It’s easy to dislike Goop.
Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle brand sells a kind of self-care that appears effortless but actually requires a lot of effort and money. The contradiction makes even browsing Goop’s Instagram account — a grid of fresh produce, lush landscapes, and happy-looking white women with loose waves — an irritating exercise.
At the same time, if we had the money and the time, who wouldn’t want life to be a little more like Goop’s vision of it, full of nutritious meals, yoga classes and glowing skin?
I would, anyway, if I’m being honest.
Falling in love with “Bridget Jones’s Diary” at a young age subconsciously primed me to see the constant pursuit of self-improvement as synonymous with adulthood. At 12, nothing made me feel more like a rom-com heroine than shaving my legs, plucking my eyebrows and journaling about my feelings before a middle school dance.
As an adult, in the hopes of relieving my anxiety and depression and otherwise feeling better, I’ve made medicinal teas, pasted together vision boards, had my aura read, tried intermittent fasting, sat under a full moon in a circle of Asian witches, and gone to a three-day women’s retreat that included dancing around a fire.
Wellness practices, both in and outside the scope of Goop, raise questions about everything from capitalism and sustainability to cultural appropriation.
What is “alternative” wellness an alternative to?
“What we try to do at Goop is explore ideas that may seem too out there or scary,” says Elise Loehnen, Goop’s chief content officer, in a trailer for new Netflix show “The Goop Lab,” which comes out on Jan. 24.
Her voice-over accompanies an image of her face stuck with acupuncture needles, which one could argue are neither out there nor scary.
In the show’s six-episode first season, the show examines magic mushrooms, cold therapy, orgasms, how to lower one’s “biological age,” energy therapy and psychic mediums.
After the criticisms leveled at Goop about its whiteness and its cost, it’s hard not to see the first episode — in which Goop staffers fly to Jamaica to take magic mushrooms in an apparently all-white group — as a stubborn, tone-setting move for the series.
But the next couple of episodes are more interesting. In the second episode, “Cold Comfort,” extreme athlete Wim Hof, nicknamed “The Iceman,” teaches a group of Goopers his method of cold therapy and breathing exercises. They do yoga in the snow in swimsuits before jumping into Lake Tahoe.
In the third, “The Pleasure Is Ours,” 90-year-old sex educator Betty Dodson and Carlin Ross, the CEO of Dodson’s foundation, tell Paltrow and Loehnen about their naked “bodysex workshops,” designed to make women feel more comfortable getting to know their bodies. Goopers do a clothed version with self-described “sexuality doula” Isabella Frappier, who leads them through intimacy exercises like taking sensual self-portraits and practicing talking about what does and doesn’t feel good during a partner massage session. A montage of vulva photographs illustrates the wide range of normal.
Compared to other Netflix self-help personalities like “Queer Eye’s” Fab Five or Marie Kondo, Paltrow and Loehnen are less connected to the show’s vulnerable moments. They anchor each episode in a talk show-like couch conversation setting with the episode’s experts. Even though they both participate in some of the exercises, and even though we see Loehnen have some intense reactions during exercises, the most heartfelt moments come from Goop staffers, many of them young and people of color.
There’s Lexi, who jumps at the chance to participate in the episode about sexuality because she has never felt comfortable talking about sexuality, or being a gay woman, with her Chinese family.
There’s Kate, who has panic disorder and hopes cold therapy might help her; Janay, who experiences sleep paralysis; and Caitlin and Dwi, who are grieving family members.
A few interview subjects also appear per episode to talk about their experiences with each treatment. There’s Jon, an Iraq War veteran who finds relief for his suicidal PTSD, or Noah and Kim, a mother-son pair who do the Wim Hof method as a family for mental clarity and bonding. Still, the interview subjects get brief camera time, and the Goop staffers’ stories often feel oddly picked up and suddenly dropped before they have a chance to reach narrative fruition.
When Paltrow and Loehnen take the spotlight, we hear a lot about their diets and facial treatments, along with awkward banter that a few times too many is just Loehnen talking about how famous or beautiful or rich Paltrow is. Their discussions with experts don’t include treatment costs or accessibility options, or the larger societal forces that make us feel unwell and unsatisfied with the medical establishment, let alone the environmental or cultural effects of our wellness quests.
In the show’s introduction, Paltrow sums up her company’s mission this way: “To me, it’s all laddering up to one thing, which is optimization of self. We’re here one time, one life.”
Self-care is an existential issue, but it’s a means, not an end, isn’t it? Once we’ve done the treatments and the therapy and the life-extending diets, what do we do with our stronger, healthier selves?