“Gwyneth Paltrow’s ‘vagina’ candle reportedly explodes in UK woman’s home.” This is my favorite headline of the year, which I suppose isn’t that hard for 2021, but I digress. Yes, it’s true. Gwyneth Paltrow did indeed make a vagina candle called “This Smells Like My Vagina,” and it did set a poor woman named Jody’s apartment ablaze. Jody’s fine, but the $75 candle with hints of bergamot and damask rose most certainly is not.
Goop, Gwyneth’s “girl boss” brand, has been hot since 2008, well before this arson-episode. Some love Goop, some hate it, and some, such as myself, give it an occasional read with an eye roll and a giggle. The thing about Goop that is laughable is how unrealistic it can seem. If you watched the Netflix series, you know that not everyone can get vampire facials, do a five-day fast, and doggy-paddle in -4 degree water with Wim Hof in the name of research. That being said, this isn’t an anti-Paltrow article, although it may seem as much thus far. Rather, Goop is symbolic of something unfortunately near and detrimentally dear to me. This unrealistic obsession with anti-aging, cleansing, and sizing down is quite real, ruling the lives of many and burning the apartments of others.
There’s just something about what Goop represents that makes me reflect, comparing cocktails to social constructs Carrie Bradshaw-style. It all exemplifies the utter obsession with youth in this day and age. We have come to accept that we need to have the beauty of a seventeen-year-old with the quick wit of a thirty-year-old in order to “make it” before our metabolisms slow down. The issue is that we must do this all in the name of “self-care,” and we become so caught up with anti-aging product lines that we overlook this essence of infantilization. This idea keeps me up at night: deciding how much I should spend on supplements while wondering why we are so obsessed with equating “success” with supple skin and size smalls?
If you’re new here, allow me to introduce myself. I’m a Gen Z-illenial born and raised in Los Angeles. I’m at that age where I have memories of volunteering to bring the hand-written attendance sheet your 4th-grade teacher filled out to the main office and being crowned both the fastest typer and the neatest cursive writer all in the same year. This is the age where your first pubic hair may have come after your first Instagram account with an absolutely heinous handle (mine was briefly @shebecraycray before I matured into @hollywoodhun with a Lana Del Rey lyric in my bio). This is to explain that the lens that I grew up with was quite specific, and in Los Angeles, there is this inescapable realism in the artificial. To protect us from the inevitable anxiety and fixation on our bodies and beauty that the social media era presented, kids my age were told over and over that what we see on the internet “isn’t real.” However, that sentiment didn’t stick in Los Angeles, where you literally see the unrealistic beauty standards personified in your high school, at the mall, and in the bathroom of your favorite vegan Mexican restaurants with $19 burritos.
My mother always says that I give LA too much credit. She’s a New Yorker, so that’s that. What she means, though, is that what I experience isn’t special to my time and place. Goop is this magnification of what pop culture tells us about ourselves, extending the habit of wanting[maybe “embodying the desire”?] to be perceived as an obsession with your outward appearance. Companies have always profited off of people’s fear of losing their looks before they reach fame. Yet Instagram and the brands that market on it present this romanticization of the concept. It is a true ‘idée fixe,’ or an obsession that dominates the mind. Just take out the sophisticated, Parisian, lustful craze of a phrase and swap it for selling detox teas on Instagram and claiming “self-love.”
This is not to say that I think the digital age created these Hollywood beauty standards. 100 years ago, Clara Bow was the “star of the Jazz age” who had to sign a contract saying that she would stay under 118 pounds to keep her acting career. Back then, actresses were said to “roll on the floor in tight-fitting clothes to lose fat.” Absurd as it may seem, it’s ridiculous to not notice the parallels this has to restrictive habits meant to ensure your detox tea brand deal stays paying you. We see stars, either of the Walk Of Fame or the “for-you-page” sort, being idolized and obsessed over for appearing to be the youngest version of themselves.
Being as small as possible is said to make you bigger.
I suppose this all begs a question: does this idea mean that we are obsessed with the beauty of stars, or are obsessed with the beauty of ourselves? This romanticization of unrealistic beauty standards creates a very specific relationship with the bodies that we occupy for our time here on Earth. I would argue that promoting supplements with the word “skinny” in it isn’t necessarily self-love, and spending a fortune on a juice cleanse isn’t investing in yourself. It is purely an obsession that we have taken on from society. We preserve our bodies for fear that it will go away before we make it to the big screen. But as we age and expand, we are growing bigger in depth and in strength. To say that the only way we can be successful is to pay to reverse Earth’s process is repressive. I would argue that no one wants to be treated as if they are seventeen or younger, yet we all too often want to be visually perceived that way. If we use anti-aging creams and shed weight off our hips, then maybe we can have the Jenner-esque careers that we have somehow normalized. But what is normal about any of this?
To me, the Smells-Like-Gwyneth’s-Genitals candle erupting in flames is painfully symbolic of the way that diet culture has run rampant in our own homes. The need to stay small and young clouds our heads with smoke, and this need for success that social media has gifted us feels like it will burn the house down. When I saw that headline, I was obsessed with what it all meant. I imagined Jody’s apartment cupboards filled with Goop-approved products and the candle burning next to her adaptogen powder and collagen skincare routine. No matter how much our bank accounts and brains begin crumbling from this obsession, so many become victims to it all.
I know, I’m not reinventing the wheel here. The anti-diet culture is loud and proud, and the impact of over-the-top self-love stretches far beyond my narcissistic neighborhood of LA. To me, it is purely interesting to reflect on what it all means. I take Goop with a grain of full sodium salt and enjoy the parts of it that are positive. I check in with myself when my social media scrolls streamline self-deprecation into my head. I know that self-care is being reclaimed, with movements such as The Nap Ministry that platforms rest as resistance. The world is indeed changing, and change means growth. We don’t need to revert back to younger faces and smaller cup sizes to be the best versions of ourselves. We need to look outside and see that the world is evolving every single day, and our skin cells simply match that. If we want to progress past times of pain in society to find universal success, we need to be okay with the natural progression of our own bodies too.
If a self-combusting vagina candle stands for anything, it is the chaos that self-care has created for so many. Our bodies are fucking temples, and we don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars and make dozens of posts about it to quantify the fact. We can be obsessed with ourselves as full beings who continue to grow and evolve and find success in a very non-linear way. Once our wrinkles show up and our bouncy parts sag, we aren’t just doomed to going downhill from there. I don’t want to be seventeen again, nor do I want to look like it. Seventeen sucked, and I think I’ll know much more about what success means the older and older I get. It’s a process to break down this obsession with youth, but maybe we can start by burning down all that reinforces it. Self-acceptance should never be a radical concept, and aging should be liberating! We can be healthy and successful at any age, and our vaginas don’t have to smell like bergamot and rose to be a luxury item. There is so much in this life that can go up in flames, but let’s start refusing to let an obsession with youth be what burns the brightest.