Confessions of a Reluctant Goop Defender
Seriously—vagina eggs aside—why all the hate?
November 16, 2018
Firstly—I’ve never purchased anything from Goop. I’ve never bought the magazine. The last Gwyneth Paltrow movie I remember was Sliding Doors (which I do love). And I embrace wellness and cherry Nibs in equal measures. So I was not the normal attendee at Vancouver’s recent In Goop Health conference, the majority of whom seemed beyond jacked to be there (even though GP, as she’s known, was not in attendance). Why did I go? In a perverse way, I felt I was standing up for the underdog. Hear me out.
In just one decade, Goop—that elevated lifestyle brand courtesy of GP—has mushroomed into a $250 million dollar empire. That’s a lot of yoni eggs and organic matcha-peppermint-lavender tea. And it would seem entirely fitting, too, that the Goop juggernaut would alight on Vancouver as its setting for their inaugural international summit. After all, clean living and astronomical prices are Vancouver’s m.o.—our fair province has the highest per capita organic food sales in all of Canada as well as the highest home price-income gap. So with that in mind and after attending the recent Goop summit, I confess I’m a little struck—not by Goop’s meteoric success, but by its meteoric success despite some very seriously annoying roadblocks.
So, just laying out the obvious first roadblock. Goop’s CEO is a woman and women make up less than five percent of the 500 most profitable U.S. companies; second, Paltrow is a wealthy celebrity, which can’t make things easier when you’re trying to sell the idea of authenticity; and third, this celebrity attracts a vocal share of naysayers—but I’d say, weirdly, more than her fair share. More than, say, male CEOs like Snapchat’s Evan Spiegel who was rumoured to have said his app was only for rich people. Or Leonardo DiCaprio (with his Appian Way production company) and gross serial womanizing. Or just generally the endless stream of CEOs who behave badly. There seems to be a whole many things worse out there than selling expensive organic fare and offering woo woo advice. In that rare echelon of successful female CEOS, few seem to have endured a protracted, withering gaze like Paltrow’s anti-Goop cabal.
Most of the criticism leveled at her seems to be that she sells a lifestyle that’s expensive and not relevant to everybody. But since when is advice relevant to everybody? Add to that some advice that sounds dubious to Western medicine practitioners (yoni eggs for sexual pleasure or “moon dust” for libido). But here’s what I don’t get: why pay attention to it if it bugs you? Why is the sky is falling every time Goop talks about something people don’t agree with? I don’t agree with alcoholism, but couldn’t one argue that George Clooney is potentially encouraging it with his $1 billion Casamigos Tequila brand since it’s specifically crafted not to cause hangovers? Or why doesn’t Will Ferrell’s Funny or Die comedy company that hosts Drunk History, a show that relays tales from history books through the eyes of inebriated narrators, offend a lot more parents? Where is all their outrage?
I decided I wanted to spend a weekend at Stanley Park to experience the whole Goop vibe—I was partly intrigued, partly excited, partly skeptical, but I came away with something resembling clarity. I may not subscribe to Kambo frog venom treatments, but I’m a GP supporter. It goes back to the underdog thing. GP is no underdog but negative nellies who try to tear people down for having differing views bugs me. Maybe it’s because I was on the debate team in high school, which instilled in me a sense of appreciation for people who eloquently argued their case—and the opposite when emotion got the better of people. Devolving into negative narratives is just all too familiar of late in the public sphere, which makes me wonder what happened to civil discourse with people you don’t agree with. Okay, so you totally don’t believe Eastern medicine’s embrace of yoni eggs as sexual devices. But people have used them to tone their pelvic floor…and some report increased vaginal muscle strength to increased sexual satisfaction. Fine. You still don’t agree. Or maybe you don’t like the word vaginal. But why do you care so much that others do?
Here’s what I do agree with: GP is tapping into something that few others seem to be doing: a) talking about women’s health and b) talking about women’s health in a way that appeals to women. We know that anything that’s relegated to the realm of the female is usually marginalized or ridiculed or both. First, the health industry is still very weighted towards the male experience. Second, when women are treated in the health industry, there’s a prevailing bias. Third, female sexual and emotional health are still either taboo or irrelevant subjects the world over. We’ve long cared about men being able to get it up since the cave paintings were first recorded (hello Viagra!), but the study into female desire is still in the early stages. And it’s 2018, people.
So, all this to say that, I actually kind of love that GP talks about a bunch of things that no one else talks about. Threesomes! BDSM! Tantric sex! GP’s celebrity status helps lend a bit more weight to the conversation than, say, a naturopath’s website or an unknown sex therapist. And conversations there are: during the two-day Vancouver event, there were plenty of speakers geared toward exploring and discovering “optimal well-being,” including thought-provoking discussions with, among many others, athlete and author Gabrielle Reece (women and their body image); psychotherapist Barry Michels; functional medicine physician Alejandro Junger; and a psychological astrologer and a psychic medium (yup, someone who could talk to spirits in the room). There were the requisite collagen smoothies, a skincare master class and yoga session and, of course, the best in clean beauty and wellness gear in the Goop pop-up shop.
Everyone shelled out $400 for a ticket (which sold out in just two days). But with some clever calculations, I figured Goop was actually paying me to attend. First, post–yoga session with a Lululemon ambassador, we all came away with a free pair of Lululemon yoga pants ($98). Then, lunch was taken care of by Trevor Bird of Trevor Bird Catering and Fable Kitchen, so let’s just say that’s another conservative $20. Then there was the swag bag—the bag itself was a Lululemon’s Out of Range tote ($128)—filled with goop goods like Juice Beauty facial oil ($150), Emotional Detox Bath Soak ($117) and Why Am I So Effing Tired Vitamins? (US$90) for a total worth around $500. A $400 ticket translated into over $700 worth of goods plus breakfast, wine post-event and a beaded mala to help us count our mantras. The way I see it, if your company is worth a quarter of a billion dollars and people come away feeling like you paid them to attend your summit, you’re doing something brilliant.
Because so many avenues to women’s emotional health are shut, many of them have found a voice and community in Goop. Here, when someone who gives a name to their experience—fatigue, the blues, sexual empowerment, alienation, loneliness—it’s heard, dissected, honoured, and celebrated. There’s no judgment; that only comes from the outside. But no one heard judgment at Stanley Park—inside, there’s only love and connection to hundreds of other women who paid $400 to be part of something no one can quite define. They just know they’re happy. And doesn’t everyone deserve to be happy—even if that brand of happiness isn’t for you?