In an interview with The Cut non gynecologist, Gwyneth Paltrow extolled the virtues of “vagina” steaming for wellness or something called “swellness.”
It’s this abuse of the term wellness that bothers just as much as the idea of “vagina” steaming. That wellness is about trying unproven yet expensive mystical therapies that must be healthy because they have been around for centuries marketed under the guise of offering medical benefits but have no hope of helping you. That wellness is about promoting the incorrect and harmful health “ideas” that one finds on GOOP, such as vaginal steaming has health benefits or that bras cause cancer or that thyroid disease is due to Epstein Barr Virus (one of her latest and absolutely evidence baseless claims) or that astrology can inform psychology.
Gwyneth Paltrow has become the post factual high priestess of pricey snake oil and she knows it gets page clicks. She says so right at the end of the interview, “Then I start to do research, and it’s been in Korean medicine for thousands of years and there are real healing properties. If I find benefit to it and it’s getting a lot of page views, it’s a win-win [Smiles].”
Almost everything Paltrow claims in the interview about medicine (when I say that I mean the use of science to advance health) is wrong. Lawsuits about talcum powder don’t prove there is a connection with cancer, in fact there is no proof at all that there is a connection. “Healing properties” isn’t really a medical term unless she means promoting granulation tissue, but as she’s not talking about open wounds I suspect she means $something else. There is no alternative medicine, there’s medicine and things that can’t help you. If a therapy has been around for thousands of years and it works medicine notices and it becomes, well, medicine. For example, willow bark to Aspirin. For the record many different traditional Chinese medicine therapies have been put to the test and they come up short again and again. I could care less if the medicine I offer a patient comes from a tree in the Amazon or a lab, I just want it to work and to do no harm, but unlike Paltrow I’m a brand with no product to sell.
She mentioned her father’s terrible experience with cancer as a motivator to do better and live healthier. A worthy goal. Except it leads her to homeopathy, with a carefree afterthought that you can try it and “cross your fingers.” I don’t want any part of any therapy that involves crossing my fingers, especially not one that is expensive tap water. Like Paltrow, my foray into speaking about health care publicly is based on family tragedy. The premature birth of my sons, one of whom has had multiple intensive care unit admissions, has severe lung disease, and two heart surgeries and needs a third. I don’t want any finger crossing or just trying stuff in his health care, I want to know what works and what doesn’t and what is unknown so I can make educated choices to give him his best chance. I don’t want the creep of post factual health care to contaminate him in any way. People deserve more than made up therapies and finger crossing. They also don’t deserve to be scared with false claims about bras or viruses.
If what Paltrow publishes on her blog is the result of her “research” then she doesn’t understand the meaning of the word. She also doesn’t know what a vagina is because what she has described is of course vulva steaming. If she is so interested in “health” she should at least get her anatomy right. I even have a handy Venn diagram she can consult. For steam to get into the vagina she would have to have her fingers inserted into her vagina and pull the vaginal walls apart (like a speculum) and be sitting very close to the steam or be using a high pressure device. Neither are recommended. There is no possible way how Paltrow has described her experience that steam from the vulva can reach the uterus (and even if it did there could not be any health benefit). Squatting over a pot of steam will not access the vagina.
As a gynecologist I can recommend neither vulva nor vagina steaming. At best vulva steaming will do nothing but make make you feel good because you spent a lot of money (the placebo effect increases the more you spend), at worst it will cause rashes and burns.
When I eat a Snickers bar I feel good because it’s tasty, that is not wellness. If spending lots of money to squat over a pot of steam makes you feel good, that’s also not wellness. It’s something you like to do and confusing that with health care is wrong.
Marketing quasi therapies and harmful ideas is dangerous and potentially hurtful. And cruel. How great does Paltrow feel scaring women unnecessarily about hidden toxins in their bras? If it gets page clicks is that okay?
The only thing I can agree with Paltrow on is that the beauty industry is unregulated and that should change, but we also disagree because she thinks that profiting off of that lack of regulation by stoking fears and selling unproven and mostly quack therapies is fine while I’m just trying to set the record straight one crack pot idea at a time.