I Exhausted Myself Relaxing at the ‘In Goop Health’ Summit

I wonder what happened to all these vegetables. Photo:
Megan Reynolds

The tote bag I was given upon crossing the threshold of In Goop
Health—a day-long wellness conference for Goop’s community—is
the perfect tote bag. Not too wide, not too tall; the straps
are generous enough to accommodate the bulk of a winter coat,
but did not slide off my shoulders once I stripped down to the

athleisure
I was encouraged to wear to the summit. The bag
was excellent. It was exactly what I wanted, without even
realizing it. That’s what Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop wants: to
physically manifest a solution for spontaneous, brand-new
problems. Goop wants to give you everything you want, while
making it seem like it’s what you need.

my fear of getting gooped
was high

It’s standard for women’s publications to attend and report on
events such as this; the wellness industry is targeted
aggressively at women and the “toxins” and “impurities” that
pain us so feverishly that it would, I suppose, be foolish to
miss this. Jezebel
did not attend last year
and this year, we were not granted
a press pass. So my attendance was as semi-willing participant,
skeptical but still receptive to any new ideas or life changes
that might come my way. (This description fits my approach to
life more generally, as well.)

Goop’s domination prevails in how the brand name itself has
become a sort of shorthand for a certain set of beliefs: that
yoni eggs are good, supplements even better, and that
medication, inflammation, adrenal fatigue, and postnatal
depletion are the quiet enemies killing us all. Underscoring
all the
articles
 espousing
detoxing your shower
,
crystal-infused water,
and
releasing fear
is the quiet insecurity that the way we live
our lives in its current iteration is bad and there are things
one could buy or do to change it for the better. Preying on
this insecurity to move products is how brands work, but the
wellness industry places the onus for betterment completely on
the individual. It’s a way of thinking that’s willfully
ignorant of other, larger issues that might make “wellness” or
capitalistic ideals of “self-care” inaccessible. Writing in
Baffler, Laurie Penny
homes in
on the uneasy link between self-care and
neoliberalism: “If you are miserable or angry because your life
is a constant struggle against privation or prejudice, the
problem is always and only with you,” she writes. “Society is
not mad, or messed up: you are.” The idea is that improvement
is a necessary, expensive, and individualistic pursuit, and
that if you want to get better and be clean, you’ll spend the
money and time required to do so.

For Goop’s acolytes, every
day could be the day your life changes forever

For Goop’s acolytes, every day could be the day your life
changes forever. “We’re all one step away from a major life
change,” Goop’s chief content officer Elise Loehenen told me on
the phone. “You’ll probably come back from the summit and want
to become a shaman.” She laughed, I laughed, but then I thought
about it for the rest of the night. As an extremely gullible
person who is willing to give almost everyone the benefit of
the doubt, my fear of getting gooped was high.

Loehenen said that “the bigger goal” of the conference overall
was not necessarily to move a lot of product or capture web
traffic via past life readings and Ayurvedic therapies. “The
bigger goal is that people have or experience some sort of
paradigm shift, where maybe you leave and you’re thinking about
things in a slightly different way,” she said. That paradigm
shift has already happened; Goop’s pervasive concept of
“wellness” has mainstreamed to the point where
websites—especially those aimed towards women—have branded
their health coverage under a new banner. Wellness is a murky,
slippery catch-all for anything intended to benefit the self;
Goop’s insidiousness is in its subtlety. Nothing under the
site’s
wellness section
will tell its readers explicitly that
they’re bad people, but the suggestion is clear: there are
things in your life that are “bad” and the only way to fix it
is through gumption, self-determination, and lots of money.

“Experiential activations” like in Goop Health purport to
somehow express the feeling of community through
artfully arranged, exceedingly well-planned experiences that
are part Instagram bait and part brand loyalty indoctrination,
without providing any actual community. In 2018, “community”
apparently means anything, including “experiences”—gussied-up
pop-up shops replete with activities, panels, food, and perks
meant to reward fans and possibly convert skeptics. The ticket
levels—denoted by a leather tassel one wears around one’s neck
and clearly visible to everyone at all times—are named Ginger
and Turmeric. For devotees of GP’s lifestyle empire, coughing
up $650 for a Turmeric ticket or an astonishing $2,000 for the
Ginger  is a necessary indulgence; a
health-defining
day
” that you wouldn’t want to miss. I was expecting
opportunities to purchase at every turn; knowing myself and my
own gullibility, I set aside money just in case I lost my mind
and spent
$185 on face oil.
(In the end, I did not buy that or
anything else.)

“You’ll probably come back
from the summit and want to become a shaman.” She laughed, I
laughed

To its credit, In Goop Health was restrained—elegant, even—in
its messaging. The vegetable wall that greeted summiters upon
arrival was faintly ridiculous: a giant feature wall covered in
kale, radishes, and beets that wilted in a desultory fashion
over the course of the day. Every soft surface to sit on was
considerate; you’d lean back in a chair and realize there was a
cushion in exactly where you wanted it. For my hydration needs,
large bottles of Bai antioxidant water were placed in rustic
wood crates throughout the space. At one point I walked past a
woman completely asleep on a sectional sofa near the entrance.
She slept there for at least a half hour and nobody bothered
her.

Goop’s aesthetic, furniture-wise, is a less oppressive version
of the mid-2010s obsession with mid-century modern
design—knockoff Herman Miller Eames chairs and hints of brass
and ceramics. In other words, to my great surprise, there was
little Instagram-bait. At no point did it feel like a version
of the Museum of Ice Cream but for Goop acolytes; instead it
was like stepping into a very nice Airbnb listing, full of
plush sheepskins, blankets, and thoughtful touches of
greenery.

Good toast, good turmeric chia seed pudding, EXCELLENT
brassica bowl. Photo: Megan

I arrived starving and desperate for coffee; I drank two cans
of bougie La Colombe “draft lattes,” housed a slightly twee
piece of avocado toast topped with a perfectly sliced egg and
immediately got in line for a B-12 shot, where women were
pulling down their pants and offering up their bare hips for
the needle. Mine was administered to me in the arm by a nice
man in scrubs who patted me on the arm when I winced at the
needle. (No explanation was given for his choice to use my arm
instead of my hip.) The avocado toast set off a small personal
feeding frenzy within me, consisting of a citrus salad, roasted
beets with yogurt, a piece of gingerbread with ghee, a
“brassica bowl” that tasted delicious, a turmeric chia pudding,
and a cup of bone broth. Every portion was artfully arranged
and the size of two passed h’ors d’ouevres at a nice wedding.
It was, again, perfect. I ate consistently through the day and
was never full.

All this, by the way, happened before the opening remarks. Once
they finally began,
Karen Newell
, an “innovator in the emerging field of
brainwave entrainment audio meditation” led us through a
binaural beats meditation intended to “open our heart spaces”
for the day ahead. Every day should start with a check-in,
Newell told us in hushed tones. This is true, according to her,
whether you’re a CEO or a truck driver; I’m not sure how many
people in attendance were CEOs, but by my estimation, not a lot
were truck drivers. We inhaled a deep breath, repeating “Let
go” in our heads as a collective mantra for a room of mostly
women and a few men clad in athleisure and Minnetonka leather
slippers—the promised “footwear surprise” we were told to
expect a few weeks before the event. Sufficiently relaxed,
having “let go” of whatever we needed to “let go,” with our
“heart spaces” activated, we were ready to receive Gwyneth, who
floated onto the stage. The summit, she told us, is for the
Goop Woman, who is curious, open-minded, brave, and a
thought-leader unafraid to ask questions. “We love science and
data,” she said with a beatific grin, a claim I was not sure I
believed, given Goop’s historic advice to: detox your body with
a
coffee enema
; consult Anthony Williams, the “Medical
Medium,” about the true origins of thyroid cancer, who will
tell you that its root cause is a simple
equation of “virus + toxins=Cancer
”; and shove a hunk of

rose quartz
inside your vagina and hope for the best. She
added, (to me, more believably), “but we also love the
unexplained.”

I ate consistently through
the day and was never full

Leaning into the latter half of that statement was Laura Lynne
Jackson, a mother of three, a high school English teacher, and
a self-described
psychic medium
. Per her assessment, the other side reaches
out to us with what I considered an alarming frequency, like
telemarketers or the Greenpeace street team vying for our
attention. She conducted a few impromptu readings, letting the
spirits pull her to those whose relatives were speaking the
loudest from the other side. Using what sounded like some good
guesses and intuition, Jackson delivered easy aphorisms with
specificity. (“This is going to sound really weird, but does
someone in your family really like Cheetos or chips? And
football?” she said to a woman whose mother had just died of
cancer. The woman said that there was; Jackson asked if they
happened to be an Eagles fan—an easy guess, no offense, for an
audience that was likely based in and around the Northeast.
When the woman confirmed, Jackson said “Well, I’m supposed to
pass on the message that he will be very happy.”)


The day was structured loosely enough that I didn’t ever feel
rushed. There was plenty of downtime between panels and the
various activities one could participate in were brief and
well-spaced. Men walked around the space in knee-length rough
linen aprons taking trash from people’s hands and ferrying it
away. My first activity involved something called Nasya. In
honesty, I selected this because it was one of the only things
left when I registered; I was pleasantly surprised to discover
that it was just a lovely facial massage with a thick collagen
cream and a gentle shoulder rub at the end. Before this
activity, a woman standing next to me near a garbage can took a
sip of Diet Coke from a bottle she pulled out of her purse.
“Don’t tell,” she said when she saw me looking. “I don’t want
to get kicked out!” I ran into her and her friends multiple
times throughout the day and they were always so, so
thrilled to be there.

Most of the attendees at the conference were white, taut, and
blonde—in GP’s image, I suppose. Courtney Oliver and Latressa
Fulton were standing next to me at a table eating something
green out of a jar and chatting. When I asked Oliver, one of
the few women at the summit who wasn’t white, what she hoped to
get out of the day, she emphasized something that felt
strangely absent from the day: connection and community. “I
wanted to see who is in this space and who is interested in
this space. I wanted to see how many women of color and how
they’re embracing their health,” she said. “I believe in the
Goop mission and method…in our own different ways, we both
embrace the health space and so we wanted to see different ways
we could bring it back to our culture and our community.”

“Community” is one of those words that can be stretched almost
beyond recognition, but what I saw at the summit was definitely
not community. Pursuing a better you is not an inherently
individualistic endeavor, but Goop’s idea of community is
really just a conversation between oneself and the goddess GP.
The site’s
About Us page
makes this explicit: “[Goop] has always been
a place for GP to introduce some of the incredible experts who
have mentored her throughout her life, and a place where
readers can find suggestions about where to shop, eat, and stay
from a trusted friend—not from an anonymous, crowd-sourced
recommendation engine,” it reads. The suggestion is that
Gwyneth knows best and that one should trust her implicitly.
The faceless crowds that populate comments sections and Amazon
reviews are just regular people, after all—never mind what they
have to say. Community, in Goop’s mind, is a one-way street,
with little room for outside thought.

The suggestion is that
Gwyneth knows best and that one should trust her
implicitly

The focus on the self became more apparent during my second
activity of the day, a self-hypnosis session about manifesting
my personal destiny, run by Morgan Yakus, the former proprietor
of No. 6, a vintage store in Brooklyn that is best known for
these
ubiquitous wooden clogs
. A past-life reading moved her so
much that she changed careers—the life pivot Loehenen mentioned
to me—and now works as an expert in past-life regression.
Slumped on couches like taut seals, we visualized the mantra
we’d each written on a thick piece of card stock (for me, “I’m
fine with my lot in life”); then put ourself in the visual
manifestation of that mantra. We “flew” above the building and
to our happy place. All day, the space hummed with a low din
that was just loud enough for my shoulders to unclench when I
walked into the hush of the bathroom or the shoe cubbies.
Hearing Morgan over this din was difficult, but I concentrated
hard on my mantra. I did not fly out of the building, but I
visualized a beach, thought about a plane ticket for a wedding
I’ll be attending over the summer, and then slipped into a nice
little moment of respite near the end.

Before my scheduled ayurvedic oil therapy, (at 2:30, which at
this point was still three hours away) I asked the volunteer
manning the registration iPad if the people she was interacting
with today were nice. She gave a wry laugh and said she
wouldn’t answer that question for a member of the press. The
ayurvedic essential oil therapy was fine. It was like the best
part of yoga stretched out over 10 minutes. I don’t believe in
essential oils but I do believe in rubbing my temples in oils
that smell fantastic and closing my eyes for a spell—relaxing,
as it sometimes called.


Goop’s primary concern with women is the loss of our power;
everything their various experts spoke about was in service to
getting that power back. I was incredulous to hear author

Anita Moorjani
tell a small but rapt crowd about how she
spontaneously recovered from end-stage lymphoma after having a
near-death experience and seeing her father on the other side.
The key was the realization that she had been living her life
in fear instead of love. “The medical paradigm has taken our
power away,” she said. “Our bodies heal naturally if we get out
of our own way.” As a former “people pleaser” and a “doormat,”
Moorjani realized that she was the only person who could save
herself; armed with that knowledge and a glimpse into whatever
lies beyond death, she did. As my colleague Stassa Edwards
wrote, in 2017, Goop capitalizes on

women’s pain
and the fear of a multitude of undiagnosed
illnesses that can be fixed by eating well, taking supplements,
and, occasionally swearing off medicine.

During a panel called “Mind Games,” Dr. Kelli Brogan—a woman
who once claimed that the
notion that HIV causes AIDS is a “meme”
— reinforced the
theory that depression is caused by inflammation—an actual

medical term
, though its deployment here is slightly
pseudo-scientific—and that an imbalance that requires a shift
in perspective to fully address and treat. She
espoused tapering off meds as a kind of “spiritual awakening.”
Brogan’s point of view was by far the most outré on that
particular panel; Catherine Birndorf and Anita Yusim, two
psychiatrists also featured on the panel, stressed the
importance of using elements of Eastern and Western medicine in
their practices—a much safer alternative to pushing “mind over
matter” when it comes to clinical depression and chemical
imbalances. Getting your power back is solely your
responsibility and making sure that power is never taken away
again is a task with which GP’s cohort will gladly help,
whatever it takes.

Dr. Brogan espoused tapering
off meds as a kind of ‘spiritual awakening’

In my mind, Goop is synonymous with A-minus to B-minus-list
celebrities; out of the random assortment of famous friends at
the event, I only saw Bryce Dallas Howard mingling with the
crowd. I watched her undergo the same aromatherapy treatment
that I did (they’re just like us!), and a few minutes later,
washed my hands next to her in the bathroom. The real star
power was assembled at the keynote panel, billed as a “no-holds
barred talk about changing the female paradigm, featuring
Chelsea Handler, Gillian Flynn, Laura Linney,
 Drew Barrymore, Elaine Welteroth, and GP
herself. The subject was vague enough to allow for any
discussion to feel like it fit the theme; I’m not sure how the
“female paradigm” needs to change, but I do know that GP has
some big ideas.

Linney briefly touched on the current “reckoning” women are
facing. “When I was growing up, you just had to duck and weave
your way around inappropriate things,” Paltrow said in
commiseration. “It never occurred to me they were illegal.” No
further clarity was given to those “innapropriate things,” but
it was certainly not needed. Not a single woman on the stage
mentioned Harvey Weinstein by name, though it was clear to me
that he was the looming, eczematous specter in the room. As the
“first lady of Miramax,” Paltrow’s name has been synonymous
with the Weinstein accusers, receiving
top billing
over Angelina Jolie’s in this New York
Times
piece from October. I had been waiting for someone
to address the real source of women’s pain and power the entire
day and here it finally was.

Barrymore doubled down on the Goop’s overall message of sunny
positivity and optimism as tools to reclaim power from those
who would take it away. “Women have been here before,” she
said. “Anger’s not healthy. Go to the polls. Take the power.”
It was the most overtly political speech I’d heard in a day
that was concerned mostly with soothing away the weariness and
exhaustion left by the current political climate, ostensibly
aimed at everyone but seemingly not really for the people whose
bodies and minds were most affected. This call to reclaim power
was reminiscent of the messaging of another, different
experiential activation—the Women’s Convention in October,
organized by the Women’s March. Both events were organized with
women’s interests in mind; both recognized the need for women
to “reclaim their time,” as it were. If you take the Goop path,
the power you seek is packaged in detox bath soaks and clearing
your kitchen of chemicals. Reclaim your time by relaxing, hard,
and you’ll tap into an inner power you never knew existed.

I was exhausted from
relaxing. I wanted to go home

Paltrow’s approach is focused so heavily on the feminine that
it feels regressive; part of Barrymore’s spiel was that
harnessing “feminine energy” is essential to helping women
become empowered. It’s a rejection of the power-suit era’s
insistence that women must act like men to be respected like
them. Tap into the “softness” and “vulnerability” of the
feminine wiles within will lead to change—a message that
embraces the gender binary in a way that felt reductive and not
entirely helpful. Women should be “feminine,” whatever that
means, and embrace that femininity in order to regain their
power. Where does that leave women who don’t embrace
traditional notions of femininity—the softness, the
vulnerability—and is there room in this power grab for them,
too? Had I heard this panel at, say, mid-morning, riding high
off the dregs of my B12 shot, I would’ve been much, much
angrier. It was at this point when I realized for good that
Goop’s brand of Gaia-oriented empowerment feminism rooted in
pseudoscience, inflammation, and the unknown was truly not for
me. I was exhausted from relaxing. I wanted to go home.

 

All the little bags have stuff in them. Photo: Megan
Reynolds

Had I purchased the $2,500 Ginger ticket, I would’ve left the
summit with an hour of GP face time under my belt, and an
enormous Tumi carry-on bag, stuffed to the gills with product.
When I got home, I unpacked the gift bag for the Turmerics—an
$85 nylon backpack from State Bags—and laughed in horror at the
sheer amount of stuff attendees received. There was Goop day
cream, various supplements of dubious utility, probiotic
“beauty elixirs,” sunglasses, a bag full of eye cream and a
sturdy box containing this lovely $72 Oskia Renaissance Mask,
which I Googled frantically when I got home. It’s weird that
there are no reviews on Goop for their products—there’s no way
for customers to leave feedback, which presumes that Gwyneth
knows best. Just try the stuff, spend the money and see for
yourself. It feels like a deliberate choice—another subtlety
that allows Goop to establish itself as the expert. You don’t
need to read for yourself whether or not this face oil smells
weird or gave someone pimples. Just put yourself in Goop’s
buffed, moisturized hands and trust that they won’t steer you
wrong.

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