I went and saw Sex and the City 2 with a friend the other night, and I have to say I enjoyed it. It was fun, corny, light-hearted, and the clothing and furniture made it pretty to look at. But I had one major complaint that spoiled it for me, and that is that Samantha’s entire story-line was basically a commercial for Suzanne Somers’s books and alternative medicine anti-aging nonsense.
WARNING: Spoilers ahead!
Samantha is the oldest of the group of four ladies (she’s 52 in this movie), and she’s obsessed with staying young. Right near the beginning of the movie she’s asked what surgeries she’s had done to keep her so young, and she replies that she hasn’t had any, and then proceeds to pull out Suzanne Somers’s book (from memory I think the specific book was Breakthrough: Eight Steps to Wellness) and starts talking about all of the hormones and pills she takes and the creams she rubs on herself and patches she wears.
This becomes her gag throughout, as she’s always constantly either rubbing an expensive-looking cream on herself, or swallowing ridiculous amounts of pills. If you’ve seen the previews you know most of the movie takes place in Abu Dhabi, UAE, and when they arrive at the airport there she has all of her drugs confiscated. From this point on she starts complaining about her menopausal symptoms, and she starts rubbing yams and eating hummus because apparantly they have some natural estrogen or something. To top it all off, near the end of the movie (seriously now, spoilers) a room full of women remove their burkas to reveal youthful looking, New York-style fashion wearing women, who are (surprise!) discussing the Suzanne Somers book in their book club.
What makes it worse is that all four of the stars of the movie are smart, successful women, and they offer her no skepticism apart from a little bit of attitude at the silliness of taking so many pills. It’s sad, especially considering the success that the movie is having, to think that women might watch it and think that if they use all of these undoubtedly expensive products, they too could look like Samantha. I hope that most people would approach this skeptically, but I think that this feature-length commercial will unfortunately lend the semblance of credibility to her alternative therapies.
My heart sank immediately when Samantha first pulled out Somers’s book and started talking about bio-identical hormones, but that’s largely because I read skeptical blogs (like Respectful Insolence), so I had seen a lot of evidence-based responses to Somers’s claims before I saw the movie. But even without that prior knowledge, there were some red flags that anyone’s skeptical side could pick up on:
1. Appeal to Celebrity: taking medical advice from an actress is not prudent. Suzanne Somers is not an expert, so before starting any treatment she recommends make sure to consult your doctor, and read reviews of her treatments by skeptical experts, so that you’re not only getting the information supplied by people who have professional or financial interests in promoting these treatments.
2. Naturalistic Fallacy: When Samantha is having her pills taken from her at the airport, she protests by saying “but they’re all-natural!” This is appealing to the fallacy that since something is natural, it’s safe or good for you, but this just isn’t so. I guess Samantha forgot that other substances, such as cocaine or marijuana, that would be confiscated in airport security are also natural. Many natural substances are poisonous to humans, and even ones that are seen as safe and healthy, like Vitamin D, can be overdosed on. One shouldn’t assume that because Suzanne Somers claims the treatments she endorses are natural (I say “claims” because there’s nothing natural about the process of synthesizing bio-identical hormones), that they are healthy and don’t carry risks.
3. Testimonials: Stories are a convincing way to sell a product, as anyone who’s been sucked in by an infomercial knows. But often products that are promoted with the use of testimonials just aren’t supported by scientific evidence. The Skeptic’s Dictionary has a good article on why testimonials are unreliable forms of evidence: “Anecdotal (Testimonial) Evidence“.
4. Quality of Life: Anyone considering a treatment or a lifestyle change should weigh the pros and cons. If somebody is convinced that the anti-aging methods promoted by Suzanne Somers actually work, they should look at Samantha’s lifestyle in this movie and decide whether all of the time spent counting out pills (she swallowed a whole handfull at one point), rubbing creams on herself, and obsessing over her hormone levels is worth the benefits. Personally, I would take the wrinkles and hot flashes and spend the time I saved by not obsessing over my looks doing things I enjoy. One should also keep in mind that supplements aren’t nearly as regulated as pharmaceuticals, so if you’re on a regime that involves swallowing handfuls of supplements daily, you may be risking exposure to contaminants. More on that here, and here.
5. How Kim Cattrall (the actress that plays Samantha) actually stays young: A red flag that should be obvious to every person who is wondering whether they should start a regime like Samantha’s, is that Kim Cattrall looks like she does without all of the hormone nonsense. I browsed a few websites and interviews done with the actress, and she claims to keep her looks by sticking to a strict diet, exercising at least 30 minutes per day, and using botox (guess who else uses botox? Yup, Suzanne Somers). So it’s possible to look just as good as Kim Cattrall without the use of hormone therapies (that are possibly dangerous and that aren’t supported by science).
I hope that most people who watch the movie would pick up on at least a couple of these red flags, and look into Somers’s claims thoroughly before starting such an over-the-top anti-aging regime. Here are some good places to start if you’re looking for a critical look at the things she’s promoting:
- Dr. Harriet Hall looks at bioidentical hormones in an article for Skeptic Magazine
- Quackwatch recommends steering clear of bioidentical hormones
- Science-Based Pharmacy explores the veracity of claims made about bioidentical hormones
- Newsweek criticizes Somers’s poor grasp of the science behind the treatments she endorses