Pseudoscience in The Goop Lab

Credit: Wikipedia

Megan Farrimond

Megan Farrimond examines the Netflix documentary on Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle brand.

Since Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle e-commerce brand Goop was launched in 2008 it has come under much scrutiny from trained medical professionals and scientists. The criticism levelled at the “L.A. lifestyle” being pushed by the brand, is due to the false and often damaging claims the company makes. These practices include allowing live bees to sting you to relieve pain, using mugwort vaginal steamers, and a $22 liquid which is a “floral blend that assists in the clearing of guilt, shame, self-criticism and blame.” Paltrow’s time as CEO of Goop has been riddled with various lawsuits, criticism and even an entire book dispelling claims made by her brand. So it seemed strange when her company was picked up by Netflix to make a six-part documentary, The Goop Lab

I must admit that as soon as I heard about the documentary I was awaiting its arrival on Netflix. I was just so intrigued to find out what Goop really was, and how it still has a following after all those scandals. The series is filmed in such a minimalistic way it’s almost as if they want you to poke holes in their arguments. It’s easy to see from the outset that the show is an advert for the brand, aiming to get women to part with their money under the guise of feminism and sex-positivity. Each episode is aimed at improving your lifestyle and wellbeing, from taking psychedelics to heal trauma to vampire facials to reduce your biological age. I found this episode surrounding age to be particularly damaging. Whilst many lifestyle gurus promote an ageless beauty, the aim to reduce one’s age through strict lifestyle changes hasn’t proven to be beneficial. In this episode, Paltrow and her two fellow Goop employees, Elise and Wendy, change up their diets and undergo intense facial treatments in order to reduce their biological ages. However, Paltrow’s diet consists of almost complete fasting. Promoting fasting is already dangerous in itself, especially considering Goop’s young demographic, and (spoiler alert) Paltrow’s biological age is the only one to have significantly reduced by the end of the trial. It really shocked me that they were actively promoting fasting, especially whilst failing to address that aging is a natural process. These procedures are incredibly expensive and out of the price range of most women, so why promote something only available to very few people, leaving the rest feeling conscious about their natural ageing?

The episode titled “The Healing Trip” gained a lot of attention, since it featured a group of Goop employees undergoing trauma therapy using psychedelics such as psilocybin. Again, this form of therapy falls short of being accessible to many viewers. In the episode, the group travels to Jamaica, where the use of magic mushrooms is legal in this context. This is a comment on the fact that the use of psychedelics for therapy is not available in many parts of the world, despite having been proven to work. Using a form of therapy that actually has scientific support contrasts against everything else in the show, and since it is the first episode, I imagine this is the main reason the show has been given an ounce of credibility. Despite this, in the same episode, psychotherapist Will Siu explains that the rise in psychedelic therapy is due to the “terrible side effects” of antidepressants, a dangerously swooping statement based on something that differs from each person. Statements like these can deter people from using antidepressants, especially in cases where therapy using mushrooms or MDMA isn’t available to them. However, it seems like Paltrow always has an answer for these claims made by Goop, as she explains “we’re never making statements”, a response to Condé Nast parting ways with the company due to their refusal to use a fact-checker. 

Our generation is no stranger to pseudoscience and its effects, which have rippled throughout society. Take Andrew Wakefield’s claim that the measles vaccine was linked to autism, a belief that was later retracted, yet has been adopted by millions, even now. Something that can seem to be on a small scale can gain so much traction through a cult following, just like Gwyneth Paltrow’s.


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