Culture

Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop conference made me sick

A nauseating combination of hypochondria, rich white women, and lots and lots of liquid.
Culture

Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop conference made me sick

A nauseating combination of hypochondria, rich white women, and lots and lots of liquid.

The Goop conference, which happened earlier this month in Culver City, California, was called In Goop Health, but I refuse to call it that. I could invent at least nine better names for the Goop conference right now. In Goop Company. As Goop as New. The Goop Life. Goop, Better, Best. Goop as Gold. Goop one, Beth! That Feels Goop. Daddy’s Goop Girl. I won’t indulge more because punning is for greedy, lazy people who are being paid by the word to write about the Goop conference, and innuendo is worse, if you can believe it.

I’m not on board with demeaning women for trying to improve their pelvic floors or gut flora, no matter how misguided or money-wasting those attempts are. Plus, I read Goop, Gwyneth Paltrow’s easy-to-shit-on pro-prebiotic-before-the-probiotic newsletter-cum-lifestyle brand, and I know the edit team is savvy and calculated in their manufacturing of public disbelief; Paltrow admitted as much on Jimmy Kimmel a few weeks ago. I had a Monistat egg up my vagina treating a yeast infection for the entirety of the Goop conference (one day), and that’s certainly worse for me than a jade one, at least according to Dr. Alejandro Junger, Dr. Steven Gundry, and Dr. Amy Myers, the experts on an afternoon panel called “Gut Check.”

The Goop conference was, of course, the first live-action offshoot of Goop, which has blossomed into a venture capitalist-backed empire of a million subscribers since its inception in 2008. You know what Goop is, but in case you don’t, a refresher: A few months ago, Goop “caused a stir,” as they say, by suggesting women shove a jade egg (retailing at $66 on the Goop website) up our vaginas for improved yonic and spiritual health.

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While I tried not to judge anybody’s philosophy at the Goop conference, the Goop conference shamed me for my habits. I too believe in the efficacy of Ayurveda and the reality of body chakras, of proactive pelvic and mental health, of oxygen and spending time outside. But I also believe in antibiotics and eating nightshades — both amoxicillin and eggplants are considered contraband in the Goop universe — and I know that anyone who claims that they enjoy nut milk is a fucking phony. Nobody’s entitled to make anybody else feel like a fat slob for eating corn (also forbidden) or putting half-and-half instead of ghee in their coffee. At the Goop conference, a lot of people on stage did a lot of scolding.

For what it’s worth, I’ve always liked Paltrow. She’s funny! I don’t hold “conscious uncoupling” against her, though I will never forget the time she pronounced Anthony Hopkins’ name “Antony Hopkins” while presenting him with an award at the 2006 Golden Globes. I write a “wellness” newsletter too, and I like to pretend that Paltrow and I are quiet rivals, cordial to one another at social functions and events at our children’s Waldorf school. I don’t have children, and I still haven’t met Paltrow. At the Goop conference, only the $1,500 “Clear Quartz” ticket holders got to have lunch with her; I purchased the mere $1,000 “Amethyst” ticket, which meant I was entitled to attend a party called “Cocktails in the Collagen Garden” at the end of the day. The commoners with $500 “Lapis” tickets, well, no one knows what became of them.

(Each rank wore wooden prayer bead bracelets with different colored tassels to delineate our crystal ranking, in lieu of concert-style wristbands. Mine was purple.)

The day wasn’t really about Paltrow, but she kicked the event off with an anecdote about making her father, who had been diagnosed with throat cancer, zucchini bread in 1997. Anecdotally, when her father bit into the loaf, he said, “This tastes like biting into The New York Times.”

Slay, Bruce Paltrow (and R.I.P.).

Gwyneth Paltrow, Cameron Diaz, Tory Burch, Nicole Richie, and Miranda Kerr at “In Goop Health.”

Gwyneth Paltrow, Cameron Diaz, Tory Burch, Nicole Richie, and Miranda Kerr at “In Goop Health.”

Health food’s come a long way, she said. Just ask the people at Sweetgreen, sponsors of the event (along with other food sponsors By Chloe, Erin McKenna’s Bakery (formerly Babycakes), Bai, Ancolie, Matchabar, Kye’s, Tory Sport, Dyson, Bulletproof, Tropicana, Lifehouse, Bai, Moon Juice, Lifeway Foods, Belcampo Meat Company, Botanica, and Sweetfin Poké).

There was a lot of liquid at the conference. The bathroom situation was remarkable. The conference was held in an artful warehouse space, and the gender-neutral bathrooms had at least 30 stalls for all 600 attendees. I got up to use the bathroom a lot, and not just because I was bored for much of the day.

Paltrow spent most of the day as a careful observer, sitting cross-legged on the stage floor in a white and orange toile muumuu as doctors discussed “The Tools,” a set of five self-love axioms by which Dr. Oz lives, or casually moderating a panel of her friends. Paltrow first introduced Dr. Habib Sadeghi, her personal doctor and the inventor of Conscious Uncoupling. On stage, he hammed it up and referred to his wife, Dr. Sherry Sami, as his “beloved” at least four times, which I thought was sweet. But at one point, he said, “I am probably one of the most authentic human beings you will ever meet,” which I did not think was so sweet. In my experience, people confuse being “honest” and “authentic” with being loud and imprecise. I don’t know Dr. Sadeghi well enough to make that judgment, but I have my preconceptions.

Dr. Sadeghi was diagnosed with cancer in his second year of medical school, and he became a man obsessed, as we all would. But what kept him up at night was the question of why he got cancer in his left testicle, and not his right testicle. There had to be a reason, he figured. Did it have to do with his spleen? A broken left ankle from childhood? Carrying a backpack on just one shoulder like all hot guys do? His firm handshake and mega-watt smile? Slapping his right knee and not his left after telling a joke that he thought was particularly classic? I’m making things up now, but this is what Dr. Sadeghi was getting at.

“Why the left testicle?” he asked five times. “Is there a laterality to the body?”

Why the left testicle?

I felt down around my left testicle, convinced I too had cancer, barely remembering that I don’t have a left testicle, or even a right one. What I found down there was a yeast infection, still, and lower down, a bloody left foot. I took the athleisure dress-code suggestion seriously, thinking that perhaps the conference would involve some light but invigorating physical activity, and wore Tevas with Velcro that rubbed up against my flesh, drawing blood. Nobody else wore Tevas, and the sum total of physical exercise I did that day was 22 minutes.

Dr. Sadeghi said that there’s a reason for what breaks down where, and he dedicates his practice to making external medicine internal.

“Context is everything,” Dr. Sadeghi said.

This is the comprehensive list of truths that I was taught at the Goop conference, and I took notes for ten hours straight. My handwriting is middling-to-illegible, but some of this stuff seems pretty suspect.

Despite my support of active wellness, I loathe the self-care-industrial complex, which has invented countless problems to make women hate ourselves so that we buy more argan oil. Still, it’s hard to feel bad for the women who have been conned into buying the quackery and Moon Juice that Goop peddles. Due to the event’s price and location, it’s likely that the attendees are not an accurate representation of the estimated one million people who read Goop each month. Goop’s team declined to offer me demographic information on the 600 people at the conference, even though I know that they have it, because they sent out a Survey Monkey poll before the event so they could ascertain how much money we’d be spending or if we already had eggs up our vaginas.

All I can report is what I observed, and from what I saw at the Goop conference, Goop is largely for unhappy, wealthy white women. I am one of them, and we are the least sympathetic and most visible group of consumers in the United States, besides the teenage boys who wait in line outside of Supreme retailers on Thursdays. To the best of my understanding, only two panelists at the Goop conference were women of color. One was Dr. Sherry Sami, a pediatric dentist, orthodontist, and “beloved” wife to Dr. Sadeghi. The other was Nicole Richie, who discussed her entrepreneurial spirit alongside notable white women Cameron Diaz, Tory Burch, and Miranda Kerr.

A few dudes were there too, but they were mostly internet reporters who spent the day with their legs wide open typing on a couch near power outlets, probably plotting ways to use their sociology degrees to make women seem insane for clicks. One man foam-rolled a few mats away from me at myofascial impresario Lauren Roxburgh’s class, and when he entered the studio, he looked around in that playful and disbelieving “Boy, am I a fish out of water, but you have to admit, I deserve a little credit” way that some men do when they enter a situation where they’re outnumbered, which occurs maybe once every two to five years.

In April, Yvette d'Entremont discussed Goop on our daily podcast, The Outline World Dispatch.

Anyway. Like most of you reading this, and like literally everyone you and I know and all of our ancestors who drank themselves to death, I have been diagnosed with anxiety, depression, autoimmunity, acne, whatever. I do a lot of Goop-adjacent activities to make me feel better, and I’m not here to disrespect anyone who puts good faith into energy healing or shamanism. I lie on an acupressure mat twice daily, I do cognitive behavioral therapy mindfulness worksheets, I make aromatherapy tonics before I go to sleep, I pay $239 a month for barre classes, and I oil cleanse twice a day.

Some of it helps! But also I take a shit-ton of prescription pills.

But you know what else helps, at least for a couple of hours? Reckless spending. Dr. Sadeghi said, “This is not a convention, it’s a pilgrimage” w/r/t the Goop conference, but really it was a mall. During a discussion on “The Feel,” a sort of lovely united-world philosophy based on microtransactions between humans, we were told that our impulses take us down to the material level. But Goop was and will always be about the material level.

The slapdash “add another 0 to the end!” pricing of items at the conference concerned me, and this is coming from a woman who once washed her hair with Evian because a pretty person on the internet suggested it. The Goop brand alone overwhelmed. Two different talks, The Mother Load and the keynote panel Balls in the Air were named after new Goop Wellness vitamin sets, each retailing at $90. $200 Goop sweatshirts. An $85 Goop medicine bag filled with the eight essential crystals. A $55 rose-quartz egg “for people who have already seen results with the jade egg and want to take their practice a step further.”

I’m always looking to take it a step further. Throughout the day, inside the Goop Hall and spilling onto the patio recreation area, Goop encouraged us to “choose your own wellness adventure.” By 11:30 am, basically every stop on the wellness adventure had closed their waitlists, and low-level Goop employees stood at the end of the line as apologetic bodyguards for the aura photographers and massage therapists.

All told, despite its promised spectacle and ample access to Amanda Chantal Bacon’s fine wares, the Goop conference was a deeply boring day filled with tedious waiting and hypochondria. When I finally stumbled out of the Collagen Garden three vodka drinks deep, after chatting exclusively with women who were also sent to the Goop conference because a higher power or their employers paid for it, I felt nauseous and leaden. I hulked from the garden to the patio to my goody bag, past the shaman collecting her stones and the nurse practitioners from the IV bar disposing of their sharps, stopping one more time at the aura photography station to see if they could squeeze me in. They couldn’t squeeze me in.

As a goody bag, I received a Madewell canvas Transport Tote filled with lip scrubs and natural lube and prebiotics and headed to the street in the industrial park where the Goop conference nestled itself, eyeing the Clear Quartz women who left with a hard-enamel Tumi suitcase filled with free shit, in addition to a $399 Dyson hairdryer. When my car showed up, I loaded myself in and stared out the window like a Joan Didion with less sex appeal and a heavier bag, and began writing this essay in my head.

Less than 24 hours later, I was puking my brains out the window of a car on an L.A. freeway, sick from traveling the city’s rolling topography (probably nothing more, nothing terminal). The body is temperamental, and decides for itself if it will adapt to or rebel against new environments and sensations, no matter how much we spend to safeguard it with moon rocks and green liquids. It will grow wider and sag deeper as time wages against us, and there will be no logic as to why one healthy corpus fails at age forty and another lives to 105. I know this much, and no dosage of herbal supplements will disentangle the senseless and arbitrary patterns that govern me, despite what Gwyneth Paltrow’s doctors want me to believe keeps her body lithe and zestful under loose gowns.

But as I barfed, all I could think was, “Why the left testicle? Why the left testicle!”

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Claire Carusillo is the author of the newsletter "That Wet Look."

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