Between the Pages: Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything?

Timothy Caulfield seems like the type of person that you would want as your friend. Unless you are a colon cleansing, dream pursuing, celebrity adoring kind of person. Then he might come across as a bit of a “patronizing know-it-all jerk” (his words, not mine).

In his latest book Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything?, Caulfield looks at the messages spewed out by celebrity culture and how those messages stack up against scientific evidence. Spoiler alert: the answer to the book’s title question is an unequivocal yes.

Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything?: When Celebrity Culture and Science Clash. By Timothy Caulfield (Source)
Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything?: When Celebrity Culture and Science Clash. By Timothy Caulfield (Source)

The book starts by examining the vast array of health and beauty treatments inspired and endorsed by celebrities, including the Clean Cleanse made famous by Gwyneth Paltrow on her lifestyle website Goop. One of my favourite parts of the book is when Caulfield himself becomes a test subject and tries out the cleanses, spa treatments, and skin-care regimes that are supposed to make him healthier, slimmer and more beautiful. The results? He lost weight (but gained it back as soon as he started eating real food) and his skin was no better off after nine months of using high-end beauty products. 

Like his first book The Cure for Everything, Caulfield separates out the science from the large piles of pseudoscientific baloney circulating through the information channels. He systematically debunks myths surrounding detoxes (you don’t need them), anti-aging products (most of them don’t work), diets (unless you have celiac disease, you are probably not “gluten sensitive”), and a myriad of other popular health and beauty topics. As someone who has spent more money than she would care to admit on skin-care products, his frank assessment of the beauty industry is refreshing and eye opening. It certainly makes me feel better about losing my preferred customer status at Sephora after recently cutting back on my beauty spending.

The rest of the book examines the different socioeconomic and psychological factors underlying our love of celebrity culture and our desire to achieve celebrity status. Why do more young people aspire to be famous today than ever before? What are the odds of someone actually achieving celebrity status? And is celebrity status really worth having? To explore these issues, Caulfield talks to everyone from academic scholars to American Idol wannabes to world-famous actors and combs through hundreds of papers from both peer-reviewed journals and less scholarly sources like People magazine (the 50 pages of annotated references at the end of the book made my inner scientist beam with joy). Unsurprisingly, the results of his research are pretty pessimistic. Your chances of becoming a famous celebrity are depressingly slim and depend a lot on luck. Even if you do achieve the level of fame of Brad Pitt or Gwyneth Paltrow, it doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be happier or healthier than the rest of us lowly commoners.

Some people may call Tim Caulfield a dream crusher (after reading both of his books and following him on Twitter, I feel like I know him well enough to call him “Tim”), but I for one appreciate the reality check that he is delivering with this book. When the number one goal of school-aged children is to become famous, we need to start questioning the cultural values we’re imparting on to the next generation.

While I enjoyed this book, it did not resonate with me as much as Caulfield’s first book The Cure for Everything. To be fair, this is probably because I am more interested in the health and fitness topics discussed in The Cure for Everything than in celebrity culture. However, I do believe in the message of this book – whether it’s health advice or a lifestyle, association with fame does not equate to “better”. Just because a celebrity said or did something doesn’t make it good or true. In fact, celebrities can sometimes say things that are false and harmful. Jenny McCarthy, I’m looking at you.

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