The mostly harmless new Netflix series The Goop Lab makes it easy to forget the damage Gwyneth Paltrow’s pseudoscience-y brand of “wellness” can do.
You’ve gotta give it to Gwyneth Paltrow: She’s no dummy. The promotional photo that looks like she’s trapped inside a many-layered vulva; the vagina-scented candle that costs $75 (sold out, good grief); her surprisingly delightful role on The Politician; her cool-mom presence on Instagram, leaving a faint breadcrumb trail of proof that actually she has a great sense of humor — it all creates the image of Paltrow as someone far more self-aware than her wellness brand Goop, on its face, would suggest.
It remains kind of a bummer that someone as interesting as Paltrow is using her charisma to recommend and sell a variety of potentially risky pseudoscience treatments and products to her large, enthusiastic audience. But based on her newest project, a Netflix series called The Goop Lab that debuts January 24, it looks like this is the Paltrow we’re getting from now on.
Each episode of the show explores one alternative health or wellness trend, following an expert or enthusiast who’s offering a different way to live a better, happier, healthier life. Paltrow dips in and out, usually interviewing the leading expert and sometimes acting as the guinea pig herself. (She does not, regrettably, do mushrooms or masturbate on camera.) And each Goop Lab episode begins with a disclaimer: “The following series is designed to entertain and inform — not provide medical advice.”
Maybe the Goop team learned something from the lawsuit it settled in 2018, over some deeply unscientific claims about the benefits of inserting a jade egg into your vagina. At the time, Goop suggested that the egg could help balance your hormones (it is a rock shaped like an egg) and help prevent uterine prolapse (it is still a rock shaped like an egg). The site’s editors have since removed the offending language from the product description.
Paltrow and her staff have built a business on pseudoscience that targets women where our anxieties are.
A pretty sizable chunk of Goop’s website is dedicated to convincing you to buy luxury goods you absolutely do not need: a pair of low-rise jeans that only go up to size 31 ($295), an “infrared sauna blanket” ($500), or a pair of made-to-order pearl drop earrings ($16,780). Most of these things are unnecessary, but perfectly harmless. Would you like a $200 dopp kit that only holds maybe six products? Knock yourself out, kid. But clicking on the “wellness” section of the Goop site opens the door to a much more nefarious part of the business. There’s a wide range of (highly suspect) information on “fasting-mimicking” meal plans (briefly mentioned on Goop Lab), a summer detox guide, and an endless selection of supplements that cost as much as $90 — including something called “High School Genes,” a one-month supply of pills “formulated for women … who feel like their metabolism might be slowing down.”
So you’d be forgiven for walking into The Goop Lab with derision, prepared to be sold some (possibly literal) snake oil or maybe a CBD patch that you put on your butt to calm your detox tea–induced diarrhea — or perhaps a $42,500 pillow made entirely of rose quartz. (It’s very uncomfortable but very exclusive.) It may be either a relief or a disappointment to learn that The Goop Lab feels like it comes from a different, much tamer (and less product-led) point of view than the Goop brand overall. And that’s actually the biggest problem with The Goop Lab: There really isn’t one.
The recommendations dispensed are largely reasonable, if a bit unorthodox when compared to traditional medicine — microdosing mushrooms to help with PTSD, psychic readings, looking at your own vagina, jumping into cold water to keep yourself feeling young. Any science The Goop Lab presents is generally flimsy, but it’s really not about the science. The various slightly woo-woo topics explored have been covered many times before, sometimes by this very media company.
The trouble comes when you compare the series with Goop’s broader branding and strategy. Paltrow and her staff have built a business on pseudoscience that targets women where our anxieties are: Am I getting enough sleep? Am I attractive? Am I thin? Am I sexually fulfilled? How’s my skin? How’s my hair? How’s my overall sense of self?
Often, we’re not happy with the answers to those questions — which leads people to buy products that don’t work or take advice that’s downright dangerous. The Goop Lab, meanwhile, is much more innocent and far harder to hate than the e-commerce empire that spawned it. So it acts as a form of brand rehab for Goop and Paltrow in general — but there’s no indication that the underlying Goop ethos has actually changed.
Some episodes of The Goop Lab may actually be emotionally impactful if you’re a cis woman struggling with your body. “The Pleasure Is Ours” focuses on sexual health and shows more vaginas than you’d even see in an eighth-grade health class. The episode follows an accountant who works for Goop, a queer woman originally from Shanghai, struggling to open up intimately with a partner — a rare moment of the Goop brand not being aggressively white, rich, and capitalist. Sex educator (and absolutely delightful, brassy broad) Betty Dodson recommends some pelvic floor exercises, which can have benefits for many women, but there’s no one urging viewers to buy any mysterious sprays or unnecessary wands or douches. (The famed egg, alas, does not make an appearance.)
Other episodes are less effective. “Cold Comfort” follows Wim Hof, an extreme athlete who believes that his particular breathing method can help the body withstand subzero temperatures, depression, stress, and, most worryingly, bacterial infections. The idea that if you just believe in yourself and breathe like Hof, you, too, will be able to fight off hypothermia and E. coli is both patently ridiculous and outright dangerous. I don’t know who needs to hear this, but: Breathing exercises will not save you from freezing to literal death.
Believing in the otherwise unbelievable is easy to do if you’re willing to take a small leap of faith.
In another episode, Paltrow puts herself through a “fasting-mimicking” diet for five days, which effectively allows her little more than a watery, miserable soup, a bunch of tea, and a nut bar each day. What Goop frames as “wellness” is also often focused on weight loss and food restriction, even if no one says so directly. “The Health-Span Plan” episode is purportedly about your “biological age,” but it also advocates for incredibly expensive facials, diets that punish the body and the spirit, and a general focus on clinging to physical youth rather than prioritizing something like, say, your general quality of life.
Much of The Goop Lab is just plain weird and barely worth picking apart. What are you supposed to pull from the episode where Julianne Hough joins Paltrow and her Goop employees (who are featured in all the episodes, seemingly of their own free will, which I’m sure their HR department just loved) as they get their energies realigned? The episode is 29 minutes of people writhing and grunting on tables with no scientific proof or explanation for what’s apparently happening to them. The “expert” leading the episode — John Amaral, a go-to energy healer for the rich and famous — seems to believe that changing your body’s energy (which is basically just having some guy wave his hands over your body until you convulse, I think?) can change your rate of cell growth — which, honestly, isn’t the dumbest thing Goop has ever suggested.
Believing in the otherwise unbelievable is easy to do if you’re willing to take a small leap of faith. If you’re watching The Goop Lab to begin with, you’re likely already prepared to jump. But the show is enough of a departure from the absurdity of Goop’s website, and so much gentler in its approach to overpriced, overhyped, unnecessary “wellness” trends, that you’d be forgiven for forgetting that Goop’s fundamental business model is still profiting off gullible and vulnerable consumers who buy into the dubious promises it makes. With The Goop Lab, it seems like Paltrow is making a play to bring her brand out of the jade egg era into a new phase of (relative) credibility. But of course, the egg is still for sale, for $66 — if it ever comes back in stock. ●