We've all heard the stories about Goop, Gwyneth Paltrow's "modern lifestyle brand".
Vaginal eggs, vibrator necklaces, £18,000 gold dumbbells, coffee enema, vaginal steaming and So. Much. More.
The company, as a result, has opened itself up to criticism from healthcare professionals and ridicule from the general public, its patrons perceived as people who have more money than sense.
The Oscar-winner first launched her company as a weekly newsletter from her kitchen in 2008, according to its website. "It's grown a lot since then," it continues, rather smugly, so much so that the company is now the subject of a docuseries on Netflix.
The Goop Lab with Gwyneth Paltrow is a six-episode deep dive into a range of unorthodox and, at times, outlandish physical, mental and emotional practices, exploring a range of subjects from the more obscure – psychedelic therapy – to the more familiar but grossly neglected: female pleasure.
A selection of Goop employees, from research scientists to the associate food editor to Paltrow herself, head "out in the field", as its founder puts it, like something akin to an SAS operation, to test out the various therapies and treatments so you don't have to, but might choose to explore as a result.
And they want you to believe in the benefits, desperately, despite the disclaimer at the beginning of every episode: "The following series is designed to entertain and inform – not provide medical advice. You should always consult your doctor when it comes to your personal health, or before you start any treatment".
YES YOU SHOULD.
So why is Paltrow doing this? What is Goop all about?
"The optimisation of health... how can we really milk the sh*t out of this," she says – though we can't quite work out if she's talking about life in general or her customers.
And let's get one thing straight: The Goop Lab is a marketing tool. They've handpicked positive case studies to support each of the topics. The employees, as you'd expect from the Goop fold, are largely open-minded and, as a side note, look like the picture of health: glossy and well groomed – advertising 101. The conversations between Paltrow and Elise, her chief content officer, and the champions of the various practices, take place within Goop HQ – think big, open, white-walled spaces with floor-to-ceiling windows.
It all screams HEALTH, and you can see how certain people buy into Goop's version of wellness, a word which has become contentious in itself thanks to brands like, well, Goop.
As far as aesthetics go, The Goop Lab is incredibly slick, but what about the actual content? What is it saying, and is it responsible?
Paltrow has roped them all in – psychiatrists, sexuality coaches, a biogerontologist and cell biologist – to share their findings which, you guessed it, all support what they're saying. And therein lies one of the series' biggest flaws: the debate and the challenge just isn't there. The Goop Lab will be legally protected by that disclaimer right at the beginning, but it still feels murky.
The case studies, referenced earlier, all attest to their lives being fundamentally changed for the better. We're fed one line in an extremely controlled environment – and for every Jon (a former soldier who explored MDMA-assisted psychotherapy to treat his post-traumatic stress disorder, which sounds plausible), there's a John, a body worker and chiropractor who works with the energy that's bound up in the body to change the way the cells regrow and how the sensory systems process. (Us neither...)
And yet – despite our legitimate snark – the docuseries isn't what you expect it to be, wrong-footing you in certain places.
In episode three, female pleasure is the order of the day. The employees taking part in the workshop perform exercises designed to make them feel empowered and ask for what they want. They're encouraged to explore their bodies and sexuality, and ultimately to feel good within themselves. It's a right, not something you have to earn, says the sexuality coach.
One female employee discusses how in past relationships, she would feel uncomfortable letting her girlfriend touch her during sex. She talks about growing up in Shanghai where sex wasn't really talked about, and confiding in her parents about being queer just wasn't an option, at least not for her.
We live in a patriarchy, with women in every community exposed to differing degrees of entrenched prejudices. The male gaze has long ruled, which makes conversations such as female pleasure on forums such as Netflix, which airs globally, something of a power move.
In that same episode, we also get up close and personal with multiple different vulvas and the message is clear: there is nothing wrong with you or yours.
The Goop Lab tackles a number of other weighty themes, such as grief, anxiety and masculinity, among others, without stigma or judgement. In many ways, it is a safe space.
But that is undercut by the one-sided presentation of its participants' findings and opinions, and characters such as John Amaral in 'The Energy Experience', who lost us and will likely alienate many viewers. The language used by the "experts" and some of the Goop staff can be whimsical and bizarre, at times lurching into the preposterous.
How you react to The Goop Lab will very much depend on who you are. It is possible to look past the Goopiness but ultimately, it's still Goop.
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