CULVER CITY, Calif. — At the In Goop Health summit, the third manifestation of Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle cosmos, a huggy stranger named Brian Donahoe asks if he might jam a finger into our left ear while compressing our right jaw with another. Our face is misaligned, he informs us in the nicest possible way, which stockpiles stress and creates dysfunction.
Donahoe is a master motion mechanic at the Human Garage, which is not a metaphor for the body — although we will hear plenty of those here — but because the practice got started in an actual garage. “We recognize all truths in all modalities,” he says. “We’re the only ones talking about gravitational forces and atmospheric pressure and what that does for the human being.”
Donahoe swabs the palate of our mouth, then squishes our right small intestine like a panini. Human Garage recommends a 16-session, $4,400 course of this kind of stuff for a thorough mind/body overhaul. There’s a waiting list. “Though,” Donahoe says, “we can see Goopers right away.”
It has been a decade since the willowy Oscar winner founded a much-mocked wellness newsletter out of her kitchen and christened it with a neologism based on her monogram. Since then Goop has grown into a nearly 200-employee juggernaut with branded lines of clothing, makeup, fragrance and vitamins. Its website dispenses advice on beauty, sex and health — and has raised eyebrows with its advocacy for coffee enemas, rose quartz facials and other costly treatments of dubious worth.
But there may be no more vivid sign of Goop’s triumph over the haters than its sold-out conferences. The third and most recent, staged Saturday in a massive event space on L.A.’s Westside, drew 600 wellness pilgrims, each paying at least $650 to attend. There was also a $2,000 VIP level to make attendees feel three times more special — a private lunch on a curtained-off terrace served by fetching actor/waiters and the promise of evermore sightings of GP herself.
In Goop Health is everything you’d expect: expensive and beautiful, floral yet fruity, populated by the exceptionally toned. It is a cashmere-swathed, day-long expo of Me Time.
There are discussion panels on tantra and polarity, postnatal depletion (“depression” is among the banned words here, along with “weight” and “belly”), longevity and the future of cannabis, featuring a mix of YouTube-famous physicians and CEOs, a medium, an intimacy teacher and a mind architect.
Although it is barely addressed at the conference, fear of aging and death are Goop’s economic engine. The aspirational apothecary here includes $90 High School Genes vitamin packs and $35 “The Martini” Emotional Detox Bath Soaks.
Morning begins with a B12 shot to the glutes promoted by a reality-TV-handsome osteopath and anesthesiologist, and a syringe juice shot to the mouth laced with bioactive silver hydrosol, which allegedly does wonders for something. Then it’s on to perfecting our hypnotic visual mantra courtesy of “a bicoastal practitioner of facilitating integrative hypnosis and neuro-
linguistic programming,” which is followed by a liquid-nitrogen cryofacial administered by a reality-TV-lovely dermatologist. Lululemon sponsors trapeze yoga classes, performed in batlike slings.
Sustenance is overthought and footnoted, requiring more time to explain than it does to ingest. Many offerings are defined by what they don’t have (gluten, dairy, GMOs, taste) or are enlightened with turmeric, the miracle plant of the moment. The simplest food may be a heap of fresh fruit that is proudly billed as “ugly” — free of chemicals, supposedly more tasty and nutritious. It goes largely untouched.
The summit attracts an unnaturally high ratio of blondes, ranging in size from 0 to the occasional but rare 8. The uniform is Tesla Casual: black distressed or detailed leggings, designer T-shirts, and European handbags crafted from equal parts leather and hubris.
In this crowd, GP doesn’t stand out; she serves as prototype.
Goop drew plenty of shade upon its 2008 launch, probably because everything in Paltrow’s life appeared to have happened so fast and with minimal effort — famous parents, superior genes, a godfather named Spielberg, an Oscar at 26, a succession of A-list swains (Brad, Ben, Chris). After that consciously uncoupling business, she is now engaged to a behind-the-scenes mogul, TV producer Brad Falchuk.
But here it is a decade later, and Goop has attracted $82 million in outside investment funding. First-quarter revenue is up 165 percent, according to a representative, and the company is projected to generate between $90 million and $120 million this year, although it has not yet become profitable, according to Forbes.
“I buy in that she’s authentic — this is truly what she’s interested in,” says attendee Monica Olsen, a marketing and communications executive from Serenbe, Ga. “She’s helping us be more thoughtful in our choices.”
But Goop and its guru have their detractors. “They’re promoting a lot of magic as medicine. There’s a lot of selling of fear — fear of Big Pharma, fear of Big Medicine, fear of gluten,” says Jen Gunter, an obstetrician and gynecologist in San Francisco who writes frequently on the website’s medical fallacies. “It’s a cult. The lure of celebrity is huge. That’s why they’re used to sell things.”
She adds that “Goop’s promoted as women’s empowerment, but they’re selling this heteronormative men’s beauty ideal. It’s almost an exclusive club that only some people can go to.”
Over the VIP lunch of so many salads, women who journeyed from Colorado and New York share that they splurged on Goop’s $4,500 Wellness Weekender package, which included accommodations at an oceanfront hotel, as a getaway from the children and a chance to network. A vendor confesses, “We’re here because there is so much disposable income in the room.”
And then, Gwyneth appeareth.
Lovely enough to rock a center part at age 45, the Goop CEO wears a black floral frock and white studded sneakers. Her brow is furrowed and lined. “I’m tired. My brain is mush,” she sighs. In an onstage conversation, Meg Ryan suggests that GP try her slender hands at directing, as Ryan herself recently did.
“If I have to add another f---ing thing on my plate,” GP says, “I will commit suicide.”
At the end of a week that saw two celebrity suicides, the comment was jarring. Somehow, though, Gwyneth could get away with it, just as she has used her slightly salty cool-girl persona to make this airy, New Age venture seem more down to earth. (“Gwyneth is shiny, beautiful, fun,” explains Olsen. “But we also want the messy.”)
At the sex shop, we locate Goop’s infamous jade egg. You know, the one you put in your “yoni.” More than anything else, it has come to epitomize so much about Goop — the luxe mysticism that draws so many fans, the naked quackery that drives critics to distraction. “A total scam,” Gunter calls it, “which puts you potentially at risk for toxic shock. The jade version sells for $66, the rose quartz for $55. For optimal energy, Goop suggests “recharging” the egg in the moonlight.
Mimi Ayers stocks up on several hundred dollars’ worth of toys and trinkets promoting vaginal beauty and well-being, including a $200 Kegel exercise trainer — sort of a Fitbit for the pelvis. She lives in London and Monaco, and is transitioning from investment banking to becoming an entrepreneur “in the women’s health and sexuality space,” she says. “Part of it is a journey for yourself, but Goop has done such a wonderful job curating and embracing the entire ethos of wellness.”
Working on your best self is exhausting. By late afternoon, despite the presence of healers and sages, kombucha and bone broth, spirits are flagging.
GP knows this. “Women are tired. They’re trying to suppress so much in their lives,” she tells us. “There is so much in the strength of the vulnerability of our stories.”
Fortunately, In Goop Health has provided a generous supply of couches, where a couple of women nap like kittens.