The night before the Goop summit I go to The Ripped Bodice, the only bookstore in the country exclusively for romance. It’s a fantastic place, with a creative shelving system that divides books by type, not author (“Cowboy”, “Pirate”, et cetera). There’s a vast used section upstairs, an activity corner for little kids, and shelves for younger and middle-school readers. There’s also a “blind date” shelf, with books wrapped like gifts and a “Hello” sticker providing a vague description (I got “He thinks she’s a trollop on the Boston Docks. Outrage! Oh also he’s a spy.” Turns out to be a Revolutionary War romance. It’s not bad). For a certain kind of reader, The Ripped Bodice is heaven.
I arrive at In Goop Health with a headache. It’s 8:30am on Saturday morning in Culver City, California, overcast and cool, with rain threatening in that sulky SoCal way. (It turns out to be very hot and I get a sunburn. No one has a remedy on hand.) Though check-in is officially 8:45am, there are already several dozen people in line. The early-bird crowd is mostly white, mostly women, and skews 40+. This is true of the summit at large—though there are some men and some people of color, the Goop crowd is overwhelmingly female, white, and the average age is probably around 40. I wonder how many of these people voted for Trump.
Check in is quick. They give me a schedule, a bag, and a purple worry-bead bracelet: My pass for the summit. Beyond check in, shrubbery forms a courtyard where handsome waiters hand out cups of Tropicana’s Probiotics juices, which turns out to be the best-tasting and also sugariest thing I will consume all day. Later in the day comes a bee pollen smoothie which tastes like someone dumped grass clippings in fruit juice; it’s the second-best thing of the day. (Some of the caterers laugh about the increasingly insane drinks they’re peddling. This is the greatest episode of Party Down never made.)
The courtyard is home to such experiences as crystal therapy, aura photography, an oxygen bar, a cannabis display no one can actually enjoy, and a few food vendors, including Moonjuice. The lines for crystal therapy and aura photography are already long, and indeed, these turn out to be the most popular experiences, and rapidly build up long waitlists. (Inside, the dry bar is booked solid, too.) Late in the day, Tracy Anderson gets turned away from aura photography because of the waitlist. To her credit, Anderson doesn’t complain, unlike a group of ladies who pitch a fit at the crystal therapy because they weren’t able to get a reading. They have LA faces and chunky gold jewelry and the white-tasseled bracelets of the “clear quartz” package, the most expensive ticket. They can’t believe they aren’t getting preferential treatment.
Inside the “Goop Hall” is where most of the food (“food”) vendors are: Matcha protein smoothies are popular, and I get a Mexican corn elote salad from sweetgreen for lunch, the ingredients of which were expressly warned against in the “Gut Check” panel, but maybe a toxic salad makes up for disappointing Leslie Knope. Drifting between the courtyard and the Goop Hall during breaks, the most common conversations are about “curating”, “Coachella”, “gluten”, “free range”, “plant fusion”, and “my journey”. The second most common conversation is complaining about not getting crystal therapy or an aura photograph.
But the people are mostly nice. It’s easy to chat people up in line, although it seems like half the attendees are fellow writers there to cover the event. I talk to a mother-daughter pair in line for the I.V. station that are basically having a “treat yo’self” day, but I share drip time with a pair of professionally glamorous women, Willa and Sienna*. “I think it’s so great you’re doing this,” Willa enthuses when she learns I have never had I.V. hydration before. Willa and Sienna use the on-call service to recover from hangovers. “It doesn’t cure it,” Willa says. “But it definitely takes the edge off.” I suggest drinking a glass of water, and they look at me blankly.
The Goop magic happens inside the “Chat Room”. Blythe Danner provides pre-recorded intros and reminders, and introduces GP—all the Goop messaging refers to Gwyneth Paltrow as “GP”—and the conference begins. GP steps onto stage in a toile dress that’s peasant by way of Versailles. She welcomes us and talks about her history with Wellness—capital “W” because this isn’t just a niche interest, it’s a multi-trillion dollar industry— that began when her father, Bruce Paltrow, was diagnosed with cancer in 1997 (she made him “everything free” zucchini bread and he compared it to “biting into the New York Times”). This is the gateway to Wellness: Dire diagnoses that drive us to seek ANY answer from ANY source to cure and save ourselves or our loved ones. It’s relatable, because sickness touches everyone, and it seems innocent enough, because who doesn’t want to be well?
Take Gemma*, one of the noticeably younger people in the crowd. Gemma is a self-described former cynical New Yorker, who, after moving to Los Angeles several years ago, slowly converted to the cult of Wellness. She calls it “eye opening”, her interest in Wellness stemming from an interest in preventative self-care (“I’m afraid of sickness,” she admits), but her eyes narrow when she talks about people having the “wrong kind” of interest in Wellness. She has Opinions on Instagram gurus and celebrity-laden workout fads (what, then, are you doing at Goop?), and she emphasizes her interest in health. In contrast, there are people who gravitate to the dry bar and the beauty products, not the workout studio and health experiences. The only thing everyone can seem to agree on is crystal therapy.
The Ripped Bodice is an unabashedly female space, a refuge on Culver City’s Main Street for anyone who refuses to be embarrassed by reading “smutty” books. In the back room, next to the Paranormal section, two teen girls sit in a corner, a pile of books between them. They’re oblivious to me, the only other person in the room, totally wrapped up in each other and their books, talking fast and sharing phones and books indiscriminately. There’s no agenda, no competition, no one-upmanship or Instagram rivalry. This is the purest moment of community I witness all weekend.
For an admitted Wellness skeptic, the panels are of varying interest. The early panels are health-oriented, with Dr. Habib Sadeghi (who “architected ‘Conscious Uncoupling’” according to GP) talking about the “laterality of the body” and how incidents and experiences are connected to our eventual illnesses, such as the burn he suffered as a child on the left side of his body, and the cancer that afflicted his left testicle. Why his left nut, he wondered. Why not the right? Maybe it’s the burn keloid! He admits “laterality” isn’t found in approved medical textbooks.
The “Gut Check” panel is terrifying—“Advil blows giant, gaping holes in your guts,” Dr. Steven Gundry warns. My head still hurts, and there’s Advil in my bag. I want to take it but now I’m scared. Dr. Gundry convinces me I am a time bomb, my stomach moments from an apocalyptic explosion. (Dr. Amy Meyers recommends fish oil and turmeric for headaches. Surely I can get some of that here, of all places? Nope, the Goop Pharmacy is all about vitamin packets.) A recent blog post by Dr. Jen Gunter, notable Goop skeptic and crystal-denier, points out that the Goop medical experts are “fear-mongers who coincidentally have something to sell”.
There is something Scientology about all this, that there are Secrets the Establishment is keeping from us, and the only way to learn them is to spend a lot of money on the pre-approved texts and learning aids, which in this case are the Goop-branded products for sale in the Goop Hall. Besides the $90 vitamins, there is a $70 additive for your water that I can’t discern is any different from fiber supplements, and an $85 bag of rocks. Probably none of this will hurt you, if you’re already healthy, other than costing you a lot of money. But what if you do need serious medical intervention? Pursuing Goop’s brand of Wellness means following the advice of people like Dr. Gundry, who skips breakfast and lunch half the year and eats all his calories within a couple hours per day, and tells us not to eat. “Don’t eat,” he says, “I can’t stress that enough.” How does this message of Wellness translate to someone who struggles with disordered eating?
Some people are quite well dressed for the day—Instagram stars are easy to spot because in between selfies and photo-ops, none of them smile or seem to enjoy themselves, and they’re all dressed to the nines. But most everyone else is dressed casually, with the majority, including myself, in athleisure. There are workout sessions available to the higher ticket packages, and many people have booked multiple classes. Some people do elaborate warm up routines that speak to a regular gym habit, while others turn up in jeans, and there’s a vague feeling of “serious/not-serious” dividing the participants. Tracy Anderson pops in to eyeball the fitness room, which is darkened and with mercifully dry yoga mats. I take Taryn Toomey’s simplified version of “The Class”, which involves shouting along to our movements. Halfway through my Goop day, screaming is extremely cathartic.
After the physicians come the psychotherapists. “The Tools” is quite interesting, with GP moderating for Drs. Phil Stutz and Barry Michels. They talk about entitlement as being a good thing, especially for women who are too often taught not to ask for more, and the panel on motherhood offers some self-help guidance on breaking the cycle of toxic parenting. And the “Three Way” panel is entertaining as hell, with Esther Perel of the “Rethinking Infidelity” TED Talk—and a new podcast—Girls co-creator Jenni Konner, and the “orgasm expert” Nicole Daedone, author of Slow Sex. The room is engaged and laughing and cheering the idea that women have a right to good sex, and Jenni Konner associates the dominance of male directors with the exploitative nature of filmed sex. Esther Perel is the stand-out, though, quipping dryly that it’s not that women don’t want sex, it’s that “women don’t want the sex they can have.” The room roars in approval.
But there’s a thread of heteronormativity through the whole thing, and what guidance is there for women without children who still have to tussle with the remnants of a toxic childhood? Goop is clearly trying to reach an audience of multi-faceted interests, addressing physical health, mental health, fitness, beauty, and career goals. But the worldview still seems pretty limited to Gwyneth Paltrow and people who look and live like Gwyneth Paltrow, and it seems especially tone-deaf the day before LA’s Pride Parade. Based on the way the experts talk, you’d never know there are families that look different than GP’s, which is a narrow view on families these days. How does the “mother wound”—the legacy between a mother and daughter—apply to two men raising a little girl? When they do mention, briefly, the “father wound”, it’s about fathers and sons, but there are boys being raised by women, together or alone. How does any of this apply to them?
I can’t find an LGBTQ+ section at The Ripped Bodice. But there are LGBTQ+ books in the shop, they’re just shelved alongside the other books in their subset, and there’s a rec list for Pride Month. It’s a low-key inclusion that acknowledges that women are enthusiastically consuming gay porn on the internet, and might like gay romance novels, too. It also values homosexual romance as much as heterosexual, assuming readers who like straight romances might also like gay ones, as long as they’re into werewolves, or whatever that particular shelf contains. There is literally something for everyone in that shop.
Three groups of people are at Goop: Writers covering the event, actual Goop enthusiasts, and people who also work in Wellness, like Stephanie and Molly*, who are opening a Wellness spa. They want to do beauty treatments—though nothing invasive, not even the bloodless “10 Minute Facelift” performed live on stage earlier in the day—and message therapy and holistic healing. They’re not either-or on health and beauty, but a little of both. It sounds like every spa I’ve ever been to, but more female entrepreneurs and business owners is never a bad thing. “Well,” Molly says sheepishly. “We work for a man.”
Still, I could use their total body approach, because there is no headache remedy to be found at the Flower Remedy Station. Desperate, I try the Chill by CHLOE ice cream cart during the afternoon break, in hopes that a dash of chocolate will cure me. It turns out to be vegan, and caffeine free, and barely chocolate, and it, like every other goddamn thing I have consumed on this day, leaves a weird aftertaste. I drink some of the free Bai Antiwater, momentarily forgetting that, too, has a Taste. I’d like to get rid of my headache, and I would like some plain f*cking water—neither thing seems possible at Goop. I briefly contemplate drinking from the bathroom tap.
The final panel of the day is the celebrity jackpot. GP returns to moderate her friends: Cameron Diaz, Tory Burch, Nicole Richie, and Miranda Kerr. (For a moment I wonder what the Australian actress from Lord of the Rings is doing here, but that’s Miranda Otto.) It’s the most fun panel since the sex therapists were on, with Nicole Richie completely stealing the show. She’s hilarious, and also interesting, getting into how her childhood career as a figure skater led her into the world of design, as she wanted outfits like Nancy Kerrigan’s Olympic getup designed by Vera Wang. (She’s also dressed in an oversized champagne satin pajama-tuxedo. She looks like if Blanche Deveraux was from Bel Air.)
They talk work-life balance, and ambition. “In my twenties,” GP says, “‘ambition’ was a literal bad word about actresses.” GP discusses giving up on perfectionism and how accepting flaws and mistakes can lead to a happier, healthier life. The whole day has teetered on the brink of being a snake oil convention, with a nebulous distrust of the Medical Establishment and advice that ought to come with huge f*cking asterisks. But this kind of talk, with women discussing their failures, ambitions, drive, and goals, is the approachable face of Goop. It’s the self-help, self-improvement side that encourages women to open up about themselves in a way we’re not often encouraged. Goop takes on a kind of “Comic-Con for Wellness” vibe, with people sharing a specific interest coming together to geek out. I’ve spent the whole day thinking we’re on the verge of someone recommending leeches and bleeding as a medical cure, but here we have—
Miranda Kerr recommending leech facials.
I’ve tried a collagen cocktail—it just tastes like a regular ole vodka martini— and now I’ve seen GP up close, and there’s nothing left to do. It’s time to go. I collect my gift bag, and make my way to the ride-sharing stand, loaded down with GP’s cookbook, a yoga mat, approximately five hundred pounds in Wellness products, and my bag of crystals and brain dust. In the back of the blessedly cool car, my eyes slide shut. I still have a headache.
My photos from the event are attached below.
*Names have been changed.