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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