When writer Julie Moult swapped London for Los Angeles – the land of sushi, sunshine and plastic surgery – it changed her in ways she never imagined…
Three years ago, had someone told me that someday soon I would be tucking into a gluten-free, vegan brownie washed down with a cup of organic tea and hemp milk, I would have put down my white wine, stubbed out my cigarette, and laughed in their face.
Me – the woman who balked at the mere mention of a treadmill, spent nights partying like there was no tomorrow and devoured takeaway curries with no concern for her waistline – surely not?
But here I am at 38, an LA convert – a blonder, leaner version of myself, worshipping at the city’s collective altar of sushi and sunshine as if brainwashed by a strange cult. I am ashamed to say it but I’ve fallen for this crazy city – extreme plastic surgery, smog and all.
When I left London two years ago to join my boyfriend Nick, 37, a journalist on a national newspaper, I was as cynical as the next Brit.
Pasty, podgy and afraid of the great outdoors, I was convinced I was a New York City kind of a girl. Surely I had little in common with the health-conscious Los Angelenos? How wrong I was.
City of angels
Santa Monica, a gorgeous seaside enclave full of organic food, progressive thinkers and outdoor yoga classes is where we settled. A-listers such as Halle Berry and Ben Affleck live on my doorstep. The Beckhams, the actual Beckhams, are often spotted shopping here.
In the early days, I dreaded sharing the sidewalk with size-zero models, mistook uber-friendliness for fakeness and searched in vain for my fellow binge drinkers. The place was asleep by 10pm, and no one threw up in the gutter at the weekend. What was I going to do for fun?
Turns out if you dare to eat too much, have too much sex, or drink too much, you risk being packed off to a treatment programme in Malibu by concerned friends and family. Then, after redemption, your new hobby will be talking about it at one of the hundreds of support groups held every night of the week.Apparently, every household here has “issues” if you scratch beneath the surface – including ours.
Not long after we arrived, Nick convinced me to adopt a rescue cat. Everyone has a pet in Santa Monica – the more troubled the better. And so we took in Madame Gigi, who arrived neurotic, wheezing and stressed out.
But it wasn’t until our latest addition – four-month-old kitten Princess Suki – that the true depths of Madame Gigi’s problems became clear and she turned into a psychotic would-be kitty killer. She is now under the care of cat whisperer Jackson Galaxy, who diagnosed her with post traumatic stress disorder. Gigi’s mental health is more cause for concern than mine was in the London rat race.
Yet for all its wackiness, this lifestyle rubs off on you. It’s inevitable – you soak it up like the Californian sunshine.
It took a year before I totally signed up to the programme of healthy living. You can try and fight it, but when the sun is shining all the time, you want to be in the great outdoors, swimming in the Pacific or horse riding in Malibu.
In the park opposite our house, there were always fitness classes. And it dawned on me – it made sense to take care of myself. To the astonishment of all who knew me back home, I joined a gym. It was a radical step for me, but the truth is I felt self-conscious of my body.
Back in the UK, there was never much flesh on display. I was normally wrapped up against the elements, whereas here it’s shorts most of the time.
I’ve become boringly evangelical about spinning classes and yoga. I’ve even discovered that I prefer performing sun salutations on the beach at sunset to ordering a drink in a bar at an hour close to sunrise.
Now 20lb lighter and a size 8, I have never been happier, although it’s still hard not to be self-critical when every other person on the street is an actor or model – and most still smaller than me.
Of course, if LA is known for anything it is plastic surgery. Bad examples are everywhere. Inflated lips, bums, boobs and the too-tight facelift are on every corner. At a recent Beverly Hills house party, I noticed the weird phenomenon of 50-something women who looked like Barbie dolls – strange creatures with huge hair and even bigger bosoms. I couldn’t take my eyes off them.
This culture of self-improvement is all-pervasive with salons offering “buy one syringe get one free” as commonplace as branches of Boots selling discount face creams.
I never imagined I’d succumb, but at my last monthly microdermabrasion facial, I left with a couple of Botox injection marks in my forehead.
The nurse scoured my face with a magnifying glass and thought she saw the beginnings of a line on my forehead. It was invisible to the naked eye.
I feel ridiculous writing this now, but I had her inject it and of course it made no difference whatsoever – apart from satisfying my curiosity. I won’t be doing it again… Well, not for a few years anyway.
When I take a step back, I wonder what the old Julie would think of the new me – these days one glass of wine is enough to finish me off, and one day a week I only eat raw food (it’s the latest fad!). And Nick? He’s a changed man – counting calories with the best of them.However, when I recently called somebody “dude”, I knew I needed a reality check. It was time for a trip back to Blighty. It was nice to be home. My mother fed me sausage sandwiches and we went for a Sunday roast at a country pub. But it rained every day for 10 days.
Absolutely, there are things I miss about the UK. I miss my friends more than anything, and I’m sure one day I’ll be back for good.
But for the time being, I choose La La Land – and all the craziness that comes with it.