To wonder, “Whatever happened to Julia Allison?” is to wonder what happened to a certain era in the New York media industry. From 2006 to around 2010, Gawker covered the dating columnist and girl-about-town relentlessly. They called her a “fameball” and eye-rollingly covered her dating life, party appearances, and career. She was on the cover of Wired magazine in 2008 (“Julia Allison and the Secrets of Self-Promotion”). Then she seemed to disappear, without anyone taking much notice.
Last weekend, Allison re-emerged in the pages of the New York Post; in a bizarre as-told-to interview with writer Doree Lewak, she reflects on her years in the spotlight and muses about what went wrong. “I was considered by many to be Carrie Bradshaw 2.0,” she says. “And I was happy to be given that identity for a while, but it was all a lie.”
The early-2000s fixation on Allison made sense at the time, or at least that’s how I remember it. It began in the golden hour before the recession, before Trump, before the Kardashians turned being famous for “nothing” into high art. Gawker had launched in 2002 as a blog for media gossip, and the tone of the beat was insider-y and scabrous.
Allison’s appearance this weekend in the Post is a sad and clumsy artifact. (Also, why would a writer agree to an as-told-to piece, rather than writing it herself?) The piece is pegged to the 20th anniversary of the premiere of Sex and the City, and Allison blames the show for her own personal and professional woes. She says she modeled her college dating column on Carrie Bradshaw’s writing and arrived in New York with unrealistic expectations about what her lifestyle there should look like. Journalists, in turn, she says, couldn’t resist comparing the pretty young dating columnist to the famous one on TV. As early as 2003, a columnist for the Chicago Tribune opened a piece about Allison (then Baugher) and her parents as “the season premiere of Sex and the Baugher Family.” “Truth be told, I wish I had never heard of SATC,” she says in the Post. “I’m sure there are worse role models but, for me, it did permanent and measurable damage to my psyche that I’m still cleaning up.”
So who exactly is the new Julia Allison, circa 2018? The new piece doesn’t really answer the question of what Allison is doing these days, though it offers a few biographical data points. Now 37, she moved to San Francisco in 2013. Last year, she broke up with a man who wanted to be polyamorous, another turn of events she blames on SATC. She recently started dating a “reasonable” man, who is surely thrilled to see her describe him that way. And perhaps most notably, she says that she’s now a “change activist,” a calling she describes as “mounting summits for world leaders and serving as an adviser to startups and entrepreneurs looking to better the planet.”
There are a few clues elsewhere online about what that actually means. (A request sent through the contact form on her website has not yet received a response.) She has hosted panel discussions and speaks on topics like “global leadership” for “conscious companies.” She appears set to host a “spirit festival” in Bali, Indonesia, next year, the website for which describes her as, among other things, a “social alchemist” and “seeker.” In one Instagram shot location-tagged to an “eco lifestyle boutique hotel” in Bali, she curls up in a hot-pink halter jumpsuit and gazes at a bunch of balloons. The caption is a quote from a book of Sanskrit teachings: “Lead me into joyous Union/ With the life of the universe.”
Allison seems to have abandoned the hot-pink website she maintained as a New York media fixture. On her new site, she wears a tiered rainbow maxi skirt and gazes at an installation at SF MOMA featuring inspirational phrases like “Be the person you want to be” and “Make it up as you go.” “I’m finally living a life of integrity, and I’m attuned to my values,” she says in the Post. “I never heard about values on Sex and the City.” Her bio now reads:
As an activist and strategic advisor, Allison teaches how to harness the power of both mainstream and social media to create a more conscious planet by raising awareness for transformational experiences, collective human potential, collaborative innovation, omni-considerate thought leadership and regenerative community building. She advises visionaries, artists, scientists, entrepreneurs and philanthropists to reimagine our world such that it is free, loving, healthy and joyous for all beings.
Without clarifying anything, this somehow clarifies everything: Julia Allison has abandoned the worst of New York as embodied by Sex and the City, and she has taken up the worst of California as embodied by “omni-considerate thought leaders.” I am sure of two things. First, Sex and the City didn’t do this to her. And second, she will be just fine.