Gwyneth Paltrow’s The Goop Lab is not a Feminist Manifest
In Netflix’s The Goop Lab, Gwyneth Paltrow is offering women wellness and happiness through experimenting with questionable healing methods and calling it feminism
Gwyneth Paltrow has built an empire of beauty products, lifestyle, and wellness. Her brand dominates a new generation of lifestyle products, and she has become a super-successful businesswoman. She offers an online magazine, stores, and inspiration to talk about sexuality, wellness, and alternative medicine.
The Goop Lab, Paltrow’s new series on Netflix, is a six-episode product of the Goop empire. It demonstrates a variety of mystical and spiritual methods for finding happiness and coping with emotional trauma. Scientists and scholars have criticized Paltrow’s ideas, products, and recommendations as pseudo-scientific methods for self-healing. They claim that some of her methods and products, which are presented as effective without any scientific evidence, can cause harm and damage. Goop’s show includes a disclaimer with every episode: “The following is designed to entertain and inform — not provide medical advice.” This disclaimer appears following a $145,000 settlement in 2018 over unscientific claims about what its jade egg can do, such as correct hormonal imbalances and regulate periods. Goop employees are careful to say that though something works for them, it could very well not work for someone else.
In each episode, Paltrow introduces an expert in a healing method, such as cold therapy, longevity diets, energy healing, masturbation, etc. The experts explain their methods and present success stories. Later, they demonstrate their healing methods on Paltrow’s employees, and sometimes on Paltrow herself. Her employees experiment in psychedelic mushrooms, jumping into a frozen lake, witnessing masturbation, conversing with a medium, and so on. As a result, The Goop Lab seems sometimes like an endless commercial for the experts who invented the healing methods as alternatives to modern medicine.
The show presents a one-dimensional discussion of these methods, and it hardly addresses their possible dangers or offers proof of their effectiveness. In doing so, the show encourages an anti-scientific discourse, which peaks when Paltrow nods in agreement when the experts belittle modern science and psychology. This approach contradicts the justified public demand to receive full and complete information about the safety of medications and vaccinations from pharma companies and health authorities.
Lately, Gwyneth Paltrow’s feminist role is presented as the beacon of a new feminist age, where beauty and striving to change women’s figures are not dictated by the patriarchal society. Instead, they are motivated by women’s own sense of independence.
Paltrow was crowned as a feminist icon after the episode about feminine sexuality. It is a very important episode, because it discussed female genitalia, and presented them in their full glory. This episode is significant because it fights destructive myths about the female body that are spread by the porn industry. The episode was blunt, direct and challenged many conventions over the sexual content of TV. For promoting an open discussion about feminine genitalia, Gwyneth Paltrow deserves much praise.
However, since this episode is only one in a series of six episodes, each addressing a different spiritual method of healing physical and emotional trauma, the episode does not transform Paltrow into a feminist icon.
Paltrow’s brand is sending contradicting messages. On the one hand, she sends women the wonderful message that their bodies and genitalia are perfect just as they are. On the other, Paltrow is selling and advertising a plethora of diets, beauty products, and accessories that signal to women the everlasting patriarchal message that women need improvement, that commercial products are necessary to take care of themselves, that products to shape their beauty and age exist, and that they should pay a high price to acquire them. The continuation of this path is the idea that women are not pretty the way they are, and they should become younger and prettier.
Some aspects of feminist thought would argue that the current beauty trend is an important part of women’s right to choose how to look. It is not the patriarchy, they would claim, it’s women’s right to choose to wear makeup and undergo plastic surgery. Simply put, this thought argues that women can now choose how to look and decide what beauty is for them.
The problem with this argument is that it is a part of the never-ending demand from women to follow the path of self-rejuvenation, beautification, and self-improvement to achieve happiness. In this case, not via their partners’ approval, but a fantasized view of themselves. Replacing the target of their reassurance does not mean the process itself is any different. The mechanism is the same: when a woman is set on a pedestal to be looked at, whether by herself or by her partner, she is still under examination. She still has something to lose when her looks fade.
This pattern resembles the classic capitalist message that many cosmetics companies send to women and men, encouraging the belief that what they want really exists, and that everything they can possibly want is available, but they can’t afford it. Thus, encouraging a never-ending cycle of scarcity and pursuit.
When watching The Goop Lab, I noticed the show is based on Goop’s employees experimenting with the healing methods. They resemble the ‘average person’ to encourage the audience’s emotional attachment to them. They have become an integral part of the story. In this sense, it is worth asking about the hierarchical relationship inside the Goop empire. The employees expose themselves, emotionally and physically, in front of the camera while they try the healing methods; they are exposed to the viewers’ gaze. They take psychedelic mushrooms, jump in their bikinis on the snow, and talk about their mental illness, grief, and sexuality. Could they have said no and kept their job? Did Paltrow choose the best-looking employees? It seems that specifically in this feminist age of empowerment in the workplace, public use of the organization’s employees to try beauty, rejuvenation or emotional therapy is extremely unusual.
Paltrow mixes the concepts of wellness, beauty, diets, and feminism. She does not carry a new feminist gospel. Not only that, her concept of wellness is based on the idea that youth and physical beauty are inseparable components of happiness, and that women should pursue them; she also diverges from feminist discourse to embrace pseudo-scientific attitudes.
The criticism of The Goop Lab is not about spiritual healing, crystals, diets or cosmetics. The criticism is not of people who try these methods of healing and feel them to be effective and useful in their path of self-healing. The criticism is not about Paltrow personally, she is a talented actor and a super-successful businesswoman who is worthy of praise.
The criticism is pointed at Paltrow’s selective persuasive presentation and dissemination of unsubstantiated and questionable healing methods, trying them on her employees, and selling them to her viewers. The criticism is pointed at the feminist framing of these pseudo-scientific messages. The criticism is pointed at the dichotomy of Paltrow’s messages: on the one hand, she is advising women to celebrate their sexuality, and on the other, she is selling them cosmetics, sparkles and diets. The criticism is pointed at the idea that had it not been for Paltrow’s celebrity brand on this Netflix show, the content would have not been considered so innovative, revolutionary, or feminist.
True, modern medicine is not perfect, and it has a lot of room for improvement, both in listening to female patients and in changing its paternalistic and patriarchal historical inclination. But modern medicine’s shortcomings do not justify marketing and framing alternative healing methods as feminist. Paltrow’s path might be paved with sparkles, but it is not necessarily the feminist or medical path to wellness.