The Commercial Hijacking of Eat, Pray, Love.

Via Alden Wicker
on Aug 6, 2010
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Eat, Pray, Shop?

I’m not sure how much publicity the movie Eat, Pray, Love has been getting across the country, but as a New Yorker, I’ve been seeing it everywhere. On the sides of buses, giant posters, and tie-ins with magazines and other lifestyle brands.

And it always makes me a little bit uneasy, this commercialization of a book about spirituality and happiness. But the above ad from the Home Shopping Network made my blood boil.

If you haven’t yet read the outrageously popular book, here is the synopsis: writer Elizabeth Gilbert goes through a divorce, and is painfully unhappy. She decides to seek pleasure through pasta in Italy, seek peace through yoga in India, and seek personal redemption through connecting with a medicine man in Indonesia. Oh, and she falls in love while she is there—hence the “Love” in the title.

Nowhere in the book does she find happiness through shopping. There is a scene where she is trying to find a pair of jeans that fits her pasta—plumped rear end, memorable in that she can laugh and joke about her weight in a way many woman cannot. But there are no jaunts to Milan for leather goods, no days spent buying crafts at the bazaar with which to fill her home, and no splurges on exotic jewelry because she thinks she deserves it.

In short, “retail therapy” is not part of her odyssey.

Eat, Pray, Love owes its popularity to the message that every woman can find happiness if she just has the bravery to step outside her comfort zone, live thoughtfully, and embrace life.

Do any of us really believe that we can achieve spiritual depth by buying prayer beads and a fancy glass teapot? Are we really that empty?


About Alden Wicker

Alden Wicker is a freelance journalist and founder of, a blog about all things sustainable in New York City and beyond. She also writes about electronic music, personal finance, and yoga for publications such as Well + Good, Refinery29, LearnVest, Huffington Post and Narratively.


13 Responses to “The Commercial Hijacking of Eat, Pray, Love.”

  1. grasshulaskirt says:

    Yes, yes and YES!

    I actually had a lot of trouble trying to read this book, the narrators voice irked me like no other.

    I think Drink, Play, Fuck is more my style.

    When will I have the time to write my memoirs? Good question, but I can't wait to see the line of grasshulaskirts and coconut related items they come out with.

  2. KelsiC says:

    Just curious… do you think Eat, Pray, Love has truly been hijacked to become commercial? Or do you think it was commercial from the get-go? I lean towards the latter, but I'd be interested to hear what you have to say.

  3. Alden says:

    @KelsiC: that’s a good question. I did find myself wondering if the author had found her conclusions through her journey, or if she had written what she thought readers would want to hear, to fulfill a promise to her publisher. her journey was funded by a book advance, after all. Despite this, I still enjoyed the message of the book. And anyway, any professional writer is somewhat commerciaized- how else would they make a living?

    I think the real question is: did she sign off on all these licensed goods? Or did she sign over that decision when she sold the rights to the movie?

  4. […] Journal has an article on the commercialization of Eat, Pray, Love, and I couldn’t agree with the author more: […]

  5. candice says:

    There is alot of speculation that the book deal was "dealt" before she actually left for her odyssey. Soo….did she have an authentic experience or did she concoct it all to get paid? You decide. But if she did, the commercialization of the book wouldn't be a surprise, but rather an extension of her story….That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed the book. But a book is a marketable product and as such other spin-off marketable products just complete the cycle.

  6. Linda-Sama says:

    "There is alot of speculation that the book deal was "dealt" before she actually left for her odyssey."

    yes, that is true. I heard EG speak in Chicago last year and she said that, i.e., that she got a book advance for her to travel to Italy-India-Bali to write her book.

  7. skirts says:

    All I can say is that I spent 6 years of my life on a spiritual odyssey (on two continents) that pales her few months at an ashram and in the end… I ended up starting, with much resistance, a spiritual clothing line even though in early days it made every bone in my body hurt and it proved to be a bridge and a vehicle that served a higher good at the time I could not see..
    I believe she went on her odyssey and to think just because it became a best seller that it was commercially conceived is very pesimistic indeed.
    The reason perhaps it hit a cord with so so so many is that it was an authentic experience expressed truthfully and because it hit a cord with so many and became famous it became somewhat commercial and now that it is a movie it is of course in the commercial churning machine with all the nonsense to go with it. What else can we expect from a commercial world?

    So I don't love the commercialization of it (the shopping network is really silly) but it is expected so why not set aside the false that grew out of it and admire the real that proceeded it.
    If you watch this video below…she is already quite famous and she has made a lot of money, she is a quirky woman who can't match her blacks to have an outfit that doesn't scream…ouch. It is awful on her. She is hardly the poster child of commercial success.
    If she approved the licensing it would be out of ignorance and as she says in this talk about the book "Ok you want to go be a movie? Then go…be a movie!" She describes it as having a life of it's own.

    That is how I have described my "skirt" business…. I used to say they (the skirts) wanted to be born so they pulled me along.
    And now I have a beautiful clothing line that has the most beautiful customers in the world (all the spiritual people across the globe that probably have read EPL!). I sell mostly to yoga people. After 6 years I haven't made $1 profit on my business
    because I am a yogi and my business was "Conceived in Love and brings the message of Love". Born in the soil of sacred India during my sacred journey.

    And I am sure that when it is hugely successful (and it will be ) my story was always three chapters as well (Germany, India, Girl Skirt Mission) The countries of my journey and my ultimate destination in the world of dressing the globe and skirting the world with Love. The similarities are quite profound for me in her journey (yes there is a love story). And I can imagine that if I sell my company and it is hugely successful I will grapple with the same issues…. commercialization of a spiritual experience.
    But it doesn't have to be so. People tell me there is a beautiful "vibration" to the clothing. I still hold to the faith that all is serving a higher purpose and for the highest good (God).

    And I LOVE this talk she gave on TED. If this is a plotting commercial minded girl…well then I am a sacred cow in India looking for a field to graze upon.

  8. skirts says:

    That is because she was broke from her divorce so they funded her travel doesn't mean they paid her a lot of money to go create a story that will sell. It rarely works that way. Otherwise there would be gazillions of other planned best sellers :))

  9. Kara Noel says:

    That's what I suspect. One of the main reasons for making the movie was probably to go oprah on it.

  10. elephantrider says:

    Eat, Pray, Love has not been hijacked. Unfortunately, it was intended to be this commercial juggernaut all along.

    First, be aware that Gilbert did not go off on this trip to find herself and spirituality and return and decide to write about it. On the contrary, the book was contrived first, the publisher funded every inch of it, and off Elizabeth went with a highly padded wallet to fund her “spiritual” adventure. Then she delivered to the publisher what she had been paid for. Travel writing with an emotional, manipulative twist.

    It was CONTRIVED as a commercial venture.

    How clear that was to me too was not the shopping network video, but seeing the intense marketing by World Market of their Eat, Pray, Love Shop within the store, which they opened weeks in advance of the movie, selling all those “spiritual” Eastern trinkets, and trivializing them. Get your incense holders, Italian pasta, Balinese blouses, wine in funny bottles, sun hats, papazzan chairs, Buddhas, mini-temples and more at World Market. Wear the spiritual necklaces with fetishes on them to the movie!

    Come on. Gilbert wasn’t on a spiritual journey, she was on a Commercial Journey from the get-go — funded by the publisher, with the intent of creating this chick-lit, chick flick, pseudo-spiritual money bonanza.

    Gilbert is a rich woman now. And P.T. Barnum is her real guru. “There’s a sucker born every minute.”

  11. […] Yoga is a hot pop culture item right now with Eat Pray Love coming out and every other retailer boasting an Eat Pray Love line. Of course, fame comes with crazy […]

  12. moo goes the cow says:

    How silly. Have you been on a spiritual adventure? If you think it can be manufactured and contrived to resonate with millions you would be incorrect. I in fact have lived in ashrams and left everything and taken a journey of years and hers is not contrived. MANY publishers give advances for books, are they all best sellers? This post implies if the travel was funded, the experience wasn't real. And that the advance left her wallet fat? Hardly unless you are a famous author already. In the book she even explains that she had no way to make the trip her divorce left her broke and her publisher gave her an advance that allowed her to go. Do you think she could have planned to meet her husband to make the story a good happy ending because of an advance? It makes noooo sense. Have you heard her speak or interviewed? She in fact thought this was the book nobody would want to read. Her emotional breakdown after a divorce? You can't manufacture best sellers. If it was so easy to intend to write what others would want to read because you were paid for it in advance wouldn't the world be filled with bestsellers everyday? Do you know how hard it is to hit the jackpot with a bestseller that is a personal odyssey? The ones that make it often are the small stories that nobody expects to mean anything. You could only think it's manipulation from a perspective of not having experienced anything like it. Isn't it possible that the commercialization simply happened AFTER it became a success like everything else?