Weird science: Why we can’t get enough of Goop

By | January 11, 2020

Doctors and scientists decry the decision to feature a celebrity-based wellness show as opposed to a science-based one, and some object to the use of the word ‘lab’ in the title. Some feel so strongly that they have cancelled, or threatened to cancel, their Netflix subscription.

As CEO of the wellness brand, Gwyneth Paltrow is a lightning rod for those trying to stem the dangerous and pervasive tide of fake science. Some see her as the pretty, polished, corporate face of the pseudoscience brigade, who at the very least, make money from scientifically unproven cures.

And that’s where the critics have a field day. Goop has a history of promoting and selling products off the back of such debunked and potentially dangerous practises as detoxes and vaginal steaming.

Part of the problem is that at the same time, there is some authoritative and informative content on the site, which appears to lend more weight to the woo – indeed, you could write a book on the science, or lack thereof, of Goop.

In fact, someone has – I can recommend Professor Timothy Caulfield’s Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything for anyone who wants to delve deeper into the subject. But suffice to say, Gwyneth drives the scientific establishment nuts.

And boy, does she trade on this. The trailer for The Goop Lab could be read as a cheeky retort to their finger-wagging. It revels in the words ‘dangerous’ and ‘unregulated’; it foregrounds energy healing, exorcisms, cold water therapy and psychadelics. Vaginas feature a lot – the poster for the series has Paltrow appearing to emerge from a vulva.

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And why wouldn’t she? Gwyneth owes much of her success to the vagina – it was the controversy over the Jade Eggs ($ 66) that she was selling for insertion in said body part that brought Goop to the masses.

That was in spite of condemnation from the scientific community and a fine for misleading health claims with regard to the aforementioned egg.

Gwyneth has since said that in the early days of the company, some mistakes were made which she has learnt from, and she now has a team of scientists and regulatory experts on staff.

But whatever way you dice it, the former Hollywood actress is cleaning up. Goop is now worth over $ 250m and has 1.2m followers on Instagram.

No doubt about it, there is a massive demand for what she is peddling and a ready-made audience for the Netflix series.

The reasons are many and complex, and are compounded by a big communications problem in the fields of science and medicine, but there are two significant forces in particular that propel Goop’s success.

One is the medical establishment’s long history of failure to connect with women – even now, gynaecological problems like endometriosis, and health problems in women like IBS, can be dismissed and attributed to anxiety or considered part of a woman’s lot. Women no longer accept this.

The other is the epidemic of exhaustion among women today. A GP once told me that the most common complaint from women in her practice was tiredness. Bar doing a blood screen, which more often than not comes back normal, and offering healthy lifestyle advice that they are probably too busy to follow, there is nothing she can do for them. Goop, on the other hand, appears to offer a myriad of ‘diagnoses’ and ‘solutions’: your hormones are out of whack, you have too many toxins, you are intolerant to gluten, dairy, sodium – steam your undercarriage, take our supplements, follow our diet and Bob’s your uncle. A silver bullet. No wonder it sells.

  • The Goop Lab streams on Netflix from January 24
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