Take 2: How the Goop Wellness Summit Helped Me to Assess Myself & My Company’s “Why”
Turns out being a privileged white woman critiquing or defending a brand who’s demographic is other privileged white women is a lose lose.
Or perhaps, it’s exactly someone like me calling out someone else like me that needs to be happening more.
Yesterday, we published a post with all my thoughts and feelings on Goop and Gwyneth Paltrow, especially in light of my recent attendance of the “In Goop Health” wellness summit. Early on in the day, I decided to pull back the post, not because of the onslaught of negative comments, but more because it made me want to spend some more time and self-reflect on what I wrote. It wasn’t fully flushed out and I kinda knew it, but honestly was too slammed to work on it more. I’ve never unpublished a story but let me be clear, it was not me “letting the bullies win” more so than me wanting to make sure I was saying what I really wanted to say. So consider this a TAKE 2. I’m not changing what I originally wrote (besides a few little edits here and there that I would have made anyway had I spent a little more time on the draft prior to publishing), but I did want to address some of what you called me out on as well as add more thoughts about what prematurely publishing this post led me to realize about myself and my company. So, if you missed the post yesterday morning, keep reading for the whole thing. If you did read it, then feel free to scroll to the end and see what I have to add.
Alright, here’s the original post as it ran yesterday:
“No one is more controversial, polarizing even, amongst women (and many men) as Gwyneth Paltrow and her brand Goop. I know this post might inflame some (a lot) of you—even a mention of Goop in our Sunday links post gets some of you going—but over the course of several years, as a follower of the site and now, after attending this year’s “In Goop Health” health summit, I’ve gone through a bit of a “it’s fine, it’s problematic, it’s good” roller coaster in terms of my stance on it (the brand, not Gwyneth herself, keep reading).
Fair warning that this post is looooong. I have a lot to say here. And while I promise to get to my actual review (and criticisms) of the summit in case you guys are wondering what that THOUSAND DOLLAR ticket buys you, first, I need to take you on my GP + Goop journey to help you understand my thought process about it all.
First off, let’s talk about Gwyneth Paltrow. I’ve gotten into so many heated debates that have ended in arguments not because I feel so passionately about ol’ Gwynnie, but because I think that most of the dislike/distaste for her comes out of close-mindedness, judgement and jealousy, and that’s a trigger for me. I’ve found that my friends who can’t stand her or her brand haven’t ever even gone to Goop.com, certainly haven’t listened to the podcast, and instead, are just reacting to a persona that the media is trashing because of her privilege. Do I agree with everything she’s ever done or said? Of course not. But she’s also just a mom, businesswoman and writer trying to put forth some progressive ideas that aren’t for everyone though meant to be helpful and generally positive. Sure, she was born and raised wealthy and has aspired to turn her career as an actor into a lifestyle brand; people take issue with this, although they would probably never do this for a man.
To be honest I was on board with her from the start even though I couldn’t relate to her (at the time I wasn’t her demographic—when I started following her I was broke and even when I had a TV show, I couldn’t have afforded anything from her gift guide). But I thought she did what she did really well. She found a hole in the market and she filled it, beautifully (her cookbooks were good, her travel guides were beautiful). Did I make the recipes or go to those countries? No, but I thought she did a great job at speaking to her audience and I liked watching. She wasn’t putting garbage out there, but her product wasn’t for everyone. It was (maybe unintentionally) exclusive, and mostly for wealthy women which is inherently alienating. And when someone feels alienated it’s much easier to be angry or dismissive. So I understood where these negative feelings were coming from.
How I saw it though, was like this: if you don’t like her, you don’t have to buy her product or read her content. Goop isn’t for you so just move on. But I also know it’s not actually that simple or straight-forward.
My largest shift in opinion though, happened a few years ago when I found myself turned off by what I was seeing on the Goop site. The fear-based marketing that they were doing at the time had been bugging me for a while, and then one day, an article from Goop with a headline similar to “Are you poisoning your future baby with these toxins?” popped up into my Facebook feed.
I can’t find the article now so full disclosure that might be an exaggeration, but it was inflammatory and the definition of fear-based click bait. I think I was likely pregnant at the time and got pissed. Women are already riddled with guilt about what they are putting in their bodies while pregnant and breastfeeding, now I need to feel guilty about the things I might have put in my body (and thus the future fetus) even before I became pregnant?
It just went too far. I already despised fear-based marketing and was just so bummed that a female-founded company was turning it on us.
This might have been around the same time as vagina steaming. I think we all know that didn’t help her image.
But every now and then something would happen that made me remember she was a human going through human things, all while being judged under a microscope. People freaked out when she rebranded her divorce as “conscious uncoupling” (which she didn’t invent, it’s from the ’70s), I was like “HEY JERKS, SHE IS A MOM WHO IS GOING THROUGH WHAT MUST BE THE MOST PAINFUL THING IN THE WORLD and she wants to give it a positive spin for her kids and take the power away from DIVORCE.” Unfortunately, what it did was make anybody who had gotten a divorce and called it “conscious uncoupling” feel judged. (If you’re curious, listen to Dax Shepard’s podcast with her about it.)
“The general brand did start feeling like they were pressuring women to buy Moon Dust (tried it, gave me anxiety) and jade eggs.”
I kept following Gwyneth and would occasionally like some of the Goop content, but the general brand did start feeling like they were pressuring women to buy Moon Dust (tried it, gave me anxiety) and jade eggs.
To be fair, I consider myself a very open-minded and curious person and love hearing, listening and debating all new theories. When people started buying crystals, I laughed and said, “great, which ones should I get?” (turns out two experts told me the same thing—I shouldn’t carry rose quartz because I’m already too high energy and should be wearing more copper to help ground me). I honestly love this stuff because guess what guys? NOBODY REALLY KNOWS FOR ABSOLUTE CERTAIN.
Last year, my two best friends from Oregon came down to go to the Goop wellness summit, In Goop Health. Let me preface this by saying that these ladies are the most grounded, solid people I know. All of us were raised middle class, all of us have worked our asses off since college and are the dominant financial earners in our families. Do they like face cream and are curious about supplements that help detox the liver? Sure! But being that they are both in marketing, they more so admired the success of the brand and liked a lot of the wellness components and self-improvement aspects of the brand. Me, too.
If you haven’t already started screaming “BUT THE PSEUDOSCIENCE” at your device/computer, I’m getting to it. In case you don’t know what I’m talking about, the Goop has gotten some heat for promoting health and wellness techniques that some claim are pseudoscience, meaning anecdotal evidence at best and not actually founded in scientific method. Many people criticized that what they were promoting was dangerous, which was possibly true. Not everyone should be taking every supplement and certainly trendy diets can be harmful to your health. Plus, buying into anything that feels “science-y” and absolute without much—or any—backing should make your red flags go up.
That said, they’ve since shifted from this mostly, and as a follower, what I’ve noticed is that they rephrase things to be less factual and more “hey, here is a theory,” and they have employed far more scientists and functional doctors than they used to. If you are wondering what a functional doctor is, you aren’t alone. It’s a doctor with a western medical Ph.D. that focuses more on a holistic approach analyzing nutrition and lifestyle and genes in addition to bloodwork to find underlying causes of disease. It’s an absolute no brainer to me as I believe strongly that what you put in your body and your mental health effects and contributes to your physical success. After much analyzing, here is how I stand on this: I drank the alternative life Koolaid/kombucha in addition to my love of western medicine. My kids get vaccinated. We employ medicine when needed. While I previously thought that a lot of what Goop was spewing was pretentious, expensive pseudoscience—particularly when they were using that fear-based marketing I talked about—I’ve actually shifted.
It all has to do with a “spiritual journey” that I’ve been on the last year and a half to well, ha, find meaning and purpose in life (which beyond podcasts and self-help books has included trying new churches – not goop). It’s like my only hobby outside of decorating. I listen to podcast after podcast on divinity (I love the Liturgists), business, spirituality, parenting, and wellness. I buy and borrow so many self-improvement books, all to help me figure out how to live more consciously, feel more connected to everyone and everything on this earth (and above), and essentially have a more fulfilling life.
One podcast that I’ve grown to LOVE and listen to weekly (sometimes I marathon it while I’m cleaning the house) is, yes, The Goop Podcast and it’s really where the opinion shift happened for me (though keep reading for my criticisms, because I do have them). If you are on the side of “ugh, I hate Gwyneth and Goop,” please listen to a few episodes before you comment negatively below.
“Do I agree with everything Goop does? Nope, but how can I denigrate a nice woman, trying to do something new and different in media?”
Here’s why: generally, the guests are experts in their field—doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists, motivational speakers—and they are pretty inspiring. Nobody is telling you to not vaccinate yourself or your kids; it’s more about how you can rewire your brain to create better habits or even heal physical ailments (TRUE), how eating less meat can lead to less cardiovascular problems, or very interesting theories on why auto-immune disorders have shot up in the last 30 years. I know what lectins are now, guys, and my gut is happier. I learn so much and it’s honestly made me strive to be a better person.
Moreover, when Gwyneth is on, you’ll hear how she actually is—a mom, a divorced wife, a newlywed, a business owner, a daughter of a beloved dad who passed, and most importantly, a human being who admits her flaws as much as we do and is just trying to figure it all out and be a good person. She’s refreshingly honest and vulnerable. Again, do I agree with everything Goop does? Nope, but how can I denigrate a nice woman, trying to do something new and different in media? Her brand has inadvertently made people feel bad and that’s their biggest problem.
OKAY, ON TO THE WELLNESS SUMMIT.
So my friends from Oregon (Robyn and Nicole) attended last year, I missed it, but they RAVED about it being this really inspiring and fun day so I, of course, wanted to join. They bought their tickets and flights and we had it all set, but when I went to buy my ticket, I was SHOCKED to find out that it was a $1,000. You read that right, although it seems unbelievable. ONE. THOUSAND. DOLLARS for a one day conference. Woah. Surely I could get a press pass. I knew “influencers” who went last year with 1/10th the following who got passes.
But nope. By the time I reached out they were out. In fact, they were out of tickets entirely and they pulled strings to even let me buy my ticket. So then, I had to make a choice and I figured if I could write it off through the business (by writing this article) I would go to A. not let my friends down and miss a VERY fun day, but B. What could possibly happen in 9 hours that would be worth $1,000??? It became more about marketing and brand research than a girls’ day really.
Held at Rolling Greens in downtown LA (which is a stunning space), the summit was an extremely well-produced event, beautifully decorated and flowed great. We got there at 8 am sharp since we weren’t going to miss a second of our $1,000 day and proceeded to spend an hour and a half exploring. We got our B-12 shots in our bottoms, we watched the tuning fork therapy (which I think can work because I believe a lot of theories about energy healing but a 5-minute session won’t do much and the line was always long). We did a guided meditation to “plant music”…that’s right, there is this guy that has an instrument that takes the energy of plants and transforms it into music. It was weird and silly but if you are game to experience it—you’d have to be in order to be there to begin with—then it’s fun. Goop’s Chief Content Officer Elisa Loehnen (who I love) chimed in to say that “that may or may not be the goopiest thing you do all day” and everyone laughed. They make fun of themselves, they are in on the joke. We ate and drank delicious food and bopped into a lot of fun workshops and tested new products. There were no real hiccups in the production; no Fyre Festival here.
At 9:30, the first session started with Gwyneth and Elizabeth Gilbert, who spoke about grief, fear and creativity in a way that left us almost in tears (and excited to buy her book). Most of the sessions were totally inspiring I took an entire notebook of notes. Lacy Phillips taught us her three easy steps to manifesting what you want in life (I’m currently manifesting a new office space). Most inspiring was Lynne Twist who wrote “The Soul of Money,” a powerful book about the history of money and how we’ve all shifted from citizens to consumers (with the irony being of course that there was a massive gift shop inside the conference). The session with medium Laura Day was so entertaining (I love her) and the final session with Busy Phillips, Olivia Wilde, Jessica Alba and Taraji P. Henson was actually amazing. I was there for the other experts, not the celebrities, but they were all very authentic, articulate and inspiring (FYI, all the speakers become podcasts soon after, so you can tune in to that for FREE).
We left with our 20-pound gift bag feeling utterly inspired and spent the next three days debriefing—how we felt it was as a marketing event for their brand as well as what changes we were going to make in our lives because of it. There was a lot to unpack from it.
Now for my criticism.
I believe a large part of wellness comes from helping others and this conference was certainly SELF-help. Now, nothing is innately wrong with that, but there is something so confronting about being in a room with 600 HIGHLY privileged mostly white women, and there not being one word about helping others (except Lynne Twist). No percentage of the $1,000 ticket sales went towards a cause, and none of the sessions were focused on helping anything but yourself. What I love so much about the podcast is that they do dive into a lot of that, and it was missing from the conference. You have 600 either rich or powerful (press) in the room and boy did it feel like such a missed opportunity to not create a conversation or dialogue about what we can do both macro and micro to change the world for the better. So while we left feeling inspired, we also left feeling a little gross and very guilty.
Give me the opportunity to give back and use my privilege to contribute. Have a speaker that helps us understand how to best help our community and give back and frankly remind these women that it’s the responsibility of the elite to serve others. It just is. But again, that’s not the Goop brand or ethos, which I suppose is my biggest issue. I don’t really know what they value, I don’t understand their “why” beyond creating interesting conversations and recommending the newest organic self-tanner, which is not a bad thing. Hell, I struggle with my “WHY” EVERY. SINGLE. DAY, so I get that it’s not that easy, especially when trying to run a business. They are a self-proclaimed “Modern Lifestyle Brand” and I suppose I just wish it were bigger, more empowering and more responsible, with all their products being sustainable and green.
But listen, this is a “wellness” summit and frankly can’t do everything, nor should it. It was a very clear message, one of self-improvement. I suppose I just want to go to a different conference, one that was less about SELF-improvement and more about improving our communities, what we can do to promote change, etc.
All in all, it was GREAT for what it set out to do, I think I just wanted it to be less about how can I be a better me and more about the earth, community, etc. Will I go again? I’m torn. I mean if I get a press pass, then of course. If my best friends fly down again for girls weekend it will be very hard to stay home, but if they don’t then no I wouldn’t spend $1,000 again.”
That was the original post. In just a few hours, we had over 100 comments and they were coming fast—at Goop, Gwyneth and me. I typically try to have a flushed out diplomatic stance on hot-button topics but I just didn’t have the time to focus and just threw up the post. Not only are there some small tonality regrets in what I said, but more importantly there was a lot that I didn’t say.
I stand by what I wrote, but here is what I’d like to add.
Being one of 600 highly privileged mostly white women in the conference was confronting. I didn’t feel uncomfortable, but throughout the day I felt more and more ashamed and guilty. I realize that I’m one of the “whitest” people I know–not just my skin color, but habits, hobbies, how I talk, what I wear, etc. I’m not necessarily ashamed of this (nor do I want to change who I am) but sometimes embodying a stereotype so perfectly can be embarrassing when confronted by a group who also embody this. I’ve been at blogger events where the racial demographic was the same, but the level of affluence was totally different, so why the change? If you’ve followed along for a while, you might know that growing up, we were the not-rich kids living in a very wealthy community in high school so I’m kinda scarred from that and I’m terrified of raising the kids I went to high school with. I have a bias against the wealthy, despite NOW being one of them. This is not GOOP’s fault. No. I was internalizing my own fear and knew that I was supporting a company that was embracing their wealth and then my fear kicked in that now that I was one of them.
I became self-righteous. “HOW DARE THEY NOT GIVE US AN OPPORTUNITY TO GIVE BACK?” I don’t disagree with my previous statement but I wonder if it was out of my own fear of becoming part of a culture that I have always resisted and less about the logistics and ethos of the conference. I felt guilty for being there so I kept saying “why not at least give 5% to some cause?” But that would be just for show, a token to satisfy someone like me. Do I think they should start creating that conversation within their business? YES, but who am I to ask them to provide me with an easy app or donation box to alleviate my own guilt when I have the power (we all do) to go out and find my own cause and help where I can?
What do I do to help and give back and is it enough? WHO AM I TO CALL OUT GOOP? I try, I do but beyond the Feelgood Flash makeovers, and shelter/Miry’s List stuff, I’m not waking up every day thinking about how I can help my community. A business is not a charity, I get that, but I actually don’t think that a business’ level of success is actually something to value. I listened to a recent podcast (Intelligence Squared) about how corporate “philanthropy” is actually just a mask that distracts from what problems they are creating, so society goes easy on them and applauds them when they try to solve others. Furthermore, we don’t know what Goop and GP herself give or don’t to help others. It’s so self-righteous for me to be like “give me a platform to give back” without even researching whether they do.
So that’s where I’m at. I don’t wish I could go back in time, because I learned a ton from the comments. I agree with what I said, but with more self-reflection, I realize that A. we at EHD could be doing more, and B. publishing a post that isn’t well thought out is good for no one.