MARINA SCHOLTZ interviews Bella Younger, creator of hapless health guru Deliciously Stella.
Deliciously Stella is a guru. She has her very own spirit animal (a jelly snake) and the power point which forms the background to her Edinburgh fringe show informs her audience that ‘smug is a lifestyle choice not a diet’. She encourages her 129k Instagram followers to ‘eat clean and train dirty’, in other words she is entirely #blessed.
When I met comedian Bella Younger, Stella’s creator, she was nursing a painful spirilizer related injury and a large mug of Earl Grey ‘a wonderful herbal infusion very beneficial to detoxing’. Stella acquired the injury during one of her workshops at the Edinburgh Fringe: she was making ‘chocetti’, a wonderful alternative to ‘courgetti’, and scraped the skin off her left hand spirilizing a Mars bar. Beauty, after all, is pain.
Younger’s alter-ego is a misinformed health guru chasing likes and an ever-elusive book deal. Her name is a manipulation of deliciouslyella, the Instagram handle of the incredibly successful Ella Woodward, who, according to her Instagram bio, is a best selling author and app creator who just launched her very own line of energy balls. She advocates almond milk, chia seeds and bee pollen as part of an everyday diet. For Deliciously Stella, however, coconut water is a bottle of Malibu. Stella makes ‘green juice’ by blending mint Vienettes and thinks bicep curls happen when you sellotape Curly Wurlies to your arms. Her idea of a juice cleanse is bathing in Sunny D, and her take on avocado toast uses Haribo eggs. She was created, Younger says, not as an attack on Woodward’s online persona or lifestyle, but simply as a comedic reaction to the way in which healthy eating is being approached today: ‘I was flicking through my Instagram feed and came across picture after picture of avocado toast with eggs; I realised our demographic was in the throes of something quite strange, something that can quite easily be shaped into comedy’.
In a world where taking a picture of bread that isn’t sourdough and then eating it has to be justified as a #guiltypleasure, the existence of @deliciouslystella is refreshing as well as funny. Stella is an intelligently crafted antidote to everything ‘Instagram’. The food-related, health-focussed strand in particular can be incredibly formulaic: pictures are softly filtered, captions are mostly similar in tone and end with a question, for example: ‘how are you staying motivated this Friday?’. Younger has adopted the structures that shape this content, but employs them in a way that highlights just how ridiculous they can be; a picture of jam-filled donuts, for example, is captioned, ‘There’s nothing like an energy ball from the bakery to brighten up my day. Especially these ones with their healthy fruit filling. Are you having an energetic Sunday?’.
As Younger points out by referencing the endless avocado toast, it is not just the captions of these accounts that are often formulaic. Younger recognises that the seemingly endless stream of identikit instafamous health-orientated accounts she so brilliantly satirises can have a negative effect on those that follow them:
‘Of course, we have been inundated with images of ‘perfect’ bodies for years, but somehow Instagram images feel different to those in magazine editorials or campaigns. With glossy photos produced for magazines or billboards, we know the models have spent hours in hair and makeup and have had their faces and limbs subjected to professional light and Photoshop, but with Instagram it feels more ordinary and as if far less effort has gone into producing the images—in a way this makes them far scarier and more intimidating. What we so often don’t realise is that Instagram personalities are very consciously crafted, and the food, beaches and bodies we see on social media can also be subject to a staggering amount of editing’.
The #wokeuplikethis aesthetic that Younger describes is a problematic one. The intrinsic problem of ‘wellness’ blogging is that it cannot hope to present a multi-faceted lifestyle. A picture may speak a thousand words, but often these words start with a hashtag and end with the recommendation for a staggeringly unaffordable superfood. There is an element of elitism implicit within the health product industry—coconut oil, for example, costs £5 a go—that wellness blogs and Instagrams can’t help but propagate. As Younger highlights, the (often contrived) effortlessness of these Instagram accounts is what makes them so desirable.
Worryingly, the sense of inadequacy that can and does result from the visual consumption of these seemingly perfect lives has recently been linked to a possible cause and trigger for eating disorders. The National Eating Disorders Association classifies term orthorexia as ‘an unhealthy obsession with otherwise healthy eating’. As easy as it is to dismiss the ‘eat clean’ phenomenon as a fad, it is worth underlining that it can be a triggering force for those at risk of eating disorders. The phrase ‘eat clean’ is itself highly problematic. It implies that all other food is dirty or contaminated in some way. It is easy to see how this kind of thinking can put those vulnerable to these kinds of triggers at risk.
Bella Younger emphasizes throughout our interview that above all she is a comedian: her goal and indeed her job is to make people laugh. She does not want to be seen as a spokesperson against the clean eating movement (or, indeed, deliciouslyella). Nor does she seek to be an alternative role model, yet perhaps this is what makes her creation ‘Stella’ all the more important. Younger provides her audience, readers and followers with a hilarious near-antithesis of all that is #healthy, and in doing so invites us to laugh at the clean-eating phenomenon. This laughter does not feel derisive, because most of us have a nuanced and often complex relationship with what we eat; rather, the laughter Stella inspires makes her audience aware of just how exaggeratedly ridiculous an extreme approach to ‘healthy’ can become. We are encouraged to tread the middle ground; after all, a balanced diet does lie somewhere between Deliciously Stella’s version of avocado toast and Ella Woodward’s virtuous energy balls. Satire arguably occupies a well-established and important role within our political landscape, and as we become increasingly occupied with what we eat, perhaps there is a space to be filled by Younger’s brand of culinary satire. Anyway, all of that aside, it is just really, really funny.
‘Deliciously Stella’ by Bella Younger is published by Viking.