The candle itself is pretty innocuous. It’s a 10.5 oz matte black jar, not unlike many a candle you can find in the lobby of various upmarket hotels or massage rooms. The label design is stark, with a simple font design and a remarkably blunt message. Then again, the message is the point here, far more so than anything else about the candle. Five words: ‘This smells like my vagina.’
The ‘my’ in this case is, predictably, Gwyneth Paltrow. In collaboration with Heretic, this limited edition candle is described as ‘a bundle of roses wrapped in suede,’ designed to evoke ‘sensuality, warmth, and intrigue.’ The top scents are bergamot, geranium, and cedar, which all feel decidedly un-vagina-esque. Priced at $75, the item is already entirely sold out, although you can join the waitlist for further updates via Heretic’s website.
As with all things Goop, the item quickly garnered a massive amount of attention and derision. It is true that all vaginas smell different but is it possible for one to naturally emanate the scent of geraniums, or does that only happen with regular steaming and yoni egg training, as endorsed by Gwyneth? Who is this for, and who the hell paid $75 for it? What’s next: A line of vagina scent candles related to different celebrities? Maybe dicks too?
Nowadays, it’s a futile gesture to get pissed off at Goop, even though the company continues to peddle quackery and bastardized elements of world medicine under the guise of rich white lady wellness. We’ve been getting mad at Gwyneth for years, whether it’s because of her macrobiotic diet or those jade eggs or her website selling items like psychic vampire repellent. It’s all a joke and yet it’s not. It’s certainly been successful enough for Paltrow to all but retire from her acting career to dedicate herself full-time to making Goop a global empire, which will soon include a Netflix series.
Gwyneth Paltrow has always embodied the magnolia smarm of the clueless rich white lady, but that façade conceals a savvy business-focused approach and keen understanding of how she can turn her own status as a figure of derision into cold hard cash. Admit it: You were suddenly a whole lot more interested in a bergamot candle because Gwyneth told you it smelled like her vagina. That’s not to say you were suddenly ready to pull out your credit card and order one but you definitely sat up and paid attention. There’s an element of self-deprecation to Paltrow’s vaginal humor, but more than that, it’s a strengthening of her brand, one she created herself and one that was foisted upon her, for better or worse.
I’m all for embracing the candid nature of a vagina candle. After centuries of sh*tty misogynistic jokes about how terrible they smell and how anyone in possession of one must be inherently dirty or putrid, we’re certainly in need of a destigmatizing process in regards to our natural body scent. Of course, it’s pretty safe to say that most vaginas aren’t perfumed or floral like a candle, and maybe it’s not a sound idea to swing wildly from ‘ew fish’ to ‘beautiful garden.’ Goop has always heavily relied on positioning wellness as a near-ethereal concept, wrapped in mysticism and fantasy more than the reality of biology. That’s what leads to bullsh*t stories about jade vaginal eggs being the secret tools of Chinese concubines, as Goop’s website claimed (spoiler alert: it’s straight-up not true), or the elevating of straight-up dangerous voices like that one guy who claims you should walk around barefoot to absorb the natural energy of the earth.
This is at the heart of why Goop shouldn’t be dismissed as white lady nonsense, even though Paltrow herself is happy to lean on that joke as a shield from further criticism. We tend to assume that nobody is silly or naïve enough to fall for some of Goop’s most outlandish claims and yet those products continue to sell out and Netflix came banging on her door, even after Conde Nast severed ties with them over their refusal to fact-check (something they’ve since backtracked on.) Women’s healthcare has historically been rooted in misogyny and racism. Our fears and genuine pain are overlooked, ignored, or flat-out denied by doctors who still cling to the archaic diagnosis of hysteria. Women die when their fears and illnesses are ignored by a historically patriarchal system that sees us as liars, especially black women, who suffer the most because of assumptions that they are exaggerating their pain or don’t understand their own bodies. It’s no surprise that so many of us are terrified to even go to the doctor because we know what will happen, so why not look at alternative means of healing that seem to prize mental and emotional wellbeing as much as the physical. It’s all-natural and rooted in the ancient so it must be good, right? All that and it’s not embarrassed to talk about vaginas!
Goop may be selling the most pricey version of this unique brand of women-centered peace of mind, but the reasons it remains popular are all part of the same conversations happening across lines of gender, class, geography, etc. The lack of scientific backing and accountability almost makes it more alluring, and the more that Paltrow leans into the inherent camp of her business, the more willing customers seem to be to invest in it. It’s funny to be part of Goop but it’s also something that a whole lot of people have positioned as the one true way. Such people tend to be dismissed because they’re seen as rich white ladies who should know better or aren’t worth caring about because hey, money. That may change once Goop’s Netflix show drops and the streaming service suddenly has to contend with a much wider audience than Gwyneth’s tried-and-true demographic. At least the vagina candles aren’t promising to cure you of major diseases.
Header Image Source: Getty Images.