Sophie Henry

“What does goop sell?” asks Doreen St. Felix in her recent article in The New Yorker “The Magical Thinking of ‘The Goop Lab.’” Some say that it sells morning skin superpowder or microderm instant glow exfoliator. But in the words of the lifestyle brand’s creator, Gwyneth Paltrow, it sells something more intangible: “optimization of self.”

Popular culture today is filled with references to self-care and wellness culture. It’s difficult to scroll through Twitter without finding tweets such as, “More self-care and self-love, please” or, “Focus on yourself, do some self-care.” At Yale, too, we throw around phrases calling for our own and others’ self-care, often failing to acknowledge the various levels of privilege required to access this cultural commodity.

While I wholeheartedly agree that caring for oneself is important, I also think there are a multitude of factors that determine one’s ability to practice self-care in the first place. As I was thinking about the increasing complexity of self-care — now so intertwined with capitalist culture — I happened upon Gwyneth Paltrow’s new series, “The goop Lab,” on Netflix.

As St. Felix describes in her article, the items that Paltrow’s brand offers are incomprehensibly expensive and marketed toward women without regard to the income level required to purchase even one of her items. By targeting women and claiming that her brand supports women’s empowerment, Paltrow is part of a narrative that advances the empowerment of some women at the expense of others. Paltrow uses the word feminism without engaging with its true meaning and cultural and social resonance: just saying “feminism” — and doing nothing else for the women you purport to be helping — unsurprisingly does nothing.

Even the way we talk about certain forms of self-care at Yale — often those forms that women disproportionately practice as compared to men — is blind to differences in socioeconomic background. For instance, I have often spoken with my female friends about wanting to sign up for yoga classes and go to yoga together. But a hidden aspect of this form of self-care is the cost: to take 10 yoga workshops at Breathing Room in New Haven, one would have to spend $150. For many, this cost is just not feasible.

Practices like yoga that we often associate with women’s wellness churn out mantras of self-care by the dozen, creating an insular membership in the “wellness” club. This past summer in Washington, D.C., wanting to take part in an exercise class, I made use of two-week free passes at local yoga studios. The majority of the people who attended the classes were women who came with their yoga mats, sportswear and Hydroflasks. For the first few days of attending classes, I was stunned at the kinds of phrases the instructors would spew out — “find your inner warrior” and “access the flowering of your soul,” among others.

What struck me most was not the phrases themselves but the cultic nature of the whole situation: the people around me mouthing the words, repeating “om,” pressing their palms together, belonging to something that helped them find empowerment that they had to buy their way into.

Perhaps I am oversimplifying, but I find it disturbing that wellness culture, particularly for women, has become so attached to exclusivity and buying power. Taking care of yourself should be something that everyone, regardless of income, can do. Worst of all, brands like goop push us farther into a version of feminism that stands for some women while ignoring others.

How does any of this matter to students at Yale? It matters because of the way we talk to one another, the way we throw around phrases like “self-care” and “women’s empowerment” without delving into the ways in which race and class influence the meaning of those words for different people.

By virtue of the limitations of language, we are confined to a set of words that are reductive and do not adequately capture our meaning. But when we say “women,” or “women of color,” we should be aware of the many layers of experience coded within these broad umbrella terms. When we speak of wellness for women, we can think about who exactly we are addressing, and who we might be excluding.

MEGHANA MYSORE is a senior in Davenport College. Contact her at meghana.mysore@yale.edu .