitution is NOT OK in Russia. It is NOT socially accepted. Prostitutes feel shame, rightly or wrongly, just like anywhere else in the modern world.
3. There are plenty of overweight women in Russia. Being fat in American is not due to genetically modified foods, it's because of a lack of self-control. Being lithe is valued to a Russian woman, for whatever reason-right or wrong, so they control their eating. There are NO organic foods available in Moscow, much less smaller places. There are however plenty of foods grown in the Chernobyl-irradiated areas.....try eating those and see where your weight ends up.
4. Your conspiracy theories about corporations are just sad. Go live in a shack with no textiles, chemicals, banks or Department of Defense to protect you. Hey, maybe you'll even get thin like those Russian women!

Excellent, puffynugget.

Excellent, puffynugget.

EXACTLY. What a clueless

EXACTLY. What a clueless article. This article is itself the height of "priv-lit", because it rags on people who have real needs in the world.

"My working-class constituents have their own version of the environment ... which calls for economic growth. They want lower housing densities and better schools and hospitals. They want washing machines and refrigerators to relieve domestic drudgery. They want cars, and the freedom they give on weekends and holidays. And they want the package-tour holidays to Majorca, even if this means more noise of night flights and eating fish and chips on previously secluded beaches--why should they too not enjoy the sun? And they want these things not ... because their minds have been brainwashed and their tastes contrived by advertising, but because the things are desirable in themselves." Anthony Crosland, British Labour Government Secretary

Erm...

This article is itself the height of "priv-lit", because it rags on people who have real needs in the world.

No, it really doesn't. Maybe to someone with a knee-jerk pang of guilt for wanting to live the life of the SatC girls, but the authors don't imply that the things that they want are wrong. They're calling out the self-help industry for planting fantasies of enlightenment (in the form of expensive indulgences) in the minds of consumers. There is absolutely nothing at all wrong with wanting to go to Italy, or even making it happen. There is, however, something wrong with conditioning women to expect that exotic travel and "the perfect little black dress" will make you enlightened, a.k.a. worthy of love, attention, and privilege.

Enlightenment is a change in perspective, usually won by hard, unpleasant, and/or boring work. A lot--a LOT--of self-help goo out there implies that you can attain enlightenment easily, pleasurably, and with permanent results. (See the book Meditation Secrets for Women as a prime example.) Even the term "enlightenment" is oversold. Most authentic zen literature teaches that it's the ordinary stuff of life that gives true satisfaction, which challenges the notion that yoga classes, pedicures, and designer shoes are necessary at all. Do we really need expensive books, seminars, life coaches, and other gurus who want you to believe that your life constantly needs fixing, or do those peddlers of fantasies want to believe that?

What the authors of this article are trying to tell people is that maybe you're okay just the way you are. That's a far cry from telling people not to find enjoyment from buying a nice pair of shoes or taking a long-desired trip; it IS however reminding us that these purchases do not in any way define us or make us stronger, more powerful, or lovable.

hmm

I guess what sort of bothers me about this article (actually, mostly just some of the comments) is the implication that Elizabeth Gilbert advocates a sort of self-help in Eat Pray Love. I read and enjoyed the book very much-- admittedly before I discovered feminist blogs and blogs that critique privilege-- and I definitely felt the "something's not quite right here" feeling that other commenters have mentioned. But like another set of commenters, I also felt that she was genuinely writing her own personal story, in which she acknowledges the role her own privilege plays. Gilbert openly tells the reader that she never could afford these trips if she hadn't signed a book contract, which, as she's a writer, more power to her, and she has since made a point to emphasize on her website and in interviews that each person should do whatever they feel compelled to do, not just go to Bali to re-create her experience. As someone who enjoyed the book, I feel that it's easy for people to just see the face value: white lady, traveling, on the wealthy side, talking about 'gurus' = classist, privileged, and frivolous. But white ladies who have privilege who talk about their experience of being in the world have been dismissed and not taken seriously for basically forever. It bothers me to see people so quickly not listen to her without seeing how she is honestly reflecting her own experiences.

*That being said*, 1. I wonder if I would feel these same things if I read the book now. 2. THE MOVIE LOOKS TERRIBLE, racist/paternalist, etc etc 3. @warriortwo I think you and the article are spot on in saying that "maybe you're okay just the way you are" is the most important thing to remember, especially for women, who are always being told that they are never beautiful/young/skinny/etc. enough. Totally with you here. I did get a feeling while reading the book, despite how much she insists she's just telling her own story, that maybe I needed to have a change in my life of some sort, go somewhere; maybe I'm not doing something right, etc. I wonder how much of that is the book's fault vs. the Oprahesque aura that now surrounds the book.

Hmmm, indeed

You contradicted yourself:

1. "I guess what sort of bothers me about this article ... is the implication that Elizabeth Gilbert advocates a sort of self-help in Eat Pray Love".

2. "I did get a feeling while reading the book ... that maybe I needed to have a change in my life of some sort, go somewhere; maybe I'm not doing something right, etc."

It is ironic that the first quote is about your feelings, couched in the language of thought, whereas the second is about your thoughts, but described as feelings.

That's not quite a

That's not quite a contradiction. I've read several novels that aren't advocating self-help but have left me feeling adventurous. What the author intends and how the reader feels are different. It may be a very common intention to move the reader. That, however, doesn't classify it as self-help.

"What the author intends and

"What the author intends and how the reader feels are different."

Agreed.

"It may be a very common intention to move the reader. That, however, doesn't classify it as self-help."

Sure, this doesn't classify the novel /itself/ as self-help, but it clearly does classify it as /advocating/ self-help, which is the topic of debate.

I'm assuming by "move the reader" you mean move them to pursue self-help. I'm also assuming it was the author's intention to move the reader in such a way. Otherwise, I have no argument. ;)

Don't buy it

I'd like to start off by saying that your "contradictory" (as another commenter put it) assessment of your experience with this book is telling in and of itself, because I think that it is representative of the thoughts of many analytical women out there. I just saw the movie; never even heard of the book to be quite honest before marketing for the movie started as I don't tend to follow literature (self-help or otherwise) in general. From my experience with the movie, I can say this: I wanted to know more about this woman. In fact, this article came up on a search that I did for information about the real story behind Eat, Pray, Love, because I knew that the the neatly packaged Hollywood version wasn't it. But, from these comments, I am learning a lot more about human reaction than I am about Elizabeth Gilbert.

Most of the comments regarding this article strike me as knee-jerk reactions: either you agree with the authors of the article or you don't, and here is all of the evidence to prove that your opinion is the right one. Some believe that a story of privilege is not worth telling or being heard; others, that it should be taken as light-hearted escapism. But let us not forget that in the end, this divisive story is that of one woman. It is marketed as a memoir. If it makes us feel inadequate in any aspect ranging from our wealth to our spirituality, it is because we allow it to do so. A woman telling you her story is not telling you that you should do things the way she does things. A woman telling her story is a beautiful thing, because it is something that is not done on the scale of Eat, Pray, Love often enough. Do I wish that the female story that finally captured the ears and eyes of millions wasn't so contrived? Yes. But do I judge the woman for taking an opportunity that many would take in an instant? Of course not.

As I read the article, I did agree with several of its supporting assertions, but not with what I felt was its ultimate conclusion. What I took from this article is that self-help "priv-lit" should not exist because it makes us feel inadequate, and for a profit. And while I agree with that to an extent with commodities specifically marketed as self help, I think that it is a stretch to apply this logic to escapist entertainment like the book in question or "Sex and the City." If the latter make you feel inadequate, it's because you compared yourself and your life to extraordinary and even fictional circumstances. Now, I have a personal belief that women are often conditioned to compare themselves to each other, and this might explain why you think that if Manohlos make Carrie happy, they'll make you happy too. But neither Carrie nor HBO nor Elizabeth Gilbert are telling you to financially invest in happiness. They're just trying to make a buck by entertaining you. If it's not your cup of tea, don't buy it.

Nicely said!!

Nicely said!!

I AGREE! If you don't like it, don't buy it! :P

The entire "commecialization" of self-help, enlightenment, new age, etc. is not necessarily evil. :P

At the end of the day, it's an INDIVIDUAL CHOICE:

1) Some people are CAPABLE and willing to pay in cash for good information/product/services/experience packages even if they are bloody expensive. These are the people we also have to thank for sometimes. They make it possible for certain innovations to take place faster, and therefore, technologies/services become cheaper at such lightning speed!

2.) Others cannot pay in CASH but are sadly brainwashed/peer-pressured to buy products/services/experiences on credit. Which is both heartbreaking and pathetic; and

3.) Some know how to get certain information/products/services/experiences either for free or at a very cheap price! LIKE ME! hahahaha! BUT~ when I find a creation/innovation that I deem worth every cent - VALUE FOR VALUE - and I know I cannot get it anywhere else, and it will truly add VALUE to my BEING, then I gladly invest (and not just buy for buying's sake) and pay in cash. :D

Re: the books that the Oprah Book Club recommend, I think what matters is that for better of for worse, getting all these different lit genres out for more people to read, is in itself, contributing to the practice of the important principle of INDEPENDENT INVESTIGATION of TRUTH.

No one is forced to BUY INTO THE CULTURE these books are all about. Every book is a mere window to one person's soul. Even if I personally think Eat, Pray, Love is stupid, I keep my opinions mostly to myself. Since, I just have to respect the fact that others like it, or perhaps relate to it. :)

I reckon there IS a delicate balance unique to each individual as to how he/she can find spirituality and enlightenment without getting caught in the trap of "contradictions" and also without being irrationally disdainful of material progress. Because both spiritual and material progress are integral to the human soul. :)

Love and Light,
Drei the Dork Lord of the Universe! (๑ˆωˆ๑)ノ゙

Erm's comment, along with

Erm's comment, along with the article helped me to frame one way of receiving the messages in the book "Eat, Pray, Love." If that makes sense. This is a strong critical analysis of the glossy version of enlightenment that Gilbert's book presents and I don't think it's very wise to brush the points the authors make off just because they are uncomfortable or stinging. I personally indulge in priv lit occasionally, and find myself massaged by the reassuring tones of, "you can have it all," without considering exactly how contradictory that thought is.

I think Erm simplified the message in a very accessible way and I'd like to say thanks for that. I wont take Erm's comments as that of the articles authors, but It did help me to digest everything the article brought up and walk away with something important from the article that I will continue to discuss and think about.

This was a story of an American woman looking for something she doesn't seem to think is available or accessible in her own life at home, which is sad and a story in itself. Just because that story, or the movie, is at times grossly unaware of the contradictions it presents, doesn't mean we can't enjoy it if we want to. However, like a deep fried cheese stick soaked in genetically modified corn oil and sprinkled with radioactive hot sauce, we can't ignore the implications of ingesting it without arming ourselves with some awareness of its lasting affects.

eat pray perform

'She did that and then wrote it because she is a writer'

Not quite - she got subsidized by a publisher - she traveled TO write about discovery - the entire thing, no matter what else actually happened, was entered into with an audience in mind: the journey was part of a product. But my biggest argument is with her writing - she's mediocre at best, in love with her own voice & if she had an editor, s/he was overpaid. It's almost a given that she's clueless about class, romantic about poverty and glib about what other people need to do... I think it's a kind of porn - designer personal growth narratives for the rest of us to consume the way we do romance comics.

eat pray perform -- made to fit

What you have addressed is terribly important. Gilbert's "journey" was made to fit her book proposal (paid for by the publisher) and is NOT a case of her writing about something that had happened. The actuality is that her book was a "memoir" of something YET to occur at the time she began. How much honesty can be in a journal that is written for the purpose of public consumption?

Her writing is, indeed, mediocre and she's repugnantly self-indulgent. Editors, if they exist at all, are part of the current problem whereby mediocrity has become the new acceptable benchmark -- hence the seeming (or possible) lack of an accomplished editor's guidance (see the TWILIGHT series for edification on non-editors).

Again, projection.

"Stern Men," the Gilbert book I mentioned previously, is about a 19-year-old working class feminist who, after graduating from a boarding school she attended on scholarship, decides instead of going to college, she's going to work the lobster boats with the men in her fishing village. Her resentment of the upper classes and their privilege are a continuing theme in the book.

Perhaps it would help if you remembered that a writer takes on different voices, the same way an actor plays roles. Don't confuse the work with the life experience.

I wish everyone would read this article - here's why:

I loved this article so much! I partly loved it because it reaffirmed a lot of what I already felt, but I loved it also because it was so informative.

I would like to add an example that I feel proves that this article has much truth. I have a copy of the March 2010 issue of O: The Oprah Magazine, the cover of which displays the headline "De-Clutter Your Life!” As you can imagine, this issue claims to offer organization or de-cluttering solutions, and if these claims were true I could have benefitted from them greatly. Naturally, I turned to page 155 to read the page entitled, “Organize Everything!” The ideas on this page come from experts in certain areas, like Craig Kallman, chairman and the CEO of Atlantic Records. The advice given to us based on his idea to store music records and CDs is as follows, and I quote the magazine directly:

“To house the hundreds of thousands of vinyl records and CDs in his collection, Kallman is turning a three-room Manhattan apartment adjacent to his own into a music library.”

Wow ... I never thought of that! I should just buy a second home to store what I don’t have room for in my own! Thanks Oprah. Where would I be without your expert advice and creative solutions?

Another reason this article spoke to me is that I have a sister – who is a psychologist, ironically – who buys into the whole “self-help” genre and doctrine discussed in this article. For me, this means that I cannot be free from the doctrine by simply refusing to read the material, because I have a sibling who does, and seems to believe it as if converted into some kind of religion. This would be fine if she kept her beliefs personal and accepted that I am free to believe otherwise, but this religion of “self help” seems to have an elitist effect: the converted believe themselves superior to the non-converted, they too begin to presuppose that there is something deeply flawed and inherently wrong with the non-converted, and then endeavour to convert them under the guise of “helping” them. In my experience, when the help is refused, the non-believer is then looked down upon as stupid and irresponsible. It is just like you said, “it’s the wolf of the mean-spirited makeover show or the vicious high-school clique in the sheep’s clothing of wellness.”

Though my own use of money for self-improvement is not necessarily anything to be proud of, I value the more inexpensive paths to wellness, or at least the paths that are more realistic for my needs. I try to focus not on how I appear to be, but on how I actually am (unfortunately another topic for criticism from my appearance-obsessed sister). I find that attempting new hobbies, learning new skills, and taking classes I otherwise would not consider gives me a sense of accomplishment, growth, and a realization that I am more capable than I otherwise thought. I also keep a binder of various magazine and internet articles that I find appropriate for my own personal “self-help” needs.

I find it very reassuring when Bitch Magazine has an article like this that makes me feel that my own feelings and instincts about things like the “self-help” genre are not just illogical or silly, but grounded in fact. It makes me feel that my instincts about things are more accurate than some would like me to believe, and that I should just trust my own judgment more often.

Not to be well, a bitch, but

Not to be well, a bitch, but the comment about your sister makes me feel better about wanting to go to be a psychologist. It always astounds me that people who end up with such delusional faith in self-help books that seem, well to me and my undergraduate professors anyway, antithetical to the practice of psychology even get admitted to graduate schools in the first place. (Do they not screen applicants or is it just a matter of who has the most tuition money?) Maybe she just wants to say 'shove it' to integrity and pen her own multimillion dollar self-help franchise? I suppose, perhaps in a roundabout sort of way, if the goal is whoever makes the most money wins, then perhaps I can rationalize that. But I don't see that as so important as much as listening to people who were maligned and helping them lead meaningful lives in whatever way they are capable of. Not such a profitable venture as such people tend to be economically destitute, but then again I never bought into the Carrie Bradshaw lifestyle. (How does she afford that Manhattan apartment and all those nice clothes and accoutrements on a freelance writer's salary anyway? Perhaps I wouldn't be so reflexively disgusted by it if it were more realistic).

Anyhow, it sounds like you ended up better off and found your own way. I ought to trust my own judgment more, too.

Smells like HGTV

When I de-clutter my life, it means throwing out the pile of junk mail that is collecting cat hair on my desk. As for Kallman and his music library, I have only one thing to say: it's called an iPod, you dinosaur.

Oprah and the priv-lit people seem to occupy the same creepy utopian wonderland as the people on HGTV. These are people who claim to search for enlightenment while consuming their mortal energies in an agonizing search for the perfect $5000 pillow for their Zen-themed meditation room. You either get the whole $12 coconut water enlightenment trip or you don't.

Great Article

I've been kvetching about how much dough it takes to self-actualize for a long time (or, at least every time something like this showed up in the NYT, or that I saw a copy of Real Simple), but I hadn't really thought hard about it until I read this excellent article. I suppose it's a self-sustaining industry - the kind of people who are going to buy these books and see these movies are the kind who might also have the money, or at least could conceivably dream of having the money, to blow on a journey of discovery. sure, they're being taken, but they're values are probably already perverted anyway and it's kind of hard for me to feel too bad for them. But someone like Oprah, who masquerades as a force of social change and could actually be one, if she cared to, should do better. In the neighborhood where I live, there are plenty of women for whom a degree or job training would be a genuine and lasting form of self-improvement, and one that would benefit all of us. But the barriers are so high that that's just as much a dream for them as going to Indonesia is for many other people.

There's one thing I'm curious about, though - is there any kind of parallel industry directed at men? I can't really think of one, and I think that's rather interesting, too.

...is there any kind of

...is there any kind of parallel industry directed at men? I can't really think of one, and I think that's rather interesting, too.

You betcha. The other end of self-help focuses on helping men become alpha males, either through financial success, picking up women (Google "seduction community"), or looking like the cover of Men's Health.

It's called a book deal.

Thank you for the article appropriately titled Eat, Pray, Spend. I was beginning to think I was the only woman out there who was turned off by Elizabeth Gilbert's book, Eat, Pray, Love. It came highly recommended by my "man-friend's" mother (coincidently an Oprah obsessed Indonesian woman.) I read the book and it could have been enjoyable if it were simply a travel journal but it wasn't. It was a writer pretending to take a risk for growth and change. Even the blurb in the book describes Gilbert's decision to travel as "radical" and states that she "got rid of her belongings, quit her job, left her loved ones behind" all in the name of recovery. What they fail to mention, in the blurb, is that she was a writer on a paid vacation and the enlightenment at the end of the tunnel was a book deal. The book seemed to be written with the intention of spewing messages and the message I got was this one: If you're gonna have a break down make sure you have enough money to fund that breakdown, otherwise it's not gonna be a pretty sight.

A little bit about veracity

I generally enjoyed the article and think the critique of privilege and in all of this is right on. However, I think that the authors tried to make their point a bit too enthusiastically in at least one spot, where they discuss the Skinny Bitch series of books.

They write that the books proffer an "insistence that women can stop nighttime snacking with the oh-so-simple fix of hiring a personal chef with vegan culinary training." That simply isn't true, as far as I can tell. I own Skinny Bitch in the Kitch (saw it in Barnes and Noble, liked the recipes, didn't feel comfortable funding a book with such a name/message so I bought it used for $3 on Amazon), and there is not a word, either explicit or implicit, about a personal chef. After all, it is a cookbook, not a "give this to your chef book."

I searched the rest of the books on Google Books (save for Skinny Bitchin', which is not available for preview) and could not find a single mention of "personal chef." The only hits for "chef" are in the reference sections of the books for a company called "Chef Nikola's Kitchen," and then one hit in Skinny Bitch in the Kitch regarding going out to eat. The results for "personal" also have nothing to do with someone else cooking for you. That aside, the recipes (at least Skinny Bitch in the Kitch) generally do not need to be any more expensive than what you would find in a common cookbook. They tell you to use unrefined coconut oil in pretty much every recipe, which is expensive, but that's completely replaceable with olive, canola or most any oil. And they are not really all that much more complicated either.

To be clear, I am in no way interested in defending the Skinny Bitch line. I write only in the interest of accuracy. I largely find the authors' overall message (be vegan primarily/solely so that you can lose weight, and that you are only good when you are skinny) offensive, stupid and harmful for a variety of reasons. One of them was a modeling agent. Super lame. But I do enjoy some of their (are they even really theirs?) recipes.

It's just that this bit of journalistic sloppiness in order to make a point detracts from the overall quality of the article, which is unfortunate, because the piece is quite good, relevant and original.

Thanks for taking the time

Thanks for taking the time to point that out. I'm a stickler for accuracy in reporting myself.

It's time to have a Happy Hippie Adventure... ;)

For years I was a fan of self-help books, looking for the "quick fix" and "easy way". However, over the last two years, I have discovered that there is no "shortcut" to one's own Self Discovery. It may take a year, as it did with Elizabeth Gilbert or decades, so claims Oprah. We are all individual, just as our stories are and believing that we can be "completely healed" by any one book, movie or retreat is wishful thinking.

I find that embracing my Inside Kid and having numerous Adventures helps me reconnect to the simple way of life. A time when dancing, running, skipping and just being alive was enough to make us smile. So many of us choose the chaotic routine of the world and disconnect from the free-spirit that we naturally are. I must admit, I was once guilty of silencing the voice of my Inner Child and convincing myself that I had to "grow up". Not any more... ;)

Now I happily reintroduce others to their own Inside Kid and plan Adventures that their Souls are crying out to have. When we allow our Inside Kid to lead the way, we become aware of any detours and road blocks that have been preventing us from reaching our destination of Authenicity; addiction, financial dependency, guilt, insecurity, judgment, laziness, resentment, sense of entitlement, etc. Once the obstructions are healed and honored, the pathway becomes free and clear, making the journey easier and more enjoyable.

Forget about the rules, regulations and limitations of your daily life and remember the adventurous, carefree Spirit that you are... the you that's been hidden within for so long. Are you ready to have an Adventure? I dare you... xoXo ;)

Inside Kid and plan Adventures

I try to keep my life in lowercase.

Brilliant! I was just

Brilliant! I was just thinking that.

Meow!

wow, super-catty. Try hearing the content!

Are you serious (or just a Sock Puppet)?

The post was clearly nothing more than a blatant Advertisement for the poster's own Snake Oil business.

Oprah would call this an A-Ha moment.

For a long time now I have felt bothered and unsettled by the existence of, but more importantly the popularity of everything Oprah, books like The Secret, Eat, Pray, Love, and the like. I have repeatedly tried to express my consternation and distaste, but have never been able to quite put my finger on the crux of the issue. Sanders and Barnes-Brown have eloquently and accurately answered the question I could not: what specifically is it about all this that disturbs me so? Thank you for bringing clarity to that prickly, unnerved feeling ... that irritation I haven't been able to properly explain.

This is so unbelievably spot

This is so unbelievably spot on. Thanks. When I have a mid-life crisis I'll bike to a glen to meditate, far cheaper. :)

I COULDN'T AGREE MORE

I'll just say one thing here: the first time I watched the trailer of that movie I immediately thought to myself "yeah, right, as if every woman had the financial possibilities and the time to actually do something like that". I cannot relate to the main character of the movie because either I would have to get into a huge debt to pay for all the expenses of that ENTIRE year of "self discovery", or save money for a bunch of years and ask in my job whether they can give me an entire year off. Yeah, right. As if life was that easy.
I agree with Rousseau when he says that humans dug their own grave when they invented concept of money and private property.

Amen!

I love this article. That said, I'm also interested in self-improvement. And that said, I'm sick to death of the Oprah machine and all the manufactured junk it produces and the celebrity experts. This Eat, Pray, Love book is junk. A nice travel log. But really, I don't admire people who trash their lives and the people "they love" for a book deal, which is what this writer did. I would be more interested in reading how she turned her life around, made her marriage work and maybe stayed home to de-clutter her life, instead for dumping it all in the nearest dumpster, packing her bo-ho chic clothes and cashing her big advance check on her way out of town. I'm not against traveling and adventure. I'm just against this life trashing being the way for people (especially women) looking to heal themselves.
Thank you again for a great article. I think you might be preaching to the choir. I hope not.

Re: Amen!

I also love this article. I think it addresses criticisms of books like Eat, Pray, Love that really need to be addressed.

However, I also loved Eat, Pray, Love. It sure as heck wasn't a perfect book, but it was an enjoyable read (exactly as you say, "a nice travel log,"), and I did get a little something spiritual-ish out of it, though I was very aware of the author's privilege to be able to pursue spiritual-ish things in that manner.

Anyhoo, I replied because I wanted to question whether Mrs R actually read the book based on her comment "I don't admire people who trash their lives and the people "they love" for a book deal, which is what this writer did."

Although there was definitely elements of leaving everything behind and escapism to her story, she did not "trash" her life or the people she loved for a book deal. There were apparently real problems with her marriage. The main one I remember was her feeling ultra-pressured to have kids, and discovering (unfortunately after getting married to someone who definitely wanted kids) that even though her whole life she'd been taught and thus assumed that she would come to want them, she just didn't. And so the divorce happened well before the book deal. She was actually almost completely through the divorce process (and I'm sure we're all aware here the divorces don't happen quickly, especially when there is a lot of money and property involved) when she left- I seem to recall reading a passage in the book about her getting an e-mail from her lawyer saying that everything was finalized while she was in Italy (the first part of the book).

And as for the rest of the people she loved, she never trashed her family and friends, and was in touch with them while she was on her trip.

As for the concept of trashing one's life and associated people in the hopes of healing oneself, I'm well aware of the phenomenon, but this book is not an example of it, nor do I think women are any more prone to it than anyone else.

I felt this when Barbara

I felt this when Barbara Ehrenreich's book "Nickel and Dimed" came out.

Nickel&Dimed

oooh! Please say more. BE's book had some decent information - but also exposed some gaps in the author's feminism, etc...
is that what you mean?

Barbara Ehrenreich's other spot on book

If you think Nickel and Dimed illuminated this topic, check out Ehrenreich's "Bright Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking has Undermined America." She exposes many of the anti-feminist aspects of the self-help/positive thinking (i.e. "I need fixing") industry, particularly how cruelly it has warped breast cancer survivors.

Thought the article was terrific. Personally, I couldn't get past page 12 of E-P-L. Guess I'm too old to care about the self-absorption of 30-somethings.

I read that book awhile ago

I read that book awhile ago -- I was still in high school and it was assigned reading in my Social Studies class. I remember my teacher's criticism of it though, that Ehrenrich never really gave up luxuries such as health insurance and a car that whole time. She found work easily and would just up and quit when she saw it convenient. She acknowledged the authenticity issue but still had this condescending tone, ie: referring to her temporary co-workers as "drones".

Tale as old as time

"The story priv-lit tells is that true wellness requires extreme sacrifices along economic, family, and professional lines, but those who make them will be rewarded and attain permanent enlightenment of one kind or another"

Sounds like every story of discovery ever written (cf The Old Testament, Siddartha, Gilgamesh).

Gilbert worked hard- Don't hate

Hey, let's not forget it takes brains to write a memoir and strength to expose one's self to the world. Are we really that offended? I think it's great she was able to travel and write about it, whether she or her publisher paid the bill. She put into words eloquently an experience many of us wish we could have- and because of her, now we too can have it. So I think that's great.

There is reason to be offended

While Gilbert should be congratulated for her achievement the problem that myself and this piece's author have with Ms.Gilbert is that she is perpetuated a falsehood that everyone can travel to exotic locals and become spiritually enlightened. This is hardly true when one considers that a trans oceanic flight alone is around a thousand dollars.

Although the author here has

Although the author here has made many valid points, I have to disagree with the commentors who continue to state that EG is "perpetuating a falsehood." I wonder if those who gleaned this message from her memoir have missed her point. Her point was not to tell readers to go meditate in India, run away from loved ones, or take a year away from their lives. Her point was that if you're feeling trapped, get up and do something about it, in whatever way you are compelled. This is HER story. We're each responsible for writing our own. Kudos to the commentor who mentioned the strength it must take to write a memoir. So true.

Not Exactly

I think the point was not necessarily that not everyone CAN do those things, but pointing out that we shouldn't have to/want to, because really, taking a vacation is in no way guaranteed to help you find spiritual enlightenment or to become "whole". You can't buy enlightenment, even if you DO have the resources Gilbert had. And they take that point one step further by pointing out that maybe you're not really flawed or in need of enlightenment in the first place - you're just being told you are because then you'll buy a plane ticket.

Agree!

Finally! Someone with some perspective. EG is a hard-working professional writer who hit the jackpot, and more power to her.

Having said that good list but we need the collected

Having said that good list but we need the collected Ultrabook Notebook Tipis Harga Murah Terbaik Shakespeare on there! And since SFnal type works like Peake and even Ballard are on there, its unforgivable that Gene Wolfe’s Sun books are not on there, books better and more literate and carefully constructed than 228 of the other books on here I have read. Thank God Tristram Shandy is there, and Mishima, but Wolfe really really has to be there if such curmudgeonly unimpressive speculative porn fiction like Crash is.

In 1996 - many years before

In 1996 - many years before this "priv-lit" era you are describing, in the midst of a deep depression I left the U.S. and went to Europe for 4 months. I left home with a duffel bag, a plane ticket and $700 in my pocket, that's it. I didn't go on that trip because I read "self-help" books, or read a travel memoir, or some celebrity told me to. It was a trip I just knew in my bones I had to take. I needed to get back to trusting and relying on myself. Regardless of how you get there, how you pay for it, or how the inspiration comes to you, there is no doubt in my mind that international travel can unlock parts of yourself you never knew existed. And for those that make it happen regardless of economic status - deep down they know that too. There is nothing comparable, and it's not just for the wealthy, it just takes the desire to make it happen. That trip made me who I am today, and I'm pretty damn proud.

C'mon ladies. Wouldn't YOU take that trip?

See. If it only costs $700, is your own idea and last 4 months, THAT is ok?

Liz Gilbert had to pitch and have accepted her trip/book and I can guarantee you that didn't come without some effort. THEN she had to write it, at least well enough to sell. (I enjoyed the book, but even more love her piece on creativity at TED.com). She has expressed discomfort at being seen as anything more than who she is. Someone broken who, with financing, tried something different. She does not want to be your guru.

I agree that there are TONS of shysters out there trying to sell yoga for $120 but shame on you if you take them up on it when there are $10 classes around the corner. But with 2% of the country holding the majority of our wealth, very few folks will attend those $120 sessions anyway.

Does this article mean I can't try to "be my best self" because I'm white? I'm lower middle-class (partly because I never inherited anything and partly because I abhor working for someone else) so I guess it is ok?

As with all things there is a balance. I love Buddhism and Pema Chodron (is THIS ok? I wonder now...) because there is encouragement to look on our little human selves, male and female, with amusement, curiosity and compassion. RIGHT ON.

The article was smart and thought-provoking...and a little mean and intellectually snobbish.

Because, you know, EVERYONE

Because, you know, EVERYONE has an extra $700 plus money for plane tickets lying around, has a boss that will let them take a several month leave of absence or has no financial obligations so that they can afford to stop working for that amount of time PLUS however long it takes to find a job again when coming back, no dependents (children, elderly family members, relatives with disabilities, or others) counting on them... It DOES take more than the desire, and it IS unreachable for many people. How do you suggest a teen mother on food stamps access international travel? Or, as a much better example, people living in developing nations, like, say, India or Indonesia? What if you're living in a psychiatric institution or in prison? If there is nothing comparable, then are they just screwed out of those parts of themselves that they would have discovered out traveling?

I do not doubt that it was an experience that changed you, or even that it made you into a better person. What I want to call attention to is that no, actually, not everyone can do that. Claiming that anyone can at best makes you sound thoughtless.

I don't think there's anything intrinsically wrong with the idea of a voyage of self-discovery. But maybe that self-discovery can take place anywhere, and you don't have to actually get up and leave your life behind to do it. And isn't there something that bothers you about saying that you have to? And it doesn't, isn't there something that bothers you about the idea that Gilbert made the proposal to take a trip around the world for self-enlightenment to her publisher complete with a travel plan and what she intended to do at each stop and as far as we know NOTHING in her story deviated from that plan? Because that strikes me as rather dishonest.

Thank you and clarification

Hi, Diana here, one of the writers - first, I’m super glad to see the level of discussion this piece has generated, and the number of questions and caveats and agreements and disagreements. It's wonderful to be part of such a vibrant discussion.

That said, a couple of points that I think may need clarification:

There's nothing wrong with writing a memoir, and please note that the article does not condemn Gilbert alone (or Gilbert *the person* at all), but rather the subcultural and marketing-driven pressures surrounding her ubiquitous book (and soon the movie, which comes complete with a huge range of merchandise from home furnishings to lip gloss – one estimate recently published on Huffington Post says there are more than 400 individual items) as well as much eco-conscious/new age-y self-help and personal growth literature.

Also, the article is not intended as a criticism of yoga, eating healthily, meditation, or seeking pleasure/peace from these and related activities. What it does condemn is the increasing appearance of luxury versions of these items, and the increasing cost and level of investment – along psychological, spiritual, and financial lines – required to participate, meaning that there are extreme financial barriers to entry for those who are not wealthy.

But I particularly want to address the belief that “it just takes desire” to make a transnational trip happen. I spent some time in-house at the National Center for Children in Poverty, a policy and research organization based at Columbia University, and I can tell you that this is no way empirically supported. In fact, there is a great deal of economic and poverty research that proves exactly the opposite, and it’s very, very important that we work to revise this myth. People living in actual poverty (defined as the income line at which people are no longer able to afford the basic necessities for life, or about $9600/year in the United States for 2006, though most experts on poverty agree the number should be at least twice that, or $19,200), would be opting into risk of starvation or other life-threatening emergencies if they spent this kind of money. Of course, it’s extremely unlikely that people who must spend every available penny on food and housing and medical care (and still don’t have what they need), would ever have access to the $700, plus a plane ticket, plus a passport required for such travel. Today, 19% of U.S. children – that’s one in five – live in families with income below the poverty line. I can assure you that their parents need more than “desire” to improve their situations, and to imply otherwise suggests that the poor are in some way to blame for their financial ruin. We should take care to use real numerical data, and not platitudes, in explaining poverty and the social circumstances that cause it. If you are able to travel and benefit from it, that’s fantastic – the criticism was not that travel is bad, because it absolutely isn’t, but rather that travel is too expensive for many to think of as a solution to their problems. I just think it’s important to caution against confusing the ability to travel with one’s being in any way representative of the most marginalized groups of society.

Again, thanks all for the wonderful comments and discussion. I am really pleased to see how many people have things to say about this.

i think it's sort of sad

i think it's sort of sad that a so-called "feminist" publication completely dismisses a woman's ability to ingenuously find solutions to purported financial barriers to experience. while gilbert's exact experience may require a certain level of financial commitment, i have a number of friends who have embarked on similar journeys with very little expense. a little forethought, ingenuity, and creative planning goes a long way, and i'm not quite so eager to dismiss that most women have these abilities in spades.

Right, and your 'number of

Right, and your 'number of friends' and their experiences are representative of the greater population how exactly? To base any broad conclusion ("most women have these abilities in spades") on anecdotal evidence is completely unrealistic and disingenuous.

I liked the article very

I liked the article very much. Particularly the critique of the emptiness and status-anxiety promoted through self help charades.

The most irritating stereotype for me is someone who's happiness cannot be found by themselves, or pursuing their own ideas about the world - they must be dependant on others because the media tells us that we're not happy, and the media is everyone right? The notion that happiness must have some quasi-spiritual, Hollywood deus ex machina element to it is rubbish, reinforcing stereotypes of eastern mysticism that should have died out at the start of the 20th century.

What about my peers?

In my world (young academia), all peer pressure is geared towards glamorization of poverty-by-choice, where spending any money on anything that makes you happy is passé. Does that make my peer group post-post modern?

I wouldn't say it makes you

I wouldn't say it makes you post post modern, it's just fashion or trend for the ones who have money... They do that only because they can, because they can chose do to so and that way it doesn't make them anxious. When you don't have money for basic things, you live in constant fear for your life, and eventually you became anxious. So...

Thank you...

...for the thought-provoking article (and the thought-provoking responses).

I felt pretty much out of the loop when I recently discovered that I'd never even heard of this book which had been on the NYT's best-seller list for so long. When I read the first chapter online, I remembered why I should not pay too much attention to what's on the list. I found her writing to be formulaic and self-absorbed. I agree with those who pointed out that her entire 'journey' had been subsidized, played out, and written (from the beginning for profit) for a particular audience. But to each her own.

One responder said, "I find it very reassuring when Bitch Magazine has an article like this that makes me feel that my own feelings and instincts about things like the “self-help” genre are... grounded in fact... and that I should just trust my own judgment more often."

That, I think, exemplifies part of the process of achieving our "quest for happiness": learning to believe in ourselves and the validity of our own thoughts. When we do not *need* the reassurances of others, we will be well on the way to being happy with ourselves.

That having been said, I want to add that I don't believe we reach true satisfaction without truthfully examining our priorities, exposing ourselves to different viewpoints, reading literature that has withstood the test of time and is deemed to be wise by wise people, making very difficult decisions, and (even more difficult) acting upon them. And I believe that giving of ourselves is part of being happy with ourselves. When we do these things, we will respect ourselves more, love ourselves more, and experience less pain in our day-to-day lives. When Oprah pays lip service to "living our best lives", it is entirely possible that each of us has her own version of what that is, and materialism need not be a part of it (and adds to misery, imho). Nor does reading the books she recommends. And I doubt that when we've reached our goals, though we will want to help others, we will be writing books on how to get there.

powell

The article mentions Julie Powell, and takes her to task for drawing up expensive shopping lists, which doesn't really seem fair. It's not as though she was advocating that anyone live a certain lifestyle, a la Oprah or Gwyneth. Julie was broke-ass poor at the time she was writing the blog, so I don't see including her among the privileged.

She has since written pieces for the Times and other places which are highly critical of the often-snooty Whole Foods crowd who trumpet their super-premium produce in the name of wellness yet remain unconcerned with those who can't afford $8 pints of organic blueberries.

"Priv-lit" just doesn't fit Powell at all - not even in her post-bestseller, post-Ephron life.

Enlightenment?

Has enlightenment changed definition or has it just become much easier to achieve in these modern times? The term seems to be thrown around quite cavalierly in the context of this article, comments, and presumably the "enlightenment industry".

Dead on

So insightful and well written. I haven't even read Eat, Pray, Love and I already refer to it as White, Whiny, and Wealthy. :)

I used to be pretty into the whole self-help genre. In fact I'm a pretty avid yogi. But the idea that you need to spend a ton of money and abandon your responsibilities turns me off completely.

The Great American Apparel Diet and similar movements have caught my attention, especially because my vice of choice is shopping for clothing. I am frugal in every other area of my life but I relate to the idea that not buying any new clothes for a year would probably cause me serious anxiety...even though it totally shouldn't.

I'm reading Eat, Pray, Love

I'm reading Eat, Pray, Love right now and honestly, I really like it. I'll probably never be able to do what EG did, but I enjoy reading about her experiences.

This article and some of the commenters here make me feel stupid for that enjoyment though. And for getting excited about buying a new pair of jeans or pretty shoes, or splurging on a massage after a tough few weeks. And for not being poor. And for actually being a human person with flaws (although I'd always assumed men were just as flawed because I didn't think that any human being was perfect).

And if someone could explain to me in simple terms how books like Eat, Pray, Love are anti-feminist, in really simple words, I would appreciate it. I'm honestly not getting it.

Alex...dont feel stupid. If

Alex...dont feel stupid. If you enjoyed the book let that be enough for you. Ironically, one of the arguments being made here is whether the self-help culture of today really empowers women or if it's justs increases thier reliance on others to reassure them in thier choices and behavior...for a cost (and the higher the cost the more valuable the advice). So your questions struck me as being an example of what can happen when either side of a debate becomes to entrenched in making themselves right and others wrong or not as right. Take the article and opinons as just that...opinions, and simply different views of an issue to consider and add to your own. Keep reading what you like, do what feels right and works best for you... indpendent of what others say or feel.

Thanks

Thank you, Anon. Your answer was kind and helpful and I wish that everyone who posted to message boards or forums would do so with the thoughtfulness that you have here.

I hope you don't mind, but I'd like to save your answer; it's a good reminder to focus on my own feelings, rather than getting wrapped up in the opinions of others.

I hope you have an excellent day!

Apologies for the typos in

Apologies for the typos in my reply. Maybe I can find a good book on how to type better...

Eat, Pray, Love

Oh, how happy I was to come across this article. I read the referenced book and forced myself to the ending of a poorly written, often boring account of what it was like to have a fully paid holiday ostensibly attached to the notion of finding oneself.

To attach spiritual meaning to an endeavor which must have cost thousands and thousands of dollars to achieve, for me, cancels out the objective. I wonder about the women reading these kinds of books, listening to Oprah fueled directives to be your best self, and a culture which tells us that the only way we can come back to ourselves is to have the wherewithall, financially, to make such escapades possible.

It all makes prayer at the kitchen window with kids screaming in the background, harvesting one's own basil out of a community garden, and looking across the table at a beloved partner, seem without meaning unless it is done in the grand style of a tour of Italy and India.

Sincerely,

Skye Leslie

yep

Skye, I went on similar journeys as Liz Gilbert's, and now look back on them, ten years later, as shallow and even damaging. Though my backpacking journeys were not nearly as well funded, I carried a certain American arrogance that I could not see in myself at the time. Oh sure, I even got the Felipe, but after parrot island, a long distance relationship isn't all it's cracked up to be--and speaking of costly! It was only after tremendous personal loss and encounter with death that I was able to realize the truth of what you say, that it is in every step, in the everyday. I just think in Gilbert's case she hasn't had the truly deepening experience yet. Buddha had to go out and encounter death, illness, and old age before he had a sense of his purpose. I have been a Buddhist for six years now, practicing quietly with a small group of friends and at a local forest monastery. That is more liberating than all the galivanting around the planet I did in my youth. And it doesn't cost anything more than we want to give. There is also a vipassana movement that allows people to go on 10-day meditation retreats for whatever they want to give, even if that be nothing.

I am reminded of one of our yoga centers that has a branch on the poorer side of town and one on the wealthy side. Dressed in expensive yoga togs, the skinny women who attend the center on the wealthy side seem nervous and spend a great deal of time complaining about minor frustrations. On the other side of town, the motley crew who shows up for the free class come in t-shirts with the sleeves cut off. They laugh, often at their own awkwardness. I know where I fit in.

thank you

thank you

So, consumer culture

So, consumer culture promises happiness through spending on material posessions, then when people who've bought into this scam end up feeling spiritually empty (to say nothing of overworked) the culture promises to fix their emptiness through...more spending. If not the tens of thousands of dollars on international travel and personal gurus, at least the modest spending on the book or the movie ticket that buys the short-term enjoyment-by-proxy of watching someone else escape the emptiness (the comparison to porn an above commenter made is in that respect quite apt) and dampens the desire to revolt against the things that are really making their lives empty.

The thing is: though the Oprah/Gilbert stuff is the version of this scam marketed specifically to women, it is not really any different than the consumer ideology marketed to ALL Americans, regardless of gender or disposable-income level. So I'm not sure how useful it is to critique it from a strictly feminist point-of-view, or to point out that millions of real women cannot afford such expensive remedies. The emptiness caused by consumer culture, and the false remedies to it that the consumer culture itself sells, are the enemies of all Americans' happiness, female or male, poor or rich.

Yes, Yes, Yes

Bingo. It might be especially so for women, but these problems exist for everyone.

Do away from with consumerism all together.

As a woman of colour who is without much privilege, at one point I was into the self-help trend as well. I still find the books good for the occasional insights. I did enjoy the book, Eat, Pray, Love and also the Sex and the City franchise (though I refuse to see this last movie) for what it is - fantasy and a life that I could never have. But I like a good fantasy! I agree with some posters that the book is a story written by Elizabeth Gilbert. I didn't take it as a charge to travel to find one's self, but maybe that's just me. I wouldn't lump it in the self help genre necessarily because she is not specifically offering what one should do, but telling her story of travel. I think they have marketed it this way to sell the book and movie

The writer's point is well taken in terms of the genre and Oprah, in particular, selling enlightenment. But corporations will always be selling something according to whatever is trendy. People are always going to buy because we have not been trained in this society to question the mass media or the capitalist society in which we live. I will never look to what is trendy and/or mass marketed because whatever way they package it, the purpose is the same - to make money.

I think we should be questioning consumerism period, but that would would require a genuine look at the unsustainable North American lifestyle and our role within it. Few are really willing to do that and so the masses will continue to accept whatever is being marketed to them. In this case, it is self help, tomorrow it will be something else.

Great Article! Huxley's nightmare coming true to Spirituality

Great article. I loved the following lines

"The first is that women can or should be willing to spend extravagantly, leave our families, or abandon our jobs in order to fit ill-defined notions of what it is to be “whole.” Another is the infantilizing notion that we need guides—often strangers who don’t know the specifics of our financial, spiritual, or emotional histories—to tell us the best way forward."

I am a Male. But loved your articles. We(me and my family) grew up during Socialist India in rather poor circumstances. Contradictory to popular mainstream thought, our sisters in India were educated on par with my brothers and us and in fact, were/are responsible for many important decisions in their lives and our family. They are still working, taking care of their families and exploring what they need to do.

I used to wonder why Yoga, natural food,..... so called natural healthy spiritual living is so expensive. All we need to do is stop watching TV and its commercial propaganda here.

I sometimes used to wonder why the feminist movement was hijacked by sexuality of women alone. This results in further "objectification" of women. What about successful career women ? What about even housewives ?

Why are Angelina Jolie, Kim Kardashian, Miley Cyrus role models for women/girls here ? Should not women like Meg Whitman, Sunita Williams, Hillary Clinton, Amelia Earhart be better models ? Even TV ads are just for objectification of women. Many young girls in the US think about themselves as princesses (Disney propaganda). In Asia, young girls want to become doctors, engineers and so on. Their role models are career women.
I am not trying to make this is a East Vs West commentary. I am commenting on objectification of women in the feminist movement and mass media. Unfortunately, this trend is catching on in Asia too.

I agree with your points. I

I agree with your points. I dont think it's fair to necessarily target the individual books or authors in general. I did read Tolle for example and really liked his more basic less "life changing!" style and self admission his books were not for everyone. I also enjoyed Eat, Pray, Love. What I found interesting was how they became filtered and sold on shows like Oprah who seems to take the content of a book and market in a U.S. rah, rah, life changing promise (which seems to be what has happened to Dr Oz's show as well) and interjects her own opinion and meaning of these writings during interviews. If you watch a segment of Tolle on his website talking about a subject (with a small group of average looking/ non-celeb type individuals), it's a truer reflection of his writing style and made me glad I read his books long AFTER the Oprah marketing machine introduced them. What's interesting with Oprah is many think alot of what she gives to her audience and viewers at times comes out of her own pocket and dont seem to understand the underlying marketing deal with services, products and money being 'dontated' in most cases by corporations and or wealthy individuals which provides them a lucrative image boost (and probable tax deduction), Oprah gets a boost as well and those who need it get help. Im not for or against it since everyone seems to win but it needs to be seen for what it is and not purely altruistic. The same can be said for all TV shows who do this. There are other areas where she can and has been very hypocritical but that's another article all together. Good to see a dialgoue about this so viewers, consumers can be more aware of what their buying but hopefully to allow some women to not be pressured by ANY side of this issue to feel bad about thier choices and do what feels right for them.

out of topic but response to ronin

Hi Ronin,
I find your post very interesting. I'm actually French, but the problem of women's objectification in the media and everywhere is the same in France. All too often, a women can only be acceptable in public social and professional spheres as long as she conforms her body and attitude to the porn-defined criteria of "femininity". Girls are taught at a young age to aspire to become women who have succeeded thanks to the commodification of their sexified bodies (pop stars, actresses, etc). They have very little positive female roles who are independent from the objectifying "male gaze" and successful, if at all. And even if they do want to become doctors, lawers, etc, they have much pressure to be constantly obsessed about their bodies anyway, which, I believe, decreases self esteem and ultimately the likelihood not to be treated as an object in general. The reason this is so strong is that the industries that profit from objectifying women at a mass scale (porn, fashion, cosmetics, and advertising who use women's bodies to sell) make IMMENSE PROFIT, and they're not going to stop now.
It's good to see that in other countries, women can be and can want to be successful without "visually" prostituting their bodies, and be free from this pressure. But I think sexism and feminism simply arises in many different forms, depending on the culture.

Although I find the

Although I find the article's investigation into the commerce of self-fulfillment fascinating, this is a culture-wide malaise and pointing to E,P,L and Oprah as causes or perpetrators is crap. The article implies Gilbert was privileged and pampered, bumming around exotic locations on someones dime and thus her journey is an unrealistic model for those seeking self- actualization. In fact Gilbert was a smart, talented, published writer BEFORE her trip. She is a savvy, professional and empowered woman who negotiated a book deal. I can find no better example of self-fulfillment and actualization than a woman using her talent to pursue a journey that is spiritually, personally and professionally rewarding. That is not privilege; it's smart. Gilbert didn’t invent soul-searching tourism; if stupid women run off to Bali because of E,P,L, that’s their own damn lack of originality and too bad they didn’t get someone else to pay for it.

Though there were many references to the way a handful of very successful women have (inadvertently) contributed to spiritual capitalism, the article is suspiciously absent of the male contributors. Deepak Chopra is a millionaire through his particular branding of spirituality inc, yet Oprah's mission is moving women away from genuine empowerment? This is like making Martha Stewart the example for insider trading, a game invented and run by men. To have a real discussion about why spirituality has become a commodity, perhaps the writer should look at the whole picture. And perhaps, if she is very smart, empowered and spiritually centered already, she can get someone else to pay for it.

Bingo.

Bingo.

Very interesting and

Very interesting and well-written piece, although I would have liked a more extended explanation of what you consider "priv-lit" to entail. I, for example, feel alienated by books like Eat , Pray, Love and The Happiness Project, because of the assumption that readers are not clinically depressed, overweight, physically disabled, unemployed, and working class (etc), all of which are true for me. I've started to think there's a "happiness privilege", silly as that might sound — i.e. we're constantly being told how to be happy, in ignorance of the fact that some people are mentally ill, grieving, going through terrible things, and it's not their fault for "thinking negatively" or not singing in the morning or going to Bali.

I think it's important, however, to draw a distinction between books (articles, films) which sell the ideal that one must spend money and navel-gaze to be content, and the fact that meditation, yoga, drinking veg juice, and yes, even seeing a life coach can actually be helpful and meaningful activities for some women. I don't begrudge any woman doing any of those things, but I do begrudge any implication I should do them because I'm inadequate.

another way to look at it...

I haven't read Eat, Pray, Love, but here's another way to look at it. Whether or not we like it, we live in a capitalist culture - a grossly privileged one at that. A wealthy white American woman spending money abroad could be viewed as an act of charity; a word that in certain Christian contexts means enlightenment.

o please

i wont read the book. mostly b/c to me there is something very sex in the city about its marketing--but who knows-- i might be missing out on a good read. i think the designation of priv-lit is intriguing, particularly since one of the writers (concord, vassar) seems to have a pretty priv. background herself. i grew up on food stamps, raised by a single mother. i worked and student loaned my way thru school. i have chosen to work in the human rights field, for a nonprofit, where i earn, technically, a moderately low income for the region in which i live. i do not own a car, or a house....and i am of an age where that is extremely strange. for the past several years i have saved so that i could travel, and prove to myself that travel is not just for the wealthy. i will soon embark on a multi month trip to explore south america, and asia. because travel is not only for the wealthy. and to suggest that only the wealthy can afford to see the world, and then write about it, is missing what seems to be the point: you can change your life. you can live your dreams. you can arrange your time in such a way so that life is an adventure. . while gilbert's destinations, and choices at those destinations might be elite and priv--that is not the only way to travel, or to live. and to suggest that only the wealthy, or priv, could possibly have interesting adventures, is truly condemning a class or two of people to a pretty large untruth.

happy travels.

anti-feminist

"A wealthy white American woman spending money abroad could be viewed as an act of charity..." -- Sorry, no. Simply contributing to the economy as a consumer is not an act of charity by any definition nor in any Christian context (nor does "charity" mean "enlightenment" - I don't know where you go that).

I loathed Gilbert's book and renamed it "Gripe, Brag, F***." As a clergywoman, I know how hard and how real the spiritual search is for people, and under what kind of real-life pressures folks try to achieve some measure of enlightenment. Gilbert's subsidized "pilgrimage" was insulting from the start, by its very premise. She basically pitched the idea to a publisher and then went seeking experiences and "local characters" she could vampire from to create her best-seller. I'm amazed she isn't being burned in effigy in Bali for her obnoxious colonialist behavior there. She is a true and thorough consumer, and not just of spiritual tourism but of actual human beings. Again, vampiric.

Why is this book anti-feminist? Because Gilbert is obsessed with male approval. Did you notice that every chapter of the book features Gilbert flirting with men, being noticed by men, sharing sexy quips with men, etc. etc. etc.? Of course the grand culmination of her journey was to land in bed with a hot guy. That's what she was seeking all along. She did the same thing in her much better book "The Last American Man" when she felt it necessary to interject details of her relationship with her subject's brother, and possibly with her subject himself.

Thank you for a terrific article.

Travel for yourself

I agree with the author's position that essentially reads, "trash in equals trash out".
I've been exceptionally lucky to travel to parts of Mexico, India, Japan, Hong Kong, and China over the last 20 years and every trip was meaningful & enlightening- and done as cheaply as possible. I'm not rich or powerful, but I am priveledged to have had these experiences and I don't take them for granted. I've returned home with a renewed sense of how much I have to be grateful for- family, running water, and food.
Many people are moving towards traveling with a purpose- to explore cultures more closely or to volunteer for organizations as a way of subsidizing the costs & for giving back to countries which depend on the tourism or need people-power to fight poverty. I wouldn't dare opine that there aren't people out there who volunteer for status but I believe the majority approach a 'voluntour' with the idea that they will learn something about themselves through helping others. I didn't need 'priv-lit' or other self help books to discover this concept, I practice yoga on a mat at home, and I don't allow the mainstream media to form opionions for me.
http://www.gapadventures.com/trips/style/volunteer/

dark night of the soul?!

As a woman who suffers from a very debilitating nerve disease-- think Parkinson's with a lot of pain-- I found it ridiculous, not to mention, slightly infuriating, that Ms. Gilbert began her book with what she called 'the darkest moment in her life' was, of all things, a divorce. Hello? She went on and on for pages how the end of her relationship was this crisis of depression and terror that allowed her to become the butterfly she is now. Yes, this was her dark night of the soul-- a divorce.

You've got to be kidding me? Please?

For all the people who have ever been horribly sick, or desperately poor or abused or homeless-- for her to say that divorce was the worst thing-- is she mad? It's like saying the end of the world is breaking a nail or having a bad hair day! Not that I wish suffering on people, but for someone to preach about enlightenment and understanding and have gone through so little and be so unaware of what real pain/life is-- it's embarassing. If she ever does go anything awful-- cancer, disease, true poverty-- we'll see how far her so-called enlightenment gets her. I've watched it again and again, people think they know the truth of things until their lives really get messy. That's when they see their ignorance and how full of shit they were. I know because I was the same before I got sick. I thought I really had it down-- meditation, yoga, chanting, etc. I did all of it. And did it help me? Whoa baby. Ten years of pain later-- I'm still learning.

Pain is relative

Tiffany,

I'm sorry to hear that you're suffering from such a horrible disease. I can't say that I know exactly what you're going through, but I am truly empathetic to your hardship. And I definitely know where you're coming from when you express disbelief at Ms. Gilbert's description of her divorce, as I used keep telling myself to think the same way to keep my perspective when I go through tough times.

But the fact is, Ms. Gilbert had not suffered through the torment and adversity that you and so many other people face each day. For her, that divorce WAS the darkest moment of her life, emphasis on HER. I could share your irritation at Ms. Gilbert's start of the book if she had written that it was the "darkest moment possible in the entire world", but she never even implies it, so I don't. You say that she has gone through "so little" and is "unaware of what real pain/life is", but do you 100% know what "real pain/life" is? No one does, pain as well as life is all relative. There is always someone worse off than you in the world, be it financially, emotionally, physically, etc., but that doesn't make her pain, or yours, any less real.

I don't think the point of Eat, Pray, Love was to preach about EVERYONE'S enlightenment and spiritual journey, but to simply tell her own. I get a sense from your post that you're pretty outraged about Ms. Gilbert, but please keep in mind that she may still be learning as well, and she does acknowledge that she's unsure of the exact cause of her depression. Perhaps her divorce is just the straw that broke the camel's back.

I would have thought that going through such a hardship as you have, you might have a little more insight to other people's suffering, even if it seems to you their pain is less than yours. Comparing your pain to someone else's pain could either guilt you into feeling a little better for a little while, or instill in you a bitterness to lash out at other people for telling their own hardship story. Life (and pain) could never be compared on a straight scale, as it is so full of dimensions further complicated by individual perception.

I'm not trying to say that I don't compare my pain and suffering to others', but I do hope you at least back off Ms. Gilbert a little as she is human too, and I sincerely wish for your full and speedy recovery.

Dark minute of the soul?

Thanks for the well-wishing! It's much appreciated. Actually, I would like to believe I am actually very sympathetic to other people's hardships. (I could always do better of course!)

So yes, I am attacking Gilbert. And I'm being tough on her, sure. Possibly too much so. So is the article. I'm just trying to say there's something to puttting your own suffering in perspective (even I need to). We all have to count our blessings and realize our failings (we've all got em, it's okay and you know what, they probably aren't really aren't so bad in the big scope of things) but that doesn't mean I can't think Gilbert is a bit of a spoiled wanna-be spiritual dolt.

As I understand, the dark night of the soul is something that's less selfish and much grander than what Gilbert is talking about. We all have tough times, but to say you are going through the dark night of your soul, it better be some serious shit. For Mother Theresa her dark night of the soul supposedly lasted 40 some years and it was because she saw so much suffering and pain in her mission work that she couldn't believe in god anymore. The Buddha's wakeup/dark night was when he saw an old man suffering on the side of the road and he compared this to all his happiness and luxuries. He saw the injustice and pain of life. Granted, it's hard to compare the Buddha or Mother Theresa to anyone (who stacks up to that?) but the point is-- that's a dark night of the soul. It's not just about your own pain, it's about the suffering/darkness of all of humanity and how it makes us wonder about the real value of life. For Gilbert to say her divorce is her dark night of the soul, to me it sounds like a bit of an exagerration-- like saying a bugbite is equivalent to being a bit on your deathbed. Maybe I'm being a bit semantic, but really, a dark night-- it's more like a dark minute. And notice-- within a few months, she's over it. She goes to Italy eats a lot of glorious food, and the universe and her are basically copacetic again. That's how she heals her great rift with the universe. It makes me wonder did she really learn that much?

Yoga Pasta Enlightenment and some Nitpicking

Okay, I suppose all this is being a bit nitpicky, but this is part of what I found in the tradition and actual steps of the dark night of the soul. It's from the Buddhist tradition, but it's often used to describe the dark night experience for all other religion traditions as well. "In Buddhist vipassana meditation, the practitioner passes through the "Sixteen Stages of Insight" (nanas)[4][5] towards Awakening. Steps five to ten are the "Knowledges of Suffering" (dukkha nanas):

Knowledge of Dissolution (bhanga nana)
Knowledge of Fearfulness (bhaya nana)
Knowledge of Misery (adinava nana)
Knowledge of Disgust (nibbida nana)
Knowledge of Desire for Deliverance (muncitukamayata nana)
Knowledge of Re-observation (patisankha nana)"

So yes, you gotta have some good ol fashioned misery/terror/big-time trouble in there. Not exactly what I think Gilbert went through. And again, I'm not saying she's bad because she didn't truly suffer-- I'm just saying her book falsely talks about spiritual enlightenment and insight when it's really about a woman getting her groove back. And that's cool. Gilbert should go and get her groove back, but she doesn't have to pretend to be Ms. Yoga Pasta Enlightenment either.

An Every Woman's Guide? Really?

I'm confused. This is one woman's story that just so happened to resonate deeply with people. Why is it "an every woman's guide" and not just one woman's story? She hasn't hurt anyone by writing the book—it's her experience.

Oprah sells stuff. She uses books to move products. That's what people on TV do. And she's great at it. Whatever bs she talks is intended to move products. She'll call herself a spiritual feminist to sell stuff. She'd call herself a vampire hermaphrodite if it sold stuff. She no doubt lacks the self-awareness that everything she's peddling is bs. If she knew, she couldn't peddle it well as she does.

People—women—are unhappy, and they'll try anything to be happy. If they can't buy a year-long meditation retreat, they'll read a book about it. Reading about rich people is like reading fiction. It's dreaming. And independent enlightenment in an exotic locale is a lovely thing to dream about.

Amen, sister.

Amen, sister.

Judging the book by it's cover.

I couldn't get past the hideous artwork on the cover to even want to open this book.

I agree with the closing

I agree with the closing paragraph of the author. But how do we do that? Position ourselves as essentially worthy? Even if you tell yourself this, it's still another thing to actually live your life that way.

Until we all figured that out, I think we have to share our own stories. By the way, I've been to her store in Frenchtown, the prices are good and she's doing alot through her store to help the people that manufacture these special goods. So at least some good came of all of this.

As for the movie, the book, the HSN stuff, that's just the US marketing machine at it's finest. It's a double edged sword to get your stuff out to as many people as possible without ruining the "product."

Romance is not the answer

My critique of the book Eat Pray Love is primarily about the spiritual content. The author/ main character travels to Bali ostensibly to learn from an elderly man. She then over time out of attrition sort of stops going to see him, and starts hanging around a restaurant/ cafe; although he makes a clear case for financial compensation of sorts for the teaching he has provided, instead she pulls together money for her friend at the cafe.

Likewise, all her intensive spiritual searching leads to - you guessed it - a good romantic relationship. What a temporary fix! - that is the western romantic myth and a disheartening conclusion.

NGL, this was definitely one

NGL, this was definitely one to put under "TL;DR" but I did skim about 70% of it, and I have to agree. The books/movies/tv specials that are made about "finding yourself" tend to just make me feel bad about how I can't. Then I have to sit back and remind myself that it's just not always possible to do. There is NOTHING wrong with a vacation, but taking excessive amounts of time "off" from whatever your job may be, just proves to others that you're well off enough to do that. Thus not getting much sympathy when you whine in a book about sitting in the bathroom floor of one of two houses that you have with your husband (yeah, I read "Eat, Pray, Love"...got to about 2/3 into Italy and stopped), crying.

I'm glad I'm not the only one that feels like this.

Simply, thank you for this

Simply, thank you for this rare honesty that should be resurrected and evangelized as the film adaptation goes into release.

something to think about...

A very well-written and interesting article but definitely beyond a level that "most" of us would ever go to when reading Eat, Pray Love or watching an Oprah show...

you have inspired me to write more about this. I will be commenting at greater length on my own blog... because the truth is, I enjoyed the book and, in small doses, love Oprah. I am a feminist, have written for feminist magazines; I am a self-made Entrepreneur, paid my way through university (by waiting tables) and have two kids and a husband etc... etc... but I do find that women (like Gilbert) who share their stories (sometimes priv-lit) , insights, travels, challenges...whatever, inspire me and help me to see things from a new perspective (just as you have done here). ... there are always multiple ways to view things ... need to think on it though before I say more. ;)

thanks for the article and the excellent food for thought...

-christina

Cynicism is the new black.

I find this article and many of the comments just plain sad. While I believe it's important for people to be cautious when getting into self-help, spiritual, or religious teachings/ practices (and should always look for something that produces good results...whether that be a calmer mind or smaller waistband), I feel this article is based on some widely held but untrue premises...like "spiritual people shouldn't be paid for what they do" (although it's perfectly fine for every other profession in the world), "if Elizabeth Gilbert is a huge success and makes a lot of money then somehow that takes away from me being a success or having money" (there isn't one pie so that if someone has a larger slice, there's less left for everyone else...there is not a limit to how much wealth and success can be created) and "anyone involved in self help is just trying to make money" (um, yeh, don't we all need money to live and isn't finding a way to get paid the basis of every career?). What's wrong with making money helping people? Is it wrong for doctors? For fire fighters?

I can only share my own story which is that before I got on a spiritual/ self-help path I was an abused wife living with a drug addict husband and surviving on food stamps. My hair was falling out, I suffered years of deep depression, horrible acne, and felt like I was dying inside. I was 25 when I left him and began to take responsability for my own life and to do anything possible to heal. I had to suspend disbelief long enough to see if any of this stuff would help me. And 15 yrs later I can say that I am healthy, in a wonderful relationship with the best man I have ever met, own my own home (in Northern NJ, bought before the market bottomed out, on a social worker's salary, this is no small feat!), do healing work that I love, have smart, funny, creative friends, a spiritual community that is always there for me, and guess what, I'M HAPPY. Something I never thought possible for me. Best of all, I feel connected, to something that is both within me and all around me. You can call it God. That's what I do. Or you can call it whatever you like. But if you've never felt that connection, you're missing out on something that can't be filled by anything else. And it's not that I don't have problems that come up now and again. But I have a whole arsenal of tools to use to help me through and get me feeling good again: affirmative prayer, meditation, journaling, forgiveness exercises, etc.

So, yes, I spent some money on books and CDs and a few workshops and a healer now and then, but nothing was expensive and I live pretty frugally. I still wouldn't ask for a single cent back...it's been the best money I've ever spent!

And the thing is, the Universe, God, doesn't cost a cent. But we've been raised so disconnected from our own spirit (sorry if that sounds like Oprah!) that we need to learn how to communicate with it and that's where the authors or mystics or gurus come in. But once you get plugged in, go right to the Source and bypass what anyone else says. There are so many incredible free sources of potent spiritual information online these days, I dare say someone could heal w/out spending any money at all.

It's easy to be cynical and let's face it, very popular right now. But loving oneself unconditionally is the most crucial political act any woman could do for herself. Some of us need guidance doing that. It's a holy act.

Narcissism vs self-improvement

It's uber-important to love and see beyond yourself. I don't think that's what this article was about. I think we can all agree to pursue some kind of higher meaning or depth in our lives-- but it doesn't have to be so unrealistic or expensive as the Gilbert/Oprah method. I think there's a balance between loving and taking care of oneself and not just doing it to escape reality through expensive stuff and gurus and playthings. I think that's the issue-- that what Gilbert and Oprah are creating is this very expensive fantasy spiritual world.

Cynicism is boring but so narcissism hidden under the guise of self-improvement.

I think you hit on a certain

I think you hit on a certain unspoken point - both you and Gilbert left a relationship. Women aren 't supposed to do that, women are supposed to belong to their men! Only a vapid, self-absorbed trustfunded bitch can travel on her own!
The unspoken assumption is that a real woman has to be barefoot and pregnant. Endless comments pointing out that Gilbert paid for her own trip go unacknowledged.
C'mon people let's admit there's an elephant in the room. The key to Gilbert's privilege is not her money or her white skin; it's birth control and her willingness to use it, coupled with the fact that she got an education and makes her own money.

Great, thought-provoking

Great, thought-provoking article.

The good things I got from this article were around money being the only way to get happiness - and I fully agree that there are MANY people out there exploiting this societal belief. And also people spreading it without realising.

For a business to get big and successful, it seems like they have to GROW PROFIT more than growing TRUE, WHOLE BENEFIT to it's clients and customers. Advertising and marketing stuff that's supposed to fulfill us and doesn't is so incredibly out of hand.

It's all truly sad. However, I don't think every single wellness business is exploiting its customers (it can just be very hard to judge if you don't have keen marketing awareness and the confidence in yourself not to be manipulated into thinking you need this thing to make you better).

I read Eat, Pray, Love and adored it. Although perhaps if I had read it earlier in my life I wouldn't have, because I used to get very turned off by anything "spiritual" and at the mention of God.

Gilbert is smart and self-aware - if you want to call self-exploration indulgent then so be it. I think self-exploration is necessary to be happy. She's just as entitled to it as less privileged people, and to judge her for it would be championing the case against equality.

Self-exploration inspiration is what I took away from the book. You don't need to go anywhere or buy anything to do get in touch with yourself. To believe that she's telling people to buy things, travel or have a man to be happy is misinterpreting it (she confirmed this in an interview and said that people need to find their own self-exploration path).

I think one reason why people have interpreted it this way is because we're so used to other people telling us what to do and how to spend our money so we can be better. We've lost touch with the fact that, in many cases, we already know what's best for us.

(And sometimes what's best for us is working with a particular coach or someone who gets us and helps us to authentically discover HOW to do that. I don't see how there's anything wrong with charging money for this - if it's an honest service that's more about helping people than making lots of money. If we're lost, sometimes we need to get help from somewhere.)

Reading Eat Pray Love, or reading anything, as though it's automatically instruction or advice, without applying our own thought pattern to it of 'Okay she's done this. I don't have to. What parts of this message are right for me?', perpetuates the notion that we need to buy things to be happy (since we can't trust ourselves to have the answer). And I think it's why we get defensive (and offensive) about things like this if it doesn't work for us. Otherwise we would just be able to let it go and let it help some other people who it is right for.

Great article but it doesn't go far enough.

There is a lot of negative things one can say about EPL. I really don't have a problem with the book, or its self-serving author, what I do have is a problem with is the relentless marketing of it. Yes, I know that we live in a capitalist culture, and for the most part, I'd rather be living here than the former soviet union, thin or fat. I like to spend money, and gee, if I had money I'd take a year off. And if I could get laid by a really cute guy or two in Bali, I'm totally okay with that too. Nothing is wrong with taking a sabbatical and writing about one's experiences. Big deal.

What I object to is the objectification and commodification of Gilbert's experience, not the experience itself.

While I can dis Gilbert for not having adequately suffered, who the heck am I to judge? Right?

On the other hand, this book does not qualify as literature, and it will not endure the test of time, sort of like the pet rock, and the VH8 cassette tape, and big hair, it will go the way of the dodo bird, into publishing bin obscurity. I say this because we are living in an age and time, when a lot more people than not are truly suffering. If the news and trends are any indication, I do predict that in the next 10 years or so, the audience for this type of book will be nil, because no one is going to have money to buy it. And I don't say that because I am a socialist, I say it because have you looked around lately and seen how many people just don't have enough money to do half the sh*t they used to??

Also, I am disappointed is at how limited the viewpoints of the author are. How she doesn't break new ground and, true, while she hasn't really hurt anyone in this process, but she sure hasn't helped anyone either, save HSN and a number of other corporations and travel agencies.

For more of my opinions on EPL, check out my comments on the Maw books blog.

Best,

Aud L.

Eat, Pray, Sweat- Thanks!(fr repentent hipster middle class guy)

Apparently I'm a bitch, too. Who knew? A reader of my blog put me onto your article as a companion viewpoint to my own, in my blog entry regarding the spiritual, political and potentially compassionate undercurrents in Eat, Pray, Love [ http://markingtime4now.wordpress.com/2010/08/13/eat-pray-sweat-let-the-q... ] .
Great connections made here... like the Oprah fallacies, the high cost of organic foods, and how we can get duped by having "simplicity" sold back to us at a high cost.

I saw CNN.com running some "real life" Eat Pray stories on its front page today, about folks who pick up stakes and go soul-searching. But I'll trust sites like this to tell the whole truth moreso than CNN.
To those who think they have to leave to find themselves, this old sci-fi fan says this: "Wherever you go... there you are." (Buckaroo Banzai)

Irony much?

Hi, ladies. It must have been lovely attending Vassar, one of the most expensive private schools in the country, and afford to live a life blogging your criticisms on feminist trepidations in overspending? Before I continue, let me provide a clear disclaimer -- this is the type of article that makes me lose faith in my generation.

You both have both lived privileged lives, writing for a publication based in one of least-gentrified cities, Portland. And... you dare to criticize Oprah, not an un-flawed mouthpiece, but a breaker of glass ceilings, a promoter of literacy, a promoter of sexual assault awareness, and a renowned philanthropist. Yes, to reiterate, her show may be flawed; but she is not a tainter. Neither should she be blamed.

AND after a decade of Bergdorf Blondes and Devil Wears Prada type crap inundating best-selling lists, you dare to criticize Elizabeth Gilbert, a respected fiction writer (hey ladies, isn't that your field?) that pens a memoir about bucking motherhood to learn how to be alone, going on a trip subsidized by her publisher (minor detail to note financing resources when generalizing trip as lavish).

The phenomena of social stratification and decreasing social mobility is less apparent in THEIR work than your educations and your ability to pursue full-time creative endeavors. Network TV is economical and free. Elizabeth Gilbert's memoir: free at a library, $15 at a bookstore, $10 at a movie. You both are the embodiment of predictability, privilege and gender divisiveness at it's worse.

Signing off,

a non-profit employed feminist that never wants to read this Bitch-dribble again

Wow.

Dear Lisa,

I am pretty blown away by the huge assumptions you made about the authors of this piece. Where you get off making up the lives of people you don't know anything about is beyond me. That you use these untrue claims to then justify "daring" to critique Oprah and Elizabeth Gilbert is further mind-blowing.

Should you actually "read this Bitch-dribble again," please refrain from making untrue statements about our contributors.

Best,
Kjerstin Johnson
Web Content Manager

Did someone say "Comments Policy"?

____________
Kjerstin Johnson, editor-in-chief
Did someone say "Comments Policy"?

i agree

I am sorry but as much as I want to be on board with this article, I too, find it short-sighted. For one thing--is sexism so ingrained in our culture--that we are okay with criticizing a woman's search for whatever they need for enlightenment but not men's similar searches in the self-help author aisle or movie's? If as the article says, women are constantly being seen as with fault, isn't this article enacting that judgement through faulting different women's quests?

Please read the article

The authors make it very clear it is not about faulting "women's quests" or women's search for what they need - but instead the monetized/consumerized make-money-off-women's-fears industry, and the sexism that underlies it. That is their target. They wrote an entire article about it. Perhaps you should read it again more carefully rather than protest at what was not their thesis in the least.

Translation...

Translation:
Do not challenge anyone whom I have ordained as a Proper Authority. Stop doing what you think is important and do only what I think is important. Remove yourself at once from any claims to power or discourse, as I have declared you invalid. Concern yourself only with what I tell you to. What comes out of your mouth is not to be listened to. You create divisiveness. You should be silent.

Wow, that sounds familiar doesn't it?

Tip: Throwing "feminist" in as a self-description does not hide or excuse a bent towards supremacy.

Amen!

for both your responses, Minerva : )

Did someone say "Comments Policy"?

____________
Kjerstin Johnson, editor-in-chief
Did someone say "Comments Policy"?

Fantastic. I saw a preview

Fantastic. I saw a preview of the film and reviewed it (unfavorably). I was pretty blown away by the response. I expected to catch heat, but women were coming out of the woodwork to say, "You too?! I thought I was the only one who thought she came across as a narcissistic shrew!"

India

Very good article, and I thought I'd throw in my two cents as someone who just came back from an 8 month journey in India, Nepal, and Southeast Asia. It IS possible to do this very cheaply in a bad economy. I actually saved more money by traveling abroad in Asia than I would have by living those months in my overpriced Western city with all of it's luxuries such as hot water and paved roads. Granted, this was not on a Liz Gilbert type of trip- I backpacked around staying in $2-$5 hotel rooms, couch-surfed with locals, and ate 20 cent meals, with the occasional $10-$20 splurge on a really nice hotel room or souvenir. Once the plane ticket is bought, the rest can be cake. Just wanted to put it out there that it is possible to travel and do yoga and meditate for cheap, if not for free as well. (Sit up, close your eyes, and breathe- it's free!!) The problem is not women wanting to go on huge life-changing trips and spending their well-earned money on travel and spirituality- the problem is what kind of trip they feel they need- and there is this idea knocked into most of our heads that the "more we spend" the "better the outcome". And in the case of travel, especially in a country like India, I find most people are a bit nervous to venture out of their comfort zones of our sheltered overly luxurious, private, privileged Western lives, and in part, miss out on the true magic of living from a place of connection, other than consumption.

Hurray to Backpackers! :D

This is true. :D With a good combination of discipline, working hard and working smart (for the cash needed for backpacking), knowing how to live outside one's comfort zone, street-smart friendliness, important skills like teaching English (to generate income while in countries that value even short-term English tutors), and a lot of imagination and creativity, one can get around Asia even in this bad economy!

A lot of people are just scared to leave their comfort zone and explore the world! :P

This is a good article for beginners

This is a good article for beginners. Your question asking about the goal of the site is invaluable in my experience. As an author about web design, I find far too many people just start building a web site without any goal in mind. More often than not, that's a fatal mistake.

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Spending [chasing] for Happiness

EAT PRAY LOVE might as well be named BITCH, SPEND, SPEND MORE.

The fact that Elizabeth Gilbert did not finance her own spiritual journey is a testament to how out of touch with reality she is. No divorced women who just gave up everything to her ex-husband can afford to drop everything and live a year abroad (let's be frank, it's financial/psychological luxury).The self-help industry is telling women that Yes, YOU can spend your way to happiness, unwittingly, leading many women who are financially vulnerable to financial dissolution and debt. Unfortunately, foreign gurus do not offer financial counseling--you'd have to go see a debt counselor for that.

The search for happiness is an internal journey that cannot be substituted with lavish spending in the name of "self-help." Oprah and Elizabeth Gilbert are teaching the wrong thing. What we need is more self-trust and good financial practice/independence--an unwavering belief that we can heal ourselves without spending our way to financial misery.

Now this is enlightenment!

I see myself all over this article. It's so easy to fall under the spell of priv-lit. Thank you for writing this amazing article. Now THIS is enlightenment!

i am a dyke feminist activist broke-ass artist...

...just so i can live up to your standard of what is a valid voice for the public to injest. it is impossible for me to create/be inspired/follow my path when i'm worried about feeding and housing myself.

money is a reality. art and creative voice is a different one. as an artist, elizabeth gilbert (and every other artist on this planet) has no obligation to express anything other that what inspires her. censorship is their tool, it shouldn't be ours.

"feminists" need to stop presenting problems and start building towards solutions. what book would you like gilbert to write, in the reality of her life? what would satisfy you?

ps. if given a chance to have a paid trip to wherever they chose, to create their art, i don't know a single artist that would pass it up because of the economy in the US, or any other reason. also, the book is about gilbert 9 years ago, not in the current economic state.

Sex and the City II brand

Sex and the City II brand tripe is available for purchase at Wal-Mart, Brangelina graces the cover of Star Magazine, and Julia Roberts has an existential orgasm (an "A-ha moment," if you will) when she touches an elephant. Whoop-dee-doo. Consumer choice --- now that's enlightenment.

broken fragmented

Why can't we all accept the fact that like Oprah's weight issue ... it's a rollercoaster ride... life was not meant to be happy or whole. We are broken fragmented people and we should accept all our deficiencies. We don't need to self actualize from anything because there is nothing to actualize in the first place. We are subjects of whatever ideologies we are imbedded in ...the narratives that are told to us are just lies ... we are animals who were cut off from nature and we are constantly lying to ourselves that there is some wholeness we need to go back to. We don't need to enjoy, consume, obey, reproduce... Because there is no Big Other (God) or anyone to tell us what to be what to think what to feel. You know what i mean?

collective guilt

collective guilt is a powerful thing. What we have now is an entire large nation filled with people who know, mostly only on an unconscious level, that we are guilty (by way of either complacency or our consumer actions) of supporting and sometimes instigating the impovershment of millions across the world. This is not a theory, this is basically a fact. Our ludicrous, and spiritually and emotionally poisonous standard of living quite literally creates misery for many places on earth. This is so obvious it's almost a truism- yet our inability to deal with it plainly, and even have real conversations about it, means that we sublimate that guilt with neuroses, and those neuroses support entire industries. Therapy and self-help are fine as tool, but not as cultures, and not when they're so closely tied to the consumer impulse. Need we wonder why so many people hate us?

Thank You!

You just articulated what I was thinking in perfect form. I ruminate about the impact my consumption has upon the world all the time--I'm one of those people who has a difficult time compartmentalizing or detaching from the reality of how my existence affects the planet. I don't think Gilbert will ever have a clue as to just how obnoxious her book is, nor will Gwyneth Paltrow ever contemplate anything deeper than her next Juvederm injection. They are both monsters of self-obsession who epitomize the acme of conspicuous consumption, American style.

Medium? Or Message?

I feel like you're picking the wrong battle here. Anything that moves through the system of consumerism comes out with the same glossy message. That you need to buy in order to achieve fulfillment. And of course that fulfillment is ever-receding as long as you are trying to buy it.
But self-help or spirituality is just one thing that moves through this system, Art also moves through it and many other things with an underlying intent that is actually important and essential to our humanity. I believe the message in Gilbert's book (or Tolles, who I've also read) is genuine and is actually not at all about buying fulfillment but about being where you are. Taken to its conclusion it's actually pretty anti-consumerist. (Maybe self-help is a misnomer too, as all the books I've read in this category have the underlying message that we are not flawed but actually perfect as is. They are not predatory or "terrorizing". There may be a part of that industry that is - but it certainly isn't in the examples you've used) And yes - Gilbert has a different and perhaps more privileged life than mine, but that privilege probably makes it more likely that her story will be published, it doesn't render it irrelevant. Let's change the mechanism by which people get heard! If you want to eradicate all literature that deals with the privileged classes you would be wiping out most of our literary history. Unfortunately we have always dealt with the issue of class in who is represented or who has a voice.

And is it really the message of this "priv-lit" that is a problem? Would self-help change if it moved through different economies? A trade economy? or a gift economy for instance? If people were gifting their books or their services, would you have the same problem with self-help? Or is it that we are buying this message (which we almost always do). With the anti-consumerist message of spirituality there is a real conundrum as to how to it exists in our consumerist world.

"being where you are"?

Funny that Elizabeth Gilbert had to travel to multiple continents to write about "being where you are," isn't it?

Great article!!!

Thank you for writing this! I wrote a blog entry about why I will not read the book/watch the film of Eat,Pray,Love and got some flack for writing what I wrote. I appreciate this article and how eloquent it is. Much nicer than the angry blog I wrote!

http://www.theTsaritsasez.com

The cost of a meal

For all the people who don't think the article rags on people with privilege, then why bring up how expensive Julie Powell's cooking is when the American on food stamps can't afford it? Julie didn't write those recipes and she wasn't advocating everyone cook like her or spend that kind of money. She wanted to do it for herself so she could learn something about cooking classic French cuisine. In no way was anyone supposed to take it as a model for their daily menu. And yes, people live in poverty and are starving so does that automatically mean you can't have a nice meal if you have the money for it? I grew up on beans and rice. I was still leagues away from someone who just had rice.

People who criticize Oprah unequivocally don't watch her show

I just have to stand up for Oprah. She did a powerful hour on domestic abuse, and the advice given by one of the lawyers (to have a 3rd party keep careful records of the pattern of abuse, lest the abuser only be charged w/ a single count) to be extremely helpful. My cousin is married to a man who abuses her in ways that often don't leave marks. She takes photos with dates on them when she can, but otherwise she calls me and we have a running document of all the instances. I can't wait for the day she's ready to leave him and we present the evidence in court.

Oprah has also done hours on child porn, human trafficking, sexual slavery, and host of other issues I hear about fleetingly on public radio or the occasional, more sensationalistic treatement these topics get on cable news. You can write about them on this website, but let's face it, you don't have the audience of Oprah.

she built her platform talking about diets and cheating husbands, but she uses her platform for much good.

and I saw the interviews she conducted with Elizabeth Gilbert, and everytime they stressed - you DON'T have to travel around the world to reach enlightenment - you just have to create a quiet space inside.

Feminists are too quick to write off anyone that doesn't meet their strict ideas of political correctness, but you know what - there's a spectrum... and different ways of speaking to different people, who are at different levels of awareness. Meeting people where they are at is a smart strategy.

Oprah gets middle-class white women to care about issues they frankly couldn't otherwise be bothered with.

Stop criticizing other women and start doing the work yourself!

As dude's dude, I can't tell

As dude's dude, I can't tell you anything about this book, or about Oprah really, but this article was spot on with how I perceive the attempted perversion of 21st century female culture.

To me all these it screams that we all think women are little more than consumers.

The only things you need for self-actualization are a library card and a little introspection.

Power and priorities, baby!

Amen! Screw this type of self-help and "enlightenment". How about working together to fight for high-quality, publicly subsidized childcare, health care, progressive taxation and laws that make it easier to organize labor unions? An end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? Then maybe we'll all have time and money to cook good food, take all the yoga classes we want, and shower our loved ones with attention.

Jack Kerouac

All this simpering post modern life of ours Jack and his beat boys were "On the Road" -- looking for enlightenment, sex, and, if luck was on their side, a little amphetamine. We not only found their antics tolerable, they defined an age. Their self indulgence was manly and fresh. We loved them like we love little boys digging in the yard. Were they self indulgent? Neglecting the pain of others in their search for self knowledge? I'm sure it bothered someone. But mostly, they were heros of a whole generation. And yet, honestly, they did go on and on about themselves and their loves both spiritual and carnal, their FEELings, their INSIGHTs. They were some passionate spirits. The Beat Breathern seemed to be shouting from the various rooftops, "I'm not a presbyterian!" and "I fuck men too!" How cool and contemporary is that. The Beat women -- not quite absent, but irritating somehow, like mothers -- lowed from beyond the canvas, as Jack clacked away on his typewriter, in some exotic local, far from Main Street. So manly he was. Did we say "he whines, he is self indulgent, he is lazy and insufferable!"? No. Instead, I think we couldn't stop ourselves from heaping the laurels.

Whatever men do they do. What women do implicates US.

Eat, Pray, Cash In

I'm a bit late in commenting, but I have to link to a Guardian article on Eat, Pray, Love.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/theguardian/2010/aug/14/eat-pray-love-julia-ro...

It's interesting in two regards. First, it supports your main point:

"Self-empowerment is an admirable thing and everyone has a right to it. But as with the consciousness-raising groups of the 1970s, one suspects that self-empowerment classes in America today are patronised by women who start from a position of relative advantage. Like people who use the phrase "me-time" (as distinct, one always wonders, from what exactly?) there is something vaguely comic about a room full of Manhattan women – who, if they were any more assertive, could launch a coup d'etat – "empowering" themselves via chants about how great they all are."

Second, it describes Gilbert's deal with her publisher, which adds a new and cynical light to the whole adventure:

"And far from dropping out and letting go, her trip was insured by the fact she had sold a book proposal in advance. Going to an ashram to write about it with guaranteed publication is a wholly different exercise to going with nothing."

Critically Speaking

Whether Gilbert's writing is good or not is a personal opinion, and I'll let the experts decide. It's not a reason to read or not read a book in my opinion. And as far as her "journey" through spending goes, it seems to me that as long as we are willing to read the book critically and as just these questions about material ways to solve a spiritual problem, then I see no harm in reading it. It's when people mindlessly expose themselves to pop culture that things get dangerous.
I don't judge Gilbert's experience or how she got there, though in honesty I do find it privileged and ethnocentric I think many Americans are both so they related to her on levels I don't. I think it's quite possible that Gilbert's real problem was that she realized how shallow she was being but had never known enough about life to get her self out of it other than by taking out her wallet. I think her solution will be temporary, too.

I agree with a lot of what

I agree with a lot of what is said in the article about "priv-lit". Enlightenment by my definition is being comfortable in one's own shoes in all situations. Not, buying such and such a book or some retreat.

Eat, Pray vomit

I loathed the self indulgent rubbish that is Eat, Pray, Love. It is truly incredible what some people find inspirational.

Reply to comment | Bitch Media

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Self-help is religion gone bad

Great article! What I find most striking isn't the narcissism but the vacuousness, the negligible goals of the self-improvement--"finding oneself" "wellness" "wholeness" or whatever. I want to improve myself, but that to me means things like: improving my French, learning to play a musical instrument, fixing up my house--something with material results. These kinds of results take both intellectual effort and sweat. And there are objective measures of whether you've achieved your goal. "Finding oneself" is faux-achievement--no intellectual investment, no real sweat, and objective testing to see if you've achieved a result.

Does anyone care?

Hate to be so bold as to open this can-o-worms but does anyone out there care that the actress playing the heroine of this movie stole (outright) another woman's husband? I know, I know - it takes two, and the guy (weak jerk) gave in - but does anyone actually care about the artist's personal ethics when talking about pure spirit paths? I guess not. There is this separation. Like Woody Allen. Well, as an audience, I have a LINE. I feel it through the silver screen. Regardless of how 'professional' an acting job she does, I still feel the hardness of the human being behind it, and I'm left COLD. Sorry. I know a lot of people love her (and for the record, I'm far rather see her in a movie than so many of the talentless starlets Hollywood forces down our throats.) I just don't think people who have behaved this low and not fessed up and learned from mistakes of that magnitude can carry off anything close to spiritual consciousness, even as artists playing a role. Comes through to me. Seriously. Reads as INSINCERE and HYPOCRITICAL. I know none of us are perfect - certainly not me! - nor clean through-and-through, but my point is, I can't get beyond this when I see her on screen, just like I can't get beyond Woody's sickness in marrying his own daughter. Yes, daughter.

http://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/story?id=101204&page=1

I happily boycott this movie. And any Woody Allen movie.

Re: "Does anyone care?" posting

Yes, I do care.

I found your posting to be indeed rather delicious. I applaud your moral compass, as well as your sobriety in assessing the moral compass (or lack of) in the media figures you mentioned. I also admire your keen sense of perception.

If I may, however, I would like to voice my dissent re your implication that Julia Roberts is, or has ever been, endowed with acting talent. Bimbette histrionics in front of the camera, or being a vapid, soulless poser, do not equate acting talent, in my opinion/view.

Whatever the filmmaking/media industry and we, as a society/culture, reward Julia Roberts for is many things - most of them, tragically, quite questionable, but certainly not an acting talent in the filmic/artistic sense.

I am a mature American, but Julia Roberts is not my sweetheart (evidently), and like to think she never will be. Same sentiment applies to figures like, for example, Oprah, whose show I've never watched, and magazine never bought/read, and like to think I'll always have the freedom of not liking (the person), or watching (the show/TV network) or buying/reading (the magazine). I stand clear of anything bearing the Oprah imprimatur, or associated with Julia Roberts, et al.
Caveat emptor!

@Self-help is religion gone bad

spoken like a professor! Materiality is indeed important in this phenomenon, but the materiality experienced by the spa-spirituality set seems void of intellectual content. So, it makes me wonder, spirituality for what end or purpose? --enlightenment to what knowledge/wisdom? The message I get is: it's good to be rich. ....Well, that's a no-brainer...so, I guess there's *no need* for intellectual content. Actually, it makes sense now! It's a capitalist ploy to separate women from their money, and keep them apolitical consumers who are very happy with all their comforts surrounding them. :D

Another Damsel in Distress

I came across this article while searching for amusing feminist blogs and realised half way through that it discusses film I accidently ended up seeing at the Cinema last night. "Eat, Love, Pray" surprised me in some respects as I'm used to Hollywood romantic comedies dealing with women constructed through the male gaze. At first glance, this seems like a feminist take on Hollywod and I agree with the article in that it's the veil of girl-power that makes the film so powerful. I left the cinema thinking that perhaps this film was in some way a step forward from the misogynist tripe aimed at female consumers. However a niggling doubt in my stomach kept me thinking. In fact, I've come to realise that this film is even more dangerous than the likes of Sex and the City because of it's subtilty.

In one scene in particular Julia Roberts who plays Liz, the woman in search of enlightenment screams at her handsome Brazilian holiday fling who is trying to seduce her on to his boat. She shouts, "Don't tell me what lessons I have and haven't learned" in a bid to stand up for herself against his accusations that she's afraid to fall in love. She walks away from him would have been impressive given the circumstances - she was supposed to be on holiday to get away from her male-dominated lifestyle - but the audience knows that it's not her final decision. It would have been great if she'd just said, "look handsome stranger, I'm trying to get over my traumatic divorce so leave me in peace," then gone and got a flight back home and forgotten him, but of course, she's a woman and therefore needy and utterly dependent on men. On abandoning him, she is notably hurt, confused and riddled with self-doubt. So what does she do? She visits her healer, the male profit of her destiny - the man who essentially makes her decisions for her from beginning to end - and he tells her to open her heart and allow love in. Of course, Julia goes running back into the arms of her brooding Brazilian and they supposedly sail off together happily (I would apologise for ruining the ending but since it's fairly obvious from the beginning what's going to happen given the little man's predictions - "you'll have one long marriage and one short" - I won't bother.
The protagonist's moments of self-discovery are constantly contradicted by male guides who are apparently more aware of her true self than she is. In fact the main plot of the story - that a woman abandons her husband to go and seek self-enlightenment - is completely undermined by the fact that in the end, the only enlightenment that she appears to achieve is the realisation that her anxiety and self-doubt is due to being closed to male love. The answer to her problem is to try to love another man. The healer in effect is the tanned Brazilian who sweeps her off her feet like any traditional fairy tale. Prince Charming saves the Damsel in distress. So what's new there? It's the same message that women have recieved for centuries - that their lives revolve around men and there is no escaping that.

Apologies for being so

Apologies for being so terribly blunt, but I have to say that this article strikes me as a long, heavy, boring rant. Some of the points you make are interesting and some of the issues you raise deserve further thought, but they are concealed under the angry and, overall, hostile tone of your writing. The length of the piece is excessive, your sentences are too long and hard to follow and you sound like a miserable individual who hates the world she lives in. I'm sorry, but in my opinion, themes of a certain depth, such as female empowerment, need to be addressed through a simple, effective, clean-cut language and possibly a poignant, ironic and provocative tone that "lightens it up". In other words, if you want to criticize the system, you have to do everything in your power to make such critique appealing and interesting to read. You should try to leave your reader thinking about the issues you have raised, not thanking his or her lucky star for having it made to the bottom of the page without falling asleep. In short, next time cut the ranting to a bare minimum and use fewer words and short, clean sentences to get your point across more effectively. While you're at it, don't forget to make it a little funny, ironic and poignant.

Practice empathy, like the author does

I posted a comment on this article with some criticisms in January 2011, and I also emailed the comment to the authors because I believed with the time lag that they might not read the comments section anymore. My comment was deleted! So here it is again:

I have read this article twice and have it saved on my browser, because it is insightful in some ways. The article is several months old, and I hope that the authors might some day see this comment nonetheless.

I agree with part of the angle you push Oprah into, but I think you are entirely unfair to the author of Eat, Pray, Love. She didn't write the book as a how-to, and she has been publicly interviewed as saying just that. I read your article as touting that she shouldn't be allowed to share her own transformation, unless it is reflective of the economic reality of people who read it. And I think that this tone equates to your foisting your own baggage onto the agenda of the author. Shame on you! She wrote something very risky, vulnerable in her exposure, and, sure, unrealistically lucky in its landscape. I object to her tendency to get neurotic and over-justify what she has to say; but that has nothing to do with money and privilege. Maybe you should try empathy on for size: empathy that doesn't hinge on money. That's what you preach, but that's not what you offer.

My Thoughts Exactly!!!

Thank you for this article! I started reading the book and couldn't finish it! A friend of mine thought it would be a great book for me to read after my divorce, and I threw the book across the room in disgust when she was whining in Italy! I absolutely couldn't muster up an ounce of sympathy for this woman who had the luxury of getting paid to travel the world for a year, to get away from her problems, while myself and other female friends were struggling with crying toddlers, angry ex-husbands, losing our homes, looking for new jobs, and the myriad of problems that face most newly divorced mothers. I got through my divorce by watching funny movies, reading great fiction, hanging out with girlfriends at the park or at a coffee shop, spending time with family members. I think it's grossly irresponsible for the media to "advertise" such reckless spending and carelessness, all for the sake of "finding oneself."

Novels with Strong Women who aren't about Privilege?

Thanks so much for your thoughtful article, Ms. Sanders. I'm a young female writer in search of contemporary novels with strong female protagonists, ones who engage with the world beyond the walls of home. Do you have any recommendations?

THANK YOU

I'd like to thank Ms. Sanders and Ms. Barnes-Brown for this remarkably written article.

I am a queer male, and am very consumed on my stance of sexuality and gender politics into the world of feminism. Equally, I am disgusted by media fetishisms of ethnic "exoticism" in culture to the extreme of condescending, pandering white "feel-good" deeds to those of lower class. I am sickened by this bohemian-white fixation on everything having to be "organic" just as much as I am disgusted with middle to upper class white women who think they deserve a medal for having a gay male friend, when the image of their gay male friend is nothing but of a pet. (These are my personal wealth tension gripes)

The most interesting point you raised to me was not really a question of social class or privilege as much as it was intellect, which was this idea that the journey for the women (or men) in books like Eat, Pray, Love, is definitely one about and for themselves, but not DIRECTED by themselves. Gilbert's journey is like taking a guided tour of a city, you're being told what to think, demanding and already expecting a certain outcome, which then diminishes the whole "existential" bent of the journey. Here is a conspicuous (shadowed by it's "modesty", another great contradiction you mentioned) consumption of pre-packaged thought and direction. She is sitting back and absorbing, absorbing, absorbing, not DOING or, quite frankly even listening like a true learner.

If I was to take off a year and "do something for myself" (which, another problem embedded in the whole mess is that you need a year to do that, not to balance it out in your regular routine), it wouldn't be about the product placement, but about the thought and heart needed to carry out or draw meaning from the experience. What Gilbert took away from her experience is shallow, superficial, and on the surface level of things. I would tune my mind just as much as my ears to the process, something that is checked out of a lot of these so called "Stimulative" or even "Simulative" exercises. However, a lot of these cries are buried under the marketing of it all, the fact that it is "organic", "ethnic", "Spiritual", "Introspective" or any other misleading context to obscure it's real anti-humanisitc and anti-intellectual intentions.

Existentialism marketed as a product here is displayed also as a complete twist of it's definition. Existentialism is sexy, it's hot and marketable, and in this recession, it has a price. But existentialism now is favored by a crowd that uses it only for diatribes and doesn't look into it's true meaning or context. If you're going to be existential or go on a remarkable journey, be a monk. Sit on a deck and do yoga for ten years Fast once in a while. Brood beyond what your wallet, your "guru" or "tour guide" tells you to brood. We're supposed to call Glibert a champion. "You go girl!" "THat was a tough journey of wine drinking and meditation on PAID LEAVE!" "BRAVA!" Money speaks more than thought in this day and age, and EPL is a perfect example of that.

Simply put, Camus would be very turned off by this whole "neo-existential" craze. New York Times Best Selling Author List Rankings and luring author acclaim don't fool me from using my brain to get down to this. THANK YOU, Bitch Magazine, for addressing these social, economical, literary, philosophical, and gender questions to the table. We need more journalism like this out there.
xox GABE

Enlightenment Is An Inside Job

The holy grail of enlightenment and empowerment is a process not a destination. Its a journey where seeking external solutions (books, spiritual retreats of any kind, wellness products and services, etc.) is part of lesson in learning that what we ultimately seek is an inside job - it can't be bought. It does help to have a professional 'guide' to give you a map and tools to use on this journey. Any 'coach' who works against the client's best interest by 'not fixing the client' is out of integrity. In the first place, people aren't broken. We don't need to be fixed. New perspectives and tapping into resources we already have and aren't using will get us to where we want to go. A coach who walks her talk will reconnect her client with the power and wisdom currently underutilized so that the client can positively guide their own continuing journey from that point forward. The goal is to 'graduate' clients, not keep them in a needy state. No merchandise required. Investments are then made to support true (vs. ego) values; quality trumps quantity.

Spirituality, travel and finding yourself

Here's a better book I found about spirituality, travel and finding yourself.

http://www.lulu.com/product/ebook/killing-substance/18478992

Eat, Pray, Spend | Bitch Media

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Eat, Pray, Spend | Bitch Media

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Eat, Pray, Spend | Bitch Media

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Need more "travel narratives" not "self-help"

While I really enjoyed reading your article and think it is well thought, I was left wondering why readers view Eat, Pray, Love as a self-help book? While I agree with almost all the of the criticisms of the book, when I read the text about a year ago I very much saw it as a travel narrative. My concern here is will all travel narratives by women always be constructed as A) self-help (because the only reason women would dare to leave the domestic space would be because they are somehow broken) or as B) priv-lit because it of course costs money to travel.

While I agree that privilege plays a role in travel, I don't think that means travel narratives should be automatically pushed aside (this is not what you are doing, but what I have seen in other feminist reading circles). I love travel narratives by women who travel alone because as the "gate keepers" women are demonized and discouraged to travel alone but the problem is that I have yet to find an entire travel narrative or guide (essays yes but no books) by women of color. So my point is that this is what seems to happen to women's travel narratives-they get boxed into the following categories:

A) Self-help book
B) Priv-lit
C) Western centered colonial narratives
D) Chick-lit

I also want to note that the wealth of modern travel narratives are written by men and they are almost always described as "adventure books."

Reports out of Pittsburgh

Reports out of Pittsburgh were that Willie Parker convinced Bruce Arians to go to a Zone Blocking scheme vs. Wilbur Marshall was a dominant player, making the Pro Bowl three times and winning 1992 Defensive POY honors. Of course, this unity is the official permission http://www.hotravens.com/Ray_Lewis_Jersey_RL179 and the National Football League.
This year? Total opposite. For adventure-seekers, simply lazing Graham Jersey in a cozy terrace of a hotel room in Subic is not the ideal way to experience the best things about the place. Deangelo Williams (CAR) The man that can save the Cam Newton http://eaglesprostore.us/DeSean-Jackson-Jersey Project single-handedly.22.

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The Exorbitant Cost of Enlightenment

I just read Eat Pray Love recently as I wanted something light and breezy to read to hail the start of summer (I'm live in the Philippines and summer season starts in March for us). As someone who dreams of traveling the world, this book beckoned to me with all those locations.

It was not a literary masterpiece but I thought that the book was inspired and inspiring in some parts, especially for a woman filled with wanderlust.

As a non-practicing Catholic, my curiosity was piqued by the mysticism of Hinduism -- the chanting, the meditation, yoga, gurus and ashrams. Although we do have Catholic equivalents for these religious practices / elements (maybe not the yoga but we do kneel a lot as physical activity), they all seem exotic to my Catholic eyes. So I started googling about Elizabeth Gilbert's unnamed ashram and maybe buy myself some spirituality and vacation in one, and lo and behold, I discovered the many anomalies, including financial fraud and sexual harassment and abuse of her guru's organization. And, I also came upon this article.

Upon further introspection, I thought that this article was right on the money. Eat Pray Love does seem to espouse the idea that one has to travel to far-flung places in order to discover one's self. Although she did mention that this can be done in a person's own neighborhood / city / country, I felt that this statement of hers was just to appease us normal people with normal jobs, to serve as a consolation prize since we can't afford the Vacation to top all vacations. And, if we can't hie off to some exotic locale, are we doomed to be spiritual failures, to live life as "un-actualized" individuals?

So her book and this very eloquent article actually encouraged me to write my own blog about the search of true fulfillment and happiness. That one need not spend exorbitantly, fly to the edges of the world, in order to discover one's self and become a more spiritual being.

Her's a link to my blog for those who are interested in my own, more realistic journey: http://version2oh.blogspot.com

Great Review

What a complete and well written review. congrats

thanks to Dr Atila

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