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Goop Isn’t The Problem, Ableism Is

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Sometimes the news isn’t as straightforward as it’s made to seem. Jordan Davidson, The Mighty’s News Editor, explains what to keep in mind if you see this topic or similar stories in your newsfeed. This is The Mighty Takeaway.

For every illness, age-related woe or bodily concern there is a Goop.

Gwyneth Paltrow’s wellness website Goop has made headlines for months selling products that claim to cure a variety of ailments without evidence backed by research. This week, watchdog group Truth in Advertising filed a formal complaint against Goop citing 51 examples of deceptive health claims.

People giving fake medical advice is not new. Health charlatans like Goop have been slinging snake oil, the term given to fake products said to cure legitimate problems, for centuries. Gwyneth Paltrow didn’t invent snake oil; all she did was inflate the price. False promises of good health existed long before Goop, and will be here long after Goop’s news cycle ends.

The reason people cling to those who hawk wellness products is ableism — the belief that people with disabilities need to be “cured” in order to lead a productive and fulfilling life. Able-bodied society is so afraid of becoming disabled it’s willing to do anything to outsmart illness, accident and aging — even if it sounds ridiculous or is overpriced.

To say it’s just people like Paltrow, who don’t have medical degrees and don’t know better, would be lying. You can find a doctor who matches your ideologies, or is willing to try controversial or questionable practices, just by looking on the internet.

Before he was stripped of his medical license for promoting the idea that vaccines cause autism, Andrew Wakefield was a gastroenterologist. Dr. Oz, an Ivy League trained cardiothoracic surgeon, was chastised for promoting fictitious weight loss drugs. Claims which, upon investigation, the British Medical Journal found could not be backed by scientific research more than half of the time.

Even Linus Pauling, Ph.D, who won Nobel prizes for chemistry and peace, fell down the snake oil hole. Once a well-respected chemist, Pauling is the reason so many people believe vitamin C prevents colds, despite numerous studies that have shown otherwise. He also falsely claimed high-doses of vitamin C could slow down heart disease, cancer and aging.

People with chronic illnesses and disabilities often need a team of medical experts to manage the complexities of their care. One doctor isn’t enough to teach you the ins and outs of living with a chronic illness or disability. Most medical professionals, those who take insurance, are overwhelmed trying to navigate the insurance system and have to overbook patients to make ends meet. Even if your doctor can spend a lot of time with you, that doesn’t mean they know how to live with your condition. While a textbook can teach you the mechanisms of a disease, it won’t teach you how to live with one. That’s something you learn through experience.

When you get sick, have an accident or don’t age as gracefully as the celebrities you see on TV, who teaches you how to care for your new body — not just physically but mentally?

If you have the time and money, a therapist can help you build healthy coping mechanisms. Or if you are lucky, you might have an empathetic friend or disabled family member who can guide the way. But, without support systems, there is a void. And that’s where wellness gurus, like Gwyneth Paltrow, slide right in.

Now instead of feeling alone, you have a “personality,” who can give you medical advice when you need it. And, unlike your doctor, these self-proclaimed “experts” are accessible 24/7 — posting videos and tips to social media platforms on a variety of topics most people genuinely struggle to live with. While their products might not be free, their advice, and “compassion” is.

Why then, when we are taught to value being well and able-bodied among anything else, wouldn’t we listen?

As someone who has lived with chronic pain for decades, I know what it’s like to be overwhelmed by a disease. In those moments, If someone told me Goop’s “crystal harmonics,” crystals Goop claims can ease period cramps, would silence the pain my endometriosis causes, I would buy them. Not because I don’t know better, but because I’ve exhausted every other option.

No one should have to live with chronic pain, but we have to acknowledge when we can’t fix it, and have support resources in place so people can live their lives — not the life they think they should be living.

When we exclude children with disabilities from classrooms or fail to incorporate people with disabilities in shows meant to mirror their lives, we’re promoting ableism. We need better representation so that people understand the reality of living with a disease or disability.

The reality is, we don’t always get better. If we don’t support people living with disabilities and make difference acceptable, we open the door for the Goops of this world to peddle their false hope.

Don’t let them.

Originally published: August 25, 2017
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