Last weekend, Gwneyth Paltrow’s lifestyle brand Goop held its inaugural summit in California.
Don’t worry, I don’t like how that sentence sounded either.
Firstly, there’s something about the word ‘Goop’. It sounds like a thick bodily fluid that indicates you need to go to the doctor. The name is, of course, derived from Paltrow’s initials, but if you google it the official definition of ‘goop’ is, I quote, a “stupid person”.
To be clear, the definition well preceded Goop the brand.
The term ‘summit’ also sits uncomfortably. It feels hyperbolic. People in LA don’t have conferences or talks. They have summits.
LISTEN: Holly Wainwright, Monique Bowley and I discussed the Goop summit on this week’s episode of Mamamia Out Loud. Post continues below.
Reports out of the Goop summit have saturated the news cycle this week. Apparently, Americans shouldn’t be eating tomatoes, potatoes or kale. Painkillers are akin to swallowing a “hand grenade”. Miranda Kerr puts leeches on her face, and a doctor performed a 10 minute surgical face lift on stage, which involved threading a needle through a woman’s cheek.
The procedure costs only $3,500, Dr Julius Few beamed at the audience, before adding a disclaimer that it may or may not cause blindness.
What’s the use in looking younger if you can no longer see your reflection in the mirror?
The rather predictable discourse (of which I was certainly a part) asserted itself. Paltrow is “insane”, the headlines shouted. “Bonkers” said another. The whole convention was “ridiculous” and “dangerous” and a slap in the face for science.
And of course, there's a nodule of truth in that.
To think hundreds of (mostly) women would flock to a Goop summit to learn about health and wellness from a woman with no qualifications whatsoever, and who thinks we should be steaming our vaginas, if not inserting jade eggs (whatever they are...) into them is unarguably worrying.
I could list all the bizarre health claims Paltrow has made over the years, and the countless that were propagated in a number of hours over the weekend. But I'd only be telling you what you already know.
Paltrow, with no degree and no expertise is not an authority figure on health. But by looking no further than her, and the brand she represents, we're missing the point.
To use an appropriate healthy analogy, we are addressing the symptoms and not the cause.
Paltrow is not everything that is wrong with the wellness industry. No person is that powerful. She is merely a cog in the machine, and has capitalised (literally) on a movement that has been taking place over decades.
That is, to put it simply; your health is your responsibility.
Drink water. Have your morning green smoothie. Detox. Cut out toxins. Only drink juice. Take supplements. Be in nature. Eat organic. Quit sugar. Go paleo. Or cut out fat. Or practice the 5:2 diet. Don't eat carbohydrates. Sleep lots. But not too much. Get up early. Exercise first thing. Breathe. Do yoga. Meditate. Practice mindfulness. Walk everywhere. Run everywhere. Cycle everywhere. Never sit down. Do your pelvic floor exercises at the traffic lights. Do pilates. Wear a fitness tracker. Cleanse. Moisturise. Exfoliate. Get rid of it (even though we're unclear of what 'it' is). Always feel revitalised, energetic, happy. Glow.
And if you do all of those things, you'll live forever.
Except you won't.
When wellness is your responsibility, so is sickness. And sometimes with sickness, you have no control.
Cancer. Dementia. Stroke. Heart disease. Motor neurone disease. Pneumonia.
A healthy lifestyle unequivocally helps. But in a world obsessed with wellness, where do sick people fit?
Where do people with a disability fit? People with mental illness? People who aren't thin? People whose skin is not clear? People who wake up in the morning and feel like shit?
People whose bodies transgress the image of 'wellness' (because health can, apparently, can be seen) are demonised as lazy and weak. As failures.
Gwnyeth Paltrow, star of Sliding Doors and Shakespeare in Love, did not invent this.
By making wellness about you looking after you, and me looking after me, we don't need to look after anyone else.
Never mind health care. Or funding to hospitals. Or the ugly issues of health education and the availability of mental health institutions.
As Lindy West put it for The Guardian this week;
"You can’t honestly address 'wellness' – the things people need to be well – without addressing poverty and systemic racism, disability access and affordable healthcare, paid family leave and food insecurity, contraception and abortion, sex work and the war against drugs and mass incarceration. Unless, of course, you are only talking about the wellness of people whose lives are untouched by all of those forces. That is, the wellness of people who are disproportionately well already."
Let's not address that in some areas of NSW, there's a fast food restaurant on every corner. Or that in the Northern Territory Coca Cola is cheaper than water. Or that our Indigenous population have a shorter life expectancy than their white counterparts, and are on the back foot from the moment they exit the womb.
It's much, much easier to talk about the benefits of spinach.
The wealthy like listening to Paltrow, because her key message is that health is something you can buy. It's likely that 'miracle cures' will never lose their appeal.
But this conversation needs to go beyond Paltrow and beyond Goop.
Because health can never just be about the individual.
It's about looking after each other, too.
You can listen to the full episode of Mamamia Out Loud, here.