Netflix's docuseries The Goop Lab is a show about B.S. self-care trends being branded and sold as "wellness" and close-ups of Gwyneth Paltrow's golden, glowy demon skin.
It's a show about self-optimization and a lot of beautiful, young, slender–but racially diverse (because it's a woke show)–content creators traveling the world and exposing themselves. Sometimes that means literally staring at their vaginas in a mirror as a sex educator tells them they're beautiful, and sometimes that means processing their personal traumas next to their coworkers and under the gaze of a camera crew and Paltrow's calm, waxy smile.
As familiar as we are with the dark side of constant self-optimization–what with the plagues of "millennial burnout" and influencer worship–bogus wellness trends are still working. The wellness industry is a whopping $4.2 trillion feature of our cultural landscape. Overpriced, often culturally appropriated, "all-natural" remedies promise not only to improve our lives but cure our loneliness, depression, anxiety, and existential sense that nothing we do matters. Plus, sometimes it smells like your vagina, like Goop's $75 candle named, yup, "This Candle Smells Like My Vagina."
In the six short episodes of The Goop Lab, Elise Loehnen, Goop's chief content officer, oversees teams of Goop's editors, project managers, and assistants who "go out in the field" to try alternative medicines and therapies for themselves. In the first episode, "A Healing Trip," Loehnen ingests psilocybin (psychedelic mushrooms) with her employees and later reflects, "This is not a typical workspace experience, although I kind of wonder if it wouldn't be incredibly therapeutic for workspace teams if you felt really safe and wanted to become even more intimate and connected with the people that you spend the majority of your day with."
I'm sorry, what? While there's a growing body of research confirming that psychedelics can have unique therapeutic benefits–when taken in carefully measured doses and within extremely monitored circumstances–there's more than one way to abuse them. Aside from recreational usage, the danger of psychedelics lies in their invasiveness in one's psychology and experience–a bad trip is an incredibly bad trip. In fact, Paltrow and Leohnen interview Mark Haden, executive director of MAPS Canada (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies), who identifies the primary difference between traditional talk therapy and psychedelic therapy as, "You get access to somebody's unconscious material." So, yeah, let's do that with co-workers as a bonding experience. As Rachel Charlene Lewis writes for Bitch Media, "Encouraging coworkers not only to do drugs together, but to explore trauma en masse seems like an HR disaster waiting to happen. But in the world (or, rather, the career) of Goop, it's just another day at the office."
Actually, invading consumer psychology in order to bring individuals' traumas to the fore seems to be the integral approach of wellness brands these days. Companies like Goop exploit personal traumas by marketing their products as curative, with The Goop Lab targeting content to showcase how epiphanic and life-changing alternative therapies (and related products–you know, like theirs) can be. Also interviewed in this episode is Jenny, a photo editor, who talks about her personal trauma over her father's suicide and how it impacted her understanding of her own depression. There's Kevin, Paltrow's assistant and a veteran Gooper (yes, that's what Paltrow calls them), who talks about his attachment struggles after growing up with an absentee father. Among genuine testimonies from people who have overcome anxiety, depression, PTSD, and suicide attempts thanks to these alternative therapies (which many people don't have access to due to resources and legal restrictions in their areas), there's an ugly spectatorship to watching Jenny and Kevin sob on a mat on the floor while soft-spoken counselors in white whisper to them softly and rub their backs. Kevin, in particular, is hugged tightly by two male counselors, which Leohnen later calls "very profound" since "they were embracing him in a way that he hadn't been embraced as a child by his own father."
Clearly, the Goopers who volunteered to participate in these experiments are aware of the vulnerability of (potentially) processing their trauma in front of a camera, but the whole show is designed for viewers to spectate and consume their personal trauma as content that ultimately promotes Goop as a brand. And aside from being targeted to those wealthy enough to spend $120 on "healing" wearable stickers, Goop as a brand is patently ridiculous, pseudo-scientific, and even dangerous for public health. With health claims that are repeatedly disproven by alarmed health experts, as well as NASA, studies show that the public has grown increasingly confused about what constitutes a healthy lifestyle.
Timothy Caulfield, Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy at the University of Alberta, wrote a detailed overview of why the most popular (and lucrative) celebrity-backed health crazes have lodged themselves into our public consciousness. "This decade of celebrity health hogwash should also be considered in the broader context," he warns. "This is the era of misinformation, a time when trust in public institutions is declining and people feel uncertain about what to believe about, well, everything. Celebrity wellness hype contributes to this 'culture of untruth' by both inviting a further erosion of critical thinking and promoting what is popular and aspirational rather than what is true." Between Instagram fitness gurus and absurd celebrity "beauty secrets," we're all surrounded with contradictory pieces of wellness advice. Goop describes their prescribed practices as "out there" or "too scary" for people because they go against basic common sense.
With a throwaway legal disclaimer prefacing each episode (the series is "designed to entertain and inform–not provide medical advice. You should always consult your doctor when it comes to your personal health, or before you start treatment"), The Goop Lab is just cashing in on the trend of exploiting personal trauma for branding and, ultimately, profit. It's appropriate that the credits include Paltrow declaring their end goal as the "optimization of self," in the sense that "we're here one time, one life, how can we really milk the sh*it out of this." This is the next stage of "the age-old marketing language of 'Women, you suck, but this miracle product will fix you,'" only now it's saying, "The world has hurt you over and over again, and this can help heal the damage–for a price."