YouTube beauty guru Michelle Phan has been making headlines lately, and not for the best reasons. In a bizarre series of Instagram stories earlier this week, the OG creator revealed that she attended a meditation retreat where she “healed” a man in a wheelchair with the power of “loving energy”.
Meditation retreat or cult?
“This meditation retreat is not one of those relaxing spa ones,” Michelle said. Indeed, the retreat schedule featured “4 hours of sleep everyday”, “waking up at 3am to meditate for 5 hours straight” and “no breaks, not even [to go to the] bathroom”.
Citing sleep deprivation and an extremely intense schedule, Michelle’s fans expressed concerns that she had joined a cult.
From Michelle’s description, the retreat appears to be one of prominent New Age author Dr. Joe Dispenza’s ‘Weeklong Advanced Retreats’ held worldwide. For $1999, attendees are promised “the most transformative experience” and taught the “limitless possibilities that exist when the mind, body, and spirit […] merge into one”, according to his website.
Despite branding himself as a “researcher of epigenetics, quantum physics, and neuroscience,” EJ Dickson for Rolling Stone points out that Dr. Joe is actually not a scientist, but a chiropractor who was “licensed by a school that lost accreditation in 2002 for its subpar teaching methods”.
While fans correctly identified some red flags, journalist and cult expert Derek Beres was not so quick to label Dr. Joe and his retreats as an outright cult, rather calling him an “aspiring cult leader”.
A chequered past
Digging into over ten years’ worth of an online presence, EJ points out that Michelle has a history of sharing eccentric ideas to her millions of followers. From promoting the use of cat litter as a facial mask to hiring employees based on their astrological sign, Michelle’s most recent escapade is not the first time she has raised eyebrows.
In fact, the YouTuber’s creativity has likely played a part in her success as a trailblazer in the world of influencing and as the founder of multi-million dollar companies, IPSY and EM Cosmetics.
As early as 2019, Michelle also began promoting Bitcoin to her followers — an unexpected turn from her usual makeup content, which left fans confused and skeptical at the time. She has continued to create “Bitcoin education” content since then, despite her followers’ disinterest in the topic.
“I don’t really trust Michelle’s judgment, so I ignore her Bitcoin stuff and I wish she would post less about it,” one Reddit user writes.
Other followers have pointed out that Michelle is actually an investor in Bitcoin cash-back rewards app, Lolli, questioning her motives in promoting Bitcoin so persistently.
Since Michelle’s infamous exit from YouTube in 2015 and return in 2019, fans have noticed a shift in the YouTuber’s antics that go beyond the eccentric and creative, so much so that she has come under fire for spreading misinformation.
At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Michelle posted an Instagram story suggesting that essential oils could prevent you from contracting the virus.
“Our first point of contact for viruses is our nose,” she said. “If you are burning antiviral essential oils around you this will kill off the virus before it enters your system”.
Dermatologist Dr. Sandra Lee, widely known as Dr. Pimple Popper, quickly responded to this misinformation on Twitter, shutting down the idea of antiviral essential oils.
From the wacky to the harmful, Michelle’s questionable history of promotion has not gone unnoticed by her long-time followers.
With this in mind, her latest recommendations have clearly left fans more concerned than influenced.