The Goop Lab, Netflix’s new wellness series highlighting the controversial mega-brand created by actor Gwyneth Paltrow, shows how the mostly-service oriented and multi-trillion-dollar global wellness industry caters to the wealthy and privileged. The series packages some highly debatable approaches to wellness into tidy 30-minute episodes by showing fashionable, glowy—yet almost universally self-described anxious—Goop employees taking advantage of highly curated, personalized wellness experiences. On their own, each of these sessions would likely cost employees hundreds if not thousands of dollars. But for the most part, The Goop Lab highlights how people looking for ways to alleviate stress, reduce the signs of aging, process grief, and improve their overall well-being can easily be persuaded to spend countless sums of money on treatments that may not help in the long run.
Each of the six episodes begins with a warning that The Goop Lab is meant to entertain and inform and is not a substitute for medical advice. All episodes feature at least one accredited professional and feature case studies for added credibility, and a few of those case studies seemed to illustrate some clinical success that might prompt viewers to consult with their physicians about the treatment’s viability.
The first episode, about the growing use of micro-dosing psychedelic drugs for the treatment of mental illness, offered one of the more believable case studies when it showed a veteran from the Iraq war properly using the treatment under the supervision of medical professionals to successfully treat PTSD. There is growing research out of Johns Hopkins University about the efficacy of this treatment for depression, but The Goop Lab spent most of the episode showing Goop employees on a posh magic mushroom trip in Jamaica. Not only does it feel irresponsible to promote the use of psilocybin mushrooms outside of a medical setting, but this destination wellness retreat comes with a price tag of a few thousand dollars excluding airfare.
Episodes two, five, and six were the hokiest of the series, lacking any medical doctors as experts. Episode two highlighted a treatment developed by a grief-stricken Dutch man called the Caveman who uses breathing and cold element exposure to address immune system issues and anxiety. Episode five featured the reiki healer that Gwyneth and Julianne Hough swear by to release bad energy and help alleviate pain. The producer of the series and Goop’s chief content officer claimed that she experienced an “exorcism” during the episode, but other Goop employees barely move during their reiki sessions. And episode six, while wildly entertaining in a Long Island Medium kind of way, features a medium who teaches Goopers how to “read” each other. There were several instances during the series when it felt like lots of inappropriate work boundaries were being crossed, including the three episodes where Goop employees were in each other’s company wearing nothing but bathing suits. And once again, these experimental treatments would likely cost ordinary people hundreds or more dollars.
Episode three focussed on women’s pleasure and showed a women’s pleasure workshop with sex educator Betty Dodson where women sit together unclothed to learn more about their own genitalia and pleasure points. The episode attempts to demystify female genitalia by showing dozens of up-close anatomical photos and then shows a woman learning how to use a vibrator—a bit sensational, but important at the same time. Dobson points out that the media does not show women deriving pleasure from sex often enough. The episode cites a 2017 study of Pornhub’s most popular videos in which women only had orgasms 18% of the time. Also in this episode, a Gooper is flown to New York for a private consultation with Dobson to learn how she can overcome cultural taboos around homosexual sex to enjoy sex more individually and with a partner.
Episode four focussed on nutrition a bit and showed Gwyneth suffering through a five-day fast as her teenage daughter films her wishing she could have the pudding that her daughter is enjoying. This seemed dangerous in a way that might promote disordered eating to younger viewers. This episode focused on how we can presumably affect our biological age (determined by a blood test administered in the Goop offices?) vs. our chronological age through diet. The recommended diet is likely a very expensive five-day fasting protocol conducted a few times per year. The second best diet was shown to be a pescatarian diet, but the producer who tried this diet illustrated how expensive it can be when one night’s salmon main course set her back $50.
In this episode, Gwyneth and two of her senior executives also undergo minor cosmetic procedures as they discuss their fears of aging. Gwyneth had her own platelets extracted, spun, and reinjected in a “vampire facial” conducted at the swanky Four Seasons. Her almost 40-year-old colleague had 100 needles placed in her face, and another almost 50-year-old colleague had a micro thread injected into her jawline to make her appear younger. Both cited a concern that their appearance is their currency for success at work and in relationships. A better episode would have addressed the illness in the culture and double standard that aging women face in the workplace instead of indulging the narrative that youth and beauty are important by injecting needles and wires into young women’s faces.
Anxiety is the common health issue cited for why The Goop Lab portrays these selected wellness treatments. Several Goopers discussed how anxiety affects their creativity at work, their relationships, their mental health, and their overall wellbeing. In the food episode, the experts discussed the important roles that sleep, regular exercise, healthy food, and the avoidance of drugs and alcohol can play in combatting anxiety. It’s critical to point out that anxiety is a medical condition, and anyone suffering from anxiety should consult a physician for help. In the end, most of the episodes showed the types of things offered at luxury spa getaways, which carry a hefty price tag and are accessible to very few people. But as the show discloses upfront, it is primarily entertainment. So it’s worth remembering not to take any of this (lowercase g) goop too seriously, especially when you get that targeted ad for the candle that smells like Gwyneth’s vagina (or is it her vulva?).
Take Action! Episodes one, three, and four of The Goop Lab are watchable and interesting from an entertainment perspective only. But when it comes to the expensive and debatable wellness treatments suggested in episodes two, five, and six, we’re #NotBuyingIt.