In Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong about Everything? (Viking Canada), health science expert and confessed pop-culture fan Timothy Caulfield draws from data and personal field research (including the set of American Idol) to explore how celebrity culture and the desire for fame affects our health, ambitions, and emotional well-being.
Why Gwyneth? I don’t mean to pick on Gwyneth – I actually think she’s terrific. One of the reasons I picked her is that she seems with it, and is smart, and that she’s been exposed to rational thought, but despite all that, she’s become the perfect icon of these irrational views on health. And unlike other celebrities that pontificate about health, she’s holding herself up as an expert, which makes her a fair target.
Why did you personally test celebrity diets for the book? Anecdotes aren’t evidence but it’s important to experience what others do, and then use that to inform the available evidence. It’s also important to appreciate the other perspective on these issues. Plus I was just curious to see what the impact was.
How did you do on Gwyneth’s fast? It was brutal. I make a joke that if Gwyneth is really doing this on a regular basis, she’s pretty tough. The caffeine withdrawl was insane, and the food was disgusting. But part of the suffering adds to the appeal – it’s like running a marathon – and that adds to the feeling that “I’ve really done something.”
Can we be critical of celebrity culture and still enjoy it? One of the challenges is that celebrity culture is everywhere – we can’t help but let it influence us. But if you’re aware of all our cognitive biases hopefully it’s a little liberating and freeing from that pressure.
Was there anything that surprised you while conducting your research? I was surprised at how little good independent research there was on cosmetics and beauty products. But if you step back and reflect on it, who would pay for it? Given the amount that people invest in the products, and the role they play in people’s lives, maybe we do need to look at it more critically.