Midway through the second episode of The Goop Lab, a man in a red beanie leads six men and women into the Lake Tahoe snow. It’s freezing, and yet they’re wearing nothing but bikinis and shorts. Undisturbed by the weather, the man in the beanie instructs them to palm through the air forcefully. The idea is to time their breaths with each push.
This is part of the Wim Hof method, viewers are told, and it has reportedly helped a number of people overcome everything from anxiety to paralyzation. The man guiding the group is Hof himself, a self-proclaimed “ice man” who says extreme cold, along with measured breathing, has supposedly allowed him to survive things normal humans can’t. At one point during the episode, Hof is shown having scientists inject E. coli bacteria straight into his bloodstream. Rather than have it treated, Hof just breathes through it — as he tells it, he’s able to directly influence his immune system this way, allowing him to not get sick.
Seemingly mythical figures like these are par for the course for The Goop Lab, a Netflix show starring Gwyneth Paltrow, a celebrity who has spent the last twelve years becoming a lifestyle brand. As Paltrow tells it, at one point during her career she felt that her calling was “something else besides making out with Matt Damon on-screen.” So in addition to occasionally playing Iron Man’s wife, Paltrow has dedicated her time to what she calls the “optimization of self,” an attempt to help people lead their best lives. It’s called Goop. Goop can help you, Paltrow says, without noting “help” often has a ludicrously high price tag.
That’s the pitch on paper, but over the years, Paltrow has courted widespread criticism from the media due to her, shall we say, unorthodox methods. Infamously, the blonde actress once endorsed a product that encouraged people to put jade eggs into their vaginal cavities in the name of helping folks balance their hormones and regulate their menstrual cycle. (Goop later settled a lawsuit over the jade egg claims, for which the company had to pay $145,000 in civil penalties.)
This may explain why the start of each Goop episode begins by warning viewers that the series is meant to “entertain and inform” rather than providing medical advice. Onlookers should always consult their doctors before doing anything related to health, the show says.
For the most part, The Goop Lab refrains from presenting anything as ridiculous as the vagina egg. The first episode is largely about the benefits of magic mushrooms, which have indeed been scientifically shown to help some people overcome trauma, among other things. In a world where medical marijuana is slowly becoming the norm, overturning the perception around substances unfairly caught in the crossfire of President Ronald Reagan’s war on drugs seems like a natural progression.
The second episode, where our friend the ice man makes an appearance, is where the show starts to test viewers with its wellness claims. The Goop Lab does so slowly, with early episodes suggesting totally reasonable things like, “it’s good for women to advocate for their pleasure.” The show ends on a much more unconventional note, with the final episode being dedicated to the power of paranormal mediums.
We could go episode by episode, breaking down each idea that The Goop Lab presents as fact — but it might be a waste of time. Each episode might initially showcase an extravagant wellness idea, like inserting threads into your face which pull the skin back in order to make you appear younger, but I’m guessing that most people won’t go through with anything like that. For one thing, many of the “solutions” presented by Goop are expensive, and beyond the means of the average Netflix viewer. I’d also wager that anyone who could be convinced by a 30-minute Netflix show that they should, say, go to the Arctic instead of seeing a doctor was probably beyond saving anyway. The rich, meanwhile, are already wasting their money in the hopes of living forever without any of Goop’s help.
Curiously, each episode ends with more sane-sounding advice that anyone could take — that, indeed, most people already advise one another to do. Hof reminds viewers that any time they feel out of control, they should just “breathe, motherfucker.” He’s also a big fan of cold showers, which is actually something I’ve heard time and time again in different contexts. Sophia Vergara once told Univision viewers that the secret to her perky breasts were cold showers. A colleague I know swears his amazing hair is the result of cold water. Whether or not it’s true, and regardless of what science may or may not say, the idea won’t die.
The episode containing a “vampire facial” — where your own blood is needled back into your face — meanwhile, ends by encouraging folks to have healthier diets, exercise, and sleep. Who hasn’t heard that before?
The episode that suggests everyone has an energy field a la Evangelion, meanwhile, concludes with Paltrow saying that when she feels anxious, she uses her hands to feel her chest as she breathes her way to calmness. I do that sometimes, too.
The final episode may sound outrageous — can people truly talk to the other side? — but ultimately, it’s all framed as a technique to help others process grief. I believe mediums can do that, in the same way that tarot cards may not be able to predict the future but assuredly help people talk through their problems. Swindlers are of course a danger, but the big takeaway from the episode isn’t that you should go hire some ghost whisperer. Instead, The Goop Lab posits that it’s important to connect with one another and to be open to new ideas. Sure, OK.
By slowly working up to its most incredible ideas, and then pairing each wellness claim with a more mundane takeaway, The Goop Lab makes it easier for people to buy into the larger brand. Why not check out the Goop website, or pick up a copy of the magazine, if some of the ideas spoke to you? Why not buy a Goop cream that will help detoxify your skin, or a Goop supplement that will help you through a cleanse?
But for all the fear mongering we could do here about the potential harm Goop could cause for unsuspecting viewers, there’s a reason why “wellness” has become such a titan industry. I know all sorts of brilliant men and women who spend a small fortune on things like 10-step skincare routines and Peloton. Keto is taking the world by storm, and yet it’s really just the Atkins diet by another name. All these folks will happily break down the reasoning behind their lifestyle, “science” acting as a shield from criticism. The Goop Lab, meanwhile, shows a group of people who, by their own admission, are wealthy, beautiful, and relatively healthy ... and yet it’s not enough to save them from deep sadness, grief, anxiety, and trauma. In the end, we all end up swearing by something.