Harmless information offering women alternative health advice or dangerous, pseudoscience? Here, Goop’s fiercest critic speaks to Grazia
It’s sometimes hard to remember a time when Gwyneth Paltrow wasn’t synonymous with $66 jade eggs, vaginal steaming, ‘earthing’ (walking around barefoot, to you and I), sex dust and kale.
It’s even harder to remember a time when the actor wasn’t mocked for her claims of their benefits. Since the launch of her lifestyle offering, Goop, in 2008, she’s been hit by countless accusations that the website is ‘scientifically illiterate’, the products it promotes are too expensive and its advice is hypocritical.
But amid the criticism, Gwyneth and her team maintained a dignified silence – until last month. In a blogpost: ‘Uncensored: a word from our doctors’, the website took aim at its detractors, saying, ‘Being dismissive – of discourse, of questions from patients, of practices that women might find empowering or healing, of daring to poke at a long-held belief – seems like the most dangerous practice of all.’
Goop had one target in particular: Dr Jen Gunter, a Canadian gynaecologist based in San Francisco. Dr Gunter has spent 18 months debunking what she sees as the ‘pseudo-science’ on Goop on her own blog (posts include ‘Dear Gwyneth Paltrow, we’re not fucking with you we’re correcting you, XOXO Science’ and ‘Gwyneth Paltrow and Goop still want you to put a jade egg in your vagina. It’s still a bad idea.’).
WATCH NOW: 11 eco beauty products you need on your radar
Goop accused her of being ‘strangely confident’ and argued that she was ‘ridiculing women’ seeking alternative health advice. Dr Gunter hit back that she was ‘appropriately’ confident thanks to 20 years’ experience as a doctor. So why has she made it her mission to take on Goop? ‘The first thing I became aware of was their promotion of vagina steaming,’ she tells Grazia in an exclusive interview.‘That was the most dangerous thing I have seen on it. It could introduce air vaginally, potentially damage the good bacteria or allow bad bacteria to grow. It could also expose you to allergens and cause burns.’
The Goop conference
On jade eggs, which Goop says are ‘used by women to increase sexual energy, health and pleasure’, Dr Gunter says they’re potentially harmful for pelvic floor muscles and could even cause toxic shock syndrome.
‘Goop had a piece on the power of infrared saunas – which can cost $5,000 – and basically intimated that it is almost as effective as chemotherapy. So you can imagine someone who’s got cancer thinking, “Maybe I should buy that.”
‘What it really does is drive readers into the arms of these people who are practising in a non-evidence-based medical way. Giving people incorrect information is the opposite of empowerment. I can’t not take a swing at it.’
Women, she feels, are particularly vulnerable to such claims – especially when it comes to the site’s dietary advice. ‘Women are so susceptible to ideas about body image and weight loss. It can be very hypocritical and can scare people into thinking they have a parasite or that they need to do a goat milk cleanse.
‘I definitely think this is about the cult of Gwyneth, too: celebrity sells.’
Gwyneth in her past life as an actress
It comes after the brand opened a popup ‘Goop boutique’ in the Hamptons last month, offering Goop’s own products in a space inspired by the Cornwall seaside. It’s the latest indication that, despite consistent backlash, Goop is thriving. In 2016, it raised $15 to $20 million in venture capital before announcing it was bringing out a range of vitamins – at $90 for a one-month supply. Then, earlier this year, it launched its inaugural In Goop Health summit, where 500 women bought tickets that cost up to $1,532 for the chance to sip collagen-infused cocktails with GP herself. A second, in New York, has already been announced, and a Goop magazine is on its way.
Despite planning to step down last year, Gwyneth is still its biggest star (at the time, she said, ‘How can I separate myself from the brand? My dream is that one day no one will remember that I had anything to do with it,’ – before becoming CEO in March).
So with no sign of Goop slowing down, how would Dr Gunter like to see it change? ‘It’s almost impossible to talk about healthcare appropriately then sell products – it’s unethical,’ she says.
‘You need to decide: are you an apothecary or are you an informationdelivering site? And I think they need to differentiate between the two.’ And her final message to Gwyneth? ‘A lot of people are paying attention to you: you have a duty of care.'
Come home Gwyneth - and by home we mean to our cinema screens, not our actual house (that would be weird)
Terri White, editor-in-chief of Empire magazine explains...
With all of the Goop hoopla (Goopla?), it’s easy to forget that Gwyneth Paltrow is, well, Gwyneth bloody Paltrow: awardwinning, plaudit-amassing actress who has long lit up our cinema houses and made us gasp with her sheer acting chops.
She has been in 40 films. Forty! Which is even more remarkable when you think that she has had one lead role in the last four years – in 2015’s Mortdecai, with Johnny Depp. Other than that, we’ve had a cameo here and there, but no aweinspiring, Gwyneth-worthy, meaty-as-hell role. And honestly, we miss her.
Just look at her work in the late ’90s and early noughties: The Royal Tenenbaums, Shakespeare In Love, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Sliding Doors – she moved between historical dramas, comedies and indies with ease, collecting critical acclaim and the odd Oscar along the way.
The grim reality is that, once 35 hits, most actresses suffer from the condition I call ‘the-world-decides-they’re-invisibleitis’. The roles they’d have been shoo-ins for go to actresses with an inch less on their waist and five years less on their CV. But times are a-changing. We’re in something of a renaissance period for actresses from that era (of Bewitched and straightened hair). Take Nicole Kidman, who has recently racked up The Beguiled as well as starring in huge TV hit Big Little Lies (along with the equally having-a-moment Reese Witherspoon). They’re getting their fingers around interesting, complex roles for women of their age. Not playing someone a decade younger. Not having to wait another couple of decades more to play a spinster.They are playing women like them.
So, the stage now feels set for Gwyneth’s return to the screen. We would love to see her in an incredible TV drama. We can totally see her kicking ass as an Amazon warrior in the next Wonder Woman outing. I mean (bear with me), imagine her in a Star Wars movie! Providing counsel to Rey and flummoxing the Stormtroopers! My point, I suppose, is that when it comes to film, Gwyneth can do anything. And we would pay hard cash – literally – to see her do it again.