Los Angeles–based wellness guru Amanda Chantal Bacon has made a fortune selling … herbal dust.
That’s the big takeaway from a masterful New York Times magazine profile of Bacon, the newest darling of the health and wellness industry.
The story, by Molly Young, details Bacon’s rise to fame — opening LA health food stores, being featured in Vogue, getting the Gwyneth Paltrow seal of approval, publishing a cookbook — and her adherence to an exorbitantly expensive raw food diet.
Bacon’s breakthrough product is her “Moon Dust” line of ayurvedic and Chinese medicine powders. Sold under names like Spirit Dust, Brain Dust, and Sex Dust, the gimmicky $30 powders promise to lift your spirit, enhance your cognitive abilities, and boost your sexual prowess. (They are not FDA-approved, and have not been proven to work. Bacon says she worked with herbalists, kinesiologists, and ayurvedic doctors to create them.)
These products are now sold on Paltrow’s popular lifestyle site Goop, at Urban Outfitters, in the super-trendy Ace Hotel, and on Net-a-Porter. Bacon lives in a gorgeous, 4,000-square-foot LA home, she’s opened a third Moon Juice shop in LA, and she ships her products to customers across the country. Her acolytes include Jennifer Aniston, Shailene Woodley, and Alicia Keys.
So, you might wonder, how exactly did Bacon manage to snag her piece of the $3.72 trillion wellness industry? How did she build an empire on dust?
She simply followed the well-worn formula of the wellness guru. Here are the five easy steps.
1) Have a compelling origin story
Wellness gurus, like superheroes, need amazing origin stories. The tale must involve overcoming a struggle that leads you to a eureka moment and sets you on your path to helping others become healthier, more vibrant beings.
According to the Times, Bacon’s origin story involved a fortuitous meeting at the tender age of 7. While growing up in New York, she was “a sickly child” with an undefined bronchial problems who was “pumped through the Western-medicine chain.”
Of course, the mainstream medicine didn’t help — but an alternative medicine man her family stumbled upon in a health food shop did. The ayurvedic doctor heard Bacon coughing, and what happened in that store changed her life:
The doctor came over and posed some questions (Very typical Ayurvedic ones, like “How often do you poop?”) and took the child’s pulse. After examining Bacon’s tongue, the man provided her mother with a list of forbidden foods: cow’s milk, wheat and white sugar, among others. Bacon stopped eating gluten at age 4 and became a vegetarian at around 7.
She’s described this encounter as “a divine intervention.”
2) Know your moment of truth
Next comes the moment of truth: Your origin story needs to lead to the eye-opening revelation you’re going to share with others.
For Bacon, it came during a stay in Italy. After partying hard as a teenager in New York and trying “every drug multiple times” — cocaine, acid — she packed up and moved to Florence alone at age 18 to “detox,” 11 years after that health food store encounter. While there, she realized food was her true passion. She told the Times, “If I thought about all the times I felt connected or alive, it was around the rituals of people gathering and eating and sharing food and slowing down.”
After moving back to the US, and a stint at a Vermont culinary school, Bacon began working under the celebrity chef Suzanne Goin. According to a Vanity Fair profile, it was then that she truly began to understand “the power of raw and medicinal foods”:
She wanted to heal the hypothyroid condition she’d had since her teens, in addition to severe allergies to wheat, sugar, and cow dairy. “At this juncture, my whole diet changed. I ate primarily vegetables and legumes from the farmers’ market, and foods that would serve as hormonal adaptogens. Within a few months, I noticed a radical shift. These live, medicinal foods had changed me from the inside out.”
So Bacon’s health problems, and the love of food she learned in Italy, led her to want to “bridge the gap between the healing world and the foodie world,” Vanity Fair reported. She views her company, Moon Juice, “as not a business but a mission to educate consumers about herbs that have changed her life.”
3) Offer a quick fix for contemporary health woes — and remind your clientele that everything they know is wrong
Now you have to put that origin story and eureka moment to work — and use the transformative experiences to sell something. The underlying subtext of the wellness guru narrative is always that the world is toxic and everything you’ve been told about eating and health is wrong. Instead, the guru has the answer.
Bacon does this masterfully. Here she is in Vanity Fair again: “My own transformative experience, backed up by extensive blood tests, and under the scrutiny of several physicians, found me with renewed vitality. This shift in my personality, my immune system, appearance, and thought inspired me to create Moon Juice.”
Moon Juice is the name of Bacon’s California shops, where she sells the superfoods, juices, and supplements that she claims have healed her and a multitude of customers. For $30 a jar, you can select from the Moon Dust Collection of organic herb products to sprinkle on your coffee or tea and improve your skin, sex life, or spirit, or even boost your brain. Like many wellness gurus, she claims her potions and powders draw on the mystical secrets of healing ancient Chinese and ayurvedic medicine.
4) Arm yourself with anecdotes to “prove” your potions work
To really own wellness gurudom, you need to have anecdotes that back up your work — stories of people whose lives have been transformed by your products or methods.
In the Times profile, Bacon talked about turning around the sex drive of a woman who had been treated for cancer:
“People really report back: Wow, my skin changed,’ ” she said, turbocharging into evangelical mode. “I hear incredible stories from people. There was a young, beautiful woman who approached me at an event. She said, ‘I’ve been coming into Moon Juice, I had breast cancer,’ and she went through all that hormonal treatment, and by going through it, she no longer had a sex drive. She’s beautiful! She’s our age. She has a boyfriend … and she said that the Sex Dust” — along with pomegranate seed lube — “got them to be able to enjoy sex despite the fact that her body wasn’t producing any of the hormones enabling her to do so. So the herbs, they work. They all work.”
To be clear, in evidence-based medicine, anecdotes are considered the lowest form of evidence, since they may be cherry-picked or otherwise unrepresentative of a broader experience.
But in the world of wellness, they are often presented as definitive proof.
5) Be gorgeous
Any profile of a wellness guru is not complete without a lengthy description of the ethereal beauty of the guru. That’s because being the change you promise to deliver is a key part of the formula.
You need to pluck, scrub, bleach, tuck, tone, and whiten your teeth. You need to look sun-kissed. You need to wear light and wispy clothes that convey the health and healing you’re packaging in your products. You need an absurdly complicated, difficult-to-manage diet that involves lots of seeds, nuts, and supplements no one’s ever heard of. It doesn’t hurt if you can attract a couple of celebrity endorsements for said diet.
As Young writes in the Times, “By the time I left Bacon’s house, I wanted to scrub off my makeup and swaddle myself in white cottons and let my hair tumble down my back in sun-lightened coils like hers.”
That’s the change you want to inspire that’ll sell your products. And you can get there in these five easy steps.
The time is ripe. There’s been an erosion of trust in medicine and science, and a rise in the number of people seeking out alternative medicine and celebrity health advice. The genius of Bacon is that she’s tapped into that desire, with her memorable potions and powders that promise quick fixes for problems that vex people.
But Bacon and the lifestyle gurus that have come before her also confuse the public on health. They obscure the few truths we know actually lead to lasting wellness — getting exercise, eating lots of fruits and vegetables, avoiding smoking, drinking, and eating too much — with overpriced and unproven products. That’s the cost of gurudom.