I’ve always told people that my mum was a bit of a hippie growing up. What I really mean is that she is what many in the New Age community call ‘a seeker’ — someone who is looking for answers to the big questions about life and the universe and, fundamentally, happiness and our purpose in it all. As a child, I was often swept along on her many quests. There was the time I was inducted into Reiki on a visit home from boarding school. She told my father and I that we weren’t getting up from the dining table until we figured out where in our chakras our spiritual blocks were, and the crystals we could use to help us move past them. Then there was a phase with Vedic shlokas, a brief stint with yoga and a short one with Wicca. I went along on this journey with a relatively open mind at first, but the more I saw her pivot, and the older I got, the more I started viewing all things New Age with scepticism at best, and all-out derision at worst.
Filling a void?
This isn’t to say I begrudge her any of it, but you’ll understand why I’ve always given Gwyneth Paltrow and her holistic, female-centric portal, Goop, a wide berth. From detox powders and rose quartz-infused water bottles to vaginal steaming accoutrements with dubious claims to improve health — many of which have led to lawsuits from health practitioners — Goop is all about shilling better mental and spiritual health to a largely female audience with spare cash to spend on finding, well, whatever it is they’re looking for, really.
And if Goop is the perfect commercialisation of the search for meaning in perfectly-curated, shoppable form, the new Netflix docuseries, The Goop Lab, is the ideal view into the Goop Lifestyle. Here, members of the team (mostly white, which should come as no surprise to anyone) spend six episodes trying out New Age crazes. This includes doing magic mushrooms in Jamaica in a bid to find out more about their place in the universe. The bit where the guide tells the group, without a hint of irony, that locals have used it to cure physical ailments and can’t figure out why westerners want to take it solely to get high was my favourite. They try something called ‘snowga’ and jump into freezing Lake Tahoe wearing little more than bikinis, attend psychic workshops and find out about their “real” age, which is apparently different from how old they really are.
To each their own
I’m not going to lie, the series gave me a bit of anxiety — watching them go from one experience to another in each episode felt just a little too familiar — but I also can’t stop thinking about how much truth there is to the phrase, ‘to each their own’. It is one I’ve been pondering a lot lately, thanks to having spent months in therapy working through the exact issues I’ve detailed in this piece. Therapy that I’ve paid, what some might call, ludicrously high hourly rates for. Is that really so different from what Goop’s members and the lifestyle brand’s followers are doing?
Some of Goop’s loudest detractors point to the fact that the brand encourages and benefits from selling expensive things to people who are looking for answers, happiness, balance, whatever you’d like to call it. But isn’t the same true of people who go to therapy, or take a holiday to unwind, or spend money on anything that isn’t an absolute necessity? So, should you watch the docuseries? Sure. Some of you may want to watch it the way you do a safari, or any reality series: observing others living their lives in ways so alien to yours that they may as well be another species. Some of you may want to watch it to find inspiration for things that you can try out in your life as part of your quest for spiritual, mental, or physical wholeness. Either way, it will either be entertaining or informative — which is what all good content is, after all. And that may be the secret to Paltrow’s empire.
The Goop Labs is now streaming on Netflix.