In this article:
- Goop began as an exploration of healing foods, including anti-cancer diets that might help Bruce, Gwyneth Paltrow’s father, manage his illness.
- In 2008, she launched a newsletter sharing nutritious recipes for a handful of readers that she called Goop. The brand has since moved on to making wellness products.
- However, there’s no evidence-based information to satisfy more critical consumers of wellness products. The website itself declares that their products are not FDA-approved, and are not meant to “diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.”
Goop’s Gwyneth Paltrow is a Hollywood success story. If by success, you mean a person who was already well-connected to the industry makes it in said industry. Still, we can’t ignore that she is a talented Oscar-winning actress, who starred in iconic movies such as Shakespeare in Love and Iron Man.
Her biggest role, yet? Playing the wellness goddess to her successful lifestyle company Goop. Their wide range of unconventional products has given us a very good idea of the pseudo-scientific concepts that the actress buys into, packages, and sells to Goop’s many customers.
Regardless of how eccentric we think Gwyneth Paltrow or Goop is, the company’s success did create a reputation for its founder as a smart and influential businesswoman. When you get invited as a guest judge in Shark Tank, which she has for its latest season, you know you’ve made it in the entrepreneurial world.
But Goop’s success story in the wellness industry—and Gwyneth’s leading role in it—is one that is mired in controversy. No other lifestyle brand is bold enough to sell a decorative pair of 18k gold dumbbells, yoni eggs for your genitals, or candles that contain the essence of the CEO’s private parts.
Even with lawsuits and serious criticisms from the medical community attached to Goop’s peculiar name, the company continues to thrive. The $250 million question is, how do they get away with peddling ridiculous and overpriced products without any significant consequences?
The Scoop on How Gwyneth Started Goop
To understand Goop’s success, one must learn of its beginnings. The death of Gwyneth’s father, Bruce Paltrow, unintentionally laid the foundation of the company. The late director lived through a long battle with throat cancer, which led Gwyneth to look into alternative healing methods. This began as an exploration of healing foods, including anti-cancer diets that might help Bruce manage his illness.
The actress has maintained a healthy lifestyle since her father’s diagnosis and long after his passing. In 2008, she launched a newsletter sharing nutritious recipes for a handful of readers. She called the newsletter ‘goop’ to highlight her initials, and included two Os following the trend of successful company names like Google and Facebook.
Goop’s beginnings were humble, but the newsletter evolved into an email you might receive from an influencer. It was padded with recommendations tried and tested by Gwyneth herself, whether they be restaurants in exotic destinations or vitamins she routinely consumed.
Gwyneth had the entrepreneurial sense to monetize her growing online influence, and eventually added a shop section to Goop’s website. The company still has a newsletter but today, Goop is more an e-commerce site than anything else. From skincare to houseware products, Goop dabbles in everything that could improve its target consumer’s wellness and lifestyle—and people have been buying it ever since.
What Goop Really Sells to Consumers
When I say people have been supporting Goop, I mean a very specific group. And, very much like its founder, that is predominantly white middle to upper-class women.
Even for a modern wellness brand, Goop’s pricing is very alienating to people who are actually looking for ways to improve their overall well-being. And their products are cleverly designed to attract mostly women who are willing to try anything that’s marketed as a wellness product, whether or not it’s scientifically proven.
For instance, a hilariously vague vitamin blend called ‘Why Am I So Effing Tired?’ costs $90 for a 30-day supply on their website. The product detail reads:
Formulated with a variety of vitamins (with a high dose of the B’s), additional nutrients, and herbs—including some sourced from ancient Ayurveda—this is designed to help support balance in an overtaxed system.
This kind of branding is critical to Goop’s success. The vague and sort of confusing language is appealing enough to laymen familiar with terms like ‘stress’, ‘nutrients’, and ‘Ayurveda’. However, there’s no evidence-based information to satisfy more critical consumers of wellness products. The website itself declares that their products are not FDA-approved, and are not meant to “diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.”
That, to me, screams that they don’t really care if they raise a few eyebrows in the medical community. As long as they get to tap into an abundant market of consumers with money to burn on a $195 powder-based G.Tox 7-day Reset kit and $1,249 on a gold dildo, Goop wins. In fact, the more they get criticized by media like this one, the more traffic their website gets.
What they really care about is curating a luxurious lifestyle patterned after Goop’s CEO. Gwyneth Paltrow is affluent, sophisticated, and beautiful—all things that many women of any age want to become. Using anti-aging serums that might be in Gwyneth’s personal skincare kit makes Goop’s consumers feel closer to her, and in effect, her aspirational lifestyle.
In Goop We Trust—But Should We?
No one can claim that Goop isn’t successful in what they do. The company is now valued at $250 million, their Instagram page boasts 1.7 million followers, and the In Goop Health summits (which cost $1,000 a ticket) always get sold out. By all accounts, Goop is a thriving empire in the well-oiled wellness machine.
Part of their success, aside from Gwyneth Paltrow’s influence, is how they’re able to convince people that Goop can provide them control over their wellbeing. This is something that women in particular have been missing, as the healthcare industry has neglected women with legitimate needs.
Women experience stigma in the doctor’s office as any other place. Female patients who complain about pain are more likely to receive a prescription for sedatives instead of pain medication. Women wait longer than men to get medical assistance, and symptoms are sometimes dismissed as being psychological. This is reminiscent of how women in the 18th century were diagnosed with hysteria for emotionally-charged behavior, instead of being provided proper healthcare.
Being dismissed by and underrepresented in the field of medicine has discouraged many women from seeking help. So when a company like Goop presents an alternative path to wellness, one that claims you to take charge of your well-being on your own terms, women with privilege are quick to take it.
The risk is that Goop’s wellness claims don’t have evidentiary support. On the one hand, people who buy luxury wellness items like Goop’s do experience a boost in their well-being. Even if the effect is merely a placebo, one could argue that the product has done its job.
The problem is that Goop has crossed the line many times by making bold claims on various alternative wellness products and techniques. The infamous jade egg that Goop encouraged consumers to put up their vaginas is just the tip of the iceberg. One of the company’s trusted experts is an outspoken anti-vaccination and AIDS-denying psychiatrist, who has spoken in their summits many times. Gwyneth claims that diets like intermittent fasting help her manage ailments. And Goop has promoted dangerous alternative therapies like bee-sting therapy, which has led to the death of a 55-year-old woman. (Though it’s not clear where she got the recommendation from.)
Despite all the controversies they’ve faced, Goop is still able to promote questionable wellness practices. Their defense? They’re merely asking questions about unconventional ways to improve wellbeing, and people have the choice to follow it or not.
“We take a curious, open-minded, and service-centric approach to the work we do. We ask questions about all of it. We believe that people can take what serves them and leave what doesn’t,” reads their About page.
But when Goop invites healthcare practitioners into their panel with clearly dangerous views, promotes wellness products and practices that don’t have scientific evidence, and bars people from leaving honest reviews on their pages, it’s pretty clear where they stand. They just want you to trust Goop and buy their products without asking challenging questions.
What Goop is truly selling is a lifestyle, not wellness. They’re not so concerned about demonstrable results of their wellness products, and will even include disclaimers that they might not be effective. Rather, they want consumers’ habits to give an impression of wellness. Drinking organic elixirs, using anti-aging creams, and soaking in salt baths solidify that appearance. And Gwyneth Paltrow, who we assume does all these things that Goop promotes is healthy, we’re made to think Goop is setting us on the right path to wellness.