At the New York Times Magazine, Taffy Brodesser-Akner reports on Goop, Gwyneth Paltrow’s health and wellness empire, which started off as a newsletter where G.P. (as she’s known) simply recommended things she liked. Fast forward a few years. Now Goop is a huge brand: a clothing-and-beauty-company-slash-publishing house with a magazine, a website, and a newsletter, all estimated to be worth $250 million from flogging new-age products for eliminating wrinkles and flab while improving your sex life. But the truth is catching up to Goop; it’s been investigated by the Council of Better Business Bureaus and TruthInAdvertising.org for deceptive marketing claims, forcing Goop to attempt to embrace science and facts across the empire as a “growing pain.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.