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9 October 2018updated 09 Sep 2021 5:29pm

Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop plays on a distrust of experts that can have dire consequences

The actor and entrepreneur needs to take responsibility for the health of those who see salvation in her alternatives. 

By Mollie Goodfellow

As Gwyneth Paltrow was introduced on the Radio 4 Today programme this morning, Mishal Husain listed some of what her company Goop is best known, and most criticised, for: its vague claims of “wellness”, flower essences said to cure depression, vaginal jade eggs that could regulate hormones.

In discussing some of the controversies on Today, Paltrow explained that a lot of it comes down to what you can and can’t say, adding that Goop is going through a learning process (likely triggered by the lawsuit centred around said vagina jade eggs). She told how asserting product claims with words like “will” isn’t right, explaining that saying things “may” induce changes is more appropriate (obviously). When questioned by Husain, Paltrow said she’s okay with “being a trailblazer and taking the heat sometimes”.

But in my opinion, that’s not really enough. In the world of “Fake News” and the shunning of experts, brands and companies should be more sure than ever that what they are purporting is correct. If Gwyneth Paltrow is really throwing her all, her name, her brand, into Goop then she is responsible for the women flocking to her site in search of alternatives from traditional science and medicine. With great platform comes great responsibility, and she is using hers to push unverified vagina hormone regulating eggs and articles by a “medical medium” and his opinion on the origins of thyroid cancer.

I’m a big believer in medicine. Over my years I’ve picked up odds and ends of medical issues: depression, IBS, eczema. I was toted to the doctors a lot as a kid for the latter, lathered in creams and potions and lotions. Admittedly, many of the things prescribed to me haven’t worked and so I’ve tried all the new “miracle” creams toted on the high street. Oat baths and children’s moisturiser haven’t really made a dent in the oozing, flaky existence of my condition.

Similarly depression is a condition that comes with a lot of advice from those interested in wellness and being holistic. Doctors themselves are starting to look at depression as part of a fuller picture of general health, recommending exercise for those suffering. I’ve been on antidepressants for many years, and have found that they’ve worked for me to a degree. I understand they haven’t for many others, but I despair at the thought of vulnerable women being sold expensive floral essences as a cure to their mental health problems.

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That’s not to say that medicine is perfect. I worked on a story about a leading hospital that was accused of covering up misdiagnosis and over-prescription of medicines in patients. I spent the weekend binge-listening a podcast called Doctor Death, about a surgeon in the US who routinely got away with botching surgical procedures, leaving patients paralysed and some dead. We see stories in the media about women who go to the doctor with worrying symptoms, are dismissed and are later found to have devastating cancers. People who go to the doctor for help with their mental health are left to linger on waiting lists. The medical world is flawed, but that doesn’t mean that medicine is wrong and that’s certainly not to say the alternative is to seek out unverified, unregulated snake oil cures.

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I understand when it’s hard to know who to trust, it can be enticing to go with the option that feels lower risk, which comes in a shiny box with a perfectly curated ribbon with little risk. That is without the long list of side effects that can be attached to hormone packed birth control. Women feel empowered by Goop’s brand and this idea that they’re taking control of their own outcome by shunning medicine that has often let them down. But I don’t believe this is the answer – I think we should push back and demand more from our doctors and healthcare.

At worst, Goop is a symptom of the distrust that is growing for experts and authorities, a distrust that has led to dangerous trends such as the anti-vaxxer movement that is largely responsible for the resurgence of preventable diseases. At best, Goop is a glossy and expensive movement designed to trick women into trusting that they, too, can attain the lifestyle of Gwyneth Paltrow, a sensationally beautiful and wholesome woman who has the benefit of money and resource behind her.