Paltrow’s Goop Conference Signals Dangerous Trend of Celebrity-Lead Pseudoscience


“Celebrities are having an increasingly larger role, not only in the health decisions we make but also the focus we put on different topics,” says Timothy Caulfield, author of Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything?: When Celebrity Culture and Science Clash, who spoke with SWAAY about Paltrow’s first Goop conference "In Goop Health" and the consequences of its rhetoric on the public psyche.

Caulfield proffers the theory that celebrities are no longer merely endorsing products, objects, things, rather, they’re now selling lifestyles, mindsets, attitudes, and vibes - and it's potentially dangerous.

“She (Gwyneth) is part of this broader lifestyle movement that is occurring,” Caulfield remarks. “Celebrities are giving advice, not just about particular products, but about how we’re supposed to live our lives.” He references Suzanne Somers and Jane Fonda as the thought leaders behind the movement that he believes began years ago.

According to Caulfield, it's people like Paltrow, Jessica Alba and Tom Brady who are leading this movement, with Paltrow at the forefront. She recently reaffirmed her status as lifestyle heavyweight at her Goop conference “In Goop Health” this past weekend in LA.

“Gwyneth, Tom, and Jessica Alba aren't the most science-informed individuals, but they have a brand you relate to,” Caulfield says. "That can have a big impact, because they frame what buying their product means - what you are signaling to the world.” Paltrow’s conference was the culmination of this impact, where a confluence of readers and worshippers met for a day of IV drips, diet tips and celebrity quips. It even included a live face-lift that had viewers gasping in horror.

“Their cultural footprint is so big,” Caulfield remarks, and their reach so far, that these big names can drive major change and reaction, elucidating a cultish following. With that comes their ability to impart their products and lifestyles with ease on followers. Paltrow has been able to convince her loyal Goopers that a plethora of treatments and lifestyle changes are good for you, when in actuality, their validity is highly questionable.

Caulfield addresses most of the Goop products in his book, questioning their legitimacy and efficacy, but there are a few that stand out to him as potentially dangerous. These include the colonic treatment Paltrow recommends, detox cleanses, the IV therapy displayed at the conference, and her famed Jade egg.

For those who don't know, a colonic treatment is when a substantial amount of water is inserted into your rectum via a tube to irrigate your bowels. Caulfield met with Paltrow’s colonic doctor in LA to investigate.

“He told me to get a colonic as often as possible, and it’s basically an enema. There’s no evidence that you should be doing be this, and you could perforate your bowels,” Caulfield warns. "It’s just not a good idea.”

He also believes that IV therapy wouldn’t exist without celebrity endorsements, stating: “Rihanna is into it also, and it kind of creates this belief, it has this intuitive appeal.” Having tried it in New York, he understands that it most certainly does not give you a new lease on life.

Gwyneth Paltrow at In Goop Health conference. Photo courtesy of Popsugar

Caulfield’s opinion of Paltrow’s Jade egg is very aligned with that of the gynecologists of the world: it is not safe. Exasperated as doctors were at the time of its release, this $66 rock sold out almost immediately after Goop began promoting its magical effects. They also began speaking of its potentially harmful effects on the vagina and its ability to carry viruses and fungal infections.

However, it’s Paltrow’s detox cleanses that is Caulfield’s favorite topic of interest, and the wider internet’s biggest bone of contention with the Goop universe. “They’re basically crash diets,” Caulfield says, and there is much evidence to support such a claim, as evinced by Australian nutritional scientist Joanna Lao’s comments in the aftermath of Paltrow’s Goop Clean Beauty release. Speaking to Fairfax Media, Lao said, “the idea of detoxing is really nonsense. Your liver and kidneys have the job of detoxing your body the whole time and they do it well, unless you have liver or kidney disease. There is no evidence whatsoever that eliminating a list of foods like this does any kind of detoxing to your body.” Caulfield agrees with this line of nutritional thinking, and believes it’s detox articles and diet plans like those in the book that create poor relationships with food, and ultimately feed the anorexia epidemic that has been on the rise with middle-aged women for years now.

Paltrow and In Goop Health panellists (L-R) Cameron Diaz, Tory Burch, Nicole Richie, Miranda Kerr. Photo courtesy of Twitter

In his introduction to the Goop Health conference, Dr. Habib Sadeghi said "this is not a convention. It’s a pilgrimage. We are here to hold the light, the consciousness, for a different way of being.” A statement which surely follows the premise of Caulfield's thought process: that Paltrow is no longer just selling a brand or a product, but a lifestyle, an etiquette, a pseudo-science religion.

Another Goop naysayer is Dr. Christian Jessen, who spoke at an education conference, stating that clean-eating websites such as Goop are akin to pro-anorexia sites because of the diets it promotes. Goop responded, "These unsubstantiated claims that we would promote deprivation are as ridiculous as they are outrageous and anyone who reads Goop would know they are false.”

But are they merely unsubstantiated claims? Or are they in fact, statements by highly-reputed individuals, Jessen and Lao among them, that are born of research and methodical study? Are there not studies that indeed corroborate Jessen's worry about sites such as Goop appropriating extreme dieting? People become engrossed with celebrity culture and look to emulate or copy what their favorite celebrities are doing. Goop's editorial director Elise Loehnen inadvertently attests to this in an interview with Vanity Fair, where she said: “The thing with our readers’ relationship with Gwyneth isn't that they're like, ‘Oh, I want to be Gwyneth.’ That does not seem to be what drives them at all. It’s that they trust her: they believe that she has both exquisite taste and incredible access, and that if something works for her, if she believes in something, then it's good enough for them."

And although he never got to interview Gwyneth, he remarks that if he had the chance, the one question he would ask would be: do you really believe in all of this?

Does she really believe a person with an average job and salary could sustain themselves living on fat-free, gluten-free, organic produce for their entire lives, and sleeping for ten hours, without the help of extraordinary staff and copious amounts of alcohol?

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Momtors: The New Wave of Mentors Helping New Moms Transition Back Into Careers

New parents re-entering the workforce are often juggling the tangible realities of daycare logistics, sleep deprivation, and a cascade of overwhelming work. No matter how parents build their family, they often struggle with the guilt of being split between home and work and not feeling exceptionally successful in either place.

Women building their families often face a set of challenges different from men. Those who have had children biologically may be navigating the world of pumping at work. Others might feel pulled in multiple directions when bringing a child into their home after adoption. Some women are trying to learn how to care for a newborn for the first time. New parents need all the help they can get with their transition.

Women returning to work after kids sometimes have to address comments such as:

"I didn't think you'd come back."

"You must feel so guilty."

"You missed a lot while you were out."

To counteract this difficult situation, women are finding mentors and making targeting connections. Parent mentors can help new moms address integrating their new life realities with work, finding resources within the organization and local community, and create connections with peers.

There's also an important role for parent mentors to play in discussing career trajectory. Traditionally, men who have families see more promotions compared to women with children. Knowing that having kids may represent a career setback for women, they may work with their mentors to create an action plan to "back on track" or to get recognized for their contributions as quickly as possible after returning to work.

Previously, in a bid to accommodate mothers transitioning back to work, corporate managers would make a show at lessoning the workload for newly returned mothers. This approach actually did more harm than good, as the mother's skills and ambitions were marginalized by these alleged "family friendly" policies, ultimately defining her for the workplace as a mother, rather than a person focused on career.

Today, this is changing. Some larger organizations, such as JP Morgan Chase, have structured mentorship programs that specifically target these issues and provide mentors for new parents. These programs match new parents navigating a transition back to work with volunteer mentors who are interested in helping and sponsoring moms. Mentors in the programs do not need to be moms, or even parents, themselves, but are passionate about making sure the opportunities are available.

It's just one other valuable way corporations are evolving when it comes to building quality relationships with their employees – and successfully retaining them, empowering women who face their own set of special barriers to career growth and leadership success.

Mentoring will always be a two way street. In ideal situations, both parties will benefit from the relationship. It's no different when women mentor working mothers getting back on track on the job. But there a few factors to consider when embracing this new form of mentorship

How to be a good Momtor?

Listen: For those mentoring a new parent, one of the best strategies to take is active listening. Be present and aware while the mentee shares their thoughts, repeat back what you hear in your own words, and acknowledge emotions. The returning mother is facing a range of emotions and potentially complicated situations, and the last thing she wants to hear is advice about how she should be feeling about the transition. Instead, be a sounding board for her feelings and issues with returning to work. Validate her concerns and provide a space where she can express herself without fear of retribution or bull-pen politics. This will allow the mentee a safe space to sort through her feelings and focus on her real challenges as a mother returning to work.

Share: Assure the mentee that they aren't alone, that other parents just like them are navigating the transition back to work. Provide a list of ways you've coped with the transition yourself, as well as your best parenting tips. Don't be afraid to discuss mothering skills as well as career skills. Work on creative solutions to the particular issues your mentee is facing in striking her new work/life balance.

Update Work Goals: A career-minded woman often faces a new reality once a new child enters the picture. Previous career goals may appear out of reach now that she has family responsibilities at home. Each mentee is affected by this differently, but good momtors help parents update her work goals and strategies for realizing them, explaining, where applicable, where the company is in a position to help them with their dreams either through continuing education support or specific training initiatives.

Being a role model for a working mother provides a support system, at work, that they can rely on just like the one they rely on at home with family and friends. Knowing they have someone in the office, who has knowledge about both being a mom and a career woman, will go a long way towards helping them make the transition successfully themselves.