the goop lab: goop for you or goop for nothing?
I should preface this by saying I am a sucker for skincare products: I will happily buy into the miracles a pure jade roller claims to have; that double cleansing your face with two different products each night is essential; and that it must be followed by a three-step moisturising routine, meaning I enter bed embalmed by creams, slipping and sliding before I leave an oily stain on my white pillowcase. Whilst I am sure a part of this results from a vain motivation to appear slightly less tired, or mainly to reap the benefits when I'm older (wear SPF 50 and a hat in the sun ALWAYS), I predominantly do all this as I enjoy it. It is a self-indulgence: a part of my self-care that I do to relax and make myself feel better, and I am happy to give my money away solely on that basis.
I don't really think that these products are going to change me, or my appearance, in major ways, nor that the claims made by the companies selling them to me are actually true. I am sometimes able to distance the subjective experiences of women in the adverts, or those that are paid to use the products in their YouTube videos, from my own. But this only comes about due to a vigorous (and sometimes tedious) six years studying science and medicine at university. We are repeatedly bombarded with advertising for products which often have a weirdly displaced lab/spacecraft feel to them and we are given facts that sound very impressive - "85% of women agree blah blah blah" - and for many people, that does sound remarkable.
Yet how many of us read the smaller print that shows only 56 women were asked, and that 30 had affiliations with the company? Or that the sweet, relatable girl in the YouTube video is actually being paid a five-figure sum to endorse the product? The immediate gratification that Instagram and other social media platforms provide allows big corporations to manipulate facts, providing a big slogan or shocking figures, that will seemingly change your life overnight, which we as consumers immediately latch on to. However, these companies avoid incriminating themselves by never saying specifically that they can actually "cure" or "treat" something. I find it deeply unsettling that many of these companies are fuelling women's insecurities without any real scientific backing for significant financial gain.
One such company I struggle with is goop, and more specifically, the goop lab with Gwyneth Paltrow. The ongoing Netflix docuseries is the spin-off of Gwyneth Paltrow's successful lifestyle blog, which is now in its 12th year. Whilst it is initially hard to look past the blindingly white office space and the equally jarring vocal fry, I have concluded that this might be GP's greatest acting role to date. She might have won an Oscar for Shakespeare in Love (and side note: accepted it in one the greatest red carpet dresses of all time) but the goop lab is where her acting prowess really shines.
Image: Instagram @gwynethpaltrow
I cannot be the only person to have reached Episode 3, "The Pleasure is All Mine", and questioned the notion that GP truly believed that the vagina was the only element that makes up a woman's genitalia. This is a woman who has branded herself over the past 12 years as a feminist wellness icon, who was there to educate women on their growth and self-love, and yet this episode finds her sitting on a sofa saying and laughing at the word "vulva" as if she has never heard it before. Perhaps more shockingly, she is also a mother of two. I’m not here to make any comments on Chris Martin's ability to pleasure a woman, but it is unlikely that she was able to get pregnant two times without having questioned the vast anatomy that lay surrounding her birth canal.
What GP is doing is actually really smart, as she is creating a relatability to a wider audience of women who may not be totally aware of what makes up their bodies, and even less so when it comes to what generates pleasure. Up until the recent seminal work of Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion, she is one of only a few female celebrities to speak out about her own WAP. Putting herself in that vulnerable position is endearing, and by playing the ignorant fool, GP is tactically playing into the idea that she is just as bewildered as most women (and men) are when it comes to discussing such topics, luring the consumer in to the old trick of "I'm just like you".
Over the last 12 years, goop has made some pretty outrageous claims, as well as selling some ridiculous products. For £149, you can buy a box of three, 250-340g containers of honey. Or for £62, you can buy 12 cans of green tea. Bargain!! Or the infamous vaginal jade egg, for £60, which is recommend you keep in a place with "good vibes". One can only hope good vibes translates to sterile.
Image: Jade egg, goop.com
In 2017, a watchdog group Trust in Advertising filed a formal complaint in California (goop’s HQ) asking for them to stop making claims which support the effectiveness of their advice and products. “Our concern is that Goop is using disease treatment claims to market products that it has no reliable scientific evidence to prove they can do the things they are saying, as is required by law…They're making claims that crystals can treat infertility or soap can treat acne, eczema and psoriasis. They have perfumes that they claim have ingredients that heal diseased lungs and improve memory. You name it, they've got something for you.”
Whilst some of Goop does have value, and I do think questioning recommendations for our wellbeing can lead to healthy discussions and constructive conversations, I can't help but feel that there will be certain women who are being taken advantage of, who are being encouraged to try out 'treatments and procedures', which if not done under proper supervision/medical advice, can cause serious harm. Take Goop’s recommended vaginal steaming: not only is the process utterly pointless (your internal genitalia cleans itself), it is actually quite dangerous. One, it is likely to kill the good bacteria down there (hello thrush), two, if you infuse the steam with herbs or essential oils you risk an allergic reaction (ouch), and three, can you imagine what the second-degree burns would feel like?! The concept alone baffles and terrifies me, but what scares me even more is that there will be women doing it in their own home without any medical supervision because GP has told us it ‘cleanses the uterus’.
Image: Content Pixie
Whilst tackling the issue of wanting to improve women's health and wellbeing is something to be admired, there is a significant group of women that are left out of goop's equation, such as those with little access to traditional healthcare, or those in urban, low income areas. It feels as though there is a slight ignorance in saying they are trying to help all women, when it appears as though the ideal Goop consumer is actually white, skinny and middle class. Goop know their audience (how else could they get away with selling vibrators called “The Millionaire, The Frenchman, The Tennis Coach and The Fireman for £40 each), and they know their audience is rich. The rich have far better access to healthcare than the poor, and thus are the perfect target for expensive alternatives.
If this is a company that truly wants to benefit the lives and health of women, I struggle to believe that they would be focusing on such bizarre products for a niche audience or collecting such significant profits.
- Katie Martin