Goop, Gwyneth Paltrow’s high-profile lifestyle and e-commerce site, made a wonderful gift to the internet this week — and it was not a moon-powered vagina egg that stimulates our mystical ‘life force’. No, it was a perfectly crafted reference guide to selling snake oil.
It’s really very impressive.
In case you are unfamiliar – or just one ratify refresher course – Goop is a site aimed primarily at affluent women that sells expensive products and overuses the word “empower” while engaging in many forms of pseudoscience and quackery – everything from homeopathy to magic crystals and nutritional supplement nonsense in the garden. Despite all the logic and much hope for humanity, Goop has proved successful. With a chic, new-age vibe and Paltrow’s celeb status, it raised $15 to $20 million in venture funding last year alone. This year, the Goop group partnered with Condé Nast to begin publishing a quarterly print magazine and digital content. (Condé Nast also owns Ars, by the way.)
Amid the success, journalists, medical professionals, and public health experts have been delivering quick, science-driven punches against this brand of high-end hocus pocus. There are blogs, news items, and even a book titled “Is Gwyneth Paltrow wrong about everything?” slamming Goop’s products and advice.
On Thursday, Goop finally hit back. In a post titled “Uncensored: A Word from Our Doctors,” the Goop team suggests that the gloves are off and it’s ready to wrestle. While the internet was grabbing popcorn en masse, Paltrow himself tweeted the post, writing, “When they go low, we go high.”
But Goop didn’t go high. Going high would be providing data to support health claims and questionable products. Going high would be tantamount to denouncing bad products and consulting evidence-based doctors about effective remedies — or at least discussing the potential harms of unproven products. Even adding clear warnings to products and practices that lack evidence of effectiveness and safety would be a step up. In general, going high would clearly mean putting the health and well-being of customers over profit.
Instead, the Goop team went low – not actually changing positions. It defended its evidence-free and sometimes potentially harmful products while personally attacking a specific medical blogger, Dr. Jen Gunter, an Ob/Gyn who has hit back at many of Goop’s products and claims.
In doing so, Goop provided a clear how-to on peddling fake remedies, which I’ll break down for you – for fun and so that future iterations can be easily spotted.
Goop’s greatest hits
But before we dive into how Goop makes its money, it might be helpful to review the inventory of ridiculous products and practices that the Goop brand has been distributing. This way you can get an idea of how much work might be required during a sales pitch to move these types of products.
I’ll start with the jade egg, which is of course meant to make women stronger when inserted into the vagina. According to Goop’s “beauty guru/healer/inspiration/friend Shiva Rose,” it can improve your sex life and “detox” your lady bits, among other things. It retails for just $55 to $66 on Goop’s site.
To be fair, some women might feel emboldened by putting an expensive stone in there. But there is no evidence to support, or even assume, the health claims. First, unless your kidneys are failing or you’ve been poisoned, you don’t need to detox your body. Detoxing is not a thing. In addition, as Dr. Gunter and others have noted, keeping a porous egg that can harbor bacteria in your vagina can cause an infection. Likewise, Goop has also recommended vaginal steam cleaning, which is not necessary as the vagina is self-cleaning. Steaming can also promote infections and burns.
To continue solving problems that don’t exist, Goop recently promoted “energy healing” stickers. It falsely said the stickers were made of “NASA space suit material,” to which one NASA scientist remarked to Gizmodo, “Wow. What BS this is.” To throw in a real and serious case, Goop entered fear-mongering territory by suggesting that bras cause breast cancer, which is a false claim that has been debunked.
Then there’s Goop’s “medicine pouch” of magical crystals that harness your own inner strength and healing. I’m not sure how to debunk this exactly, other than the fact that magic isn’t real and crystals aren’t an effective treatment for mental health issues.
Incidentally, water is also not an effective treatment unless you are treating dehydration. It’s worth noting, as Goop also sells a variety of homeopathic products. Homeopathy supports the false and dangerous belief that an ailment can be cured by an extremely dilute poison that produces the same symptoms as the ailment. The doses are often so diluted that only water remains, but mistakes can be deadly. That was recently the case for improperly diluted homeopathic teething products containing deadly nightshades. They were linked to the deaths of 10 babies and the serious illness of about 400 others. Ars reported on that tragedy and has repeatedly debunked homeopathy, as have others. Still, Goop sells a few homeopathic products, including Gelsemium sempervirenswhich for $8 is said to treat “shelf anxiety, apprehension, and fever.”
Last is Goop’s line of luxury nutritional supplements and vitamins, which cost $90 for a month’s supply. This is big business. Americans spend more than $30 billion each year on vitamins and supplements — too little benefit. With few exceptions, including people with known deficiencies or who are pregnant, there is weak evidence that taking vitamins improves health in healthy people. And if you do need vitamins, it is best to get them through the diet. Of course, the people most likely to take them – the wealthy – need them the least. And many vitamins, like vitamin C, are water soluble — you just pee out of the extra you take.
In addition, dietary supplements carry potential harm. For one thing, they aren’t reviewed and approved by the Food and Drug Administration before they go on the market. There are no independent checks that these products are safe or effective. And it is possible to overdose on some. For example, vitamin A can cause bone loss and birth defects when taken in extremely high doses.
Duping in Gooping
So, how do you successfully sell that steaming pile of junk? In its latest post, the Goop team rambles through all the steps. I’ve brought them out and reordered them here for a more coherent interpretation.
Step 1. Assure the client that you are there for them and can take care of them, especially when no one else is or can, including the heartless, mainstream medical community. As Goop puts it:
Our primary place is to address people, women in particular, who are tired of not feeling great, who are looking for solutions – these women are not hypochondriacs and they should not be fired or marginalized.
2. Explain that you simply have more answers than those stuffy evidence-based doctors because you see things from a fresh, holistic perspective.
We are drawn to physicians who are interested in both Western and Eastern modalities and incorporate the best of both because they generally believe that while traditional medicine can be very good at saving lives, functional medicine is more adept at addressing chronic problems.
3. Carefully warn that you may not have all the answers because, duh!, no one has. So it is understandable that this is not the case all of your remedies will work.
The thing about science and medicine is that it is constantly evolving. Studies and beliefs that we considered sacred even in the past decade have since been proven unequivocally false and sometimes even harmful. Meanwhile, other advances in science and medicine continue to change and save lives. It’s not a perfect system; it’s a human system.
4. But emphasize that you are the real deal. You have diplomas, badges and an open mind.
The doctors we regularly feature on Goop: doctors who publish in peer-reviewed journals; doctors trained at the best institutions; physicians who are repeatedly at the forefront of medicine; doctors who persistently and aggressively maintain an open mind.
5. And you are certainly not crazy!!!
We would never suggest that someone skip a colonoscopy, pap smear, or mammogram, that they refuse chemotherapy or radiation, that they don’t get that clogged artery in their heart taken care of. There is much in Western medicine to marvel at.
6. Note that at this point you are a victim of Meany McCriticFaces who don’t know what they are talking about and are just trying to sell things and promote their own brands, unlike you who stand behind the customers ( see step 1).
There are third parties who criticize Goop for exploiting that interest and drawing attention to themselves. Stimulating discussion of new ideas is certainly one of our goals, but indiscriminate attacks that question the motivation and integrity of the doctors who contribute to the site are not.
7. Twist the facts to suggest that any critics of yours are really critics of the customer. You do this together!
Some of the coverage Goop receives suggests that women are lemmings, ready to jump off a cliff when one of our doctors talks about checking for EBV, or Candida, or low vitamin D—or, heaven forbid. walking barefoot. As women, we resent the idea that we are not intelligent enough to read and take what serves us and leave what is not necessary. We just want information; we want autonomy over our health.
8. End by turning around those who dare to criticize unproven, nonsensical health remedies that can be dangerous. Explain that it is those critics who are actually dangerous, not you who are open and compassionate.
It is a pity that there are some who seem to believe they already know everything, who pre-judge information before they have even taken the time to read or understand it, who believe that there is really nothing left to learn, who believe that they, individually, possess the truth. That’s annoying and that’s dangerous.
To an open and honest dialogue, to open minds and open hearts.