“[I thought it was all] woo-woo, you know, bullshit, not true… just a bunch of privileged people living in L.A.,” a tanned brunette mom confides from my computer screen. I vigorously nod my head along, feeling very *seen*.
I’ve always kept a side-eye on the woo-woo wellness scene best exemplified by goop and Gwyneth Paltrow. Part of that is occupational hazard, but the other part is a blend of morbid curiosity and “surely they’re not serious.” After all, this is the group that suggested putting a jade egg in your vagina would have myriad health benefits (and then paid the price in a lawsuit settlement). SURELY THEY’RE NOT SERIOUS when they suggest you have a parasite and need an eight-day goat-milk cleanse, or when they write about vagina steamings with (presumably) straight faces.
Their latest venture, a Netflix documentary series call The goop Lab (out January 24), is goop’s bid to prove yeah, they are serious—and they’re bringing in the science to prove it. Each episode tackles a different wellness topic that lands on the side of woo-woo, with different goop staff members (the most well-dressed guinea pigs I’ve ever seen) testing the trend as GP and Elise Loehnen, goop’s Chief Content Officer, grill a couple of experts about the science behind that trend. The goal, as Paltrow puts it in a staged pump-up staff speech, is “optimization of self.”
“We’re here one time, one life. How can we really milk the shit out of this?” she asks.
As aSweatLife’s staunchest woo-woo skeptic, I’ve turned down aura readings and examined arrays of crystals with a little bit of side-eye. Blame it on my background: my dad’s a doctor and always armed with the facts, and my mom was a registered dietitian with a practical, trend-resistant outlook on food, perspectives that I’ve inherited and held strong to through adulthood.
So could a six-episode docu-series push me over to the woo-woo side? I binged the Netflix series to find out if ordering crystals online was in my future.
“Of course they’re starting with a psychedelic mushrooms episode.”
That’s what I said to myself with a massive eye roll as Paltrow and Loehnen explained how they offered four goop staffers (who “raised their hands”) the chance to travel to Jamaica (for work) to take psychedelic mushrooms (for work!) as a way to cram roughly five years of therapy into one trip (for WORK).
It will surprise absolutely no one who knows me in person that I’m a total square when it comes to illegal substances (and still pretty much a parallelogram when it comes to recently legalized substances). So I squinted skeptically as Paltrow and Loehnen began probing their two interview subjects: Mark Haden, executive director of MAPS Canada, and Will Siu, a psychiatrist advocating to train therapists in psychedelic therapy administration.
But the conversation stays focused on facts, not whatever wonky mindscapes you’re likely to travel through on a trip. They quickly point out that the FDA recently approved the use of the psychedelics ingredient in magic mushrooms in a clinical trial on depression treatment, and they thoughtfully muse on why psychedelics now.
“Depression, anxiety, suicide is all increasing despite… this renaissance of psychopharmacology. Psychology left psychotherapy behind, and we embraced these drugs that we all know give terrible side effects. As a culture, we’re hungry for something else and for something to help us heal,” explains Siu.
That rang true with me. As awareness grows about the importance of mental health while humans are simultaneously crumbling over more anxiety than ever, why wouldn’t we look back to treatments that worked in the past? Plus, we’re in the midst of a movement for all-natural beauty, all-natural cleaning products, and unprocessed diets; shouldn’t I want my drugs to be all-natural too?
A mix of science and woo-woo… with one major topic missing
In general, each episode works hard to blend the cold hard facts with the vague, “good vibes only” experiential side. I still couldn’t get behind the concept of energy healing, which to me looked like real-person marionetting, but I was fascinated by the episode on health span and longevity, in which GP and co. test different diets to see if they lower their “biological age.” (Assigned the five-day cleanse diet—because of course—one of the funniest moments of the series comes from Paltrow wryly unboxing her cleanse rations: “Well, I’ve got algal oil so… sorry… not to brag.”)
However, throughout the series, I was conflicted about one thing that was only mentioned obliquely throughout the testing of these concepts: money. During Episode 2, “Cold Comfort,” Loehnen reminds Paltrow of a phrase she apparently repeats around the office often: “the tenets of wellness are typically free.” I found that pretty hypocritical for a company showcasing pricey vampire facials in the series; filming Loehnen buying a $50 filet of salmon at Whole Foods (?!?!); and selling $95 collagen supplement packs on their website.
The tenets of wellness (and self-care) may be free, but goop’s business banks on people being willing to pay big bucks for wellness, which inherently makes goop at least a little biased in making this documentary (as this Bustle interview asks, can you imagine if a pharmaceutical company had a similar documentary?). I would have loved to see more explicit discussion of how self-care is a $10 billion industry, what kinds of costs are associated with each of the treatments explored—and how viewers can imitate certain treatments without going into credit card debt.
What The goop Lab gets right about wellness
If you’re a total nerd and you read the footer data in each of goop’s wellness blog posts (hi, it me), you’ll see this:
At goop, we believe wellness is deeply individual. One woman’s path to health may call for sobriety; another’s may involve a nightly whiskey ritual. Regardless, it’s the holistic picture that matters to us, being careful never to cleave the mind from a conversation about the body, or the body from a conversation about the mind.
Our goal has always been to ask questions—about our sex lives, our spiritual lives, the food we eat, how we work out, what happens when we die—and we know we’re not the only curious ones. The answers help us get closer to what “well” means to each of us individually, and we hope they’re helpful to you.
And right from the opening credits, the producers reinforce this individualistic approach, making sure you know they’re not specifically recommending these practices for every single person:
Paltrow explains it a little further herself on film, asserting that in making the docu-series, they wanted to share “access to the information so people can make up their minds.” Hence, each episode features extensive sit-downs with experts who, more often than not, have a Dr. in front of their names. In addition, each episode features case studies with one-on-one interviews and cites multiple research studies on the topic (plus a quick cameo by a goop employee described as a “research scientist”).
The emphasis on “your body, your rules” brought me back to the recent Lizzo and Jillian Michaels controversy: you’re only qualified to make judgments and decisions about the body you inhabit, and no one else’s. One person’s energy healing might be my monthly massage; maybe the energy healing isn’t right for me, but who I am to say it’s not right for you?
And so, it remains that crystals aren’t in my immediate future, nor is energy healing, psychedelic therapy, or sessions with a medium. I’ll stick to my very straightforward, probably bland wellness routine that works for me. But if it works for you, I hope you get all the woo-woo wellness your heart desires.