Gwyneth Paltrow’s latest entry into the Goop franchise is her new Netflix series, “The Goop Lab.” The six episodes deal with a range of wellness issues: psychedelics, cold therapy, orgasms, nutrition for longevity, energy healing, and psychics. In the opening credits, Paltrow notes that her goal in traversing this path is the “optimization of self — like we’re here one time, one life.” Living the examined life is one thing, but crying while undergoing energy healing is quite another.
Wellness is like this odd religion, wherein the affluent compensate for their lack of physical exertion, where we can be deemed “good” for eating right, where reducing stress and balancing our work/life engenders us with virtue. Following wellness dictates can become overwhelming, such in the case of orthorexia, an obsession with health. Living longer, eating healthier, connecting more with nature and with our bodies, eradicating or reducing the impact of disease through holistic healing — all have the kind of associated values that used to come with organized, God-centric religion.
Goop employees were the guinea pigs trying out all the treatments over the six-episode mini-season. People from accounting and IT were on these journeys, too, not just the creatives in the open office plan. These adventures are like the ultimate corporate off-sites.
The Goop Staff Tries Mushrooms
The first episode follows Goopers to Jamaica for a psilocybin experience. The active ingredient in magic mushrooms, psilocybin can cause hallucinations and changes in how the body feels. Shrooms can be eaten plain, but shroom tea is far more palatable.
My first thought was how awful it would be to embark on a psychedelic trip with my co-workers. But my second was that after hippies spent decades lolling about in the gutter wearing tie-dye and goofy grins, hallucinogenics are going mainstream.
In micro doses or in a full-on therapeutic trip, psychedelics have hit the wellness set. The circumstances and ethos surrounding these wacky drugs are way different than when I was dabbling my own neurons in a psilocybin bath. Now it’s got a purity. People fly first-class to beautiful locations to be guided by Ph.D.-level shamans who run foundations for the furtherance of psychedelic research.
For those who haven’t tried shrooms, I can attest to the fact that they take about an hour to kick in and have an earthy flavor. If you’re in a group of 10 friends who all want to get as high as you do, watch for elbows as you all storm the dish of mushrooms and try to stuff as many into your mouth as possible.
This was not the Goop experience. Goop staffers had people to hold them while they cried and released their past trauma. We had firecrackers, large canisters of gasoline, and a penchant for flame. Goopers got some healing on their journey, but we probably had more fun.
Goopers Dive into Cold Therapy
The deep dive into the inner mind was followed by an episode where Goopers dove into the freezing water of Lake Tahoe in winter. Cold therapy promises healing, and Goop shows testimonials from people who swear by daily cold immersion.
When I was recently on a wellness and mindfulness adventure in Arizona, I met a semi-psychic astrologer who swore by cold showers. He’d gone so far as to shut off the gas in his home so he’d be forced into the cold immersion regimen. In contrast, the Goopers, post-swim, sat around a fire, glasses of red wine and bottles of imported beer in their hands, expressing gratitude to the Dutch guy who led the excursion, to the lake maybe, and to fulfillment.
Cold therapy is about taking down the body temperature to activate some of the body’s dormant systems. That’s what so much of the current wellness trends are about: the benefits of denying ourselves comfort to find healing in deprivation. Wellness practitioners are contemporary ascetics. Through suffering, fasting, and flagellation, we find enlightenment, live longer, and master our desires.
A feeling of rectitude accompanies this — that once we challenge ourselves, our skin, and our minds, we have achieved something worthwhile. It’s like a prayer to the ether, to the world itself. Discovering what the body can do when released from its comfort zone is a big part of the wellness explored in Goop. Such is the case with the episode on women’s orgasms.
The Goop Team Gets a Different Kind of Sex Education
Paltrow and Goop Chief Content Officer Elise Loehnen spoke with women’s orgasm specialist Betty Dodson. While Goop staffers didn’t participate in one of Dodson’s “everyone gets naked” workshops — in part because, as Loehnen suggests, it would be “an HR crisis” — Loehnen and Paltrow get a detailed account of how these orgasm workshops go down. Basically, everyone gets off.
It’s a little disconcerting to hear orgasms and women’s pleasure discussed so clinically by 90-year-old Dodson, Paltrow, Loehnen, and CEO of the Betty Dodson Foundation Carlin Ross. The episode was almost like a real-life “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” although not the new one, the old one my step-mom gave me back in the late ’80s. Wellness in this context is knowing how your body works, learning what gives you pleasure, and figuring out how to ask for it without being ashamed.
Women undergo surgery for labiaplasties — up by 45 percent over 2015-16 — to achieve the perfect vulva appearance, but according to Dodson, lots of women never even hold the mirror up to nature to have a look for themselves. Dodson combats the shame and what Paltrow calls the “deep resistance we have to our own genitalia” by teaching women to orgasm and to “run the f-ck.”
One notable moment in this episode occurs when Ross masturbates to orgasm to show how it’s done. Viewers hear real orgasm sounds, not performative receiving as in porn. Seeing and hearing this in a realistic way, from a woman who is confident and comfortable with her body, is something of a disconnect. Seeing Ross know how to pleasure herself without any weirdness, embarrassment, or shame is a bit revolutionary. “Shame is a killer of pleasure,” says Dodson.
Goopers Try Untouchable Healing
The episode on energy healing was another stand-out. But in this case, it’s hard to see how energy massage makes any sense. The practitioners of energy healing work with the energy around your body, whatever that means.
Those who partake in the experience have left in tears, and Paltrow swears by her sessions, as does everyone on Goop’s staff who tries it. With eyes closed, those on the massage table seem to feel the placement of the energy healer’s hands and behave as though they are affected by the not-touch. It’s frankly a little hard to believe.
I had one random reiki healing session when I was hanging out with a friend who was studying it, and I had an asthma attack. We went onto the balcony in the New York winter, and he ran his hands along the outline of my body, his hands several inches away. The attack stopped, but I don’t actually count that as proof of anything.
Why Self-Care Can’t Provide Meaning and Morality
My wellness experiences are limited to spa retreats gifted to me by exceedingly generous family members. In November, I was at Miraval in Arizona, and I lost count of the number of times I was chastised for communing with my iPhone instead of with the desert air and sky. For the record, I communed with them too, and I have the pictures to prove it.
It was here that I had a full-body, blindfolded, Thai underwater massage that brought me to tears and made me seriously reflect on my control issues. I had an Ayurvedic experience that gave me visions that I was living my life behind glass, and everything beautiful was on the other side. I also met a fellow wellness patron who was friendly and open until finding out I wrote for The Federalist.
In the opening credit sequence, Paltrow says that when she founded Goop in 2008, she thought her “calling was something else other than making out with Matt Damon on screen or whatever.” Now Goop is a full-fledged lifestyle brand offering health, wellness, self-image overhauls, and merch. The Goop site features articles, clothes, products, beauty and nutrition tips, books, and all kinds of other ways to spend vast sums of money on self-care.
“The Goop Lab” is very much an advertisement for the lifestyle the brand promotes. While it offers every conceivable kind of object or service to attain the goal of wellness, the one thing is does not provide is meaning. There’s a feeling in the content that morality is inherent in being destressed, living longer, looking younger, and feeling stronger. Good health and wellness, however, are not moral successes. They are flukes of money, time, and genetics.
Paltrow’s impulse to encourage people to be their best selves is certainly sound, but it’s missing a component meaning: a reason to do the right thing regardless of whether it will make us feel better. These enhancements and treatments are all about extending pleasure, in one form or another, yet the path to enlightenment rarely comes with affirmations, a feeling of self-satisfaction, or a glass of wine at the end.