Culture

The unbearable wrongness of Gwyneth Paltrow

Please do not buy into her bullshit.
Culture

The unbearable wrongness of Gwyneth Paltrow

Please do not buy into her bullshit.

On her website Goop, actress-turned-lifestyle maven Gwyneth Paltrow dispenses alternative health advice for the upper-class Los Angeleno set with the certain something that could only come from someone who is just another woman trying to manage multiple homes.

Paltrow merely aims to help everyone live their best life just like her, but rich people do weird things, recommend them to their friends, and then think they’re lifestyle experts and also doctors and qualified to tell other people what’s wrong with them. In Goopland, this includes advice on how to diagnose a parasite you probably have (and that is destroying you), how to best shove a fancy rock into your vagina — sorry, your yoni — to improve your sex life and, as always, how to detox.

But what’s at the heart of Paltrow’s empire? Is she just a dedicated health-seeker taking us on her path for utmost physical and spiritual well-being? No. Paltrow’s Goop is pure, unadulterated, blood-diamond free, organic-certified, biodynamic, moon-dusted bullshit. And you should avoid it at all costs. Here’s why.

She thinks we’re all gonna die from toxins

It’s an understatement to say that Paltrow is obsessed with toxins. Since Goop launched in fall of 2008, Paltrow has brought her readers detox after detox after detox while simultaneously having a section on her website devoted to the joys of alcohol (a carcinogen, which is definitely a toxin). She also likes to smoke a cigarette once a week. She’s fun.

Paltrow is not wrong when she warns readers that toxins are in our diet. Yes, that’s true. Toxins are everywhere. Water is a toxin. Salad dressing? It contains the same toxic ingredient as floor cleanser — good old vinegar. Table salt is wicked goddamned toxic; who puts this well known nematicide on their french fries? You, dancing madly on the lip of the volcano, and pass the ketchup! Diet Coke is like an airborne toxin at this point. GMOs? Definitely toxins.

According to Paltrow, toxins are also in your tampons, sunscreen, lipstick, bra, even your lube, and we should be very worried about this. She espouses that you should go as far as to burn your bras, but not in the 1960s women’s lib fashion, oh no. It’s because they’re full of relationship toxins: “The lingerie you wore with past lovers can carry the toxic residue of those relationships, along with painful memories,” she wrote. “While we might not think to trash lingerie that once made us feel so good — or that we spent a lot of money on — it’s a powerful, healing gesture to make.”

I love to take advice from people who literally have money to burn. But more importantly, what does all of this even mean? Toxic lube? Toxic tampons? We can trust the companies that are helping us shove appendages into our orifices… can’t we?

I know the government is a bit of a clusterfuck at the moment, but the FDA has long had incredibly stringent testing policies in place to avoid any possibility of toxic products making their way into everything from your lips to your… lips. Things like personal lube and tampons are classified as medical devices and go through a battery of tests to make sure they’re not toxic for their intended use in your reproductive system. Similarly, cosmetics are subject to inspection for a number of things, including prohibited ingredients, microbial contamination, safety, and health risks.

When it comes to the very important task of picking a sunscreen, Paltrow uses another scary word in the world of Goop: “chemical.” According to Paltrow, some sunscreens are “chemical” (fake, bad) and others are “mineral” (natural, good). However, just as she doesn’t understand what a toxin is, Paltrow also doesn’t seem to know what a chemical is.

Let us first examine the definition of “chemical” before we dig into Paltrow’s seemingly well-intentioned advice. A chemical is, quite literally, any substance. Life is composed of building blocks of chemicals in different formations. Chemicals do not have a morality. Chemicals simply... are. It’s easy to make a chemical sound scary if you haven’t heard of it before — have you heard of that malicious oxidane? Everyone who’s ever died has had it in their system…. It’s in baby food, it’s in pesticides, it’s even in the water supply. Should you be worried about oxidane?

No. Because oxidane is another word for water.

A toxin, on the other hand, is more finitely defined by Merriam Webster as “a poisonous substance.” But in order for toxins to be dangerous, they have to poison people in a measurable way. Toxins that are available for public consumption are not doing this, and claims otherwise conveniently avoid comprehension of marketplace testing and regulation.

We are living in stunningly safe times for every product that you put on or in your body thanks to science, testing, and regulation. Sure, there is a possibility that a bad product couldn’t make it onto store shelves (recalls are statistically rare, but they happen), but this is not the ideology that Paltrow espouses.

So, sunscreens. Some websites that make sunscreen recommendations seek out multiple experts, read peer reviewed data, and find products that work and that experts deem safe for a range of different uses. I highly recommend websites like those. However, to follow Paltrow’s lead here will not make you a paragon of health but a sucker of consumption (this is a trend we will keep coming back to). One “mineral” sunscreen that Paltrow endorses costs $54 for a 1.7-ounce container. It’s SPF 18. Not good. One ounce goes as far as about one child for one application. Conversely, a goddamn pound of No-Ad SPF 60 is available at Walgreens for $10.99. It’s full of chemicals, and that’s good. The chemicals protect your skin from the sun. Just because something sounds “natural” — i.e., a “mineral” sunscreen — doesn’t mean it’s better for you. But for Paltrow, a “chemical” sunscreen, like No-Ad, is bad. Even though the only thing it is guilty of is being made of chemicals, like everything else.

She wants you to put weird stuff in your vagina

Paltrow loves to talk about vaginas. Apparently, for her, the origin of life is also a place to stuff cash you’re never gonna see again, in the form of special oils, eggs made of rock, and... steam. It must be said: owning a vagina does not make you an expert on one.

Paltrow is really into the concept of using oil as lubrication in whatever way you want to lubricate. She says conventional lubricants contain — wait for it — toxins. Goop even sells a “Sex Oil” at $28 for a 4-oz. bottle. Its description:

“We here at goop are unabashed proponents of good, clean, sexy sex. Oil-based personal lubricant is super-luxurious, with aromatherapy benefits, natural moisturizers, and a subtle scent. Made entirely of certified-organic ingredients — fractionated coconut oil, sunflower seed oil, evening primrose oil, and GMO-free vitamin E — and without fragrance, petrochemicals, and other toxic ingredients you find in conventional lubricant, you can use this lightweight oil on your body too. It’s great for all skin types, including sensitive.”

First, just a lifestyle note of my own: If sex is any good, shouldn’t it be messy, not clean? And second, the description of Sex Oil makes me wonder… Is a product with which you could conceivably fry things magically safer than an FDA-regulated lubricant?

I asked Dr. Jen Gunter, a board certified OB/GYN for Kaiser Permanente in San Francisco and frequent commentator on Paltrow’s suggestions for vaginal health, what she thought about Goop Sex Oil. She said that it offered “no advantage” to simply buying coconut oil at the store. She also advises against using vitamin E as part of a vaginal lube for reasons ranging from the unknown of how it affects the fairly complex ecosystem of your vagina to the chance that it could cause further damage to cells infected with HPV. Vitamins are not cure-alls, they are necessary for certain life functions. But using them improperly can cause just as many problems as not using them at all.

The really chafing thing about Paltrow’s Sex Oil is that it’s needlessly, and flagrantly, expensive. If you want to use coconut oil as lube, a jar costs $8 — although as Gunter warns, it is not a good idea to use oil with a latex condom, as oil-based lubricants break down latex in as little as a minute and we give you more credit than that. Some doctors don’t recommend using oil-based lubricants at all. If you use condoms, stick to FDA-tested, water-based lubes like KY.

Now, for the claims that Goop’s oil doesn’t have toxic ingredients unlike the regular stuff us plebes have been gulping down and/or slathering on ourselves, take heart. Personal lubricants are classified by the FDA as medical devices. Your regular old condom-compatible liquid-based lube has been through a lot of testing to prove that it’s not “toxic,” as Paltrow claims. Lubricants go through rounds of examination, including testing on cytotoxicity, microbial limits, viscosity, systemic toxicity, and vaginal irrigation (you’re in the mood for love now, I’m sure) to prove that they’re safe to get to market.

Still believe everything that goes near your vagina is turning it into toxic sludgeland? You could try shoving a rock into it — specifically a jade egg, as Paltrow suggested in one of her newsletters. The eggs, which retail for $55, can “help cultivate sexual energy, increase orgasm, balance the cycle, stimulate key reflexology around vaginal walls, tighten and tone, prevent uterine prolapse, increase control of the whole perineum and bladder, develop and clear chi pathways in the body, intensify feminine energy, and invigorate our life force,” as jade-egg expert Shiva Rose told Paltrow. Oh really? No. Jade eggs can do nothing for you. You might as well shove a taxidermied honey badger up your cervix. It will have the same effect as a jade egg, and it’s free.

And finally, the best for last. Paltrow once recommended to her readers something called the “Mugworth V-Steam,” a process available at the Tikkun Spa in Los Angeles ($50 for 30 minutes, $200 for a series of five different steams). “You sit on what is essentially a mini-throne, and a combination of infrared and mugwort steam cleanses your uterus, et al,” Paltrow wrote. “It is an energetic release — not just a steam douche — that balances female hormone levels. If you're in LA, you have to do it.” First, douching is bad for you and you don’t need to do it, ever. Second, I asked Gunter what she thought about steaming your vagina as an exercise in relaxation. Her recipe for letting it all out? An orgasm.

She wants you to spend all your money maintaining your “physique”

Like most successful lifestyle experts, Paltrow earned her body through means that any of her Instagram followers can emulate — going to a gym three times a week and watching her caloric intake responsibly.

Wait, I’m sorry, I blacked out there for a moment. It actually costs upwards of $30,000 per year to get Paltrow’s body — that’s the cost of a complete training package with her trainer-cum-business partner, Tracy Anderson.

Anderson and Paltrow were brought together by fate. The actress first sought her services in 2006, after the birth of her son. She was 35 lbs overweight (translation: she was in the healthy range for her size but probably wore a size six, otherwise known as obesity in Hollywood), and had a “long butt” and “problem thighs.” As Anderson later told Into the Gloss: “Gwyneth is lucky because she’s really tall, so she can hide [ed note: her extremely thin body] really well in clothes, but she had significant problem areas. I felt so badly for her, and thought I could really help.” Sounds like the beginning of a beautiful, healthy relationship.

Unfortunately, you’d need to be making bank as Anderson’s partner to buy into all of her bullshit. Some of her more ludicrous claims include:

Anderson’s schtick is that her technique tones your “accessory muscles,” which give you a lean, lithe body and prevent you from having the scary, “bulky” frame that real weight lifting can bring. But it seems she missed a lesson in kinesiology. An “accessory muscle” is not a muscle that will magically turn you into a ballet dancer if you work on it; it’s a muscle that helps move another muscle — for example, the scalene muscles, in your neck, aid the breathing process.

I asked Dean Somerset, a certified exercise physiologist by the Canadian Society of Exercise Physiologists, what he thought of Anderson’s method. “She does a lot of isolational stuff, poorly, and makes outlandish claims about everything that's not her method, preying on womens' desires to fit in and not ‘bulk,’” he told me.

I also asked Somerset about Anderson’s claims that women shouldn’t lift more than three pounds, especially given that Paltrow has talked about how taking Anderson’s classes have made it easier to lift her (presumably more than three-pound) baby. “Complete bullshit,” he said. “Just ask any figure competitor how hard it is to put on muscle. There's a lot of hormonal and muscle physiology stuff that makes it a challenge, unless they're training exceptionally heavy and hard, and eating for growth, and have the genetics to make it happen.”

So there you have it. Anderson and Paltrow will probably not change the way you look, but they will take your money. Happily.

She wants you to eat nothing

What diet hasn’t Paltrow tried? The master cleanse. Macrobiotics. “Detox chicken,” which sounds really bad for the chicken. Pregnancy diets. Elimination diets. How could a woman whose colon is squeakier than an excessively annoying chihuahua still somehow need a detox?

It’s strange. One week, Paltrow is claiming she’s found the perfect diet. The next week, she says she needs to detox to undo damage from whatever she’s been throwing into her body. For a brief moment, while reading through every ridiculous diet Paltrow has put her body through (or put through her body), I felt bad for her.

Nevertheless, Paltrow’s dieting advice now borders on the pathological. Her quest for health began when she sought out the advice of Dr. Alejandro Junger, a Dr. Oz acolyte who says you can cleanse the toxins from your body by avoiding gluten, nightshades, soy, peanuts, dairy, sugar, and alcohol — you know, basically all food. Junger’s battery of bullshit tests told Paltrow that it was in her best interest to eat this way (and, likely, purchase the doctor’s $475, 21-day diet program) to restore her health.

Does this diet have any scientific backing? No.

Junger diagnosed Paltrow with a battery of ailments by giving her food sensitivity tests. But these tests, also known as IgG tests, really can only tell you if you’ve eaten a food, not if the food is causing you any medical problems. Your body creates a small amount of an IgG antibody in response to everything you’ve ever consumed, whether or not you’re allergic to it. Testing positive for IgE antibodies tells you if you’re allergic to a food. However, some doctors, like Junger, have apparently figured out that they could design bullshit diets and make thousands of dollars if they just used words like “sensitivity” and “antibodies” with patients who don’t know anything about the immune system.

Going through the long list of things Junger has diagnosed Paltrow with is quite the task. Anemia and a vitamin-D deficiency? One of the best treatments for those conditions is a diet that contains vitamin-D enriched milk — the forbidden dairy. It’s troubling in general that Junger recommends avoiding so many foods, like meat, seafood, and even corn, all of which are all excellent sources of iron for someone who is anemic. But why eat food with all those pesky calories when you can take supplements? It’s no coincidence that Junger sells a line of supplements for the “low” price of $90 per month.

Junger, like many Angelenos and celebrities, is anti-wheat, because of course, gluten is out to destroy you. As someone with the real gluten disorder, celiac disease, not the “I live in LA and I think I’m special” gluten disorder, I can assure you that unless you have this condition, gluten is just fine. It has never been shown to affect thyroid health. Really, it only affects people with celiac disease, who comprise one percent of the American population. Otherwise, you’re looking for a reason to be a pain in the ass in a restaurant. Cutting wheat (but not barley and rye) is just silly unless you have a wheat allergy diagnosed by a real doctor.

Junger also diagnosed Paltrow with liver congestion. Though this may sound like a real thing, it’s not a recognized medical disorder (and not to be confused with fatty liver disease, which is generally treated with something Paltrow does not need: weight loss). Additionally, it’s fairly hard to get any one of these deficiencies (vitamin D, anemia) if you eat a normal, healthy diet. What will actually make you deficient in vitamins is not eating, which seems to be synonymous with clean eating. Not eating will cause you to die, but I guess at least you will die thin.

Junger also said that Paltrow was feeling run down because of “heavy metal poisoning.” But feeling tired and sluggish is not a symptom of metal toxicity. Depending on which metal has poisoned you — and it’s very important to know which one — you will experience a host of symptoms, including bloody vomit, kidney lesions, ataxia, peripheral neuropathy, and cancer. Being “run down” is not a symptom of heavy metal poisoning. But it is an opening for Junger to sell you a supplement.

She wants you to treat conditions you don’t have

A recent headline from Goop warned: “You Probably Have a Parasite. Here’s What to do About It.” Her source for this was a doctor named Linda Lancaster, a “Santa Fe-based naturopathic physician and homeopath.” Off to a great start. According to Paltrow, Lancaster “suspects” that rates of infections with parasites like giardia, an infection that will drain your bowels faster than any cleanse would ever hope to, are likely much higher than Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data suggests. I love a doctor who “suspects” things. That’s great evidence-based medicine.

Lancaster isn’t completely wrong. A large percentage of Americans could be infected with parasites, per the CDC. This isn’t news, because many of the parasites don’t cause any symptoms. We can live peaceful, normal lives with these parasites in our bodies. You don’t need a bullshit-trained alternative health practitioner to diagnose you and sell you an overpriced cure for something that is causing you no harm.

Hilariously, Lancaster told Paltrow that the best treatment for this alleged parasite epidemic is raw goat’s milk. Lancaster said that milk “draws the parasites out,” and that she prescribes goat milk to her patients because it is the closest thing to mother’s milk, and they have a similar pH. She also told Paltrow that goat milk “has healing qualities not found in other types of milk, like high levels of vitamin A and plenty of fatty acids.” And she recommended that parents who breastfeed wean their children with the milk, adding that “safe, raw goat’s milk” was ideal.

Holy fucking shit no.

Raw milk, which is milk that has not been pasteurized — milk straight from the teat — makes up about one percent of the U.S. dairy supply. However, it causes approximately 80 percent of the foodborne illnesses in dairy. This includes the parasite giardia, which will give you a case of diarrhea to rival a jumbo-sized bag of sugar-free gummy bears. Raw milk is touted in the alternative health community for “boosting immunity” or for the benefits of its natural enzymes, but if you ever consider it for you or your pint-sized human, I urge you to reconsider. Certain families with homeopathic tendencies have become intimately acquainted with the medical complications of hemolytic uremic syndrome and e. Coli in infants, courtesy of raw milk. Raw goat’s milk and raw cow’s milk come with the same risks; there’s nothing inherently better for babies about the milk coming from a goat or not being pasteurized.

And wait. Wasn’t giardia one of the parasites that raw goat’s milk was supposed to cure? This alternative medicine is tricksy — because it’s bullshit.

She doesn’t care if she’s wrong

By all accounts, Gwyneth Paltrow is a genuinely nice person. But this isn’t about if she’s nice or not. This is about the fact that she’s dispensing bad and potentially dangerous advice.

Her counsel is aimed at people who can afford to shop on Goop, and business is good for now. She’s said she can’t pretend to be somebody who makes $25,000 per year, and that’s apparent in her suggestions for mineral sunscreen and vaginal eggs. In a country where some people can’t afford access to proper gynecological care, it is worth pointing out that it’s an embarrassment of qu'ils mangent de la brioche proportions that there is a 4,000-person waiting list for $66 pussy rocks because an actress said “this is a thing we’re doing now.”

I worry what will happen to the population of Beverly Hills when she advises her readers to align their chakras by jumping out a plane with a homeopathic parachute.

Medical and scientific facts still exist no matter what tax bracket you’re in. Paltrow, in her journey to being thin and dewy-skinned, reported hallucinating on the master cleanse. This is not the due diligence of science. “We tried it for a few weeks and didn’t die” does not compare to actually knowing what you’re putting into your body. It’s certainly not the burden of proof you should expect before you try something on yourself, whether it’s a cleanse, a diet, or anything you put near a vagina you love.

In a recent interview, Paltrow said, “when I find something I think works, I like to share it with people.” Apparently that’s with very little concern for those with whom she is sharing. Your health deserves better.

Yvette d'Entremont discussed this piece on our daily podcast, The Outline World Dispatch.

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Yvette d'Entremont is a writer and scientist in Los Angeles.

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