The lifestyle company is fighting back, and missing the point.
Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop, a lifestyle company dedicated to helping people find health “solutions,” has become an easy target for medical bloggers and journalists who relish a good takedown.
The pile-on keeps happening because Goop keeps making claims that beg for debunking: from bogus “energy healing” stickers purported to be made from the same material as spacesuits (they’re not) to the claim that negative emotions can spoil your drinking water (nope) to the never-ending obsession with “detoxing” the body (which if you’re not a heroin addict you don’t need). (At Vox, we’ve written about many of these.)
On Thursday, the team at Goop posted what it says is the first of many articles confronting its critics. It mostly focuses on Dr. Jen Gunter, an OB-GYN and blogger who’s become one of the most prominent voices in the Goop wars. (Gunter’s personal website has a dozen-plus posts just from this year making the case against Goop claims.)
Rather than offering a clear and coherent defense of alternative medicine, Goop’s statement is filled with ad hominem attacks and baldfaced hypocrisy. But it’s Goop’s central defense of its editorial decision-making that reeks most of “Goopshit.”
Goop criticism has been mounting for months
Goop mockery crystallized into a fervor early this year when the site posted this whopper of a headline: “Better Sex: Jade Eggs for Your Yoni.”
The post featured a Q&A with Shiva Rose, a “beauty guru/healer,” who claimed that inserting egg-shaped jade rocks into the vagina “can help cultivate sexual energy, increase orgasm, balance the cycle, stimulate key reflexology around vaginal walls … [it goes on for a while] … and invigorate our life force.” And Goop, of course, would be happy to sell you said eggs for just $66.
The backlash to this absurdity was swift and furious. Among the first to respond was Gunter, who pointed out that the eggs are probably ineffective and potentially dangerous. “Jade is porous and can trap bacteria, increasing the risk of bacterial vaginosis or deadly toxic shock syndrome,” as Vox’s Julia Belluz explained it.
Goop says its content is about empowerment. But it’s misleading.
It’s not clear that any of this coverage has hurt Goop’s business. It 2016, the company raised $15 million to $20 million in venture capital. In May, it inked a magazine deal with Condé Nast. Hundreds of people recently spent between $500 and $1,500 to attend a Goop summit in Culver City, California.
Still, it’s clear that Paltrow and her business partners are deeply irked, particularly with Gunter, who’s the primary target of the attack.
Goop singles out Gunter in the third paragraph of the statement and then invites two of its affiliated doctors to add their two cents. But they don’t have much in the way of ammo. One of the doctors, Steven Gundry, grounds most of his critique in the fact that Gunter dared to use the word “fuck” in a blog post criticizing Goop.
“I have been in academic medicine for forty years and up until your posting, have never seen a medical discussion start or end with the ‘F-bomb,’” Gundry wrote.
It appears that neither Goop nor Gundry appreciates that Gunter, an OB-GYN, is actually concerned with women’s health. (They implied Gunter was not on the side of “women taking ownership of female sexual pleasure.” Gunter’s rebuke of the jade eggs in fact had to do with the risk of bacterial infections.)
There’s a lot more that’s passive-aggressive in the Goop post. For one, Goop complains that Gunter’s concern about bacterial infections from the jade eggs was “strangely confident.” Was it more “strangely confident” than saying jade eggs “can help cultivate sexual energy”?
You can find plenty more examples of hypocrisy, but what’s really concerning is when Goop rationalizes its editorial decision-making.
“We simply want information; we want autonomy over our health,” Goop writes. “That’s why we do unfiltered Q&As, so you can hear directly from doctors; we see no reason to interpret or influence what they’re saying, to tell you what to think.”
The argument here is that the information in the Q&A (and around the site) is meant to empower women to make choices about their health. “Our primary place is in addressing people, women in particular, who are tired of feeling less-than-great, who are looking for solutions — these women are not hypochondriacs, and they should not be dismissed or marginalized,” Goop writes.
This defense, though, is unjustifiable.
For one, as others have pointed out, marketing bogus products to women isn’t dealing empowerment; it’s dealing false hope. Or worse: It’s exploitative.
Yes, many women do not feel great. They are looking for solutions. But as a media property devoted to “wellness,” Goop should have a responsibility to tell them the whole story.
Where have we heard this style of defense before? From another famous broadcaster of dubious health advice: Dr. Oz.
In 2014, Oz testified before a Senate subcommittee about his role promoting “green coffee extract,” which he claimed aided in weight loss. “My job, I feel on the show, is to be a cheerleader for the audience,” he said. “And when they don’t think they have hope, when they don’t think they can make it happen, I want to look … for any evidence that might be supportive to them.”
Hope is great. But any evidence to support it won’t do. People’s money is on the line. And so is their health. The evidence doesn’t have to be 100 percent clear-cut, but it should exist.
Goop says it’s just asking questions. The problem is it needs to ask more of them.
Goop says it’s just asking questions about possible wellness solutions. And, as the site writes, “what we don’t welcome is the idea that questions are not okay.” The problem is not that the Goop team isn’t asking questions. It’s that they’re not asking enough questions. Their curiosity should lead them to wonder, “How can a piece of jade actually affect my energy levels? What’s the biological mechanism?” “Are there any studies on safety or efficacy at all? And if there aren’t, shouldn’t we let readers know?”
Even if the jade eggs don’t pose any infection hazards, the truth still remains: There’s no evidence in support of their benefits.
“Where would we be if we all still believed in female hysteria instead of orgasm equality?” Goop writes. “That smoking didn’t cause lung cancer? If every nutritionist today saw the original food pyramid as gospel?”
Yes, health myths need to be busted. But they’re not busted in softball interviews with self-styled “gurus.” They’re busted in the lab.