few headlines popped up this week, written to inspire laughs, groans and such intense eye- rolls that your contacts would end up coming out your nose. “Gwyneth Paltrow has released a vagina candle, naturally” from Harper’s BAZAAR. “We Have Some Questions About Gwyneth Paltrow’s Vagina Candle” from Elle.
Only a few publications (Dazed, Cosmopolitan) actually did some journalism and not just headline recycling to figure out that no, the candle does not actually smell like a vagina.
All week I believed from my eyes glazing over Twitter that dear Gwyn had done the boss bitch move of making a candle that smelled like her vag. I was impressed! A scent most people hide, she was now selling.
I don’t give much credit to Gwyneth (except for her role in the Iron Man movies that, for some inexplicable reason, I find genuinely delightful) but I was excited for someone to trick wellness influencers into smelling a burning vagina when their travel influencer friends Paolo and Paloma came over for homemade paella at their bi-weekly technology-free dinner parties.
The image of a high-ceiling Tribeca loft filled with the mingling smells of paella and singed pussy fills me with delight.
But no. This candle doesn’t smell like vagina. The name comes from a joke Gwyneth said to her perfumer after she smelled the original concoction–according to goop’s website it smells like geranium, citrusy bergamot, cedar and Damask rose. And honestly? That sounds so great.
If I could fuck the bergamot-laced smell of a cup of Earl Grey tea I would. When I quit drinking and needed to spend the money I was saving to feel in control again, I went on a quest around New York City to find a fragrance that smelled as close to Mrs. Meyer’s Geranium Hand Soap as possible (I landed on Dipytque’s Geranium Odorata which costs a shit ton of money and honestly doesn’t smell as good as Mrs. Meyer’s).
These are some of my favorite scents. I would genuinely love to have this candle, and yet. There is only sadness for the candle that could have been.
I’ve always had a pretty good relationship with the ever-evolving smell of my vagina. Any curious woman knows that vaginas don’t have one “scent.” When it’s all funky because my depression hits and I’ve skipped showering, I’ve found comfort that my lil’ sis downstairs reflects the funk I feel in my heart.
I’ve solidified the bonds of female friendship by standing next to a friend and asking “Do you smell my vag right now? Cause it’s way over its sell-by date, and I can smell it, and now I’m worried that everyone else can.”
That friend, without hesitation, took a quick, curious sniff of the air and said “nah, I think you’re good.”
When it’s all clean and fresh, it smells pretty good. It’s definitely not floral, or cedary, or any things that you would find in Gwenyth’s wicked lies. In fact, I’m sure it has more in common with ambergris—the musky substance from the digestive system of sperm whales that has been a staple of fragrance making for centuries—than most other ingredients.
Even if it doesn’t smell “pretty” in a traditional sense, the waftings of the vagina are never bad. If we’re talking scents and flavors, vagina errs more on the umami side than the sugary sweet side. As someone who has eaten pussy a few times (twice, if I’m being honest) and enjoyed it, the scent and taste are agreeable, especially within the context of what’s happening.
Maybe I wouldn’t eat a vagina-flavored gummy, but if there was a candle that could evoke the actual experience of burying your nose into the vagina’s soft folds, if a perfumer was so skilled to be able to capture a very complicated, subtle expression of human sexuality and chemistry, I would pay $75 to support the true innovation and artistry of the feat.
And yet. And yet. We get a promise of what could’ve been. We get an inside joke, a bad joke a rich white lady would make that reinforces the idea that women are so precious (and oddly sterile) that our vaginas smell like geraniums and bergamot rather than celebrating the earthy, real, savory parts of the female anatomy.
Goop’s customers paid $75 for a probably pretty ok candle and me? I’ll just have to take a deep sniff for free.