Day 6

What spending $1,300 on Goop products taught this writer about Gwyneth Paltrow's lifestyle juggernaut

The Goop Lab, a six-part Netflix series based on Gwyneth Paltrow's lifestyle brand, debuted Friday. Amanda Mull, a writer with The Atlantic, tried $1,279 worth of Goop's products to find out why it's so appealing to Goop's clientele.

'The first thing I noticed ... is that I started to smell bad,' says Amanda Mull

Goop CEO Gwyneth Paltrow speaks onstage at In goop Health Summit Los Angeles 2019 at Rolling Greens Nursery on May 18, 2019, in L.A. (Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for goop)
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Scientists have repeatedly debunked Gwyneth Paltrow's wellness advice as pseudoscience, but her lifestyle brand, Goop, debuted its own Netflix series this week. 

The six-part series, called The Goop Lab, promises to push Paltrow's questionable ideas and products about women's health to an even wider audience.

Amanda Mull, a writer for The Atlantic, was curious about what draws people to Goop's products, so she tried living like a true fan

"The best way to figure out what people are getting from the experience of using those products is to use them," she said. "There's really no way around it."

Mull spent $1,279 of her magazine's money to buy everything from an $80 water bottle with a giant crystal inside it, to a cocktail of vitamins, to a vibrator.

She told Day 6 host Brent Bambury what makes Paltrow's science-free approach so appealing to so many people. 

Let's talk about wellness. You sound like you're getting over a cold, but when you started taking the products that were promoting wellness did you notice any changes in your body?

I am getting over a cold right now, but I was perfectly healthy when I started taking these supplements and using these treatments, which a lot of people are when they invest in this sort of luxury stuff. 

So the first thing I noticed almost immediately, within hours of the beginning of the experiment, is that I started to smell bad. I was emanating a body odour that I thankfully do not normally have. It took me a little while to realize that it was me who smelled because it was the beginning of summer in New York — everything smells. 

I was trying to think [about] what I had done differently maybe over the weekend or that morning to create the smell. And then it occurred to me that a couple hours prior I had taken this set of vitamins.

I would say that the first rule of vibrators is they should have everything they need out of the box.- Amanda Mull, The Atlantic

It did not occur to me in all of my Goop skepticism that anything that Gwyneth Paltrow would recommend to people would make them smelly. It's not really her brand. But realizing that [the vitamins] probably were the culprit, I looked up what was in them and it was a mega dose of B vitamins.

The name of the regimen was called 'Balls in the Air.' It's supposed to 'promote efficient energy levels' is I think how they phrase it. So it's supposed to make you a little bit wired. 

So you're massively overdosing on B vitamins and were you washing them down with the special water bottle that you got.

Yes, the water bottle that Goop sells is a very, very special water bottle in that it costs $80

Oh my God. 

And it comes pre-installed with a chunk of crystal. There's a couple of different crystal varieties that you can get. Mine was rose quartz which is supposed to promote communication and positive energy. 

I didn't notice any difference in my energy levels or my communication skills, but my water did taste like a rock.

And you got a vibrator. Goop has a focus on women's sex lives, which which feels like a positive thing. Did the vibrator live up to Goop's promise?

The vibrator was one of the things that I was most disappointed in. First of all, it's super funny, I think, to get an opportunity to expense that to The Atlantic. 

On its opening day, Goop's Toronto store had to pull two beauty products that weren't approved for sale in Canada. (Katie Nicholson/CBC)

Sure. I'm sure it's the first time.

That was our estimation. You know, it's hard to tell entirely. But we think so.

Goop and Gwyneth Paltrow make a big show of claiming that they, you know, embrace women's sexuality in ways that other companies and other celebrities are afraid to. So I expected that they would sell some fun stuff. 

And in reality, this vibrator was sort of lame and sort of infantilizing. The line of vibrators has four different options and they're all sort of cartoon character renderings of the types of people that women might want to date. There's the millionaire, the Frenchman, the firefighter. I got the one that was the firefighter, and they're all sort of pastel and cartoony, and you know, entirely inoffensive.

It took a triple-A battery, which did not come packaged with it. And I would say that the first rule of vibrators is they should have everything they need out of the box. 

Amanda did you like anything that you bought? 

Yes, I liked a couple of things. My favourite thing and something that I still use to this day, more than six months later, is a pack of silk scrunchies. They were, I think, $40. I was impressed with them. They were really gentle on my hair. I had no breakage. I would buy those again with my own money if I lost them.

You know, the temptation is to laugh at all of this. An $80 dollar water bottle with a rock in it. But clearly Gwyneth Paltrow has figured something out about what her clients want. What is she on to, Amanda?

I think what Gwyneth Paltrow and her company have figured out, along with what a lot of wellness businesses have figured out, is that there's sort of latent anxiety among mostly women in America that traditional medicine and traditional doctors, traditional researchers don't really take their concerns seriously. 

There's a lot of data to back this up, that this perception is true. Women's pain is often ignored. Their issues, especially reproductive issues, are often sort of dismissed as not serious. 

So there is, I think, a real curiosity among a subset of those women who feel like they're being ignored – that maybe there's something better out there. Maybe there's something more natural maybe there's something more basic that they can do in order to feel better, in order to address those concerns.

But does Goop deliver on that? When it comes to women's health and wellness, is Goop progressive in any way?

Largely, no. 

In all of my testing of groups products I found that something that they really embrace and put central in their understanding of health is one of the oldest, most easily debunked ideas about health in America, which is that if you put effort into your appearance, into being thin, into having clear skin and having glossy hair, then those products – which are the products that Goop sells by and large – will somehow make you whole as a person; that achieving those outward signs of health is how you achieve health on the inside too.


This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. Click Listen near the top of this page to hear the full conversation or download our podcast.

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