How Goop’s Haters Made Gwyneth Paltrow’s Company Worth $250 Million
On a Monday morning in November, students at Harvard Business School convened in their classroom to find Gwyneth Paltrow. She was sitting at one of their desks, fitting in not at all, using her phone, as they took their seats along with guests they brought to class that day — wives, mothers, boyfriends. Each seat filled, and some guests had to stand along the back wall and sit on the steps. The class was called the Business of Entertainment, Media and Sports. The students were there to interrogate Paltrow about Goop, her lifestyle-and-wellness e-commerce business, and to learn how to create a “sustainable competitive advantage,” according to the class catalog.
She moved to the teacher’s desk, where she sat down and crossed her legs. She talked about why she started the business, how she only ever wanted to be someone who recommended things. When she was in Italy, on the set of “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” she’d ask someone on the crew about, say, where the best gelato was. When she was in London, on the set of “Shakespeare in Love,” she asked a crew member where to find the best coffee; in Paris, she asked an extra where to find the best bikini wax; in Berlin, the massage you can’t miss. She wasn’t just curious. She was planning this the whole time.
The first iteration of the company was only these lists — where to go and what to buy once you get there — via a newsletter she emailed out of her kitchen, the first one with recipes for turkey ragù and banana-nut muffins. One evening, at a party in London, one of the newsletter’s recipients, a venture capitalist named Juliet de Baubigny, told her, “I love what you’re doing with Goop.” G.P., as she is called by nearly everyone in her employ, didn’t even know what a venture capitalist was. She was using off-the-shelf newsletter software. But De Baubigny became a “godmother” to Paltrow, she said. She encouraged her vision and “gave permission” to start thinking about how to monetize it.
At first, Goop — so named not just for her initials and for, you know, goop, but because someone along the way told her that all the successful internet companies had double O’s — appealed to an audience that admired G.P.’s rarefied lifestyle. Martha Stewart (for example) was an aspirational lifestyle brand, true, but the lifestyle was so easily attainable once Stewart took her wares to Kmart and Macy’s.
G.P. didn’t want to go broad. She wanted you to have what she had: the $795 G. Label trench coat and the $1,505 Betony Vernon S&M chain set. Why mass-market a lifestyle that lives in definitional opposition to the mass market? Goop’s ethic was this: that having beautiful things sometimes costs money; finding beautiful things was sometimes a result of an immense privilege; but a lack of that privilege didn’t mean you shouldn’t have those things. Besides, just because some people cannot afford it doesn’t mean that no one can and that no one should want it. If this bothered anyone, well, the newsletter content was free, and so were the recipes for turkey ragù and banana-nut muffins.
By the time she stood in that Harvard classroom, Goop was a clothing manufacturer, a beauty company, an advertising hub, a publishing house, a podcast producer and a portal of health-and-healing information, and soon it would become a TV-show producer. It was a clearinghouse of alternative health claims, sex-and-intimacy advice and probes into the mind, body and soul. There was no part of the self that Goop didn’t aim to serve.
“I want to help you solve problems,” G.P. said. “I want to be an additive to your life.” Goop is now worth $250 million, according to a source close to the company.
The students nodded studiously as she spoke about her clothing line and CPGs and “contextual commerce” and open rates and being “cash positive” and “radical wellness” and how she likes to hire “smart people with founder DNA” and working mothers: “That bitch will get things done.”
For all the students’ questions about those newsletters and their use of all kinds of three-letter acronyms, it felt to me as if everyone was missing the point. G.P.’s business began in 2008 and was incorporated in 2013, but it really started when she was being hunted by the paparazzi and living in such a lonely, high-altitude world that she could basically be friends with only Madonna. Or even before that when, as a 19-year-old, she would run lines with her mother, the actress Blythe Danner, and Danner noticed that it was all too easy for her, that there was something preternatural about her talent (an assessment one of her former co-stars also said to me almost verbatim). Or maybe even before that, when some combination of her parents’ DNA formed a genetic supernova that would allow for her name to appear in the same paragraph as the word “luminous” 227 times when searching in a LexisNexis database.
The outside world began to creep in. The students asked second-date questions about the topics she has been criticized for, starting with charges of elitism. Someone asked how she planned to engage with people of lesser incomes. She said: “It’s crucial to me that we remain aspirational. Not in price point, because content is always free.” The things they were making — the clothing, yes, but also the creams and oils — couldn’t be made cheaply. “Our stuff is beautiful,” she said. “The ingredients are beautiful. You can’t get that at a lower price point. You can’t make these things mass-market.”
They nodded, mesmerized, stars and dollar signs in their eyes. They took notes, but why? When G.P. said “aspirational,” she wasn’t kidding. Her business depended on no one ever being able to be her. Though I guess it also depended on their ability to think they might.
The minute the phrase “having it all” lost favor among women, wellness came in to pick up the pieces. It was a way to reorient ourselves — we were not in service to anyone else, and we were worthy subjects of our own care. It wasn’t about achieving; it was about putting ourselves at the top of a list that we hadn’t even previously been on. Wellness was maybe a result of too much having it all, too much pursuit, too many boxes that we’d seen our exhausted mothers fall into bed without checking off. Wellness arrived because it was gravely needed.
Before we knew it, the wellness point of view had invaded everything in our lives: Summer-solstice sales are wellness. Yoga in the park is wellness. Yoga at work is wellness. Yoga in Times Square is peak wellness. When people give you namaste hands and bow as a way of saying thank you. The organic produce section of Whole Foods. Whole Foods. Hemp. Oprah. CBD. “Body work.” Reiki. So is: SoulCycle, açaí, antioxidants, the phrase “mind-body,” meditation, the mindfulness jar my son brought home from school, kombucha, chai, juice bars, oat milk, almond milk, all the milks from substances that can’t technically be milked, clean anything. “Living your best life.” “Living your truth.” Crystals.
Goop’s first newsletter left G.P.’s kitchen in 2008, right when the economy was collapsing around us. It wasn’t just the homes people no longer owned and the jobs people no longer had. It was the environmental crisis. It was the endless exposure of corruption. Whom exactly were we trusting with our care? Why did we decide to trust them in the first place? Who says that only certain kinds of people are allowed to give us the answers?
These phenomena gave an easy rise to Gwyneth Paltrow, who was at first curating teas and lingerie and sweaters she thought you’d like. But people were looking for leaders, and she was already committing public displays of ostentatious wellness: She showed up at a movie premiere with cupping marks on her back; she let bees sting her because I don’t know why. Suddenly Gwyneth Paltrow, the movie star, was a major player in an industry that was big business.
Other celebrities followed. Jessica Alba’s Honest Company was worth more than $1 billion at its peak, but it really offers mostly cleaning and beauty products. Miranda Kerr has a line of organic beauty products. Amanda Chantal Bacon’s Moon Juice, a line of supplements, is a ship launched directly from Port Goop. None of them aim to treat every single aspect of the human as wholly as Goop does. Nothing is as elemental an extension of its source as Goop is.
The Goop campus in Santa Monica consists of four squat gray buildings, where in June a diverse group of about 200 young, exuberant, well-dressed people were working hard to plan the coming weekend’s event, the In Goop Health wellness summit. G.P. sat at her desk behind the glass walls of her office, which was spare and also decorated in shades of gray. Her golden hair fell over the paper she was reading. She was wearing a tank top, shearling-lined white Birkenstocks and Goop x Frame wide-legged palazzo jeans. Back when she wore them at Harvard, I’d never seen anyone else wear them. Now she was making them, and everyone else I knew was wearing the same style.
We ate salmon hand rolls. She was trying to be low-carb today, but it wasn’t happening. There was too much going on. The wellness summit, a daylong immersion in Goop-endorsed products, panels, doctors and other “healers,” was a “heavy lift for the team.”
“It’s intense, man,” she said. She reached behind her to her bookshelf, which held about a dozen blue bottles of something called Real Water, which is not stripped of “valuable electrons,” which supposedly creates free radicals something something from the body’s cells. “It’s insane, and then I have to do a lot on the day, and I really don’t like speaking in public, and I have to keep getting up in front of a crowd.”
The summit is great, don’t get her wrong. All three so far have sold out, with tickets ranging from $500 to $4,500, the highest of which included two dinners with G.P. plus two nights at Casa del Mar. But lately she has been wondering if the summit does everything it needs to. She worries that she’s just serving the same customers over and over. She met a woman who took a very long bus ride from she thinks rural Pennsylvania to the Goop summit in New York in January. “Seventy-nine percent of our American customers aren’t in New York or Los Angeles,” where these summits are held, she said; they’re in secondary markets.
So how do you bring them in? There have been pop-up Goop stores everywhere from Dallas to Miami. There would be a digital pass to the summit. But you can’t taste a plate of ancient grains and avocado in citrus dressing on a computer. You can’t feel someone push warm oil with a jade roller over your skin through an iPad. You can’t eat a piece of chocolate that will supposedly not just regulate your hormones but restore your sex life — chocolate! — on your phone. You can only watch some panels and one-on-one conversations. So she’s thinking they might take the thing on the road. Can you believe this? She was incredulous. She still remembers sitting in her kitchen in London, celebrating a day when $45 had come in because of an advertising partnership.
The newsletter was at first kind of mainstream New Age-forward. It had some kooky stuff in it, but nothing totally outrageous. It was concerned with basic wellness causes, like detoxes and cleanses and meditation. It wasn’t until 2014 that it began to resemble the thing it is now, a wellspring of both totally legitimate wellness tips and completely bonkers magical thinking: advice from psychotherapists and advice from doctors about how much Vitamin D to take (answer: a lot! Too much!) and vitamins for sale and body brushing and dieting and the afterlife and crystals and I swear to God something called Psychic Vampire Repellent, which is a “sprayable elixir” that uses “gem healing” to something something “bad vibes.”
That was the year after G.P. met Elise Loehnen, 38, a former magazine editor who had been ghostwriting for G.P.’s friend, the extremely extreme personal trainer Tracy Anderson, in whose business G.P. is a minority stakeholder. Loehnen wasn’t just interested in wellness; she was obsessed with it. Wellness, she argued, isn’t just about a spa you’re going to or a cleanse you’ve started or a diet you’re on. It’s how local your food is. It’s how the chickens you eat all went to the right schools. It’s the water you drink. It’s the cures you never thought possible. It’s the level of well-being you didn’t even know to ask for.
G.P. was so excited by the way Loehnen thought. Over the last few years, as wellness went mainstream, G.P. allowed her two sides — the G.P. who was known to sit without underwear over mugwort steam to regulate her hormones and the G.P. who wanted the $2,132 straw pocketbook from Sanayi 313 that is, to be clear, made of straw — to finally be one.
With Loehnen as editorial director, Goop began publishing extended Q. and A.s with doctors and healers like Alejandro Junger, a cardiologist who created an anti-inflammatory regimen and recently talked on Goop’s podcast about frog venom as a psychedelic for healing, which, O.K.! Steven Gundry, a cardiac surgeon, believes that lectins, a protein in some foods, are dangerous for people with autoimmune diseases. (There are a great many people who do not believe this.) Anyone from an acupuncturist to a psychic to an endocrinologist to a psychologist addressed questions that the modern woman couldn’t seem to find answers to: Why am I so unhappy? Why am I so tired? Why am I so fat? Why don’t I want to have sex anymore?
There were stories that talked about bee-sting therapy (don’t try it; someone died from it this year) and ashwagandha and adaptogens and autoimmune diseases — an autoimmune disease at every corner, be it thyroid disease, arthritis or celiac disease; trust them, you have one. Last year, G.P. gave a platform to her friend Shiva Rose, a healer who talked about inserting a jade egg into the vagina, which she says concubines did and which she claimed could help prevent uterine prolapse. This did not go unnoticed! They sold a brush that would help your lymph flow, a salt shampoo that would detoxify your scalp, a water bottle with rose quartz in it that would infuse your water with positive energy.
Goop knew what readers were clicking on, and it was nimble enough to meet those needs by actually manufacturing the things its readers wanted. When a story about beauty products that didn’t have endocrine disrupters and formaldehyde got a lot of traffic in 2015, the company started Goop by Juice Beauty, a collection of “clean” face creams and oils and cleansers that it promised lacked those things. When a story about “postnatal depletion,” a syndrome coined by one of the Goop doctors, did even-better-than-average business in 2017, it introduced Goop Wellness, a series of four vitamin “protocols” for women with different concerns — weight, energy, focus, etc. Goop says it sold $100,000 of them on their first day.
The weirder Goop went, the more its readers rejoiced. And then, of course, the more Goop was criticized: by mainstream doctors with accusations of pseudoscience, by websites like Slate and Jezebel saying it was no longer ludicrous — no, now it was dangerous. And elsewhere people would wonder how Gwyneth Paltrow could try to solve our problems when her life seemed almost comically problem-free. But every time there was a negative story about her or her company, all that did was bring more people to the site — among them those who had similar kinds of questions and couldn’t find help in mainstream medicine.
With assaults coming from all sides, Goop began to dig its heels into the dirt, not only because dirt is a natural exfoliant and also contains selenium, which is a mineral many of us are lacking and helps with thyroid function. Now Goop was growing only more successful. Now Goop was a cause, and G.P. was its martyr.
In February, G.P. invited me over to dinner at her house, which lay heart-stopping beneath the Los Angeles palm trees and an impossible sky. She wore a white shirred-neck dress by Tibi that would be advertised in the Goop newsletter the next week as she stood in front of her stove, steaming clams and grilling bread in her devastating kitchen. She wore no apron and cooked the meal herself right in front of me. She wore no apron and cooked it herself right in front of me and drank a whiskey on the rocks.
A woman who has worked for G.P. for a long time stood beside her, cooking an entirely separate dinner for G.P.’s children. The meal we would eat — the clams and the bread — took only a half-hour to make, but G.P. said it could have taken only 15 minutes if we weren’t talking so much. It is a recipe out of her fourth cookbook, “It’s All Easy,” which she wrote in the wake of her divorce from Chris Martin, the lead singer of Coldplay. Suddenly, as a single mother, she wanted to create recipes that followed her particular set of food values but that she could execute quickly.
G.P. asked what I would like to drink. I asked for a glass of red wine. G.P. gave the nod to someone over my left shoulder. I turned to see Jeffrey, the same man in a shawl-collar sweater who opened the door for me earlier. He nodded back.
“Is he your butler?” I whispered to her when he was out of earshot.
“No, he’s a house manager,” she said. She doesn’t know what she’d do without him. “He’s the best. He’s from Chicago. He’s so incredible. He helps me with everything.”
Chris Martin walked in and sat down at the kitchen island and introduced himself. He saw my tape recorder and immediately told me that though I seemed nice and trustworthy, he had no interest in being part of my article, so please keep anything he says out of it.
A very good-looking young boy appeared. “Hi, lover,” G.P. said. The boy, whom I recognized as her youngest child, Moses, immediately came to my side, made socially appropriate eye contact and shook my hand. “Hello, nice to meet you,” he said. Moses is 12, about the same age as my older son.
My phone rang. It was the mother of my son’s friend, back home in stupid New Jersey, and I realized she wouldn’t be calling if not for something gone awry. I apologized to G.P. and picked up the phone. The mom told me that my son was insisting that I was supposed to be picking him up. “I’m in California!” I whispered. “I’m with Gwyneth Paltrow!” She said she’d pass the message along and proceed as usual. G.P. said something, but I couldn’t concentrate because I was trying to understand how my 7-year-old didn’t know that I was out of town. Had I not said goodbye?
A teenage girl orbited herself into the kitchen. She stuck her hand out to me. “I’m Apple. Nice to meet you.” She had a fine, assured grip and a blunt bob and eyeliner and looked like a child version of the Wes Anderson character Margot Tenenbaum, which, of course, she was.
“What’s wrong?” G.P. asked.
“I’m so tired,” Apple said, frustrated, rubbing her eyes with her fists. She sounded exactly like her mother, down to the slight, soft nasal on the vowels: hiiii, Aaapple, guuuys, wooow, tiiiiired.
G.P. stuck out her lips and clucked sympathy.
“I started watching ‘The Office,’ and I find it so funny,” Apple said.
“The English one?” G.P. asked.
“No, the U.S. one.”
“You have to see the English one.”
The children followed Martin into another room so that they could practice their musical instruments with him. As Moses left, he asked G.P. if he should leave both doors open so she could hear him play. She said, “Yes. I want to hear you.” Then, to me: “He’s going to play AC/DC. He keeps such good time.” They were going to become musicians, she just knew it.
She wasn’t going to have more kids. That she also knew. Her business, her age, which is 45 — not impossible, but still. She’d wanted a third. She told me that after she asked how many I had, and I told her I had two children as well, and it was wonderful, but I was sad I didn’t have a third.
She told me I should rethink it while I’m still young enough. “All I’m saying is it’s not nothing,” she said. “I really wanted another one.” I nodded solemnly. (Later, I cried.)
Brad Falchuk, a writer and director, who is also Ryan Murphy’s producing partner, entered the kitchen. He and G.P. had just announced their engagement on the cover of the second issue of Goop magazine, whose theme was, conveniently, sex and love. I congratulated them.
“Thank you,” he said, standing behind her, his arms around her waist and his face buried in her neck. She registered his snuggle and returned it with a return-snuggle body spasm without stopping her cooking actions.
I heard the first few notes of “Blackbird” and looked up and around for the speakers. I’d never heard such a beautiful version. “Where is it coming from?” I asked. Again G.P. nodded her chin over my shoulder, my right one this time, and I turned around to see Apple on a couch behind me, strumming her guitar. Apple told me she doesn’t like to use a pick. She likes the calluses.
“Apple, that’s so beautiful,” G.P. said. I turned back to G.P. in astonishment. She smiled. In front of me, our glasses had been filled again.
G.P. and Falchuk and I ate the clams with the grilled bread in a candlelit dining room with a fireplace off pewter dishes from Match, which I admired. “They’re getting kind of old,” she said. Her dress remained white. Mine had clam juice down the front.
After dinner, G.P. and I sat in her living room on the floor. I had read that she smokes one cigarette a week. I had brought a pack of cigarettes to test this out. I used to smoke but stopped more than 10 years ago. She had her own pack of Nat Shermans hidden away somewhere and told me that these days it was more like a few times a year. Falchuk sat with us, tan and smiley, but wouldn’t smoke. “I’ve never had a cigarette in my life.”
“He’s a doctor’s son,” she said. Then, to him: “Will you be mad?”
He smiled at her and shook his head. Her feet were bare now, and they had a perfect, substantial arch, just as the Romans intended, engineered to support her statue body. I bet they were a Size 8. People make shoes so that feet like those can wear them. We blew smoke up the chimney.
I drove back to my hotel to find that a family that owned a Mercedes dealership would be hosting an impromptu all-night party around the pool and that I would never get any sleep. I thought about my children, one of whom plays the flute, but unwillingly, and therefore won’t practice. Yes, I thought about my children, only one of whom might shake your hand while the other would sooner spit on it, though they will both reliably do an elaborate orchestration of armpit farting while I’m trying to hear myself think. I thought of my mother and father, and an earlier conversation I had with my sisters that day about where to arrange our parents in a room for one of our kids’ bar mitzvahs so that they wouldn’t interact, so raw still are the wounds 35 years after their divorce. I thought of my big, disgusting Size 11 feet, which are wide and flat and have the look of scuba flippers and which designers have shod only begrudgingly. I thought of the third child I don’t have, the one I ache for. The car salespeople danced below.
I thought about the word “aspiration,” how to aspire seems so noble, but how aspiration is always infused with a kind of suffering, and I smoked another cigarette.
The quarterly Goop magazine was introduced last fall with a picture of G.P.’s bikinied body covered in mud and just one cover line: “Earth to Gwyneth.” She does things like that to demonstrate a kind of self-awareness around what she knows is the rap on her, that she’s a privileged, white rich lady who is into some wackadoo stuff.
That issue, like the second issue (the one with a cover photo of her and Falchuk and the words “In Deep”), was $15 on newsstands and a product of a partnership with Condé Nast. At first, it seemed like a perfect fit. “Goop and Condé Nast are natural partners, and I’m excited she’s bringing her point of view to the company,” said Anna Wintour, Condé Nast’s artistic director and editor in chief of Vogue, when the deal was announced in April 2017. The print product would be a collaboration — Goop content overseen by a Vogue editor.
It didn’t work out. “They’re a company that’s really in transition and do things in a very old-school way,” G.P. said. The parting was amicable. “But it was amazing to work with Anna. I love her. She’s a total idol of mine. We realized we could just do a better job of it ourselves in-house. I think for us it was really like we like to work where we are in an expansive space. Somewhere like Condé, understandably, there are a lot of rules.”
The rules she’s referring to are the rules of traditional magazine making — all upheld strictly at an institution like Condé Nast. One of them is that they weren’t allowed to use the magazine as part of their “contextual commerce” strategy. They wanted to be able to sell Goop products (in addition to other products, just as they do on their site). But Condé Nast insisted that they have a more “agnostic” editorial approach. The company publishes magazines, not catalogs. But why? G.P. wanted to know. She wanted the Goop magazine to be a natural extension of the Goop website. She wanted the reader to be able to do things like text a code to purchase a product without even having to leave her inert reading position and wander over to her computer. A magazine customer is also a regular customer.
But the other rule is — well, the thing couldn’t be fact-checked. Goop wanted Goop magazine to be like the Goop website in another way: to allow the Goop family of doctors and healers to go unchallenged in their recommendations via the kinds of Q. and A.s published, and that just didn’t pass Condé Nast standards. Those standards require traditional backup for scientific claims, like double-blind, peer-reviewed studies. The stories Loehnen, now Goop’s chief content officer, wanted to publish had to be quickly replaced at the last minute by packages like the one on “clean” getaways.
G.P. didn’t understand the problem. “We’re never making statements,” she said. Meaning, they’re never asserting anything like a fact. They’re just asking unconventional sources some interesting questions. (Loehnen told me, “We’re just asking questions.”) But what is “making a statement”? Some would argue — her former partners at Condé Nast, for sure — that it is giving an unfiltered platform to quackery or witchery. O.K., O.K., but what is quackery? What is witchery? Is it claims that have been observed but not the subject of double-blind, peer-reviewed studies? Yes? Right. O.K., G.P. would say, then what is science, and is it all-encompassing and altruistic and without error and always acting in the interests of humanity?
These questions had been plaguing Goop for a while — not just what is a fact, or how important is a fact, but also what exactly is Goop allowed to be suggesting? In 2016, a division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus began an inquiry into Goop for deceptive marketing claims about the life-optimizing powers of Moon Juice products, which appeared on the Goop site as a key ingredient in a smoothie that G.P. drank every morning. (Goop voluntarily stopped making these claims.) And last summer, the watchdog organization TruthInAdvertising.org (TINA) sent G.P. a letter that referred to numerous instances of deceptive marketing claims — that the site’s products cured, treated or prevented inflammation, autoimmune diseases and more. Goop replied and adjusted some of its claims in the short period the letter allotted, but TINA found its response inadequate and reported Goop to the district attorney’s offices in both Santa Cruz and Santa Clara. (The district attorney’s offices would not comment on the matter.)
A gynecologist and obstetrician in San Francisco named Jen Gunter, who also writes a column on reproductive health for The Times, has criticized Goop in about 30 blog posts on her website since 2015. A post she wrote last May — an open letter that she signed on behalf of “Science” — generated more than 800,000 page views. She was angry about all the bad advice she had seen from Goop in the last few years. She was angry that her own patients were worried they’d given themselves breast cancer by wearing underwire bras, thanks to an article by an osteopath who cited a much-debunked book published in 1995. Gunter cited many of Goop’s greatest hits: “Tampons are not vaginal death sticks, vegetables with lectins are not killing us, vaginas don’t need steaming, Epstein Barr virus (E.B.V.) does not cause every thyroid disease and for [expletive] sake no one needs to know their latex farmer; what they need to know is that the only thing between them and H.I.V. or gonorrhea is a few millimeters of latex, so glove that [expletive] up.”
But something strange happened. Each of these pronouncements set off a series of blog posts and articles and tweets that linked directly to the site, driving up traffic. At Harvard, G.P. called these moments “cultural firestorms.” “I can monetize those eyeballs,” she told the students. Goop had learned to do a special kind of dark art: to corral the vitriol of the internet and the ever-present shall we call it cultural ambivalence about G.P. herself and turn them into cash. It’s never clickbait, she told the class. “It’s a cultural firestorm when it’s about a woman’s vagina.” The room was silent. She then cupped her hands around her mouth and yelled, “VAGINA! VAGINA! VAGINA!” as if she were yodeling.
As of June, there were 2.4 million unique visitors to the site per month, according to the numbers Goop provided me. The podcast, which is mostly hosted by Loehnen and features interviews with wellness practitioners, receives 100,000 to 650,000 listens per week. Goop wanted to publish articles about autoimmune diseases and infrared saunas and thyroids, and now it can, on its own terms — sort of.
After a few too many cultural firestorms, and with investors to think about, G.P. made some changes. Goop has hired a lawyer to vet all claims on the site. It hired an editor away from Condé Nast to run the magazine. It hired a man with a Ph.D. in nutritional science, and a director of science and research who is a former Stanford professor. And in September, Goop, sigh, is hiring a full-time fact-checker. G.P. chose to see it as “necessary growing pain.”
It wasn’t as if the appetite for Goop’s content was going away. I’ve spoken to dozens of people who feel better after a detox cleanse, and science can’t really tell them why.
I once went to an internist twice, complaining of preternatural exhaustion, only to be told that I was depressed and sent home. On the third visit, she begrudgingly took my blood and called me later to even more begrudgingly apologize and tell me I had a surprising case of mononucleosis. I know women who’ve been dismissed by their doctors for being lazy and careless and depressed and downright crazy. Was it any wonder that they would start to seek help from sources that assumed that their symptoms weren’t all in their head?
In her office, G.P. opened her MacBook. There was a guy this whole situation reminded her of, and she had forgotten his name, but a quick Wikipedia search and, ah, there it was: “Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis, German,” she read to me. Semmelweis, once described as a “savior of mothers,” discovered that cases of puerperal fever could be significantly cut by washing hands before surgery.
Here she shook her head. “This is so sad. This gives me chills.” She continued reading, “In 1865, Semmelweis was committed to an asylum where he died at 47 of pyaemia after being beaten by the guards only 14 days after he was committed.” (There is debate about how Semmelweis died.)
She stood up. Her posture was a marvel. “You ask what is happening when someone says, ‘Have we just thought about this?’ That” — being beaten to death in an asylum — “is what happened to this guy.”
“Where do you think it ends for you?” I asked her, getting up from my chair.
She laughed. “When I’m committed to an asylum.”
I heard a rumor that she drank a Guinness every day of her pregnancies. I heard a rumor that she was staying with Winona Ryder after her breakup with Brad Pitt and that when Ryder was in the shower G.P. picked up a script on her coffee table, read it and took it for herself, and this precipitated all the troubles Ryder had next. I heard that she had an affair with Viggo Mortensen while she was with Ben Affleck. I heard that she had an affair with her “Sliding Doors” co-star John Hannah when she was with Brad Pitt. I have read more than 100 takedowns of her. I read an article that began with the sentence “I hate Gwyneth Paltrow.” I read a book that was literally called “Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything?” She was too privileged, they said. She had everything handed to her. Martha Stewart told Porter magazine in 2014: “She just needs to be quiet. She’s a movie star. If she were confident in her acting she wouldn’t be trying to be Martha Stewart.” (Recently, on a talk show, Stewart answered a question about G.P.’s company with professed ignorance. “Who’s Goop?”)
Or maybe it’s just that G.P. disrupted the contract between the celebrity and the civilian who is observing her. In a typical women’s magazine profile, the implicit pact is that the celebrity will not make the woman feel bad by implying that the woman could have what the celebrity has if only she would work: “It’s all in my genes, what can I say!” the celebrity proclaims. But G.P. was different. She would talk openly about the food habits and exercise obsessions that allowed her to look the way she did. “It’s so much easier to sit home and not exercise and criticize other people,” she told Elle magazine in 2011. “My life is good,” she wrote on Goop’s website, “because I am not passive about it. I want to nourish what is real, and I want to do it without wasting time.” People think they want celebrities to speak honestly, but we’re not really that happy when they do.
We talked about this one morning at a suite at the Carlyle, where she lay across a sofa like a poem. She wasn’t wearing shoes. (I had taken to, when barefoot, extending the sesamoid part of my foot without pointing my toes, so that my feet looked like Barbie feet, which created an arch where I had none. “See?” I’d say to my husband in bed. “This is what her feet look like just regular.”)
She didn’t know why people felt the way they did. She said the decision to stop acting and pursue Goop was not difficult, but it had nothing to do with her reputation. “I really liked acting,” she told me. “But at a certain point, it started to feel frustrating in a way not to have true agency, like to be beholden to other people to give you a job, or to create something, to put something into the world.” She was doing three or four or five movies a year, and the primary relationship in those films was with Harvey Weinstein. “The one time that Harvey propositioned me was really almost the least of it in terms of how onerous that relationship was, and it was very quid pro quo and punitive, and I always felt like I was on thin ice, and he could be truly horrible and mean and then be incredibly generous. It was kind of like a classic abusive relationship.”
When she and Chris Martin separated via something that they called “conscious uncoupling,” she was blindsided by the backlash. What people heard, she thinks, was that even her divorce was going to be better than theirs. “I was really saying we’re in a lot of pain, we failed at this; we’re going to try and do it in a different way. But I was so raw that I didn’t anticipate.” She trailed off. “I think that was an instance where it really hit me that an insouciance with language from me is different than from somebody else.”
What can she say? It’s hard to talk about herself like this. How can she really understand who she is in the culture anyway? She’s the only one who can’t see herself clearly. All she knows is what she hears, and she once heard that she eats in front of the mirror naked.
The hatred used to feel personal to her, but it doesn’t anymore. Now it feels as if she’s watching a soap opera. She remembers the week that Star Magazine called her the most hated celebrity in the world. “I remember being like: Really? More than, like, Chris Brown? Me? Really? Wow. It was also the same week that I was People’s Most Beautiful Woman. For a minute I was like: Wait, I don’t understand. Am I hated to the bone or am I the world’s most beautiful?”
Anyway, this was an old conversation, she insisted. “I really notice as the business grows, there’s a lot less of that, and I think people are like: Oh, this is real, and I feel like that’s sort of, you know, a nine-months-ago story. You know what I mean?”
I didn’t. I was introduced to G.P. through Bill Burton, a communications strategist known for his work for Barack Obama. That’s not really how stories about start-ups or celebrities typically get done. I have a Google alert for her (as I do for everyone I’m writing about), and each day, that alert goes off and is somewhat filled with pictures of her in a bikini on a yacht but is mostly filled with pus and bile — for her supposed smugness, her jade eggs, her ability to smoke a cigarette without becoming an addict. Bloggers at New York magazine’s The Cut regularly mock Goop’s gift guides (to which G.P. said, “I don’t know what The Cut is”).
So this is why people hate her? “Because I have discipline?” she said. She remembers reading that Michio Kushi, the father of macrobiotics, smoked cigarettes sometimes. She wanted to be like that. It’s something she cultivated.
I said, don’t you see? The last cigarette she had was in February, sitting on the floor next to her chimney with me. It was June. I smoked now. I walked down the street sucking on cigarettes the way I did in my youth. I recently got into bed with my poor son, and he told me that I “smell like the city.”
She doesn’t understand it. She doesn’t think she’s perfect. She is the way she is because of hard work. How could people hate her for that? It’s just hard work. It’s just intention. The content is free, and it’s all right there. Go to her website. Do some meditation. Just eat more produce. Take some time for yourself. Hydrate.
We’re so hard on one another, G.P. said. We’re so hard on ourselves, too. “That’s all we do as women,” she said. “We just kick the [expletive] out of ourselves. It’s like that inner critic is so vicious, and it’s like: Why do we do that? It’s so nuts.” She continued: “People say that there’s no link between emotions and consciousness and physical illness. And yet look at the plethora of autoimmune diseases around you. One man to 10 women have autoimmune. We literally have turned on ourselves.”
The In Goop Health summit was perhaps the most gracefully and elegantly executed event I’ve ever been to. There was food everywhere — small plates of ancient grains and salads and not a brown avocado in the bunch. There was keto food (which create ketones), vegan food (which doesn’t use animal products), paleo food (made out of, I don’t know, dinosaurs). Syringes of CBD oil. Coffee with pea milk. Nothing was rushed. Everything was plentiful. Somewhere during my reporting, I had stopped thinking about food deserts and people who didn’t even have access to ancient grains.
Everyone glowed. Everyone wore flowing dresses and wide-legged jumpsuits. There was a woman asleep on one of the couches. Also: a manifestation workshop; acroyoga, where we bobbed up and down on scarves hanging from the ceiling; a medium who told me my grandmother was standing next to me telling me I have thyroid disease; a man who stuck two ungloved fingers into my ears and said he “fixed” my jaw, which there was nothing wrong with. Trust him, he said, he’s not a doctor. He’s not even a physical therapist. He’s a weight trainer, and he said he has a list of 2,000 people waiting to get fixed by him. All these people, wasting their money on traditional medicine, when he’s willing to take you into his office and lay you on a table and make you good as new without the hassle of insurance.
This always struck me as funny about the wellness world: how some people would brag about their mainstream credentials (“Trust me,” they’d say, with a straightening of their tie. “I’m a doctor”), while others felt that their legitimacy lay in the fact that they had no credentials. (“Trust me,” they’d say, jamming their thumbs mockingly toward the doctors. “I’m not a doctor.”)
I pulled down my pants for a man in scrubs who was giving out B12 shots, never telling him my secret, that I’d been taking the Goop vitamins and my urine was already a fluorescent yellow — no, gold — a superfood elixir.
A woman called an akashic-records healer who reads your past, present and possible future lives sat me down and asked about my foot pain. I asked her how she knew I had foot pain. I wasn’t limping. She said, “You have flat feet.” I nodded, incredulous. “I do,” I said. “I have flat feet.” She told me that 13 lives ago, my feet were chopped off as punishment for a crime. As a result, since then, whenever I reincarnate (which is every 100 to 500 years because I like to rest between incarnations), my feet are flat because I like the surety of them entirely touching the ground.
What I’m saying is: There was nothing that couldn’t be healed at the summit.
The next morning, I had another article to write. But my hotel was on the beach, and the ocean was just a block away. I still had a bottle of Madame Dry Rose Water, which is “botanically infused, positively charged” water that is filtered through rose-quartz crystals, and a bottle of Lifewtr, which is just water without vowels. I thought, for maybe the first time in my life, that work could wait. Self-care. Wellness. It started now. I had a long trip home ahead of me, and now I was someone who said “self-care.”
I walked down to the beach with my waters. I sat on a bench as I drank them. I became buoyant with hope. I could feel my posture straightening. I was so free of anxiety and so full of forward motion. I couldn’t remember feeling that way ever before. I could do this, I thought. I could change. I could be someone who pursued only the best. The ocean air. The sand. The sky. All the wellness, it was mine. I could stop smoking. I could exercise. I could hydrate. Look at all the kinds of waters we have! Look at all the kinds of moisturizer! All the ingredients, all of them so beautiful. Everything beautiful, lovely and clean. What if you could pay the price — time, intention, a serious allocation of funds — and make it all this way? I could. I would.
I finished my waters and headed to the airport, where I dropped my rental car and boarded the Hertz bus. But something was wrong at the airport, or it was just Los Angeles being Los Angeles, and the bus didn’t move. The normally 10-minute ride was now 20, and then 30, and then 40. I had to go to the bathroom so badly. My terminal was at the end and there was a stop at every single other terminal — even Air China. At 50 minutes, I realized I could no longer hold it and alerted the bus driver. Someone suggested I just get off at the next terminal and then pick the next bus up again. I screamed that I couldn’t! I didn’t have time! My kids and husband were waiting for me!
Finally, I got off two terminals early. I ran through the check-in area, screaming: “Where’s the bathroom? Where’s the bathroom?” I peed my beautiful pee wondering what the point of it all had been. I ran through the next two terminals till I finally got to the United check-in area. I cut the line, screaming still, “I was on a Hertz bus for an hour!”
I dropped off my suitcase just before the cutoff. I ran through the airport, my new smoker’s cough slowing me down. I went through security but didn’t have time to get something to eat at the fancy place, and so I got a premade fried chicken sandwich, which I would eat and feel every preservative and every sodium molecule course through my blood.
As I was boarding, my sister called me.
“How was it?” she asked.
The image of the reiki workshop I’d gone to at the summit returned to me. The practitioner had us lie on the floor and announced that we were all sharing one another’s energy, and I didn’t know how to feel about that, as if I hadn’t consented to it. She said, “The future is your best teacher.” She waved her hands over us like a sorceress. She gave us each a charged rose crystal that was shaped like a heart but flat and told us to put it in our bras. At the end, we lay, eyes closed, and put our hands on our hearts, and I opened my eyes before everyone else and saw all these women dressed in light colors, lined up like desperate, exquisite corpses, their hands over their hearts, totally inert.
We are doomed to aspire for the rest of our lives. Aspiration is suffering. Wellness is suffering. As soon as you level up, you greet how infinite the possibilities are, and it all becomes too awful to live without.
I told her, “It was ridiculous.”