Timothy Caulfield: The RD Interview

The author of Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything? (and University of Alberta health law professor) talks star worship, facials and what you really need to be doing to stay healthy.

Timothy Caulfield: The RD InterviewIllustration by Aimée van Drimmelen

In your new book, you write about how celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow affect how we think about our bodies.
Celebrity culture has a subtle impact on all of us, how we judge ourselves and compare ourselves to others. Someone who was a nine in prehistoric England is suddenly a five when measured against Gisele Bündchen. There was a time when the only humans you ever saw were right in front of you or in a painting. That was your whole world.

In the pursuit of science, you tried out a new skin regimen that included exfoliation gel, two types of moisturizers  and a lotion to control bacteria, plus you went for a pricey spa facial.
I really liked the facial. It was a guilt-free hour and a half to relax, and there’s just enough of a clinical element to it that it doesn’t seem creepy that someone’s rubbing your face. But there’s no evidence that it’s good for your skin—some experts even think it’s bad.

Much of the book debunks health myths that have made their way into everyday life—drinking water to improve your skin, taking supplements. What should Canadians be doing instead?
It’s pretty simple. People should be adopting healthy lifestyles for their well-being, not their looks; I like to think we can change our fixation on physical appearance. Get exercise. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables. Sleep. Don’t smoke. There are all these forces out there that want to complicate matters and are selling products based on myths. It’s the perfect
marriage of the market and desire.

How have we all been duped? So many over-the-counter products currently available aren’t rigorously tested.
Given the size of the market, the billions and billions of dollars at play, I was surprised by the lack of good studies. There isn’t this big counterweight balancing what the beauty industry is saying. People want to believe.

To summarize a few chapters, we overestimate our own talent, we’re wired to crave attention and we believe we’re better than other people. Are there any positive take-aways?
We should be doing things for the inherent joy of doing them, not because of some unrealistic—and, in any statistical sense, unattainable—goal. If you love doing something, do it. I love sprinting. I’m not genetically inclined to be a success at it, but running is a part of my life.

As part of your research, you went to the British office of Gwyneth Paltrow’s health and lifestyle website, GOOP, to convince someone to talk. Any luck reaching the guru herself?
I tried calling her publicist and sent direct emails. Everything was ignored. I did talk to people close to her, however. They’d say, “Oh, she’d be into this for sure.” And I’d never hear back. It doesn’t take much of a Google search to realize I’m a bit of a skeptic, so maybe that’s why.

So, dish. Is Gwyneth Paltrow wrong about everything?
I’ll put it this way: maybe Gwyneth will see the book, and then she and I can have a green tea and talk over what she gets right and wrong.

Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything? When Celebrity Culture and Science Clash is available Jan. 13.

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