With a new Netflix series debuting this coming week, Gwyneth Paltrow’s posh wellness brand, Goop, is once again commanding headlines. Public health experts, weary from debunking coffee enemas and vaginal steaming, are gearing up for a new flood of conveniently-streamed Goop-y pseudoscience, which, judging from the psychic mediums and energy healing in the show’s trailer, has not been tempered for a broader audience. 

Lost in the haze of mugwort steam, however, is an entirely different problem with Goop, which is religious, not scientific. Ultimately what Goop promises is purity: physical, moral and spiritual. Peruse its website, and you’ll soon learn that the life of a normal person is profoundly impure. Conventional food, clothing, perfume, cosmetics — all toxic to our bodies, our children and the planet. Filled with fear, the reader wonders: What is the key to living a pure life? How can I avoid defiling myself and the world?

The answer, crucial to Goop’s business model, is to spend lots of money. Unlike regular luxury products, Goop’s detoxes, cosmetics, crystals and clothing are packaged in “ancient wisdom” and easy altruism. No need to fret about the carbon footprints left by your imported Italian leather boots or your Goop-curated winter ski getaway: Paltrow’s savvy priesthood sells indulgences that wash away those sins. Purchases, like high-end prayers, bring the power to heal you and the Earth.

Tellingly, Goop’s first fragrance was “Church.” Church perfume runs $165 for a 1.7-ounce bottle (Chanel No. 5 is a comparative bargain at $105), and a Church-scented candle costs a whopping $72. Why? Unlike the toxin-spewing Yankee Candles of unwashed commoners, Goop’s scents have “healing properties,” since they are “composed entirely of rare, all-natural elements imbued with the power to entrance, heal, and transform.” 

At the latest conference of Gwyneth Paltrow’s wellness brand, we asked presidential candidate Marianne Williamson about the power of the Goop vote. (The Washington Post)

The “all-natural” is crucial. In the church of Goop, holiness is rebranded as “naturalness” and God as Mother Nature. Flattened into New Age platitudes, the ancient wisdom on offer ultimately boils down to a vague spiritual connection with nature. Like the fragrances, everything for sale is supposedly natural; products sold elsewhere, you’re reminded constantly, are not: “Those of you who have read goop for a long time know that we try to do well by our bodies, our kids, and the environment as much as possible,” reads a characteristic blog post. A typical unnatural lifestyle — read: unholy — desecrates all it touches. Living naturally is the only way to be well and do well. 

And make no mistake: You can’t be well and do well on the cheap. The engine of Goop’s brand is the premise that natural purity is expensive. Poor people can’t afford to be this good. When Paltrow tells Harvard Business School students, “It’s crucial to me that we remain aspirational,” she is referring to a way of being, not merely a way of shopping. Spend a few moments on Goop’s site, and you quickly understand that it isn’t just beauty, or quality, that’s set up as aspirational. It’s wisdom and purity of intention, in contrast to the rest of the world. As the company puts it in its mission statement

“We believe that the little things count, that good food is the foundation of love and wellness, that the mind/body/spirit is inextricably linked, and we have more control over how we express our health than we currently understand.

In 2016, Gwyneth Paltrow posted the expensive recipe for the smoothie she drank every morning to her lifestyle website Goop. So The Post staff tried it. (Gillian Brockell/The Washington Post)

“We believe in making every choice count.” 

The good life, in every sense, becomes a luxury. 

In my forthcoming book, “Natural,” I describe this as “consecrated consumption,” which transforms the ritual of using expensive natural products into a kind of sacrament. Purity is necessarily a function of class. Like the caste system, your socio-economic status determines your place in a spiritual hierarchy — and that of your children: “Babies are born pre-polluted,” warns a Goop post on the importance of pre-pregnancy detox. If you want to conceive unpolluted children, you should take “easy pre-steps” like “detoxing your personal care routine, and eating organic as possible.”

This pseudospirituality is as misguided and dangerous as the pseudoscience used to sell it. By any reasonable measure, the lavish lifestyle of those who partake in the Goop “luxury wellness” cruise is far worse for Mother Nature than that of their poorer counterparts, even if the latter can’t afford “clean beauty.” Our complicity in the environmental crises we face is more likely to be eased by taking public transportation — or, better, supporting politicians who prioritize clean energy and sustainable urban planning — than by wearing Phyto-Pigments Ultra-Natural Mascara to the In Goop Health wellness conference ($1,000 each day, B-12 shots and “swag-loaded gift bag” included). 

And while money can indeed purchase wellness, it is not through the alchemical power of natural goodness but rather the ability to afford health care, to live farther from freeways and factories, and to enjoy freedom from the everyday anxieties of poverty. Goop distracts from systemic problems and reframes unwellness as a result of misguided individual choices that can be corrected with a #goopdetox and a meditation retreat. Are you sick? Is the natural world threatened? It’s not a broken system, it’s your poorly aligned chakras and conventional produce. 

Of course, Goop seems impervious to outside expertise. A 2018 New York Times Magazine headline — “How Goop’s Haters Made Gwyneth Paltrow’s Company Worth $250 Million” — suggests that articles like this one are counterproductive. Goop itself has proudly adopted that position, declaring, “The derision means that people begin to have conversations.” Why bring attention to what would otherwise be a fringe phenomenon for the 1 percent, ask the critics of the critics?

But Goop is not a thing of the fringe; it’s merely the Netflix-ready version of a common faith. Paltrow did not invent the greenwashing of classist, consecrated consumption: Her brand of nature worship can also be found in that real-world Diagon Alley, the Whole Foods supplement aisle. (Whole Foods is owned by Amazon, whose CEO, Jeff Bezos, owns The Washington Post.) It is the reason people think organic food is salvific and conventional food is deadly (“Scary GMO Apples Hit Stores,” reads a Goop headline). It explains why parents in wealthy Los Angeles schools opt for “natural” immunity, resulting in vaccination rates on a par with those in South Sudan. Worst of all, it depends on the assumption that the best life — both physically and ethically — is accessible only for the rich, and that wellness, ours and the planet’s, is to be secured primarily by people making natural purchases, rather than communities making compassionate policy. Goop is a symptom of the fact that these beliefs are widespread, and remaining silent about why they are misguided won’t make them go away.

If we really want to purify ourselves, we should take the simple step of detoxifying the world of this false religion wherever it’s found. And a good place to start is with a prominent business that suggests there’s virtue in shelling out $72 for an all-natural Church scented candle.

Twitter: @AlanLevinovitz